Is it Time to Zone the Presidency to Women?

Zoning has once again dominated the headlines after the PDP zoning committee concluded if and how it will zone its presidential ticket. At least one person on the 37-person committee leaked to the press that the party will throw open the ticket to all geopolitical zones, implicitly paving the way for the likes of increasingly-perennial candidate Atiku Abubakar to keep his hat in the ring. But Samuel Ortom, the committee’s chair and current Benue governor, has so far refused to confirm the leaks, noting that committee’s recommendations will be sent to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) for its approval or rejection.

If zoning is the recipe to keeping Nigeria together, whose turn is it anyway? Muhammadu Buhari, a son of Daura, is in power now, so maybe the north has had its turn. Then who? The most recent president from ‘the south’ was Goodluck Jonathan, so maybe it’s time for the southwest to have its turn? But what if we use the widely accepted definitions of ‘geopolitical zones’? Jonathan is from the south-south, and the south-east hasn’t fielded a national leader since Aguiyi-Ironsi’s tenure in 1966, so maybe it’s their turn? But there are five states in that zone and Aguiyi-Ironsi was a native of Abia, so is it actually the turn of someone from Enugu or Ebonyi?

Regardless of the merits and pitfalls of zoning, it remains an artificial formula that fits awkwardly atop Nigerian society. That endless arguments can be fought over ethnic or regional representation without so as much as mentioning women in the political process demonstrates this ill fit.

If some form of proportional representation were the objective, women have long been extremely under-represented since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. Less than 7% of senators and representatives are women. A fair argument can be made against the need for absolute representation at the micro-level; if a father of three between the ages of 55 and 65 from Osun state is represented in the National Assembly, there is probably little reason to mandate a seat for his identical counterpart from Ogun state. But zoning already demands representation at the macro or regional level and gender is an obvious distinction in Nigerian (if not global) society.

In recent years, there have been discussions about myriad strategies to increase the representation of women in Nigerian politics. Some support adding seats to the National Assembly, but others contend that it would be costly and avoid addressing the cultural, social, and economic reasons why women are under-represented. Meanwhile, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, which holds a handful of seats in the House of Representatives, recently cut the nomination fee in half for women and young people seeking office under their banner.  Concerning appointed positions, last week a federal court in Abuja ruled that the federal government was bound by the 2006 National Gender Policy and the target of 35% female representation.

So where are the female candidates? Most serious presidential candidates bring elected or cabinet-level political experience, and a commensurate national profile, to their campaign. But some undeclared-but-widely-expected candidates, such as Godwin Emefiele, might seek to leverage their high profile for an electoral head start. In that regard, Nigeria is not short of female talent. A cursory and certainly non-exhaustive roll call of Nigerian female change-makers in recent years includes activist Aisha Yesufu, writer Chimamanda Adichie, economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and businesswoman Folorunso Alakija.

Whether you support or lament the details of their particular endeavors, it is undeniable that examples abound of Nigerian women with a national-level vision, experience guiding large organizations, and, oftentimes, both.

So, is it time to zone the presidency to women?

Author’s note: This blog is a non-partisan, non-commercial endeavor. I make no endorsements of parties or candidates, as outlined on the blog home page since its inception. Any part of the blog can be reproduced freely. However, if you choose to attribute my writing, I kindly ask that you: a) spell my name correctly, and b) list my institutional affiliation correctly. I am a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Oxford. If in doubt, please check my home page or contact me.