Nigeria’s Democracy Day: 20 Powerful Nigerian Women and Their Contributions to the Country’s Democratic Growth

by Joseph Omoniyi
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Assessing Nigerian female politicians, activists, leaders and their contributions to the democratic politics of the country since the return to democracy in 1999, their task in governance and how they have potentially affected Nigeria’s democratic growth, is a way to reawaken the present and future generations in Nigerian politics and allow them to chart new courses within the Nigerian political landscape. It is a veritable means of sensitizing Nigerian women and assuring the female folks that they have an important role to play alone for the deepening of Nigeria’s democracy. The Nigerian female politicians, are icons of democracy for Nigeria. On stage or behind the scenes, they are part of the brand that has sustained the country’s democracy and proved that women are absolutely critical to reshaping the political landscape. Their contributions to governance, state, and society are immeasurable.

Democracy connotes fairness, access to all, equity, and the right to self-expression. Women constitute a significant proportion of the population; hence, states that govern the majority of the citizens should include women in decision-making positions. One way of integrating women into governance is through their active, equal, and meaningful participation in politics. This is crucial because the right of women to participate in politics is a means for gaining full equality and universal progress. Their participation represents a significant advance for democracy itself and for its consolidation, based on criteria of acceptance and representation. Nigeria’s Democracy Day, June 12, 2024, provides an opportunity to primarily recognize and commend the Nigerian women governors that have been able to break the glass ceiling, not only in attaining the highest political positions but the capability exhibited in the task of governance.

In recent years, the prevalence and power of women in politics has not come under scrutiny. The rise of female political power corroborates with the Nigerian renowned political democracy day when many fulfilled with the performance displayed by elected women leaders. The female gender is clamouring to be more visible in Nigerian politics. Many women in Nigeria have no doubt distinguished themselves in the area of social mobilization. For example, Dele Mommodu chronicles the life of some Nigerian women who did and are still doing us proud in the world of politics and socio-economic activities. There is an urgent need to incorporate them in the political life of Nigeria. Despite the weak empowerment of women in the political economy of Nigeria’s democracy, their participation can be highly challenging, as women are subjected to traditional cultures and beliefs. Political experiences have frustrated many Nigerian women in local, state, and federal levels. They have still continued to show timid efforts to share power with the menfolk in a political terrain that has lost much of its humanistic leadership panache and glamour.

Margaret Ekpo
A pioneering political activist, Margaret Ekpo played a crucial role in Nigeria’s independence movement and was one of the first women to hold a political office in Nigeria.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti
An influential women’s rights activist and politician, she fought for women’s suffrage and was a key figure in the nationalist movement.

Hajia Gambo Sawaba

Hajia Gambo Sawaba was a prominent Nigerian politician, women’s rights activist and philanthropist. Hailing from the Kano State, she dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of women and the less privileged in Northern Nigeria.

Sawaba campaigned against under-aged marriages and forced labor. She was also an advocate for western education in the North Sawaba. Her activism also extended to politics. Sawaba was an active member of various political parties. She led the national women’s wing of the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and its successor, the People’s Redemption Party (PRP).

Throughout her career, Sawaba faced persecution and imprisonment for her activism. Despite this, she remained steadfast in her commitment to social justice and equality. Sawaba was imprisoned sixteen times for advocating against child marriage, forced and unpaid labor, and unfair taxes. As one of the most jailed women in Nigerian history, Sawaba was known for her fearless advocacy, challenging traditional norms, and advocating for women’s participation in politics.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
As Nigeria’s Finance Minister and Foreign Minister, Okonjo-Iweala implemented financial reforms and improved economic transparency.

Dora Akunyili
Known for her tenure as Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Akunyili made significant strides in fighting counterfeit drugs.

Oby Ezekwesili
A former Minister of Education and co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, Ezekwesili has been a strong advocate for educational reforms and social justice.

Lady Kofoworola Ademola

Lady Kofoworola Ademola was a prominent Nigerian educator, author, activist, and women’s rights advocate. Born in Lagos in 1913, she was a pioneer in women’s education and gender equality. Lady Ademola founded several schools and promoted educational opportunities for girls in Nigeria.

She was also actively involved in various social and charitable organizations, including the Nigerian Red Cross Society. Lady Ademola served as President of the National Council of Women’s Sciences in Nigeria and was a Board Member of the International Council of Women. She was also the first black African woman to earn a degree from Oxford University.

Aisha Yesufu
A prominent activist and co-convener of the #EndSARS movement, Yesufu has been instrumental in advocating for police reform and social justice.

Remi Sonaiya
The first woman to run for President in Nigeria under the platform of the KOWA Party in 2015, Sonaiya has been a strong voice for gender equality and political reform.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a prominent gender rights activist. She co-founded the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), an organization that supports women’s rights organizations across Africa.

In her role as First Lady of the Ekiti State during her husband’s tenure as Governor, Adeleye-Fayemi led various gender rights efforts. She spearheaded campaigns to enact laws prohibiting gender-based violence, allowing for equal opportunities, and preventing stigma against individuals with HIV.

Adeleye-Fayemi is the author of several books and publications focusing on gender issues and women’s empowerment. Her advocacy work has helped advance women’s rights and gender equality, both in Nigeria and across the African continent.

Florence Ita-Giwa
Known for her work as a Senator and advocate for the rights of the Bakassi people, Ita-Giwa has made significant contributions to regional and national politics.

Uche Ekwunife
A current Senator, Ekwunife has focused on infrastructure development and community services in her constituency.

Bola Kuforiji-Olubi
The first female Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) and a former Minister of Commerce and Tourism, Kuforiji-Olubi paved the way for women in business and politics.

Kudirat Abiola

Kudirat Abiola, a prominent pro-democracy activist and advocate, played a crucial role in Nigeria’s struggle for democracy during the 1990s. As the wife of MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, Kudirat emerged as a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement after her husband’s imprisonment. She organized and led numerous protests and rallies demanding an end to military rule and the restoration of democratic governance. Her efforts to bring international attention to Nigeria’s political situation and her engagement with global leaders and organizations were pivotal in highlighting the human rights abuses committed by the military regime.

Tragically, Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in 1996, an act widely believed to be politically motivated due to her activism. Her death became a rallying point for the pro-democracy movement and further galvanized efforts to end military rule in Nigeria. Kudirat’s legacy is celebrated annually on Kudirat Abiola Day, and she is remembered as a symbol of courage and resilience in the fight for democratic governance. Her unwavering commitment and ultimate sacrifice significantly shaped the course of Nigeria’s democratic journey and continue to inspire future generations of activists and leaders.

Flora Nwapa
Flora Nwapa was a pioneering author and the first African woman to publish a novel in English, Efuru. Her works focused on the lives and experiences of Nigerian women, highlighting their struggles and resilience. Nwapa’s literature played a significant role in bringing African women’s narratives to the forefront of global literary discourse. As a publisher, she also mentored and supported other African writers, contributing to the growth of African literature.

Nana Asma’u

Nana Asma’u was a revered scholar, poet, and teacher in the 19th century Sokoto Caliphate. She was a daughter of Usman dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, and played a crucial role in promoting education, particularly for women. Asma’u’s works, written in multiple languages, include poetry, religious texts, and instructional materials. Her legacy as an educator and advocate for women’s education remains influential in northern Nigeria and beyond.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
An author, activist, and former First Lady of Ekiti State, Adeleye-Fayemi has worked extensively on gender-based violence and women’s rights issues.

Alimotu Pelewura

Alimotu Pelewura was a renowned market leader and activist in Lagos during the early 20th century. As the head of the Lagos Market Women Association, she played a pivotal role in advocating for the rights and welfare of market women, who were central to the local economy. Her efforts included protesting against colonial policies that negatively impacted market women, such as increased taxation and unfair trade practices. Pelewura’s leadership significantly contributed to the economic empowerment and political mobilization of women in Lagos.

Patricia Etteh
The first female Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Etteh’s leadership was a significant milestone in Nigerian politics.

Buchi Emecheta

Buchi Emecheta was an acclaimed novelist whose works explored themes of gender, colonialism, and identity. Her novels, including The Joys of Motherhood and Second-Class Citizen, provided a powerful critique of societal norms and advocated for women’s independence and empowerment. Emecheta’s writings have had a lasting impact on African literature and feminist thought, earning her recognition and awards.

These women have not only made significant strides in their respective fields but have also contributed immensely to Nigeria’s democratic growth and development. Their work continues to inspire and pave the way for future generations of female leaders in Nigeria.

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