Our Child Development and Youth Formation team visited the Kantolo Early Childhood Development centre in March. The team took with them learning and play materials for the children and also conducted interviews with the principal, the teachers, as well as some of the parents and children. Our most pressing challenges continue to be infrastructure, nutrition and literacy levels, but the children are adapting well to the Montessori methodology and they are enjoying their daily activities. The changes are being done incrementally and with the involvement of several stakeholders.
From the interviews conducted on this visit it was clear that GGA’s intervention in introducing the Montessori methodology at the centre is having a positive impact on both the standard of education on offer and the performance of the children. The good results achieved thus far have led to a surge in the number of children attending the Kantolo ECD centre, which currently serves 86 learners.
GGA’s Lead researcher and some of the Kantolo ECD learners.
In addition, a young woman from the Mbizana municipality area has embarked on a new learning journey with the Indaba Montessori Institute. GGA is offering this young change-influencer an all-expenses paid opportunity to study towards an internationally accredited diploma in elementary education. The candidate, who is undergoing extensive training with the institute, now has an opportunity that we believe will benefit her, her immediate family, and the rest of the Mbizana community through the community development work she has committed to undertake.
The African story abounds with great women whose achievements are often reduced to prurient anecdotes
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. So, says the Igbo proverb, which became a rallying cry for a generation of post-colonial African historians. But what of the lionesses? Are their tales being told? But enough with animal adages. Neither lions nor lionesses write history, while people do. The key question is: do the current written histories of Africa adequately include the experiences of the continent’s women?
Depends where you look. And who you ask. Since the 1960s, the university-based study of African women’s history has become a dynamic, global field. Where once the economic, social and political contribution of African women was regarded as an historical terra nullius – with women either entirely absent or relegated to minor roles in textbooks and tomes – there is now an ever-increasing body of research that includes analysis on a wide variety of societies, over 50 countries and hundreds of thousands of years.
Academia is acknowledging that African women enter the historical narrative from a variety of geographies and climates and that they carry diverse status, education, culture, age and other attributes. Moreover, all of the above can change or stay the same or circle through a combination of both within the endless ebb and flow that is human life and lives over time.
Academic historians recognise that what they study is not the past per se but rather an interpretation of the past, which is subject to revision and reinterpretation whereby distinct interest groups apply different standards, priorities and values and reach different conclusions. There is general consensus that interest groups with more social, political and economic clout have the power to dominate the narrative.
There is now widespread acknowledgement that the gendered nature of modern power is such that male stories are disproportionately present and that women’s stories are often assigned less value. The growth of African women’s history as a discipline demonstrates that spaces can and have been created to examine and challenge such power dynamics.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that almost all such scholarship sits behind paywalls on university websites. Non-professional historians are largely excluded from this information and the debates that such study stimulates. Outside of ivory tower academe, what passes for historical “knowledge” in the general chitchat of daily life more often than not either ignores them entirely or depicts women in terms of their perceived impact on men.
Historical evidence of African women is as old as humanity. Sometimes older. Humans evolved in Africa and so it is Africa that provides the backdrop for the first minimising of prehistoric women in the paleoanthropological corpus. Until the early 1980s archaeologists overlaid modern Western gender norms and sexual divisions of labour onto pre-historic, sometimes pre-human hominid peoples. Man the Hunter was widely considered to be the key evolutionary driver of human brain development and subsequent tool-making innovation.
Frances Dahlberg’s 1983 monograph, Woman the Gatherer, set forth a strong case for an alternative evolutionary trajectory in which Woman the Tool Inventor played an equal part in the human story. Which is all well and good – but for the fact that, over three decades later, that message doesn’t appear to have gotten through to the masses. Museums are the point at which the public and professional historians ought to intersect, but Africa’s pre-historic women are all but invisible at such sites. Androcentric stereotypes abound. Almost invariably, graphic material explaining the hominisation process depicts individuals of the masculine sex making their way from australopithecine to homo – thereby rendering the earliest African women invisible.
As Myra and David Sadker argued in Failing at Fairness (1995), “each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” How much more so if she isn’t even in the diagram exploring the essence of our species?
Yet it is debatable as to whether exclusion is preferable to defamation. African women who achieved scientific, political or economic success have often been pulled into warped morality tales masquerading as history, which reduce a plethora of complex characters to wicked women who drew men into their beds and on into their death. The deeds of women in times past are subjected to such treatment worldwide but the practice seems particularly prevalent when it comes to telling tall tales about successful African women, who are almost invariably subjected to what amounts to a form of “ye olde” slut shaming. The accompanying character assassination is seldom supported by the sort of historical evidence-based scholarship found on the other side of the paywall.
Consider Cleopatra. Mary Hamer’s Signs of Cleopatra: Reading an Icon Historically (2001) offers us vast quantities of contemporaneous written records demonstrating the diplomatic, naval, linguistic, cultural and philosophical skills of Cleopatra VII Philopator (69-10 BC), the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her tenure alone speaks to such skills. She ruled for 21 years and at the height of her power controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the region. And yet she survives in the popular imagination through a distorted depiction of her romantic relationships. She built fleets, suppressed several insurrections, controlled a currency and guided a nation through plagues and famines but she is remembered as a bare-breasted seductress bathing in milk.
Linda Heywood and Louis Madureira’s 2015 article, Queen Njinga Mbandi Ana de Sousa of Ndongo/Matamba: African Leadership, Diplomacy, and Ideology, 1620-1650 offers chapter and verse on their study subject’s skills as a military leader, strategist, diplomat and exponent of realpolitik par excellence. Research reveals the woman who defined and dominated what is now Angola in the 17th century to be a complex and contradictory character. At times, she profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, while at other times she protected escaped slaves. For over 40 years, she successfully limited the Portuguese colony at Luanda to a few square kilometres. How is it that her achievements are less well known than gratuitous and unsubstantiated gossip about her immolating a harem of male lovers?
Publicising the achievements of African women from previous generations has the potential to impact on the development of self-respect for African girls and women going forward. There is inspiration in knowing about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Asante-born Nanny of the Windward Maroons (c.1686 – c.1755) who escaped from slavery in Jamaica, led a successful armed rebellion, freed more than 1,000 previously enslaved people and achieved a 1740 peace settlement with colonists, under the terms of which she negotiated a land grant of 500 acres at what became known as Nanny Town.
In the face of Boko Haram’s terror and intimidation tactics, which threaten girls’ access to education across West Africa, there is strength to be drawn from knowing that in 859CE an African woman, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya, founded the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco. UNESCO describes it as the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding educational institution in the world. Female alumni include Fatima al Kabbaj, member of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Religious Knowledge.
At its most pernicious, observations of a past that never was are used to support patriarchal practices that exclude women from power in the present. During Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016 visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel he responded to a question about his wife’s political opinions with the comment that, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room” because he could “claim superior knowledge over her”.
Indeed, 2016 was a banner year for Nigerian patriarchal put-downs. In the same year, that country’s senate rejected a Gender and Equality Bill that included equal rights for women in marriages, divorce, property ownership and inheritance. Several senators stated that they opposed the law on the grounds that it was “un-African” and “anti-religious” to accord women equal rights with men.
Such statements invoke tradition, but the historical record shows otherwise. Kamene Okonjo’s studies of women’s political participation in Nigeria show that pre-colonial West African women were often much more economically, socially and politically independent and powerful than modern “traditionalists” would have us believe.
Their disempowerment came about by way of colonial Eurocentric, not indigenous African values. Chima J Korieh’s Gender and Peasant Resistance: Recasting the Myth of the Invisible Women in Colonial Eastern Nigeria, 1925-1945 (2003) offers evidence that while Nigerian women had historically participated in the government, the British colonial authorities saw these practices as “a manifestation of chaos and moral disorder” and would only engage with the political institutions headed by men.
Struggles over alternative views on the desirability of female political and economic power sparked significant anti-colonial revolts, including what modern historians tend to call the Women’s War of 1929 (Ogu Umunwanyi in Igbo), which was described by colonial authorities as the Aba Women’s Riot.
A watered-down version of the Nigerian Gender Equity Bill was subsequently passed in 2017 but the claiming of tradition to support female subjugation illustrates how a patchwork of patriarchies can cross the hunter/lion duality. There are times when hunters and lions form alliances around their common predator paradigm and call on faux history in support of shared interests. As we recognise and rectify the exclusion and misrepresentation of female African lives from the study of history, let us take cognisance of life’s complexity.
Even if certain sorts of lions and lionesses now have/are historians, accounts of their times past are likely to be incomplete unless the experiences of the earthworms and the elephants and the E.coli are included. Not to mention the valuable perspectives provided by the trees and the reeds. And the wind and the rain. Ultimately, ours is an interdependent ecosystem.
Women make up almost exactly half the population of the region, but you’d never say so based on how few there are in senior management
It is rather surprising that African women, who raise and support future national leaders – and who therefore count among the founders of nations – are seldom allowed to participate fully in the economic and political lives of their nations. Despite the fact that they constitute around half of the population, women are marginalised and disadvantaged in all sectors of the economy, as well as in relation to the development agenda.
All around Africa, governance practices still give little credence to the views of women. In Anglophone West Africa, things are no different. In Ghana, the proportion of female to total board members generally ranged from 7% to 25%, according to a 2016 study by the International Finance Corporation, Gender Diversity in Ghanaian Boardrooms, while the highest number of women on any particular board amounted to a quarter of the total board membership. Some 24.05 % of the sampled boards consisted only of males. In other words, one out of every four boards had no female representation at all.
This skewed situation is not peculiar to Ghana; it is prevalent across West Africa. In Sierra Leone, for example, only 7.9% of firms have a woman among the principal owners, according to a 2015 International Labor Organization (ILO) study, Promoting Jobs, Protecting People. In Gambia, for example, some 16.8% of firms have female participation in ownership, while 12.3% of firms have female majority ownership and 9.6% have a female top manager, according to a 2018 World Bank study.
Why are there so few women in decision-making positions in companies, businesses and institutions in West Africa? Well, for one thing, women’s cultural roles are often defined by outdated ideas that exclude them from decision-making roles in society. These cultural roles are enforced by gendered socialisation, the process by which social expectations and attitudes associated with one’s sex are learned. Gendered socialisation begins at birth, and gendered socialisation continues during adolescence and into adulthood, according to a 2017 discussion paper by UNICEF on adolescent gender socialisation in low- and middle-income countries.
In West Africa, women are seen as homemakers and nurturers who have no place in the world of paid work. Though this view is slowly changing, women working in the formal economy – the public or private sector – are usually relegated to the lower levels of employment, where influential decision-making is non-existent. Thus, women are affected by the decisions of a majority male leadership, while their lack of representation in top-level hierarchies prevents them from having agency and shaping their societies in formal spaces.
At an International Woman’s Day event held in Gambia in 2015, Saiba Suso, a programme officer with Activista Gambia and a lecturer at the development studies unit of the University of Gambia, said African women continue to experience discrimination in many areas such as education, the labour market, religion, job opportunities and decision-making. Her remark was borne out, three years later, by a UN Women 2018 report on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “There can be no sustainable development without gender equality,” the report says. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa, women still suffer more poverty than their global counterparts, and more hunger. Women in the region also face higher rates of maternal mortality than the global average, while 48.1% of girls are less likely to learn to read and write at primary school as compared to 43.6% of boys in the same region.
In Ghana, some 61.4% of females interviewed had no formal education compared to 39% of males, according to a 2016 report by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Ghana. After primary school, the proportion of males far exceeded the proportion of females at all levels of educational attainment. Lack of access to education means that women are less employable in formal sectors and they often have to resort to informal jobs, which help to pay the bills but do not contribute to their financial independence.
In Liberia, more females (4.5%) are unemployed than males (3%), according to a recent (undated) World Bank Institute report, Striving for Business Success: Voices of Liberian Women Entrepreneurs. Most women are self-employed and operate in the informal sector. Some 13.4% of males are employed in the formal sector as compared to 4.5% of females. Female entrepreneurs in Liberia work mainly in the small retail and trade sector, and 60% of women own informal enterprises, as compared to 45% of men, according to a 2012 World Bank report.
In West Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, women also make significant contributions to crop production, animal husbandry and marketing. But this work is unstable, poorly paid and usually invisible, resulting in a high incidence of unemployment among women as compared to men. Globally, the unemployment rate of women for 2018, at 6% – is approximately 0.8 percentage points higher than the rate for men. Altogether, this means that for every 10 men in a job, only six women are in employment. For Africa as a whole, the male employment-to-population ratio was estimated at about 69.2% compared to the female employment-to-population ratio of only 39.2% (Gender Equality in Employment in Africa: Empirical Analysis and Policy Implications, 2014). Women’s lack of access to education means that companies have a smaller pool of developed talent to select from when recruiting for high-level positions in public and private companies and governmental organisations. In West Africa, women face a “glass ceiling”: the higher up the corporate ladder, the fewer women are to be found in senior positions. In her 2013 M Phil thesis on the glass ceiling phenomenon among managerial women in Ghana, Dorcas Gyekye argued that men’s promotion into leadership positions was based on their perceived potential as leaders, while women’s promotion was adjudged on the basis of their perceived performance.
Members of the “old boys’ club” – an informal system through which men use their positions of influence to provide favours and information to other men – will see potential in people they deem to be more like them. So it is that more men are promoted than women. Women who succeed in getting to the top may be there as a form of tokenism – which, in my view, goes some way to accounting for women’s rivalry in such contexts, since surviving can depend on factors other than professional performance. According to the Gender Diversity in Ghanaian Boardrooms report (2018), some 49.37% of the women on company boards were non-executive directors, while only 6.49% of organisations had women as the chair of the board.
Away from the world of employment, whether formal or informal, African women face additional burdens. According to a 2017 report by the UN, women do at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. Since household work is unpaid, this leaves women with fewer resources and even less time or opportunity than men to focus on career advancement. According to a 2016 report by the IEA in Ghana, women spend most of their time on household activities such as cleaning (94%), cooking (90.2%), water collection (73.8%) and childcare (68.5%), while a significant proportion of men (65.0%) control the household finances.
Worldwide, women are also often paid less than men for the same work, and West Africa is no exception. According to the ILO Global Wage Report 2014/15, women’s average wages were between 4% to 36% less than men’s; and astonishingly, this gap widens in absolute terms for higher-earning women. Similarly, women in 32 African countries were paid less than men for comparable roles. In West Africa, Ghana heads the list: women earn $3,484 per annum as compared to men’s $6,485, according to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum on the global gender gap. Unequal rates of pay further reduce women’s ability to make investments, support their families, and establish their own financial independence.
It is unsurprising, therefore, that women take less-demanding jobs – to be able to do their unpaid labour. Employers often cite this as a reason to exclude women from decision-making positions, whether public or private, saying that they will have to attend to household tasks and decisions while at work. Contemporary changes at the workplace that are now quite common in the developed world – such as working from home and longer or parental leave – would help to alleviate the strenuous conditions many African women experience. Other social changes, such as sharing household labour, would also help.
The inclusion of women in high-level positions makes economic and social sense. Research has shown that when there is an equitable representation of male and female voices at the higher levels of corporations the results are improved performance, more innovation, an enhanced quality of decision-making, better use of the talent pool, deeper customer intelligence (customers are, after all, both male and female) and an improved quality of corporate governance and ethics in decision-making, according to a 2014 document on achieving gender equality in the workplace by the Australian government’s Gender Equality Agency.
It will be obvious that boards on which there is an under-representation of women will make decisions skewed towards a male point of view. If both sexes are fairly represented, by contrast, there is a much higher likelihood that decisions will be balanced around the views of both men and women. Companies with a more equal distribution of the sexes in the boardroom financially outperform companies with a less representative gender mix, according to a McKinsey and Company’s report, Diversity Matters (2015). In short, globally, women are good for the bottom line. The same will be true of every region in Africa, including our own.
- Without diluting the focus on national integration, new directions should be sought for the NYSC to prepare corps members for entrepreneurship and future leadership. Better alignment of skills and learning under the scheme to national priorities is germane.
- NYSC should work more deliberately to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation through the scheme. Entrepreneurial training should be mainstreamed into all NYSC activities in partnership with the private sector and relevant state agencies such as the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Planning Commission (NPC), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Nigeria Tourism Development Cooperation (NTDC).
- In collaboration with the NYSC, host organisations, agencies and communities should also be compelled to develop work plans which clearly spell out the goals for corps members to ensure that learning potentials are maximized.
- Government, private institutions and other relevant stakeholders must closely engage to define optimal criteria and strategies for deployment of corps members into various sectors of national life. A key priority should be the insulation of deployment from rigging and influence.
Nigeria is among the one hundred and six or so countries with no enforced conscription into its military. However, it has a mandatory civilian service for its fresh graduates who are less than 30 years of age as at the time of graduation and have not served or are actively serving in any state run security organisation. Several countries have the variants of the mandatory national service, with the objectives depending on the national context and needs. Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are prominent African countries with established national youth service schemes. Several other western nations also have the compulsory civilian service.
Typically, the mandatory civilian schemes focus on improving internal security, nation-building and disaster response as in the case of Kenya. Newly qualified graduates in Ghana and Nigeria are given the opportunity to have practical exposure on the job, both in the public and private sectors, as part of their civic responsibility to the state. This provides host organisations the opportunity to satisfy their manpower needs. Likewise, it affords communities that would otherwise have difficulty in accessing mainstream development initiatives a chance to access improved social services through youth service to the community.
The Nigeria experience
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was established in Nigeria as a child of necessity after the Nigerian civil war. The purpose is to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to community, and to emphasize the oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.
Following Nigeria’s civil war (1967-1970), the country faced numerous problems including poverty, mass-illiteracy, inadequate socio-economic infrastructures, bad roads, poor healthcare services and an ineffective communication system. With a view to mitigate these challenges, particularly to foster national unity and integration and build a strong, self-reliant nation with a dynamic economy, the military government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon established the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) by the Decree No. 24 of 22nd May 1973.
The NYSC mission was mandated to produce future leaders with positive national ethos – leadership that is vibrant, proud and committed to the unity and balanced development of the Nigerian state. In 1993, the NYSC Decree No. 51 of 16th June set fifteen specific objectives for the scheme, summed up as the drive for national unity, even development and integration. With this commendable vision, the scheme has helped in shaping the nation and building more responsible and responsive citizens.
It was estimated that from its humble beginning of about 2,000 corps members in 1973, it grew to an annual figure of 85,000 corps members in 1999. In 2016, it accommodated 260,000 corps members owing to the economic recession. In 2017, it mobilised 297,293 corps members nationwide paying out N67.3billion in allowances. This was apart from the N2.5billion spent on providing kits for the 297,293 corps members and N3.3 billion spent on meals for the 21 days orientation camp for the corps members and about 74,000 camp officials.
Reflecting the importance attached to this scheme, the NYSC act stipulates that a Nigerian graduate who is not officially exempted from being part of the scheme, and does not undertake the mandatory service, is not employable and cannot seek political office in the country. Recently, Nigeria’s former minister of finance had to resign from her position because of her alleged forgery of the NYSC exemption certificate.
Interestingly, the episode made clear that many citizen are not sufficiently informed about the NYSC scheme, including that citizens graduating before reaching 35 years of age cannot be exempted. This is regardless of where they might have undertaken their studies. It further underscores the need for the scheme to do more in ensuring that relevant information about its activities and stipulations are properly disseminated to the public.
Current situation and downsides
According to news report in 2018, the NYSC increased the number of corps members mobilized by 53,000 graduates. This brought the total number for the 2018 cycle to about 350,000. About N83.2 billion was earmarked as allowances for corps members. Each corps member received the sum of N3,200 during the three-week orientation camp and N19,800 in monthly allowance for the service year. About N11.7 billion will be spent on kits, transport allowances and feeding for the corps members.
With the amount of resources invested in the NYSC, it is important that it delivers maximum benefits to the country. However, the NYSC like many public institutions in Nigeria has not been insulated from the ills of society. It has degenerated in terms of management, though its core values of community service, friendship, cultural and language absorption, and national unity remains. Some even argue that the scheme is a conduit for massive corruption, while others see it as government providing cheap labour for the economy.
The issues undermining the 45 years old NYSC scheme almost eclipse its achievements. Viewed through this prism, it seems in its present form to have outlived its relevance. The scheme grapples with the untoward rigging of posting for primary assignment. Many participants induce NYSC officials with money to secure posting to major cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja. This to a large extent erodes one of the major objective of the scheme, which is to allow corps members to have experience of Nigerian languages and cultures outside their own areas of origin. This is partly a fallout of the poor remuneration provided to corps members and the consequent desperation for “juicy” postings.
There is also the growing concern over the security of corps members especially in volatile regions. Some youth involved in the program have been caught up in religious, ethnic or political violence in the regions where they were sent. Lastly, there is widespread lack of transparency, which deprives the public of the necessary awareness of NYSC activities.
Retooling for purpose
Whilst perhaps extreme to call for the scrapping of the NYSC scheme, a thorough reassessment has become necessary with a view to reposition and make it more relevant to Nigeria’s prevailing circumstances. Perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on national integration, an objective that has seen limited success. The new direction is to prepare corps members for future leadership and align their orientation and skills to national priorities. In other countries with similar schemes, there is strong collaboration with the host organisations and benefitting communities which Nigeria should emulate.
There should be comprehensive engagement to ensure that the organisations and communities, especially those in rural areas, derive maximum benefits from the expertise of young professionals who are deployed annually by the scheme.
In the face of prevailing challenges including the insecurity of life, properties and food shortage in parts of the country, perhaps it might even be optimal to have a two-year national service. One of those years could be devoted to para-military training. This would ensure that the nation has a pool of trained reservists to supplement existing capacities for emergency response. The military would have to be reorganized to oversee this.
The second year would focus on mainstreaming the corps members into specialized skills in science, technology, education, health, communications and leadership etc. During this period some could be matched to job vacancies whilst others could be encouraged to start-up businesses as individuals or in groups.
The scheme should be restructured to offer a seamless transition from the world of organized learning to the world of work. It should become the major conveyor belt through which all educated young Nigerians are given the opportunity to first encounter and appreciate formal work while offering them an opportunity for national service. It should offer scheme participants clearer guidance to enable them reflect intelligently on their career options.
To this end, the scheme needs urgently to augment its talent pool by bringing in more youth, including young artisans who have acquired vocational skills in the technical, agriculture, fashion, hospitality and entertainment fields. This will help mobilize a greater pool of skills that can be effectively deployed across the country for balanced development.
In reflection of national challenges, the NYSC should move closer to a problem-solving orientation by mobilising the youth to tackle practical challenges head-on. These include the need to reduce youth unemployment and expand the functional public infrastructure stock. The NYSC can do this by engaging relevant organs of state, private institutions and civil society in devising joint strategies to optimise the NYSC scheme and enhance its contribution to national development beyond its present focal sectors.
This will aid better cross-sectorial synergy for development and job creation to benefit the youths. State agencies that can support in this joint revamping of the NYSC scheme include the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the National Planning Commission (NPC), the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Nigeria Tourism Development Cooperation (NTDC). The governing board of the NYSC may also need to be altered to reflect a more entrepreneurial emphasis.
Furthermore, emphasising leadership and entrepreneurial skills through the scheme will directly contribute to the upscaling of existing capacities for grassroots development. NYSC members can and should become more directly involved in the maintenance and construction of public infrastructure especially in the rural areas.
When incentives are provided for corps members to enter into new entrepreneurial fields such as solar power installations and maintenance, this will significantly expand access to power and help kick-start processing and value-addition in the grassroots economy. More joined-up thinking among stakeholders will also help to ensure smoother deployment of NYSC personnel into the vital sectors such as agriculture, food security, health, education, physical planning, civil engineering, water, sanitation and other areas relevant for Nigeria’s socio-economic transformation.
Executive Director & Editor: Dr. Ola Bello
- Government should guarantee the right to vote by providing for it under Chapter IV of the constitution while also making it a civic duty for citizen to vote.
- Nigeria’s political and social stakeholders must work together more concertedly to enable the judiciary’s independence, better to actualise enhanced voting right in a revised constitution.
- Nigeria’s in-coming parliament must expedite legislation to enhance the use of technology in the electoral process, which should facilitate the process for voter registration, the collation of a comprehensive voters register, and make voting more transparent and less onerous.
- Government must explore creative avenues such as partnering with telecommunication companies in order to leverage the information of registered customers, which can be supplemented with the data of citizens without mobile phone access.
The conduct of regular elections and the guarantee of the fundamental rights of citizens lie at the fulcrum of democracy. One of the major problems with Nigeria’s democracy is the absence of a cast-iron protection of the right to vote. The right to vote, though an inextricable part of democracy, is not enshrined in chapter IV of the Nigerian 1999 constitution, alongside the other fundamental rights. In practical terms, this makes the legal enforcement of citizens’ voting right cumbersome.
From the beginning of Nigeria’s 4th republic in 1999, different election cycles have witnessed serious obstacles in the way of the citizens’ right to choose at the polls.
A functioning democratic system of governance must provide an avenue for the larger part of society to take part in choosing political leaders. Arguably, one of the most important role of government is to establish a transparent, well-functioning and participatory electoral system that ensures the universal involvement of citizens of voting age in the electoral process.
The right to vote has its roots embedded in the social contract theory, and it can be argued that this is probably the most important right of all. This is because government is legitimately formed only after citizens have gone to the ballot to choose. The social contract theory prescribes that once members of a society agree to give up some of their rights and freedom to an authority duly chosen by citizens, such chosen authority must in turn protect the rights and freedom of citizens from encroachment.
The right to vote is the foundation upon which this participatory right rests. To be truly part of a given society, members must have an inalienable right to participate in the good governance of that society. Chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution guarantees a list of fundamental rights which are enforceable in the courts. Where a provision of chapter IV is contravened or a fundamental right is trampled upon, section 46 of that chapter allows for citizens to approach the high court for enforcement proceedings.
However, the omission of the right to vote under chapter IV renders this right unenforceable in a strict legal sense. Such an important right that allows citizens to participate in the periodic change of their leaders should be in chapter IV alongside the fundamental rights of all Nigerian citizens.
Although some provisions in law such as section 7(2) of the constitution and section 12 of the Electoral Act may be deemed to have touched on voting, these sections in no way provide a fundamental protection or guarantee of the voting right.
The absence of a guarantee for the right to vote allows for the abuse of this right by the state. Fundamental rights under chapter IV of the constitution enjoy guarantees that protect them from interference by the state and other citizens. Having no form of protection in the constitution for the right to vote therefore leaves room for the government to remain lackadaisical in its duty at actualizing the citizens’ right to vote.
These governmental duties in respect of effective actualisation of citizens’ votes include the efficient registration of voters; providing adequate logistics for voting; instilling the sense of duty to vote in citizens; and such other measures that can make voting possible, meaningful and reflective of the popular will.
Safeguarding the vote
One of the attributes of rights under chapter IV of the Nigerian constitution is that they are open to legal redress, allowing individuals whose fundamental rights have been encroached upon to seek their legal enforcement. With no provisions for the right to vote under the chapter IV of the constitution, there exist no form of legal redress for citizens. Successive administrations since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 have done little to address this.
Also, there has been no concrete plan to solve the recurring problems encountered during the registration of eligible voters and collection of voters’ cards. The time usually allocated for the registration exercise is wholly inadequate and the process is cumbersome.
Moreover, electoral malpractices and willful disregard for the provisions of the electoral act have become notable features of the political climate in Nigeria. These are among the most serious obstacles to the efficient conduct of elections.
Election season in Nigeria are often marred by acts of disorder and lawlessness, which act as barriers to citizens’ participation. Most citizens generally view election days as public holidays and stay in the safety of their homes away from voting centres. With the myriad electoral malpractices including voter intimidation, ballot box snatching and vote buying, the feeling among many citizens is that their vote is inconsequential. This widens the gap between the majority of citizens and the governance process.
As a result, turnout during elections is on the decrease. About 43% of registered voters participated in the 2015 general election compared to 57% in the 2007 elections. This constitutional reality of voting as less than a fundamental right contributes to government’s ineptitude, manifested for example in the inadequate logistical provisions for voter registration. In Lagos state alone, the electoral commission reports that about 1.38million permanent voters’ cards are yet to be collected by prospective voters. As a consequence, millions of eligible voters continue to be disenfranchised.
Without any clear avenue for redress, citizens have no way to hold the government accountable for failing to perform its duty with regards to enabling citizens to vote. Assimilating the right to vote into chapter IV of the constitution would open up the avenue to seek legal redress as necessary and also encourage more citizens to see voting as a civic duty that is both incumbent and relatively easy to perform.
The challenge of youth participation
With the youth making up more than half of the Nigeria’s 182 million population, they play a vital role in the electoral process. Before the 2015 election, the youths comprised about 63% of the eligible voting population. However, the influence of the youth in governance before, during and after elections remains marginal. This exclusion of youth from governance, coupled with the high unemployment rate in the country, has resulted in high levels of frustration which may inevitably turn young people to civil disobedience and violence.
With youth unemployment standing at 33.10% as at 2017, most Nigerian youths are caught up in the daily struggle for survival and view political participation as secondary. The system operated by most political parties in Nigeria fails to provide much needed opportunity for youth participation in politics. Although the passing of the “Not too Young to Run” act reduced the age for contesting for various political offices, most political parties are yet to willingly concede their platforms to young people.
Moreover, one of the ways that political parties continue to stifle youth participation is through the high cost of nomination forms for political office. Issues such as this require urgent redress to enhance popular participation in the governance process.
As the 2019 general elections approaches, the general tendency for government is to focus on winning at the polls. However, one duty that remains sacrosanct is for the government to ensure successful conduct of the polls in a free and fair manner. In the bid to achieve this, the right of every citizen of voting age to vote should be protected and guaranteed by the state, preferably in the chapter IV of the constitution alongside the other fundamental rights. Effective participation by citizens during elections, and their involvement in decision-making even beyond the elections, remain fundamental to foster good governance.
The right to vote is recognized under Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR). Article 21(3) which states that: “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government. This will be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”.
Taking steps to enshrine the right to vote in the chapter IV of Nigeria’s constitution will open up avenues for citizens to mount effective pressure for the actualization of voting right and the establishment of a more transparent and accountable system of government.
“Young men and women form a group and decide to live in the slums where no one can control their lives. Through our work, I have come across many who come from good homes but have decided to live in a slum so that the family will not control their chosen lifestyles. In these areas they have the freedom to smoke, drink, and engage in drug pushing and all the things that their families will frown on.”
“A couple of us moved here because nobody talks evil about you here. You can wear any dress you like, keep any hairstyle and nobody will talk about. Here they accept everybody no matter what your choices are. The pressure from our families and neighbours made like uncomfortable for us so moving here has brought some relief.”
The above are few of the responses from respondents in a research commissioned by Good Governance Africa on the topic, ‘TOWARDS MAKING GHANA’S CITIES RESILIENT: THE CHALLENGES OF GOOD GOVERNANCE OF SLUM DWELLERS.”
Speaking on the side-lines of a validation workshop held in Takoradi, the Municipal Chief Executive Officer of Sekondi – Takoradi Municipal Assembly, Mr. K.K Sam bemoaned the challenges the various identified slums within the municipality pose to the development agenda of the assembly. To him, there is a dysfunctional relationship between slum dwellers and city authorities and it makes it very difficult for state agencies to implement certain projects which fall within the enclave of these slums.
All over the world, slums have shared characteristics such as, overcrowding, poor quality housing, inadequate access to potable water, poor sanitation and lack of socio-economic infrastructure like schools, hospitals, public places and access roads, high rate of crime, unemployment, urban decay, drug addiction, mental illness, malnutrition, diseases and poverty among others.
Good Governance Africa is calling for resilient cities which are capable of providing almost all the above listed to resident to enhance decent living standards. To achieve this, it takes a multi-sectoral effort devoid of any political influence and at the workshop, the Ghana Police Service represented by ACP Duuti Tuaruka, Divisional Police Commander pledged his support together with Ghana National Fire Service, National Disaster Management Organization and other agencies.
The research sort to document and assess the implications/effects of slums and informal settlements on the economy of Ghana in the areas of social, economic, environmental, security and political development. It further seeks to develop robust strategies and policy recommendations to manage slums and informal settlements and prevent their occurrence.
GGA-West Africa is an independent and non-partisan research and advocacy organization that works to improve government performance on the continent by strengthening institutions and building consensus through research, capacity building, sensitization programmes and orientations.