Ilorin, Kwara state - Nigerian politics is extremely patriarchal; women hardly get a seat at the table. However, ahead of 2023, Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu is bent on defying the odds to get a seat at the Kwara State House of Assembly.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union2019 rankings, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of women’s legislative representation in Africa.
Since 1999 Nigeria has conducted seven general elections. However, women account for less than 10% of elected candidates in each, according to a research piece by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
“In the 2019 polls less than 4% of those elected were women. Out of the 6,300 candidates who vied for the total of 469 seats in the legislature - House of Representatives (360) and Senate (109) - just 12% were women.
“Only 17 of those 469 seats were won by women. The situation is similar in the 36 State Houses of Assembly and the 774 local government councils. In 2019,a record 1,825 women contested at the state level, but only 40 of them clinched seats with only two under the age of 35,” the research piece states.
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According to CDD, three factors are responsible for the limited young women's participation in Nigerian politics, namely, a lack of financial resources, a shortage of political 'know-how', and a challenging institutional framework.
Against all these odds, Rukayat is committed to improving the statistics of young women’s participation in the political space, at least by one, in 2023.
Who is Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu?
Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu also known as RMS, hails from Manyan village, Onire district in Asa local government area of Kwara state.
Born in Ilorin in 1996, RMS attended Baptist Primary School LGEA in Ilorin.
She obtained her Senior Secondary School Certificate Education in 2011 from Government Girls Day Secondary School Oko Erin.
RMS then proceeded to Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies, an affiliate of Bayero University Kano (then), where she obtained a diploma certificate in Mass Communication and Islamic Studies in 2015.
After the diploma, RMS enrolled herself in a fashion design school where she learned about sewing women’s clothes. In 2017, she got admission to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). She graduated in 2022 with Second Class (Upper Division) from the Mass Communication department.
RMS was the former head of the news department, Just Event Online in Ilorin, a famous online television.
RMS’ journey into politics
“Politics is a dirty game,” this is what many Nigerian youths say to justify their staying away from political participation. They stay away, even though they constitute the largest demographic in Nigeria.
To change the narrative ahead of the 2023 general elections, election observer group, Yiaga Africa, is partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to mobilise at least 29 million young voters.
The initiative tagged #SixtyPercentOfUs hopes to see 60% of eligible young voters register collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and vote in the 2023 elections.
However, RMS is one of the few young Nigerians who, without any extra push, had shown early interest in politics. She actively participated in student politics.
Rukayat was the first female Senate president for the Congress of the National Open University of Nigeria Students (CoNS).
“I was a student leader for many years and a member of various pro-democracy groups,” she said.
Now, after school, she’s ready to play on the bigger stage.
“I am the only youth, the only woman contesting in my constituency,” RMS told Legit.ng.
She says “to achieve good governance we all need to participate in politics and bring about the change we want.”
Run to win: RMS’s interest in Kwara House of Assembly seat
Yiaga Africa also recently launched the ‘Run To Win’ Campaign project. The campaign with the theme ‘Acing the hurdles of vying for political office’ is dedicated to encouraging and supporting young women and men with competence, capacity, and character to contest and win elections in Nigeria.
In 2023, Rukayat is one of the young Nigerians who aren’t just going to vote but also “running to win”.
RMS has obtained the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s nomination and expression of interest forms and has been screened to contest for the Owode/Onire State Constituency ticket at the primaries slated for Friday, May 27.
Since her declaration on Wednesday, May 4, Rukayat says she has been getting both positive and negative comments. Nevertheless, all the comments, even the negative ones, are “a plus to me to get prepared more,” RMS told Legit.ng.
2023: Why interest in the legislative seat?
Of all available seats, why interested in a Kwara legislative seat, Legit.ng asks RMS.
“Being a former student leader, I served as the First Female Senate President for the Congress of the National Open University of Nigeria Students, (CoNS), I have always had an interest in the legislative arm of the government.
“The passing of laws, establishing the government’s budget, confirming executive appointments, redressing constituents’ grievances, etc.”
Women's participation in politics and the choice of APC
On why she decided to seek the legislative seat on the platform of the ruling APC, RMS says she is “a core member of the Progressive family, aside from that, the party is gender-friendly.”
She said though women are underrepresented in politics due to several factors, the narrative will change gradually with “the free nomination forms given to female aspirants” as “there are a lot of us coming on board.”
However, this does not appear to make any significant difference. For instance, only one woman each is contesting for the presidential tickets of the APC and the PDP. Where are the women?
Apparently not happy with the development, Nigeria’s First Lady Aisha Buhari recently said she does not believe in free gifts and told the ruling party not to use the free forms as a means of sidelining women at the end of the day.
What I will do if elected, RMS reveals
Meanwhile, if elected to represent Owode/Onire Constituency in the Kwara State House of Assembly, Rukayat told Legit.ng she will sponsor bills that will center on some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 4,5,9, and 10.
The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
The 17 SDGs are integrated—they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
While Goal 4 focuses on Quality Education, Goal 5 is all about Gender Equality. Goal 9 focuses on Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure while Goal 10 focuses on Reduced Inequalities.
2023: The APC’s winning chances
In 2023, Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu, aka RMS, is hopeful that she and her party will emerge victoriously.
“Only God gives power, but I am hopeful that my party, the ruling APC get the mandate again,” she told Legit.ng.