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Natasha Akpoti and Kogi State’s red flag to women

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019, I watched on national television, a very sad commentary that went a long way to reaffirm how precarious our situation is. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) governorship candidate in the just concluded election in Kogi State, Ms. Natasha Akpoti, was on air and in tears too. She was narrating her ordeal in the hands of thugs allegedly sponsored by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and it was heart-wrenching.

According to the video, she was attacked and harassed by the said thugs at the venue of a peace meeting organized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while security personnel at the scene allegedly watched and did nothing.

“On my way to participate in the INEC’s organized political stakeholders meeting, I was attacked and harassed by the APC thugs,” the SDP candidate alleged, adding, “There were lots of policemen, there were over 500 men from the security agencies in different uniforms.

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She said some young men in mufti she was sure to be thugs first verbally assaulted her, calling her a prostitute. The opposition candidate, who broke down in tears while recounting her experience, noted that some armed security operatives witnessed while she was assaulted by the hoodlums and none of them stopped the devious act. According to the narrative, she was booed and walked out of the venue.

Her words: “I was pulled out and pushed twice to the ground by the thugs. The thugs were about 30 and the security operatives were more than 500.”

Akpoti lamented that the security operatives refused to intervene and ward off the thugs. “Not one security official stepped forward to stop the attack.”

Now, if poor participation of women in politics and governance has been a major concern at the global level, what then do you think would be made of this development?

It is very glaring that the number of women participating in politics in Nigeria is not proportionate to the 50 percent of the nation’s population, which they represent, and has not translated into equal representation in political leadership positions.

With rising global focus on issues of gender equality, aided by calls such as that of Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals, which is bridging the gap created by long-term discriminations against women, and helping to make women more visible in politics, one would have expected that Nigeria would appropriately recognize women in the political sphere, and include them in both appointive and elective positions.

But no, poor participation of women in Nigerian politics persists with the number of women in political positions growing at a slow rate despite calls to accelerate the trend.

And the challenges faced by Nigerian women to actively participate in politics are legion, if you like. They include discriminatory socio-cultural and religious practices; poor finances; the under-representation of women in governance; an unhealthy political environment; political party discrimination; false perceptions of women in politics; lack of support from family, fellow women, and the media, as well as the indigenization of female political aspirants.

Yet, the participation of women in governance and politics is of strategic importance not only for women empowerment but also for its wider benefits and impact. More so since it is a fact that disadvantaged people and or groups can only obtain fair representation if they are present in elected assemblies.

Based on the above, therefore, the world can only be a better place when women and men are equitably represented at every decision-making body where crucial resources are distributed and are allocated.

That has not been the case in Nigeria despite her ratifications of several conventions to eliminate all forms of discrimination and ensure the participation of women in governance issues.

Any wonder therefore why we are where we are today.

Even with the affirmative action of 35 percent representation of women in political and non-elective positions in Nigeria, the number of women in the legislative houses is not encouraging because of male dominance in Nigeria. Since 1999, it is evident that women have not reached 10 percent representation. From 1999 till date, no woman has been vice president of Nigeria talk less of the president, for instance.

Also, there has not been any female governor since 1999 till date, apart from some years ago when the governor of Anambra  State, Mr. Peter Obi, was removed from office and as soon as he won his case through the courts, the woman governor, Dame Virgy Etiaba, reverted to her deputy governor position.

The story goes on and on along this line, which is why news of the assault on Ms. Akpoti by alleged APC thugs must be condemned by all men and women of good conscience.
The denial by APC, notwithstanding, it is this kind of horrible experience and picture painted of our political turf that drives away many credible and qualified women, and in fact, many good people that would have possibly provided the kind of leadership that Nigerians yearn for, thereby leaving us with the rascals and hooligans that most times parade our political space.
After watching Ms. Akpoti narrate her ordeal in tears last week in the hands of apparently hired thugs, how will other women be encouraged to participate in politics that is now turning to be a war zone in the country?
Isn’t it such a shame that at this stage of our national life, we are still at the level of calling women derogatory names for daring to venture into politics? And this ugly trend takes place at all levels of our human endeavors.
Worse still is that this was happening in a state where the incumbent governor and leader of the party that allegedly deployed the thugs to attack her, happens to be the youngest governor in the country.
As a product of one of the marginalised groups in a country that is agitating for the young and other marginalised segments of the population such as women to be given a chance to positions of leadership, one would have expected a Governor Yahaya Bello to conduct one of the best and clean campaigns in the country.
While I am not speaking for Ms. Akpoti, or confirming her story, politics should be a fair play and the right thing would have been for her to be allowed to operate on a level playing field, without any form of harassment or intimidation. If in the end, the people decide to vote for or against her, so be it. That should be the spirit.
You can then see why many are questioning the rationale behind the Senate approval, on Wednesday last week, of N10 billion to the state government, barely four days to the election, where the incumbent Governor Bello, who is also seeking a second term, has been adjudged, in many quarters, as the worst governor in the country, owing civil servants in the state for months on end.
Expectedly, chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Clifford Ordia, while presenting his report on the matter on the floor of the House on Wednesday, said the money was a refund for some federal projects carried by the state government.

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According to him, Kogi State government had carried out repairs on seven Federal Government roads in the state. He explained further that the approved sum is in capital expenditure, which has to do with a refund to the state government for monies spent in the execution of Federal Government projects.
Nigerians, however, are not convinced and are indeed searching for the federal projects a man that does not even pay salaries is said to have executed. As a matter of fact and to call a spade by its name, it has been generally alleged that the approval was to empower Gov. Bello’s campaign for a second term, part of which, as typical Nigerian politicians are known for, may have been wrongly applied to the assault and harassment of the likes of Natasha Akpoti, an allegation that the APC described as a “gallery show of falsehood.”
The ruling party’s chairman of the Media and Publicity Committee in Kogi, Kingsley Fanwo, is reported to have said in a statement that the APC does not have thugs nor need them to win elections. That notwithstanding, and barely five days to the governorship election, suspected thugs reportedly set fire to Ms. Akpoti’s party’s (SDP) secretariat in Lokoja.
So, who are these thugs and who sponsored them? Or, who hired the hooded men allegedly kitted in police uniforms that attacked the Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde, who was in the state, in his capacity as chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Campaign Council for the state, last week’s Friday? Only God knows, ABI?