Nigerian Market Women And The Political Sphere: In view of the 2023 Elections
While some scholars still believe that the effects of colonialism still cloud development in Africa, especially in the areas of economic development and political stability, Tripp (2013) opined that one of the most fascinating developments in African politics, has been the increase in women’s political participation.
In the world today, Africa is a leader in women's representation; the continent holds its head high in the global community, with Rwanda having about 61.25 per cent of its legislative seats occupied by women. Senegal, Seychelles, and South Africa, all have at least 40 per cent of their parliamentary seats held by women. In Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda about 35 per cent of public seats are occupied by women.
The executive seats in Africa also have women represented; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005 became the first female President in Africa, Joyce Banda also took the presidential seat in Malawi. There have been 12 Vice Presidents in Africa, who have been females. There have so far been 22 women heads of state in Africa. Even ministerial posts that are considered key in the society are being held by women, such positions including defense, finance, foreign affairs etc. Examples of such include Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, South Africa’s Defense Minister and Ngozi Okonjo Iweala Nigeria’s Finance Minister.
Nigeria is dubbed the giant of Africa, but of the statistics reported above, only a very large and arguably insignificant portion pertains to Nigeria. Although a few women participate in politics at the highest levels and other levels of government and politics in Nigeria, women’s participation in politics, in Nigeria, has, arguably, been quite limited to the level of voting and latent support only.
One wonders then, the level of political participation and in fact awareness that women, especially at the grass root levels of Nigeria would have and exercise. Furthermore, this leads us to the point of discussion; to what extent do market women influence political participation, campaigns and mobilisation in Nigeria?
The economic and political contributions of market women in Nigeria’s diverse contexts have long been ignored and buried. Market women in the region we know today as Nigeria have, for a long time, been at the forefront of social transitions. A notable example of the significance of market women was the Aba Women’s Riot in 1929. The riot is commonly referred to as the Aba Women’s Riot, but the term, ‘riot’ is a gross mischaracterization of the events that took place.
When the British colonial masters tried to force Nigerian traders to pay taxes, Aba market women rebelled because the taxation would have resulted in a large financial burden for their families. These market women mobilized and resolved to fight back. News of the revolt spread across Eastern and Southern regions of Nigeria and hundreds of thousands of women took part in the protest. The women were not armed with weapons, but they stood up against the British in peaceful protest.
The British forces were so threatened by these women that they shot over 70 of them who were unarmed. The women were unsuccessful, but their fight against colonial rule deserves acknowledgement, and perhaps even a national holiday. The Aba Women’s War was one of the largest anti-colonialist movements in Nigerian history and their legacy of protest continues among market women.
Market women have historically controlled town and village markets by organizing themselves into associations, pooling credit, and selling agricultural produce, occupying stalls at the centre of Kingdoms, towns, cities dominating the quintessential space of the public sphere”. Porter et al (2010) described how market associations in Nigeria have played this role in the reduction of intra-state conflict. They stated that market associations involve men and women from different ethnic and religious groups, and they mediate and resolve disputes, and interact with ethnic organizations and state agencies.
It is important to identify that before colonialism and after colonialism, market women have remained important in the society. Zemon (1975) thought that in markets in Yoruba lands, women were on top. Another insight about market women and their influence during the pre-colonial era, was the fact that they (market women) were represented by a female Chief, known popularly as the Iyalode, a woman who represents and heads all women in a particular town or city, and also possessed some degree of ‘masculinized’ economic and political power that she was entitled to a seat in the King’s Council.
The influence of market women is far-reaching, as the same people are wives, mothers, traders and merchants all at the same time. These roles allow them to be able to influence decisions, either individually at home or together in public; to this effect, in every society, one cannot ignore their influence.
Economists Cathy-Austin Otekhile and Oluwatoyin Matthews, argue in their paper, ‘An Explorative Study of the Contribution of the Informal Sector to Economic Activities in Lagos, Nigeria’, that the contributions of market women strengthen the economy by their sheer number.
In modern days, market women's influence on decision-making is not really different from what it was before colonialism, there still exist an Iyalode in places where traditional practices are still of great use and Iyaoloja where there is no Iyalode, but there exists the regular market association. Either the Iyalode or Iyaoloja serves as a representative for the market women in the local government administration, especially when decisions relating to the marketplace arise.
In the area of political campaigns and mobilization, it is well-known that Nigerian politicians use market women in getting votes, this is because market women in their numbers are great mobilisers. These market women are often recruited severally by various political parties to campaign for them especially because the market terrain is largely under their control, however, once they become elected, the women are mostly neglected. Hence, the reason many market women have decided on not supporting any of the said candidates in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
Reports also have it that these women are standing their grounds especially since the government has refused to implement favourable policies to make their lives easier.Despite this, market women continue to play a huge role in Nigeria's elections.
In 2020, Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics estimated that women made up over 49 per cent of Nigeria's 206 million population. Moving into the 2023 elections, political analysts believe that the political exploitation of market women by politicians would not be different, due to the high level of unemployment and inflation in the country which has put these women in a desperate situation.
I met Mama Chisom, a widow and mother of five, at the local market in Ibadan, Bodija where she sells Yam tubers and spends most of her days.
When asked what she thought about the forthcoming elections she said in the popular Nigerian Pidgin language: "I do not believe in any of these men. They are all the same. They only show their faces when they need something and then disappear into thin air. Although I have my PVC, I would be out on that day selling my wares in the neighborhood, and if that is not possible, I will carve a spot for myself right in front of my house like I did the previous year, and I will wait for customers to come."
Mama Chisom had survived on selling foodstuffs for three years after having lost her husband in a car accident. She had long moved with her family to Ibadan where she believed she could make live a little more livable for herself and her children.
In an interview, Toyin Taiwo, a political analyst told Channels TV that these women who get exploited believe that only during elections periods can they get the attention of politicians, hence, they were willing to have their share of the national cake which they believe would no longer get to them until the next elections when once again politicians would recruit them, thereby essentially becoming part of the problem.
Electoral fraud, and more specifically election rigging, and electoral violence, which have continued to plague elections and the electoral process at all levels of governance in Nigeria, have been identified as contributing factors to the unsatisfactory participation of market women in politics. Inadequate information and socialization have also been identified as contributing factors, which fall under the purview of both the federal government and political parties in the states.
Perhaps, with better policies and electoral bodies functioning appropriately with preventive measures for electoral fraud, the coming years would see more of these women in the local levels encouraged to participate in the governance of their country and freely give their support.