Bringing Politics to Marginalized Groups in Nigeria

  • Nicole Blunck

Women, youth, and people with disabilities– or PWD– have little representation in Nigeria’s government, even though they make up a significant portion of the country’s electorate– around 70 percent of Nigerians are younger than 25 and, of course, women make up half of the population. In order to make governance processes more representative of all Nigerians, the International Republican Institute, IRI, is promoting the inclusion of marginalized groups in political parties. With IRI’s support, members of marginalized groups are reviewing internal party documents and suggesting ways to remove legal and institutional barriers to make institutions more inclusive. IRI is using its long-established relationships with Nigeria’s major political parties to get more women, youth, and PWD engaged in politics.

So far, though, this has been challenging work. Women and youth representation decreased after the 2019 general elections, with women winning only 4.63 percent of elected positions, the lowest percentage in the country’s democratic history. While the Not Too Young to Run campaign lowered the age limit for political candidates, youth and other marginalized groups continue to face additional barriers to their participation in government, such as the high cost of campaigning and pressure to conform to gender norms and stereotypes concerning women in politics.

IRI’s work with political parties is key to promoting political representation for marginalized groups because parties are central to politics in Nigeria. Belonging to a party is a requirement for candidacy and citizens vote for parties, rather than individual candidates, in elections. After the 2019 election brought the lowest voter turnout in Nigerian history and a drop in the participation of women, youth, and PWD, party leaders recognized the need to represent the needs of their constituents better in order to win elections. This presents an opportunity for IRI to push for the inclusion of marginalized groups in political parties.

Previously, IRI worked with Nigeria’s two largest parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), to create leadership positions for women, youth, and PWD.  These party leaders play an important role in coordinating with their constituencies and identifying priorities for the party to address. While these new positions represent important progress, work remains to ensure that leaders are able to influence decision-making and policy development processes within their parties.

IRI has convened strategy sessions with women, youth, and PWD members from the APC and PDP to address structural and institutional barriers to participation. This includes, for example, making language gender neutral, expanding the definition of disabilities eligible for PWD positions, and reserving certain party positions for youth and women members.

This approach will put citizens’ needs first and will allow marginalized group members to have lasting influence on political party and governance processes. These reforms are particularly important as Nigeria begins preparations for national and state elections in 2023, and will set the stage for long-lasting, representation of women, youth, and PWD in Nigeria’s government.

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