Imbalanced Gender Representation in Cabinets during Nigeria’s Fourth Republic

For a country with a significant female population, Nigeria has been poor in ensuring gender parity in elected and appointed leadership positions. Since 1979, the country has practiced a presidential form of government, with a devolved form of government across three tiers—federal, state and local levels. Yet, despite the number of elective constituencies available, there has been little to no women elected to these positions. Nigeria has never elected a female president, vice-president or a governor in any of its thirty-six states. Women elected to the national legislature have been a scant percentage in any of the ten constituted sessions of either chamber, with none emerging as president of the senate and a roughly five-month stint for the only woman to emerge speaker of the House of Representatives.

Cabinet positions have often been an interesting and quick way for presidents and parties to address imbalance in the political space. This is because the appointments are at the whim of the president and subject to confirmation by the senate. As a result, an easy assumption would be that politicians, aware of the significant female voting bloc, would utilise the option of naming other women to cabinet. Yet, women representation in cabinet has remained lower than the 35% affirmation that has been cited by different groups. This lack of representation has come with different reasons, but the sad reality is that cabinets have often met the country where it is, instead of leading it where it should be.

This paper overviews the history of political participation in women before reviewing the status of women in previous cabinets. It then highlights factors affecting appointments and challenges for women in post. Nigerian political literature is expanding on the covering the identity-based elements of its politics, but it is yet to properly address the role that cabinet appointments can play in correcting the gender imbalance in political leadership.

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