5 Things 2019 Candidates Can Learn from Nigeria’s 1st Female Majority Leader

“The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up. Make sure you’re very courageous: be strong.” Serena Williams

A year ago, I attended CSW 61, which is the United Nation’s (UN) Commission on the Status of Women’s annual session where representatives of member states, UN entities, and NGOS from all over the world come to discuss a yearly theme. Last year’s theme was: women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work. I attended an event co-organized by the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, where I met Hon. Mulikat Akande Adeola (MAA), Nigeria’s first female legislative leader at the federal level. I highlighted a few key takeaways from the event that were shared by MAA, and fellow female politicians including H. E. Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi of Nigeria and France’s Nicole Ameline here.

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In her book ‘A Woman in Parliament: Chronicles of Mulikat Akande Adeola, Nigeria’s First National Parliamentary Leader’ she walks us briefly through her childhood and then gives an in depth look at her political trajectory from her initiation into politics to the end of her tenure. There are so many gems within the book, but I have decided to limit them to these five, which I believe may be extremely useful for female (and male) candidates contesting for the Nigerian 2019 and future elections.

1. Women [or anyone wishing to run for an elected position] should register for a political party and participate actively in grassroots efforts in their representative community.

This probably seems like common sense, yet one would be surprised how sometimes simple things are overlooked. MAA stated: “I made my very first tentative steps towards political office by identifying a party whose ideology and worldview resonated with me…and to translate political aspiration to electoral victory, grassroots acceptance and support [was] key.” She saw many needs in her local party’s local chapter and she personally met some of them. Additionally, she began to regularly visit people in her constituency where she encouraged them to participate in the governance process and speak up about issues even before running for office. By the time the next election cycle rolled around, her community members supported her based on her already proven track record.

2. Know the rules of the game when engaging in partisan politics.

Due to Nigeria’s patriarchal society “men are ‘expected’ to lead. And so a woman leading men is not very readily or quickly accepted, even by some of those men who verbally profess not to have a problem with it. Therefore higher standards are expected from a woman and there is a ruthlessness with which public sentiment is galvanised against her at the slightest infraction, whether perceived or factual.” Thus it is important that women who are contesting should realize that they are already at a disadvantage and should be expecting opposition not only on the basis of their candidacy, but their very character and personal life. MAA continues by taking it one step further. During her bid for Speaker of the House of Representatives, she realized that “what comes across as sociocultural resistance is actually something much deeper: the fear of seeing a woman have so much economic power…The resistance to [MAA’s] emergence as Speaker went beyond the more apparent sociocultural reasons…it was more about halting [her] rise to certain levels of economic control and power that needed to be reserved for the ‘boys’ only.” Since politics is so closely linked to economics, those looking to expand women’s political participation must take into account and address this linkage. Any woman (or man) running for an elected position will not only need support from their constituents and even fellow politicians, but also significant funds.

3. Call in reinforcements.

Or in other words, women should strategize and work with other women. MAA actively sought the support of coalitions of women-focused NGOs and other women groups during her bid for Speaker of the House. She was especially “impressed with how [a female legislator] lived out the activist principles which she had been known to espouse, by openly supporting another woman in spite of some severe pressure not to do so.” However, it’s also important to be realistic and realize that “in today’s politics, there are still women who would really want to support other women but are handed very difficult ultimatums by the male ‘powers that be’ and for that reason do not come through when needed most.” The important thing is for qualified women to use the already existing networks to publicize their candidacy. There is also power in reaching across religious and ethnic lines to try to garner support from those outside of one’s community.

4. Show them who you are!

I couldn’t help throwing in a line from Black Panther. 😇 On a more serious note, it is important to never lose one’s identity in a bid for political office. MAA said that the phrase that stuck with her throughout her race and candidacy was her sister’s exhortation: “Always remember whose daughter you are.” Her opponents and detractors had objections to her candidacy that were as as flimsy as the fact that she wore red lipstick.

It is important for candidates to never lose sight of the finish line and the reason why they wanted to contest in the first place; they should remember the people in their community and the work that needs to be done. One should never allow an opponent to define who s/he is. Either get ahead of their efforts or push back and reclaim the narrative.

5. Stand firm and never compromise.

Politics can be dangerous, and it even ends in death for some people. With that being said, it’s important to never back down in the face of opposition. MAA was actually offered the Deputy Speakership, but she refused it because she was running for the Speakership and felt that accepting the lower position would be a betrayal to herself and her community. Although she didn’t win, she became the House Majority Leader and in that role she had to navigate a position where she worked with a male-dominated leadership and as a woman in Nigeria’s National Assembly – legislative branch – was “used as a reference for framing the narrative around women’s ability to cope with the pressures of public office.” Not to mention her primary duty of improving the lives of the constituents she was representing. Any candidate running for political office must have conviction and be ready to stand by it no matter what.

Have you read MAA’s book? Even if you haven’t, feel free to add to my list. Since it’s Women’s History Month, feel free to also drop the names of other Nigerian women who have made history in politics and governance.

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