Civil Society and Governance/Leadership and Gender (2)

Prof Moti

By Professor Ukertor Gabriel Moti –


The topic of leadership has been addressed and applied for millennia. Yet, is only within the past 80 years that leadership has been a topic of serious discussion. It is important to understand variables relevant to effective leadership. Gender is one such variable that must be examined with regard to optimising leadership effectiveness. This topic of gender and leadership deserves serious and theoughtful consideration and discussion because of professional, political, cultural, and personal realities of the twenty-first century. Women and men have been, are, and should be leaders. Gender must be considered to determine how each leader can reach maximum potential and effectiveness.

Research by Shen W. and Joseph, D. L. (2020), Gender and Leadership : A criterion focused review and research agenda.

The impact of gender on leadership outcomes

  • The researchers found that, across all of the research, there was no significant difference between the genders in terms of leadership effectiveness on any measure.
    • Whilst the research is largely in agreement that there is no significant difference between genders in their use and capability with leadership behaviours, studies have found that, particularly in stressful situations:
      • female leaders are significantly more likely to use a democratic style of leadership
      • male leaders are significantly more likely to use more autocratic leadership styles
  • The research on whether there are gender differences in terms of leadership knowledge and skill is an area of considerable research contention and ambiguity with no clear findings across the research.
  • In terms of leadership emergence, women are significantly less likely to emerge as leaders compared to men. Part of this reason appears to be a form of unconscious bias or sexism, whereby men tend to be rated more highly in terms of leadership capability than women, even though in reality there is no difference in the genders’ leadership effectiveness.

There are two primary reasons why women are significantly less likely to emerge as a leader, particularly in terms of putting themselves forward for leadership positions:

  1. Risk tolerance. There is good evidence to show that female leaders tend to be more cautious than their male counterparts in displaying leadership behaviours and decision making. Also female leaders hold less accurate and often more negative views of how others perceive their leadership behaviours compared to their male counterparts.
  2. Anticipated negative consequences. It has been found that female leaders tend to worry about negative reactions (backlash) to their decisions and leadership behaviours more than men and tend to engage in significantly fewer self-promotion behaviours than men.

However, it has also been found that women tend to be rated more highly than men on social leadership and in situations that require high levels of interpersonal skill – here women tend to be rated as better leaders.

Gender and Leadership in Nigeria

Since the return of civilian rule in 1999, the socio-political realities suggest the need for constitutional and electoral reforms in Nigeria. As of today, in Nigeria, women marginally participate in governance; women have almost remained invisible in the party system. While the parties claim to encourage women participation in elective positions through free nomination, yet they are discriminated against in practice.

Nigeria’s gubernatorial elections on 18th March were the closest that the country has come to electing its first female governor. Some observers were so eager about the prospect of finally achieving this milestone that they prematurely declared Aisha Dahiru Binani the new governor of Adamawa State. Conversely, last month’s presidential election offered little hope of delivering any victories for women in leadership. Conspicuously missing from the list of front runners was a female candidate or running mate. Indeed, Chichi Ojei was the only woman among the 18 presidential candidates.

This lack of female representation pervades Nigeria’s political landscape. On a global scale, Nigeria ranks 141 out of 146 for Political Empowerment in the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Gender Gap Index (the lowest-ranked African country). Contrary to what this current situation would suggest, the premise of women’s engagement in political leadership in Nigeria is not foreign but is instead firmly rooted in the historical traditions of societies throughout the nation. How did Nigeria get to this present state and what does it imply for the future?

Status quo

All of Nigeria’s 15 presidents, prime ministers, and military rulers over the past six decades since independence have been men. Female governors across the 36 states have emerged incidentally – Virginia Etiaba for a few months in Anambra, following incumbent Governor Peter Obi’s temporary impeachment in November 2006; and Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe as acting governor of Kaduna, while incumbent Governor Nasir El-Rufai took a brief leave from office after testing positive for COVID-19 in March 2020.

Less than 5% of the incoming National Assembly (NASS) members elected so far this year have been women, marking a decline to 17 from 21, out of 469 members in the preceding Ninth Assembly. The trend towards greater gender imbalance shows no signs of shifting. This time last year, the NASS rejected a set of five gender equality bills, which would have transformed women’s legal rights in multiple ways, including ensuring at least 35% representation at the state and federal levels, in line with the 2006 National Gender Policy, which stipulates at least 35% representation in all governance processes, but has never been implemented.

Women’s representation in political appointments is equally as dismal as their presence in elected positions. Only seven women were appointed to President Buhari’s second cabinet of 43 ministers in 2019, a decline from the 15 women in his first cabinet. Although there has been a precedent of women in high-profile ministerial positions, these appointments have been fleeting and idiosyncratic, with no consistent commitment to enshrining gender diversity in ministerial leadership.

Looking back

Given the current situation and Nigeria’s recent political history, it is easy to presume that this extent of male dominance in political leadership has always been the case. However, the prevalence of women’s leadership in the pre-colonial era has been well-established by scholars including Nwando Achebe and Oyeronke Oyewumi — from female Obas, Oonis, and Alaafins in Yorubaland like Orompoto of Oyo, to Queen Bakwa Turunku, founder of Zaria city and her daughter, Queen Amina, who succeeded her in expanding the Zazzau empire. With women’s political leadership came increased gender inclusion in the economy and society, more broadly. Women’s rise to positions of political leadership was enabled by an acknowledgement of their entitlement to power in economic, social, cultural, and religious spheres.

The British colonial administration systematically excluded women from the civil service and political hierarchies. Nonetheless, Ahebi Ugbabe emerged as a female king and warrant chief of Enugu-Ezike in that period. Her palace provided refuge for women escaping abusive spouses. Beyond Ahebi Ugbabe’s reign, women’s activism during colonisation was a catalyst for change (most famously demonstrated by the Aba Women’s War of 1929, which led to the inclusion of women in native courts and expanded women’s opportunities in society).

Female-led advocacy continues to drive socio-political and economic progress. For example, the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to liberate girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants was co-founded by former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili and activist, Aisha Yesufu. Women leaders similarly played a key role in the #EndSARS movement to decry human rights abuses by the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad and to call for improved governance and public accountability.

Looking forward

As Africa’s largest economy and democracy, what happens in Nigeria has substantial regional and global implications. Harnessing the power of women’s political leadership will be critical for the incoming government, faced with the opportunity to set the country on a new path in addressing pressing issues such as poverty reduction, economic growth, climate change, conflict, natural resources management, pandemic preparedness, and youth disillusionment.

These issues have emerged in the context of gender inequities that constrain the country’s future. UNESCO estimates that 42% of girls at the upper secondary level are out of school, compared to 37% of boys. Nigeria’s 2018 Demographic and Health Survey indicates that 16% of women aged 20-24 years were married before age 15, and 43% were married by age 18 (compared to 0 and 3% of men respectively). Additionally, 19% of female 15–19-year-olds had begun childbearing. Nigeria scored 0 out of 100 on the parenthood indicator in the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law 2023 report, denoting that there are no laws prohibiting the dismissal of pregnant workers and there is no paid parental leave in Lagos (the main business city).

Furthermore, there are no laws mandating equal pay for equal work or prohibiting gender discrimination in employment or access to credit. Only 35% of women, compared to 55.5% of men, in Nigeria have a financial account, based on the 2021 Global Financial Index data. And although over 50% of working-age women are economically active, they earn 22% to 66% less than men do, implying over US$9.3 billion in foregone earnings (according to the Nigeria Gender Innovation Lab).

Recently, Nigeria women were disappointed and aggrieved at the actions of the 9th National Assembly (NASS) when they denied women the opportunity of inclusion and representation in governance by voting against the gender bills.

The women were frustrated that the NASS has spoken loud and clear that they do not want progress for society: for mothers, aunties, sisters, wives, and for daughters. They said it is particularly sad that in a month globally dedicated to celebrating women worldwide, the NASS had chosen to deny women basic human rights. These are rights enjoyed by every Nigerian except women.

The proposed gender bills in the 5th Constitution Alteration Bills that were all rejected are Bills targeted at addressing the current gender imbalance across the legislative arm of governments across the country whilst reducing the under-representation of women in political office.

The men of the 9th NASS had inadvertently reinforced the discrimination and political bias against women as enshrined in the 1999 constitution by:

Denying citizenship to a foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman. (While it allows Nigerian men’s foreign-born wives to be awarded automatic citizenship).; Denying Nigerian women indigeneity through marriage; Denying 35% appointed positions for women and settling for 20%.; Denying women affirmative action in party administration and leadership; Denying specific seats for women in the National Assembly.

The men of the 9th NASS by their actions took issues of women leadership backwards. Their actions undermined the importance and relevance of women’s contribution to the governance of Nigeria including the key role women play to bring victory to political parties in elections at all levels across the country.

Nigerian women therefore demanded that all gender Bills be reconsidered. Ultimately, these demands will benefit not just women but Nigeria as a whole. More women in governance will only bring progress, and respect for Nigeria in the committee of nations and grow capacity of women in leadership. We cannot, in the twenty-first century, be negotiating the rights of women and the sanctity of the dignity of girls. There is a call on the 10th National Assembly to take a look at these Bills and ensure that they are passed.


It is time to reclaim Nigeria’s legacy of women’s involvement in political leadership, to ensure that the nation’s governance reflects, recognises, and serves the full scope of its citizenry (regardless of gender). It is time to be bold and ambitious in raising aspirations beyond the limited horizon of a 35% representation, to rectify the gross imbalance and tap into the abundance of leadership skills and potential in Africa’s most populous nation.


  • **Ukertor Gabriel Moti is Professor of Public Sector Management and Governance and Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies and Director, Abuja Centre for European Studies (ACES), Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja-Nigeria
  • He presented this paper presented as a Lead Panelist on the Panel Discussion: Development Partners, Civil Society Organisations, Media, etc, at a 5-day Induction Programme for Members-Elect of the 10th National Assembly, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, on Friday, 19th May, 2023.

What do you think?


Written by Tom Chiahemen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings

    Henry Kissinger at 100: Diplomatic Centurion

    10th National Assembly leadership and the burden of morality