The women’s rights activist said this while speaking at the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture Series which held in Lagos on Saturday, July 13, 2019.

The event, themed ‘Rethinking credible elections, accountable democracy and good governance in Nigeria’, was in commemoration of the 85th birthday of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.

In her address, Salihu said democracy should offer room for inclusion, accountability, and competitiveness so as to engender participation in the process by every components in the society.

She said Nigeria’s ‘faulty’ democracy is lacking in these key areas as women are denied opportunities for self-actualisation from private homes to public spaces.

“The elections in this country are already compromised before elections day because you have political parties who would upturn or change the will of their own members, or a community that says a woman cannot run for office but a man can run.

“You know, within the political space itself, inclusion is not understood, how much more practiced.

“In this country, the majority of the voters are women but what do the figures show you? 11 (women) out of 360 members of the federal House of Representatives, and 7 (women) out of 109 senators. 

“And it’s not for a lack of trying because from 1999 till date, the number of aspirants is actually increasing but the number of candidates is not changing, flat,” she said.

She said Nigeria’s democratic process is structured to not respond to inclusion, and is too expensive to be accessible for men and women of meager means.

Salihu offered that it’s time for Nigeria to debate several new ideas for how to run government, especially the executive and legislative arms.

She said the new direction must include opening the space for women to thrive, as they constitute one half of the population, so as to ensure the nation’s prosperity.

She said, “Is it possible to make the case for proportional representation in our country so that the number of people who get into office is a direct proportion of votes that you get and not a winner-takes-all kind of contest?

“Can we even begin to have a situation whereby we gender dis-aggregate data so that we can give visibility to women because it’s no longer an issue of women’s human rights or about being nice to women. 

“It actually makes economic sense because what kind of country is it that aspires to greatness that holds back 50% of its population? Because that’s what women are. 

“200 million and counting and you do not have an equal level playing field for 50% of your population?

“And every time affirmative action is mentioned in this country, what you hear is that, ‘Oh, women can wait, we don’t do affirmative action in Nigeria’, but we already do. 

“It’s because we do not understand participation, inclusivity, that’s why we think gender-based affirmative action is new. 

“What is federal character if it’s not affirmative action? What is quota system if it’s not affirmative action? It is about trying to find a balance and creating a level-playing field for different components of our society.”

While speaking during his own address, Rotimi Sankore, the editorial board chair of Nigeria Info Group, agreed with Salihu and said Nigeria’s problems are tied to gender and development.

He warned that the nation will collapse without a deliberate policy to recognise gender equality which empowers the girl-child and affords her the opportunities to thrive.

He said, “Look at the top of the global human development index. What are the countries at the top? What is the one factor all of them have in common? It’s gender equality.

“Equality of opportunity, aspiration, and education. We need to pay attention to real things.

“In terms of women in parliament, Nigeria is lowest in Africa. Roughly half the states have no women in the houses of assembly. It’s going to have huge implications on the future.”

Salihu further used the occasion to lament about the violation of women’s bodily integrity in the country.

She said women have been minoritised and rendered invisible so much that it’s time to seize back the initiative.

“We think it’s time for us to seize the agency and begin to name and shame. In the next few weeks, we hope Nigeria will be launching a sex offenders’ register. 

“We hope it’s going to be a tool to name and shame, prevent repeat offending, and a wake up moment to show that you cannot diminish the right of 50% of your population to grow,” she said.

Salihu said inclusion and participation will help to ensure that only people who care about protecting the rights of all citizens to exist and thrive are elected into office.

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