African viewpoint: Male fiefdom?

Women attend a campaign meeting for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at Mapo square in Ibadan 8 February 2011 Women are often the heart and soul of campaign rallies in Nigeria

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers why women have such a hard time in politics in Nigeria.

Nigerians hold their womenfolk in high regard generally but, as we say here, it takes two hands to wash either clean.

The woman draws much respect and admiration from all as the mother of the land but it appears when she seeks to add the role of father she has crossed the line and becomes fair game.

This unwritten cultural rule plays out on a daily basis in various spheres of life in Nigeria - though unreported, as lawyers will say.

Now politics has taken centre stage nationally and campaigns for April's elections are truly warming up, men are being separated from boys.

It takes a woman with extraordinary guts to even take a look-in - but that may be changing.

Nude poster threat

Enter Senator Gbemisola Saraki, a true daughter of her father's fiefdom. She's got the courage - and more.

Senator Gbemisola Saraki Ms Saraki's opponents seem threatened by her campaign

When her elder brother Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara state refused to give her the opportunity to stake her claim to succeed him, she threw away her membership card of the ruling People's Democratic Party and joined another less well-known party.

Her new party existed more in the files of the Independent National Electoral Commission than anywhere in Kwara state, but her campaign must have been having an impact for the men to turn attention to her.

According to her campaign spokesman, Ms Saraki's opponents are planning to flood Kwara with posters of a nude woman with the candidate's head superimposed.

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Women do everything expected of good party members except break heads or shoot at opponents”

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That, indeed, is cause for her to worry, because the state has a strong conservative Islamic population.

She has since diverted her campaign to convincing people that the picture is fake.

Meanwhile she is losing valuable time and resources. Surely she's learning a lesson or two in the process that veteran politician Sarah Jibril must know about all too well.

She has been contesting for the presidency longer than any man I know.

Ms Jibril was again at the PDP's national convention this year. When her turn came on the rostrum she made a vigorous case for her to be given the opportunity to give Nigeria a purposeful leadership.

Sarah Jibril at the PDP convention in January 2011 Sarah Jibril has run unsuccessfully for the presidency four times

There were thousands of female delegates at the convention. When the results of the primaries were announced, she scored one miserable vote.

I could read her mind asking: "Where are all the apostles of the Beijing Conference who are drawing huge amounts from international aid funds to campaign for women in politics?"

Her campaign has ended, at least for this presidency.

It is not that women are considered irrelevant at elections in Nigeria.

They are the heart and soul of most campaign rallies. They sing with gusto. They dance with vigour.

They are the first to arrive at campaign venues and they are the last to leave.

They do everything expected of good party members except break heads or shoot at opponents.

Less corruption?

In appreciation President Goodluck Jonathan, candidate of the ruling party, has promised them 35% of all ministerial and ambassadorial posts if he wins.

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Sarah Jibril's lone vote at the PDP convention suggests to me that the women like it that way”

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If he keeps his word Mr Jonathan may preside over a less corrupt government from May.

I am assuming that the men will not decide to seize for themselves what women may have failed to steal.

My heart goes out to the families and friends of the 11 people who died and 30 others who were injured in the stampede at the end of the campaign rally held by President Jonathan in Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta on 12 February.

The official casualty figures showed that all the dead, except one, were women.

What more proof can there be of the commitment of Nigerian women to politics and elections?

Yet at the end of the day they may only scramble for crumbs but not sit at the table with men.

Sarah Jibril's lone vote at the PDP convention suggests to me that the women like it that way.

By the way, I haven't written about other party candidates because they are not holding rallies yet. Their campaigns are on television and in newspapers.

Read a selection of your comments

Until society gives women more of a chance in politics, corrupt men will continue to take the electorate for granted. They will continue to fend for no-one but themselves, their immediate families and friends. It should be no surprise that Ms Sarah Jibril got just one vote from thousands of women at her party's convention for presidential nominee. Let's face it, women's long struggle to break the proverbial glass ceiling in politics and the corporate world is not unique to Nigeria. All over the world, from business to religion to politics, it is patriarchal. With the exception of a handful of countries that had or have a women as president or prime minister, men are assumed to be in charge or rule a country. But, other women must be willing and ready to vote for women candidates. Kingsley O, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Well, thanks to Ms Jibril and Ms Saraki who are showing Nigerian women the way. Nigerian women need to become more assertive to rise up and take their rightful place in Nigerian politics. No longer should they sit around and wait for the powerful to decide for them. Lugard, Greenbelt, Maryland

Nigerian women ought to do more to establish their presence in the elected offices in Nigeria. It is ridiculous that Ms Jibril got only one vote from the PDP delegates. There was a substantial number of women delegates, yet only one of them probably voted for her. Women in Nigeria should rise up to 21st Century political realities. Paul Chibuzor Anyaorah, Amaokpala Orumba, North Nigeria

I would like to compare politics with soldiering. Just like many women are not attracted to soldiering, so are they not to politics. In my view, this is simply the reason we have more men in political offices. Gone are the days women were deemed weak, even in Africa. People just want to vote for the candidate they think can deliver. If Bukola looses in Kwara, it will be the same reason Hillary lost to Obama. I have met with many Nigerian men who are ready to campaign and vote for a woman like Dora Akunyili should she decide to join the presidential race. The only way we can have more women in political offices is by increased participation of women, at all levels. Ibrahim Miftah, Lagos, Nigeria

It must be said that the Nigerian political landscape is unique and skewed in favour of name brands. It remains to be seen when these seeming fiefdoms will cease. As the Nigerian electorate in the different constituencies are susceptible to these name brands. Hence, the choice of subject for women's place in the Nigerian policy appears skewed. Ezemonye Duru, Yellowstone, Nigeria

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