Nigerian women face great difficulty in the journey to achieve their political aspirations. Most obstacles they encounter are rooted in gender discrimination. They face patriarchal, cultural and religious views and practices that uphold men’s rights to power, as well as legal discrimination. Winning elections and assuming leadership roles are some of the areas in which Nigerian women face the greatest obstacles. For example, women candidates won less than five percent of the 1,487 executive and legislative seats contested during Nigeria’s 2023 general elections. Despite this gloomy outlook, Bolanle Ajayi and Maryam Yusuf emerged as the deputy speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly and the deputy chief whip of the Kwara State House of Assembly respectively, offering hope that women can win elections and occupy leading roles against all odds.
Ahead of Nigeria’s 2023 general elections, women candidates received increased support from nongovernmental organizations, including the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF). WIPF, in partnership with NDI, trained 30 women candidates on building and running effective campaigns and provided ongoing coaching and mentoring throughout the campaign season in the lead up to the elections. Eight out of the 30 women trained by WIPF were elected into the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly in Delta, Cross River, Ogun and Taraba states. The elected candidates included Bolanle Ajayi and Maryam Yusuf, who have earned the trust of their colleagues to provide leadership as deputy speaker and deputy chief whip, respectively. Yusuf’s emergence as a principal officer has been particularly inspirational, as no woman had served in the Kwara State House of Assembly prior to her election.
As women aspirants, Bolanle and Yusuf were not always favored to win their party nominations, let alone their elections into the legislature and as principal officers. But their dreams to rise to the top and make a difference kept them going. They continuously recount how much of an impact WIPF’s training and mentoring had on their electoral victories, noting also that the component of the training on the roles of women in nation building helped them settle in after their inauguration. Yusuf shared, “At the campaign school, I learnt about the roles elected female candidates can play in developing our nation. With a proper knowledge of how to sponsor a bill, I am positive that I will use my office to see that more females are given level playing grounds across all boards.” WIPF will continue to provide mentorship and support to Bolalne and Yusuf to help them succeed in their roles.
WIPF President Ebere Ifendu has also been leveraging strategic platforms like the orientation for members of Nigeria’s 10th National Assembly and meetings of the House of Representatives legislative agenda setting ad-hoc committee to ask for more opportunities for women. With sustained WIPF support and hard work, Bolanle and Yusuf will not only do well as principal officers in their respective state legislatures, but they will also continue rising to the top of their political careers.
Author: Bem Aga, NDI Nigeria Program Director
NDI’s engagement with this program is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.