Time for a Female President in Nigeria?

Ever since former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua fell ill last year, the word “zoning” has been on everyone’s lips. The talk has been of whether the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s “zoning” arrangement would be applied to permit the emergence of a new President from the south, the north, the east, the south-south etc etc. Throughout all debate about zoning, no one considered the prospect of zoning the presidency to……..WOMEN.


Even the vocabulary of zoning is sexist. Zoning is referred to as a “gentleman’s agreement”, implying that it is an exclusive matter for men. Since it is permissible to zone the most important job in the country to a piece of territory, is there anything wrong with zoning it to a gender representing half the population? Zoning by gender is arguably more inclusive than zoning by territory. Since the zoning formula splits Nigeria into six zones, once the presidency is zoned to one of them, over 80% of the population is automatically disqualified from contesting the presidency. Yet only 50% of Nigerians would be ineligible if the presidency is zoned to women.

Women only shortlists are nothing new. The Labour Party in England, and the South African government have both implemented programmes stipulating mandatory minimum female representation in politics or commerce.


Previous attempts at making women more prominent in Nigerian politics have failed miserably. President Shagari considered having a female Vice-President/running mate. However his National Party of Nigeria had to drop the idea when one of its male members threatened to commit suicide if the country had a female Vice-President. Before you southerners immediately jump to conclusions and assume that the person who so virulently opposed female candidacy was a “feudal, conservative, Muslim northerner”, think again……the man in question was a SOUTHERN CHRISTIAN.

In 1986 the Political Bureau recommended that 5% of legislative seats should be reserved for women. The recommendation never saw the light of day as it was overruled by an eight member advisory committee (of whom only one was female).


Can the ladies do any worse than the men? Let’s look at what 50 years of uninterrupted rule by men has brought Nigeria: civil war, one million dead bodies in the space of 3 years, systematized corruption, destruction of national morals, ostentatious living, and decadence that would make the ancient Romans blush.


Yet ironically, many of the best performing ministers of recent times have been women. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Obiageli Ezekwesili, Dora Akunyili, and Dizeani Allison-Madueke have all performed admirably as ministers. Let us not forget that if not for aunty Dora’s forceful insistence that Jonathan be appointed acting President, we might still be sitting here today with Yar’Adua’s supporters telling us that Umaru is alive and well, and that he will “very shortly” return to Aso Rock and resume his job.

Let us not forget that over $30 BILLION of national debt was paid off after several decades when a female Finance Minister negotiated an elaborate debt repayment programme with international lending institutions. Thus Nigeria became the FIRST African country to pay off its national debt. Funny, why didn’t the fellas think of that?

Another irony is that women make up a very substantial part of the voting electorate (in rural areas). Old women are known to vote regularly. Yet we refuse to empower a part of the national demographic that votes heavily and which has performed very well in government.


I recall watching a TV documentary that featured video footage from a cabinet meeting chaired by Uganda’s former leader “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE” (for the sake of simplicity let’s just call him “Amin”). During the cabinet meeting, Amin poured scorn on Ugandan women whom he accused of being lazy. He asked why they could not be more like those marvelous “hard working” Nigerian women who put Ugandan women to shame, and who get up at the crack of dawn to open their stores before taking their kids to school, then getting home in time to cook their husband’s favourite dish. This was in the 1970s people. I wonder what Amin would say if he saw today’s Nigerian women at the World Bank, in the military, as world renowned Professors, entertainers, economists, and authors.

We have had a lot of firsts. President Goodluck Jonathan recently appointed Professor Precious Kassey Garba, as Nigeria’s first ever female Chief Economic Adviser. We have had female finance ministers, transport ministers, and until recently the head of the traditionally male and macho world of the stock exchange was a woman. We are happy to give women influential positions, but not the ULTIMATE powerful position.


So what are we afraid of? I anticipate that many of you reading this will say that conservative “African culture” militates against having a female President. Really? Consider the following countries that have had female leaders:

India – Indira Gandhi
Israel – Golda Meir
Pakistan – Benazir Bhutto
Philippines – Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Gloria Arroyo
Sri Lanka – Chandrika Kumaratunga

Are these countries any more conservative than Nigeria? Most of them are just as religious and even more conservative than Nigeria is. There is nothing “un-African” about female leaders either. Doesn’t local legend speak of a powerful Queen building a mighty empire in the Ijebu area several hundred years ago? Heck, even Liberia has a female President – and blood did not descend from the sky, nor did wild beasts emerge from the seas when she was sworn in.

So for next year’s election, let us not zone the presidency to the south, north, east, west, north-central, south-east, north-west, south-south, north-east, south-west, or any other place that a GPS device can find.

Let us zone it to NIGERIAN WOMEN. It won’t hurt.

Until next time.


Written by
Max Siollun
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