When Nigerians go to the polls Feb. 16 for general elections, few will be expecting large numbers of female candidates to win.
The share of women in Nigeria’s government in the last three years has fallen to 6 percent, and the top female presidential candidate, Oby Ezekwesili, has withdrawn from the race.
Ezekwesili, a Nigerian technocrat, was aiming to change Nigeria’s political landscape by running to become the country’s first female president.
But she pulled out of the race three weeks before the Feb. 16 vote to support a coalition against the main parties.
WATCH: Nigerian Women Struggle to Get Into Politics
The move shocked supporters, like Raymond Chinedu, who saw her as a symbol of new hope for gender equality.
“In Nigeria it is difficult to support a woman to that level, so that’s where the disappointment comes in. But we believe if the men have failed all this while, it is our mindset that at least having a woman in the system, running the system, we believe that things would have taken a different shape,” Chinedu said.
Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission says women occupy only 6 percent of political offices, and he blames cultural and religious factors for the shortage of women in politics.
“… Rwanda even has a higher percentage,” said Oluwole Osaze, the commission’s director. “Part of it is probably because of affirmative action because, in their laws, in their constitution they have things like that. We don’t have that.”
Name on the ballot
Ezekwesili co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in 2014 and openly marched against the government after Boko Haram terrorists abducted hundreds of schoolgirls.
The former education minister is also a co-creator of the anti-corruption agency, Transparency International. It’s a notable record in a country known for widespread corruption.
“Politics undermines everything that we do in this country, whether it is what citizens do, what businesses do, what the society at large does. it undermines governance,” Ezekwesili said.
Nigeria’s election commission said it was too late for Ezekwesili to withdraw from the presidential race and is likely to publish her name on the ballot.
This could split some of the opposition vote, and it’s unlikely Ezekwesili will even remain the top female candidate for president.