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Nigeria Women Candidates - 2002-07-18

There is growing concern among women politicians in Northern Nigeria over calls for a ban on female candidates in future elections. Supporters say the Islamic legal code or Sharia supports such a ban.

Many women in Northern Nigeria were elected as legislators and local council officials in 1999. But this was before many northern states adopted the Islamic legal code or Sharia in the 2000. Advocates for women say the call by strong supporters of Sharia to ban women candidates from seeking elective positions is a ploy to disenfranchise them. Kurypamo Agary is an Ijaw woman leader from Bayelsa State in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. She says disenfranchising women in Northern Nigeria has nothing to do with Sharia. "They are quiet because of possible reprisals from the men", she adds, "they live in such an environment where you have to fight and run so you will be alive to fight another day. Very few women who have been vocal in the North have faced threats to their lives."

Maryam Abdullahi is a member of the Ruling Peoples Democratic Party or P-D-P in Katsina State and the only female member of the state cabinet. She says lack of education is a major handicap for women seeking elective offices. Notwithstanding this, she says, women are also being encouraged to come out and be voted for. "Not long ago we had a workshop on the importance of women participation in politics. We had this one for Jigawa, Katsina and Kano - it was held right here. Now the state team is going round the local governments. They are telling the women to come out to contest alongside with the men."

But Salisu Maijigiri, also a member of the Ruling Peoples Democratic Party or P-D-P in Mashi, Katsina State, says Islam forbids women from being candidates in any election. "Here in Katsina State we are about 99% Muslims. Our religion Islam does not allow women to lead. What I mean is that the religion does not allow women to lead where there are men. That is why even if they try to contest elective posts, many people do not vote for them. Even myself I cannot vote for a woman to be a governor or senator". Mallam Maijigiri says women who got elected in the past will not enjoy such opportunities again. "I have to talk like this because as you can now see in Katsina we are implementing the Sharia. And with the Sharia I believe many things that are prohibited by our religion even if they are being done, this time around, they cannot be done. I assure you this. Whatever be the case, states like Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa - you wait to see - you will not see women holding sensitive posts more especially elective posts." However, about one hundred women in Zamfara state, which is controlled by the opposition, All Nigeria People Party or ANPP, are contesting in the August 10 local council polls. Some of the women emerged as candidates after contesting party primaries and defeating some men. Analysts say the candidacy of women does not appear different in other northern states implementing Sharia, as many women are likely to be contesting in the local council polls this August. They contend that this is an indication the plan to bar women in the name of Sharia may not succeed.