The continued and systematic exclusion of women, youths and other marginalised groups from social, economic and political opportunities in Nigeria severely limits the capacity of the country to achieve its full potential, a new report by Agora Policy, an Abuja-based think tank, has said.

“Low level of inclusion in Nigeria incapacitates not just the excluded groups but the country itself,” states Agora Policy in its report titled ‘How to Deepen Gender, Social and Political Inclusion in Nigeria,’ released on Monday.

According to the report, while women and girls constitute about half of the population and citizens under 35 years account for at least seven in ten Nigerians, the capacities of women and youths for full actualisation are constrained by unequal access to power and resources as well as exclusionary norms, practices, laws and policies. This in turn, the report states, negatively impacts development outcome for the country as a whole.

“Nigeria undermines itself by limiting the potentials of significant segments of its population,” the report adds. “Continuing on this path amounts to Nigeria shooting itself in the foot or punching grossly below its weight. Deepening inclusion is thus not a favour to the excluded groups but a sensible route to overall national development. It is in Nigeria’s self-interest to be a more inclusive society.”

Put together by a group of experts on gender, political and social inclusion and produced with the support of MacArthur Foundation, thereport by Agora Policy examines the reasons why women, youths, people living with disabilities (PWDs), and ethnic/religious minorities are excluded from economic and political opportunities in the country and makes extensive recommendations on how to consciously remake Nigeria into a more inclusive society.

The recommendations range from expanding access to marketable skills, job opportunities, credits and markets to making and enforcing more sensitive and more inclusive laws and policies, providing dedicated fundings, greater implementation-coordination and budget-tracking mechanisms, re-orientation campaigns, and increasing political representations for the excluded through greater devolution and constitutionally-backed power rotation and affirmative actions.

“There is no better time than this critical electioneering and transition period to discuss the need to make Nigeria a more inclusive society,” says Waziri Adio, the founder and Executive Director of Agora Policy. “Most of the issues causing friction in the country today are rooted in the exclusion of substantial part of the population. This is also a major subtext of the 2023 general election. It is therefore important to use the period before, during and after the elections to discuss and exact commitments on how improve the participation, representation and agency of a significant number of Nigerians who have been alienated, locked out or left behind.”

According to the Agora Policy report, Nigeria’s gender policies of 2006 and 2020 which respectively assign 35% and 50% of appointments to women have been observed largely in the breach. Though females constitute 49.3% of the population, women amount to only 4.26% of the members of the national parliament. This is not only way below the African average of 23.4% but also compares dismally with the 32.8% for Uganda, 43% for Senegal and 47.95% for Rwanda. Nigeria takes the rear in a ranking of female legislators in national parliaments in Africa.

Within Nigeria, the parliaments in 15 states, or 41.66% of the 36 states, have no female legislators, according to data from Invictus Africa. The 15 states, which have a combined 410 state legislators, are: Abia, Bauchi, Borno, Edo, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara. Beyond the political arena, the exclusion of women is equally pronounced in areas such as financial inclusion, ownership of landed property, access to education, health, ICT and wealth creation opportunities and others.

The report acknowledges some important policies and laws that are intended to reduce discrimination against women and girls or improve opportunities for them such as the Child Rights Act 2003, the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015, the National Gender Policy 2020, the National Development Plan 2021 to 2025 etc., but contends that state-level adoption and strict enforcement overall remain at issue.

According to the report, some structural and cultural issues (even some laws and policies) enable the exclusion of women from opportunities in Nigeria. The enablers of gender exclusion include: patriarchy, socio-cultural and religious norms that promote unequal economic and power relations, practices around indigene-ship, and the patronage and collusive network nature of Nigerian politics.

Some of the recommendations of the report on gender inclusion include: enhancing the capacity of women and girls through better access to health and education (especially Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, STEM); embracing gender-responsive budgeting and activating gender management systems; passing the five Gender Equality Bills turned down by the National Assembly during the ongoing constitutional amendment process; introducing and implementing laws that tackle inequality; and increasing female representation in politics through voluntary and legal quotas as is the practice in other African countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal.

Other Observations and Recommendations of the Report:

  • Despite constituting the bulk of the population, Nigerian youths are excluded and disempoweredNigeria’s median age is 18.1 years and citizens under the age of 35 constitute 74.22% of the Nigerian population, which shows that Nigeria has a youthful population. Yet, Nigerian youths are disempowered, alienated and excluded, which negatively impacts the wellbeing of the youths and limits their contributions to national development. The report states that: “youth inclusion in the economic, social and political life of the nation seems to have stalled. The constructive engagement of youths has given way largely to restiveness. Some youths have become a ‘reserve army of the unemployed’, manipulated and used by politicians and religious bigots to perpetuate violence, thuggery, banditry and terrorism.”

Despite their numerical advantage, the youths occupy only 6% of elective and appointive offices in Nigeria. “Some of the politicians that have been holding political offices since the 1970s have continued to dominate the political space,” the Agora Policy report says.  “Following campaigns led by Yiaga Africa and other youth-focused organisations under the banner of Not-Too-Young-To-Run, the age qualification has been lowered to allow people in their late twenties or thirties to contest for elective offices. But concerns relating to the weak resource capacity of the youth to compete on equal footing remain.” While acknowledging the gains from the Not TooYoung to Run Act 2018, the report also shows that youth candidacy in the current election cycle is lower than the one for 2019.

The exclusion of Nigerian youths also manifests in lack of job/economic opportunities and in disproportionate exposure to police brutality which fuelled the #EndSARS protests of 2020. The report acknowledges the contributions made by some Nigerian youths in different facets of life but argues for the need to proactively address the alienation of the generality of youths and embrace policies that will better position Nigeria to reap the dividends of having a youthful population.

The report traces roots of youth exclusion and recommends: greater investment in health, education and skills of youths; prioritisation of job and wealth creation opportunities for young people; greater coordination and oversight of youth interventions across agencies and tiers of government; adoption youth-sensitive budgeting and budget tracking; adoption of legal quotas for youths in elective and appointive offices and further reduction of the age for running for certain offices as well as leadership development and mentorship programmes; reducing the cost of running for offices; and full resolution of the grievances of the youths, especially the ‘5-for-5 demands’ submitted during the 2020 #EndSARS protests.

  • People Living with Disabilities are the most excluded and stigmatisedThe reports states that at least 29 million Nigerians suffer from on form of disability or the other. People living with Disabilities (PWDs) are the most discriminated against and are subject to different levels of exclusion, including stigmatisation and even self-stigmatisation. According to the report, only 1% of PWDs are employed in the formal sector, only 2% of PWDs have access to education and only 4% of PWDs have access to assistive devices. Additionally, 92% of PWDs need rehabilitation services and 98.5% of public buildings are not accessible to PWDs.

To reduce exclusion of PWDs, the report recommends: passing new laws and effectively implementing existing ones, such as the Discrimination against Persons with Disability Prohibition Act 2018; advocating for the adopting of the Disability Act by more states; investingmore in the education and health of PWDs; making public transportation and buildings more accessible to PWDs; expanding access to learning aids and providing interpreters for PWDs in places like hospitals; adopting quotas for PWDs in elective and appointive offices; and expanding access to markets and credits for PWDs.

  • More devolution and constitutional backing for rotational presidency for greater political inclusionThe report acknowledges that the concerns about political inclusion and accommodation predated Nigeria’s independence, resulting in the Willink Minority Commission and the incorporation of the bill of rights in Nigeria’s Independence Constitution. “More than 60 years after independence, Nigeria still struggles with building an inclusive society,” the report states “Cries of political marginalisation have yet to abate.”

The report identifies the causes of exclusion of ethnic and religious minorities and reviews the various measures adopted over time to promote inclusion. The report recommends the following for greater political inclusion: giving constitutional backing to rotational presidency and rotating power not just between north and south but among the six geopolitical zones; ensuring more effective implementation of the Federal Character Act; providing constitutional backing for residency rights over indigene-ship, a practice used to exclude some Nigerians from employment, economic and political opportunities; retention of federal structure but more devolution of responsibilities and resources to state and local government areas, complemented with more capacity building and greater oversights of the subnational governments.

Produced with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, the report is the third of four policy papers commissioned by Agora Policy to contribute to national debate before, during and after the landmark 2023 elections in Nigeria. The last report, which focuses on transparency and accountability, will be released soon.

Link to Full Report

Link to Executive Summary

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About Agora Policy 

Agora Policy is a Nigerian think tank and non-profit committed to finding practical solutions to urgent national challenges. It conducts policy research, facilitates frank and purposeful dialogues, and builds capacity for governance, policy and advocacy.