Young women’s experiences as aspirants in the 2023 elections

The 2023 general elections may have come and gone but the intrigues surrounding its conduct remain fresh in the minds of many, especially young women who ventured into the mucky waters of politics for the first time, ENE OSHABA writes, with particular focus on 26-year-old Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu’s journey to represent Owode-Onire State Constituency in the Kwara State House of Assembly.

The 2023 general elections remarkably stand out from previous elections for several reasons including the caliber of aspirants and candidates, economic crunch worsened by the controversial cashless policy, amongst others

While the presidential election overshadowed that into other positions female aspirants and a more highly sensitised women and youth aspirants and population who committed to ensuring that they exercised their franchise and hoped for credible results brought drama to the exercise.

This very vital group of aspirants, young women, vied for various electoral positions at the local, state, and federal levels. These women, some of who were first time aspirants, didn’t find the process easy even with improved awareness and sensitisation, and use of social media and other emerging tools to their advantage.

Young aspirants share experience

While sharing her experience as a House of Representative aspirant, Barrister Juliet Isi Ikhayere, who is a principal partner at Macoms-J Attorney, Abuja and ADC Candidate for AMAC/Bwari constituency, said that elections in Nigeria were particularly difficult for young women for many reasons, especially the fact that it is highly monetised.

Narrating her journey to politics she said, “Before the year 2021, I did not really think about joining politics because my field of experience was strictly related to policy matters and issues. I had no flare for joining political engagements or running for office, but I was informed about my location from school, to career path.

“I grew up knowing that whenever I am in a gathering, I needed to be able to have a conversation on any subject. After Law School, I was made executive at the Young Lawyers Forum in the FCT and a colleague of mine, who was impressed by my performance introduced the ADC to me. Considering that the Not Too Young To Run Act was in place I just wanted to be an advocate for social justice and civil education so when the opportunity came I took it.

“I had participated in the Edo state election as adhoc staff. I served as the presiding officer because the person who was supposed to be the presiding officer didn’t show up. So, I had firsthand experience in the electoral ground. So, coming into full politics and with all happening around with the Electoral Act I accepted to run for off in the party.

“This was the first time to test my popularity and I noticed that all my years in the FCT I have never seen anyone run election campaign like I did because I saw that the councillorship elections all they did was follow the chairman around and it was more like an indigenous election, where non indigenes have no place in the election, and those who participate are only those who did that for personal benefits so I came in with nothing but my social capital.

“I was called upon to contest the seat of the House of Representatives under the party and I was initially jittery but I won the ticket amongst the three other male contestants utilising basically my knowledge, age bracket and the media.

I didn’t win but I made a statement and I know I would do better next time but all I can say to female aspirants is know your terrain, engage your social capital, keep trying and unite with people in your environment,” she urged.

Comrade Sarki Sylvia, while also sharing her experience vying for the position of President, National Association of Nigerian Student (NAN), noted that women seeking election into positions of authority face triple barriers deliberately set by men to disqualify women.

She said women are stereotyped to be entertainers and not leaders for a long existing period.

“I contested for NANS president out of anger after the male comrade tagged females as Aluta E’s meaning Aluta for Entertainment and to get a position you must be dating or have dated one of the male stakeholders. I was denied some positions because I refused to date any stakeholder. I organised female students and began to orientate them to always showcase their strength and not be discouraged.

“Twenty-six of us came up for the NANS position, I met all the criteria and was qualified as the only woman amongst 11 other aspirants and even though I didn’t win the election, I got many votes and broke the barrier that women couldn’t contest the position, especially in the North where I come from,” she said.

26-year-old breaks jinx

In Kwara state, North Central, where a young female candidate, vied for the House of Assembly position for Owode Onire constituency, under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) it was a different story but this time a happy ending.

After the tightly contested election, a 26-year-old lady, Rukayat Motunrayo Shittu, who is a former Senate President of the Congress of Students at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), was elected to represent Owode Onire state constituency in the Kwara State House of Assembly.

She was declared winner having polled 7,521 votes to defeat her rival, Mallam Abdullah Magaji of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who had 6,957 votes.

According to her, “The celebration of my emergence as member elect, Owode Onire State Constituency, in Asa local govt area of Kwara State, North Central, Nigeria is not what my immediate constituency are enjoying alone, the victory is being enjoyed, shared and celebrated across the federation.

“This is because, many worthy Nigerians across the federation not only invested faith, hope and expectations in my candidature, many respectable people, especially women actually supported us from the beginning till eventual victory.

“They didn’t support us to the end, they supported us to victory, so that we can start a journey of a lifetime, to inspire young girls in Nigeria and indeed Africa, to dream and aspire for greatness.

“As a 26-year-old lady, who managed to secure victory in a tightly contested election, many media platforms have asked me, how supportive were women in my journey to success, which my terse and two sentence answers have not really done justice to due to election stress. This is why I felt the need to pen this message to properly capture the nature of support I got from women folks across the federation.

“Since the declaration of our victory, the people of my constituency have been singing and dancing across the street, while our friends and supporters in the youths and women constituency across Kwara state and indeed the federation have also joined the celebration,” she said.


Speaking on her political journey the lawmaker said, “My political journey began with the support of a rare gem, a woman, a former Coordinator for Gender and Women Affairs of our group, Kwara Must Change, now a commissioner in the administration of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, Dr Mopelola Abdulmaliq-Bashir.”

She narrated that Dr. Mopelola saw her as a daughter and took her aspiration as a personal project, not only because of her portfolio then as the Kwara state Commissioner for Women Affairs where she sees the aspiration of every woman as a personal responsibility, but also because she’s a major stakeholder in the local government and personally led her to various stakeholders, seeking their support.

“As the person who championed advocacy for Gender Parity in the state even before her appointment as commissioner through the Kwara Must Change platform, Dr Mopelola practiced what she preaches and sacrificed a lot to uplift my aspiration beyond surface level, a development that turns many against her.

“When the First Lady of Kwara state, Amb (Dr) Olufolake Abdulrazaq became aware of my aspiration, she literally adopted me as her daughter, invested in my ambition and gave me the needed motivation to stand strong.

“Dr. Olufolake was always advocating for me, especially when the situation was tough, battling from High Court to the Supreme Court, she never left me alone one bit and her support was beyond measure.

“Through Kwara 1st lady, the Wife of the President, Hajia Aisha Buhari, became aware of my candidature and she became a supporter, who always looked out for me.”

Women supporting women

Continuing, Shittu said unlike other women who have lamented lack of support and mentorship, she won the hearts of many women who supported her ambition and did all they could to ensure she won, especially as a young woman.

She said, “Although it is often said that women are the enemies of women, in my own case, I will say that women are the helpers of women and I have benefited immensely from the love, and support of these women.

“The wife of Nigeria’s President elect, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, also adopted me and gave my candidature unquantifiable support.

“It often amazes me, how Senator Oluremi Tinubu really got time to care for the aspiration of a village girl in faraway Manyan, in Owode-Onire, but this is the nature of our incoming 1st lady.

“I can’t also forget the strategic role of the Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to the Kwara state Governor, Hon. Jumoke Gafar; Hajia Samirah Yahaya; and Hajia Adijatou; Hadjia Aishat Bolanle Ismail (Iya Lamunle); all of whom contributed in no small way to my success.

“The Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, wasn’t left out. I was nurtured by her kindness and loving hands. The Chairperson of Kwara State Internal Revenue Service, Mrs Shade Omoniyi, wasn’t left out also, and same with Hajia Mariam Abike Yusuf.

“The role played by APC state and national women leaders, Hajia Falilat Muhammad, and Dr. Betta Edu, weren’t little either. While Hajia Faliat often got my back in the state, especially within the party, Dr Beta on the other hand, recommended me for training opportunities at the national level.

“The TIC Vice Chairperson in Asa, Alhaja Adupe Adams, and Alhaja Sarat Yahaya, not excluding the SA SDGs in Asa, Hajia Aishat Yusuf, and Hajia Habibat Yusuf, contributed immensely.

“I also enjoyed the unending contributions of the Wife of Kwara APC Chairman, Mrs. Fagbemi, and all the APC women leaders in the 9 wards of Owode-Onire played a huge role in this success and we cannot thank them enough.

“Several women-led groups and gender focused Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as (ElectHer, Nigeria Women in Politics Forum (NWPF), WARDC, UNSDGN, Kwara Nigeria Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), among others, also contributed in no small measures to encourage and motivate me to continue on the journey to my ambition.

“Others include Hajia Sa’adat Modibbo Kawu, Mrs Folashade Aransiola, Hajia Goroso Giwa, and my fellow female candidates within the APC, who all got elected in their various constituencies.”

All of these women are the roots and stems that nurtured and gave me their helping hands to lean on.

He4She governor

While commending the women who she described as “greatly supportive” in her journey, she maintained that the Governor of Kwara state, Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, is the number one supporter of women.

According to her, “Governor Abdurazaq’s favourable disposition to women have also trickled down to the general society and I have greatly benefited from the support of several people in my constituency, especially men, elders, youths and of course, women.

“This is not just me alone, but women of different hues. The Kwara Must Change group advocated for 50 per cent women cabinet positions, but Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq did 56 per cent.

“He went further to sponsor and sign a Gender Composition Law that made it mandatory for any government in Kwara state to appoint a minimum of 35 per cent position for either gender.”