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Opinions of Monday, 28 June 2021

Columnist: Nnedinso Ogaziechi

Young women, mentorship and political delusion

There are too few women in Nigerian politics There are too few women in Nigerian politics

There is sometimes an unspoken conflict of interest in the heads of many young women. They want to seize the momentum for gender rights advocacy across the globe but often feel that education and technology are all they need to catch up with the men’s monopoly in leadership. However, most tend to forget that even voting rights and other rights that women have fought for across the globe are all often credited to women who most times were illiterates but understood how politics and leadership work.

Age and leadership are not synonyms but age and experience often help to navigate the political turf. What this means therefore is that the mentorship processes are required for rookies of both genders to understudy the older more experienced politicians to have a headway. The male politicians have fared very well in the mentorship of younger men. It does not matter that in some sectors they are derogatorily referred to as ‘godfathers’. That does not negate the fact that democratic processes need a lot of strategies from the party platforms for success to be recorded.

The Roundtable Conversation tried to research the paucity of female equivalence of ‘godmothers’ in the Nigerian political environment. A few female politicians came up with some revelations. One problem is the fact that there are too few women in Nigerian politics. There are fewer older female politicians than men given the socio-cultural and religious reasons known to everyone. However, some of these older women are ready to mentor the younger women who want to actively take part in politics but some are not so keen.

There is however a snag, unlike the older ones, most of the millennials tend to mistake their digital expertise with political shrewdness. Unlike their male counterparts, they assume that the older women in politics cannot take them into apprenticeship. They feel that the gender advocacy themes can empower them to access leadership at the political level. Whether this is practicable remains to be seen.

The Roundtable conversation spoke to Dr. Bilikisu Magoro, the CEO of Bilmor Tech Vocational Center, a Development Consultant and Gender/human Rights advocate and an experienced woman in issues of historical importance about women in leadership. As one working with the ELECT-HER group and other mentorship groups that she actively contributes to, she believes the younger generation of women are learning but they must be ready to soak in the wisdom that goes into political strategizing that the men have been succeeding with.

There has to be more attentiveness from the younger women and they must take a cue from the men who always do what can be described as political apprenticeship. This helps in grooming the men and no matter how accomplished they are in other fields, they submit to the wisdom of the older men in politics. It does not mean that they would jettison their knowledge and ideas but there are political steps young women must learn from the older ones. It often has nothing to do with your educational qualifications. Leadership at the political level in a democracy has many processes that must be learnt and who best to pass on these strategies than the older women politicians?

To Bilikisu, the men are more steadfast in understudying their mentors (oga in local parlance) working with them and learning the ropes. She has however noticed that most young women just want to jump into the field and participate and that to a large extent is one reason women are not doing too well in terms of numbers. You cannot succeed like that because experience in politics matters.

Politics is a practical thing and it is not about theories, you must learn under someone, contribute your ideas and arm yourself with the strategies that work in your democratic settings. The younger women seem to be unrealistic in feeling that understudying older female politicians willing to mentor them means servitude in any form.

On the contrary, we can see older male politicians even as former heads of governments, heads of ministries or agencies would always respect their male mentors, often respectfully calling them ‘my oga’. The older and middle aged female politicians tend to recognize more the roles of the mentors in the field. Someone like Gambo Sawaba, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti and Margaret Ekpo are still honoured today for their trailblazing efforts but it does seem the millennials feel that the internet and technology are all they need to close the gender gap in politics. That could be fallacious.

Politics needs a groundwork that only understudying older ones can achieve. You can achieve visibility better by associating with more visible and experienced politicians. That does not amount to servitude. When you are seen together very often, the law of association helps. You have to pay your dues before you learn. No, the men cannot give up powers just because you are internet savvy. You must know enough to wade through the murky waters. I personally had to understudy some women politicians of repute and I respectfully acknowledge their assistance and support in my growth politically.

More women have to be ready to humble themselves to learn because politics is not a walk in the park, there must be a deliberate acknowledgment of those before you as you will be history someday too. If the young women continue to act like they know it all, the political space would continue to be dominated by men who often choose to stoop and conquer so they must change their mindset. There is no alternative to mentoring and it is not a Nigerian thing, it is a global phenomenon.

The Roundtable had a chat with Hon. Pwasato Amos, the Vice Chairperson of Demsa Local Government of Adamawa state. She benefited from the mentorship of the first female Senator from Adamawa state in North East Nigeria, Senator Grace Bent. Pwasato says the fact that Senator Grace Bent became the first female Senator from the North East was a huge encouragement to her and other younger women in the constituency and most of them have succeeded in getting into politics through her mentorship. Some have gone into the State House of Assembly and some in other areas of the political space, especially local government administration, drawing them closer to the grassroots.

To her, it has been as challenging as it has been a learning experience but she feels that cannot be a source of discouragement. Most of the men are very supportive and that is the support the women need to contribute to leadership. She believes that the trail blazed by Senator Bent has been helpful because before her, it was mainly an all men affair. Her mentorship has been both practical and psychological because all the young women who are not even close to her believe they too can go into politics and be successful.

The advantage of staying strong and showing determination as a woman in politics is very encouraging to younger women and that is one thing that Senator Bent was able to inspire. She also went out her way to encourage and galvanize the young women in the state to form a closer bond to help them encourage each other. She believes a closer relationship with fellow women politicians can help more women get to leadership positions around the country.

Even with the challenges in politics women are good leaders because women know the problems they have and it can take more women getting into leadership to help solve those problems. As someone who has benefitted from mentorship, Pwasato believes that one can only learn by association and getting into the practical programs through your political parties. She too hopes to mentor other women too.

Just like male politicians, the women can also make changes by mentoring younger ones and the younger ones too must be ready to learn. It is not enough to want to get into politics, one must learn from the older ones whose experiences cannot be jettisoned at all because politics is not like online classes where you can be in your home and take classes and exams and pass. Communication is important and interaction in politics cannot be replaced with isolation.

The Roundtable Conversation believes that gender parity in politics is still a long way off but the younger generation of women must avoid the pitfalls to the aspirations they might have. Being internet savvy cannot guarantee political spaces. Leadership, experience and strategic planning are all very important to achieving results. All over the world, most of the women that have attained success in politics recount their journeys and obviously they all had mentors either as individuals or groups. Series of talk-shops and advocacy seminars are good but they are not the magic wands needed for full political participation.

Democracy is about political parties and the people. Staying aloof and reveling in mere rhetoric cannot guarantee political power . Politics is about interactions and that is not limited to voters alone. The wisdom of the older politicians, especially women willing to mentor the younger ones cannot be derived from modern gadgets because the sociology of politics is unique to every nation. The Roundtable Conversation feels now is the time to also learn from the men, political apprenticeship works. Young women must take the challenge seriously.