Department of Curriculum studies and Educational Technology

University of Ilorin,




            This paper analysed how the existing literature on Nigerian history has been gender blind and gender biased against females.  Klienberg (1988) has pointed out how historical literature seem to lack awareness of the description of gender and how they tend to see gender as no other thing but male.  The paper also highlights how governance in the pre-colonial Nigeria has been gender conscious and gender sensitive by involving the females in the various administrations but during the colonial and post independence periods, the female gender was marginalized.  The paper however is of the opinion that unless Nigerian historians and policy makers are gender sensitive in their analysis, the contribution of the female population to development would remain invisible and by implication the overall development of the country would be hindered.



            The place of females and their roles have appeared to be hidden from Nigerian history and existing historiographical framework.  As Awe (1992) puts it: Our history has not been gender-sensitive and at the same time, our history to data has demonstrated neglect of female’s (sic) contributions to their societies”.  This may perhaps be the reason why policies do not reflect a sense of historicity, that is, an attempt to reflect the changing conditions of females through the ages.  Nigerian policies also appear to be unaware of modern efforts at integrating the females into their societies.

            It is the submission of this paper therefore that Nigerian historians have not adequately presented the contributions of females to development processes in Nigeria and this inadequate representation has some cultural undertone and has negatively affected development planning and implementation in Nigeria.  Okereke (1995) opines that until Nigerian historians become gender sensitive in their analysis, the contributions of females (sic) to development would remain invisible, and by implication, the overall development of country would be hindered.  This paper has addressed itself to

(a)        the concept of Gender;  (b) the representation of Nigerian females in history;

(c)        the extent of participation of Nigerian females in governance after independence; (d)      the case for gendering history and governance for national development.

            The contributions of females in the developed countries of the world cannot be over-emphasised.  Historians have agreed that the success of the French revolution could not have been possible if not for the “Citizenessess” who encouraged their men and even assisted them in fighting in the barricaded streets of Paris.  They also claimed that Christopher Columbus was more successful in his voyage of discovery than Magellan because of the help rendered to him by Queen Isabella of Spain.  Queen Elizabeth who threw herself (though by right) with zest in to the complicated game of politics in England served as a symbol of pride and hope for all English men and women and their expectations were centered on her.  Margaret Thatcher (the iron lady) will for long be spoken of as an indomitable and indefatigable Prime Minister of Britain.  President Corazon Aquino of Phillipines was an ebullient leader who survived some coup attempts and threats.  Golda Meir of Israel, Indira Ghandi and Mrs. Chamoro of Nicaragua are also exemplary women leaders whose activities were adequately presented (Afonja, 1996); (Ige, 1996).


The Concept of Gender

            Gender is an analytical concept used to assess various forms of social relationships and inequality between male and female populations in any society.  Often, the concepts of sex and gender are misinterpreted to mean the same thing.  Sex is connected with biology and every society uses it as one criterion for describing gender.

            Brett (1989) has argued that the gender identity of men and women in any given society is socially and psychologically determined.  This means that gender is also historically and culturally determined.  In determining gender, social and cultural perceptions of masculine and feminine traits and roles must be considered. Gender is learnt through a process of Socialisation and through the culture of the particular society concerned.  An important criterion used by every society to describe gender is biological sex.  Gender relations are not universal so, it is not possible to make assumptions.  Gender relations are culture and context specific which can and do change.  Gender relations can be resistant to change and women are often subordinate in gender relations.


Representation of Nigerian Females in History:

            The work of Imam (1988) on the “Presentation of African female (sic) in historical writings” summarises how they have been represented in Nigerian history.  According to her, the presentation of African female in historical writings has been characterized by four main approaches: (i) First and most obvious is that females have simply not been presented at all;  (ii) female have been seen as inferior and subordinate to males; (iii) females have been seen as playing equal and complementary roles to those of male and (iv) the emerging movement towards seeing females as active agents in historical processes.

            Some scholars have corroborated the fact that female  have been underrepresented or even not represented at all in historiographical frameworks.  For example, it has been observed by Klienberg (1988) that:

                        It is one of the scandals of the world in which we

                        live that female have been systematically omitted

from accounts of the past, indeed it warps

                        history by making it seem as though only male

                        have participated in events though worthy of

                        preservation and by misrepresenting what actually

                        happened (pg. 1).

            Nigerian historians are guilty of the above scandal.  They have tended to perpetuate in their writings, the masculine-centred view of history.  For example, Awe (1992) opined that many people believed that it is the male (sic) who have, by and large, been responsible for the doing and writing of history, it is their definition of the legitimate historical project which has prevailed… “Thus the eighth volume of General History of Africa published by UNESCO in 1981, which summarises current significant knowledge in African history, says nothing about the contribution of females to their history. Here in Nigeria, the Ground work of the Nigerian History, the standard text on the history of the country, which was authored by many distinguished Nigerian historians, made no particular mention of the role of Nigerian females in the development of their different societies.

            It can then be concluded from what have been written above that the conventional approach to the study of history in Nigeria has failed to reveal female’s contribution to development.  There is therefore the need for a new approach which will redress this imbalance and investigate the role played by females before and after independence in history and governance.  Females should not become invisible to history because in fact, they were social and political activists in the past.


The Extent of Participation of Nigerian Females in Governance Before Independence

            Before independence, females played prominent roles in governance in the different societies in Nigeria and held important positions among the majority of ethnic groups, particularly among the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo.  Their participations before independence was through the institution of female chiefs, the authority of the first daughter and age grade associations.

            In the Hausa land for example, females had a very high status before the advent of colonial rule.  This is because, the Hausa people belonged to a civilization characterised by matrilineal succession in the ruling class and the females held high political offices.  For example, the 15th century History of Zaria witnessed the rule of Queen Amina who succeeded her father and conquered all the towns around Zamfara and Nupe and dominated these regions for 34 years.  She also introduced fortifications into the Hausa cities during her time (Palmer 1928 – pg 9). After the Fulani conquest of the Hausa land, in the early 19th Century, Islam started to expand, this changed the position of the females in the Hausa community.  The institution of purdah spread from the nobles to the peasants in the rural areas.  This reduced the participation of females in Hausa politics during the colonial period.  However, because Southern Nigerian females, (Yoruba and Edo including Muslims did not practice seclusion, they moved freely and controlled the market politics among the Yoruba and Edo.  This politics was centered around the King (Oba) and his palace.

            In the Oyo Empire, for example, the system of government was hierarchical and it was based on the system of checks and balances so that no king or chief could exercise more power than he traditionally deserved.  The females were not excluded in the government of the empire their position were very sensitive and they performed important roles. They have positions such as Iya Oba, Iya Kere, Iyalagbon, Iya Mode and Iya Lode.

            The Alafin’s many wives acted as the “eyes” and “ears” of the king.  They were his secret service in the cause of their trading activities and they contributed to the smooth running of the palace.  The Iya Oba was the king’s official mother who gave her advice and words of wisdom to the king.  The Iya Kere wielded the greater power and authority in the palace.  She was the custodian of the palace treasury including Royal insignia and the King’s paraphenalia of office.  She was also responsible for crowing the king in the coronation ceremony.  Her position was of great political significance because she could sabotage any of the Oba’s public appearance by refusing to allow him the use of garments of office (Afonja, 1996).

            The Iya-lagbon – the mother of the Crown prince wielded great authority and ruled over a part of the capital city.  The Iyalode was responsible for the Oba’s spiritual well being.  The Iyalode looked after the women’s trading interests.  These groups of women formed effective groups of spokes women for political stability and humane rule as well as for the interest of females at the highest political level in the kingdom.  The high socio-political status of females in traditional Yoruba society was also evident among the Edos (Afonja, 1996).

            The Igbo who lived in the modern Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Imo States of Nigeria occupied part of the eastern part of Nigeria.  Leadership among the Igbo was achieved, not ascribed but females had their market and village groups where through their representatives, matters affecting them were discussed at village meetings.  Their position was recognized as leading representatives of market leaders.  During this era, females in various parts of Nigeria formed powerful association to enable them present a untied force in Yorubaland.  Alimotu Pelewura was encouraged by Herbert Macaulay in the late 1920s to lead such a movement.

            With continued growth of party politics in the 1950s, Yoruba females became active politically, organizing female’s wing of political parties.  Each of these female’s wing had their party leaders who mobilized them for campaigns to assist male leaders.  Examples of such party leaders were late Mrs. Oredola Fadoju (Akure).  Mrs. Esther Adejuwon (Akure) Mrs. Fabunmi (Efon Alaye) and Madam Jane Dago (Ikare).


Participation of Nigerian Females in Governance since Independence

            The period under discussion witnessed two important factors which were crucial to female’s access to power and participation in decision making. The first factor is that the period witnessed the alternation of political power between the civilian and military classes. The second crucial factor is the character of civilian and military regimes.  Theoretically, civilian regimes are democratic regimes while military rule is authoritarian.  As authoritarian as it may be, however, military regimes in Nigeria have been showing a greater sensitivity to women representation in decision making than the civilian regimes. There were two modes of female’s participation in politics by this time. The first mode that was used during the civilian regimes was by wining elective posts and occupying such elective posts.  The second mode which was mainly used by the military was through conscious and direct appointment of women by incumbent authorities into decision making positions.

            During the first Republic, 1960 to 1966, very few females contested for election and none won a seat in the House of Representatives. Therefore, there was no female in the Federal Cabinet.  One female was appointed to the Senate in 1960, the second one was appointed in 1964.  In the 1961 regional elections, three females were elected to the Eastern House of Assembly.  There were no female Ministers in the regional houses.

            During the Military regime of Major General Aguyi Ironsi, females did not occupy any position.  During the time of Lt. General Yakubu Gowon, there were no females in the cabinets.  By 1975, the third military coup led by General Murtala Mohammed occurred followed by the aborted coup which brought in Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo into power.  During the time, although the policy of appointing civilian ministers and commissioners at the Federal and State levels respectively continued, the positions of females in decision making were greatly under represented.  During the second republic, 1979 – 1983, there was only one female senator out of 57 senate members and eleven female members out of 445 members of the Federal House of representative.  Six females were however, appointed into ministerial posts.  Although females featured progressively in decision making structures during this period, they were nonetheless greatly under represented in appointed positions relative to males.  For example, of the 50 members of the Constitution, Drafting committee which produced the 1976 constitution, none was a female (Afonja, 1996).

            The year 1985 marked the end of United Nations Decade for females (sic).  But for the Nigerian females, 1985 would go down as the beginning of an unprecedented upsurge in the involvement of females in all facets of national development.  Many factors are responsible for this, first, 1985 witnessed the adoption, by consensus, of the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies (NFLS) for the Advancement of women.  The NFLS set forth concrete measures to overcome the obstacles to achieving the goals and objectives of the United Nations Decade for the advancement of women.


The Case for Gendering History and Governance For National Development

                        Zeleza (1993) stated categorically that: it is no longer permissible

                        to write history as his story.  It is gradually becoming and must

                        become our story…  We need to uncover and reconstruct women’s

                        lives, contributions and struggles.  The concept and methodologies

we use must constantly be interrogated so that they can be stripped

of their patriarchal and sexist prejudices which help to envelope

female’s work and activities, concerns and values, lives and struggles

in cloak of invisibility (Pg. 99).

            The study of gender relations and the power of females is central to an evaluation of development efforts not only in Nigeria but also in Africa, so there is the need to use analysis to broaden the subject matter of what is considered worthy of historical equity.  Some cultural elements which tend to perpetuate inequality between male and female population have persisted in our society.  Female’s activities (as a source of cheap labour in the market and of free labour at home) have been regarded as insignificant and unimportant.  Since the division of labour in Nigerian society is such that it is the female who undertake most unremunerated labour, it is gender-biased against them.  This must have been why Imam (1988) suggested that we need a theory of household economy and reconstruction that takes into account all forms of labour, divisions of labour and, intra household responsibilities by gender.

            Ezumah (1991) has also observed that labour force statistics and national accounting systems have underestimated female’s contribution to economic development partly because of the fact that economic measures of labour force participation such as G.N.P. tend to focus on goods and services that occur in the exchange market (where most females do not participate) and partly because it is difficult to measure female’s work because they tend to involve in multiple occupations that are ‘partial’, ‘private’ and ‘voluntary’.

            There is a wide gap between female’s high but unrecongised economic participation and their low political and social power. This tends to make historians and development planners to focus more on the most vocal political activist in our society (male) than female.  Since development has come to be conceived among other things as that which has to do with human resources, and since it is a process that should involve all members of a society, it is imperative that historians should apply gender analysis in their work.  They should endeavour to make female visible enough as male in their writing.  By examining male’s and female’s roles, a greater understanding of their needs and involvement in power and decision making will be reached.

            If history should be relevant to development planning, it has to be gender aware.  Therefore, it is important that historians and development planners should disaggregate households and families within communities on the basis of gender i.e identifying men and women; boys and girls.  The paper is not calling for the reversal of gender roles.  It is also not opposing the masculine gender, neither does it intends to divide the genders.  It is the purpose of the paper to call on historian and policy makers to make use of gender analysis in dealing with issues so that true development will be attainable.  What gender analysis intends to achieve has been aptly described by Assie – Lumumba (1991) when he commented that:

                        The objective in a gender – focused analysis or

                        policy is not for female to conquer the social

                        space that has been organized and controlled by

                        male for male dominion, but to acknowledge

                        and value a special feminine space with its intrinsic

                        value, and to promote the needed quality of opportunity

                        and human worth for men and women, for boys and girls

                        in every sphere of society (pg. 13).



            From the above anlaysis, the paper recommends that a gender focused development policy should be pursued.  This will not only mean a recognition of past contributions and achievements of females in the socio-historical process, but also a solid foundation for constructive interaction and participation of male and female in history and government.  This will lead to sustainable development.

            The existing non-governmental organizations which have interests of females as their priorities should assist in putting more pressures on the government to appoint more female in to political posts.  They should also serve as good leadership training grounds for aspiring female politicians.  Also, some United Nations Agencies like UNIFEM should continue in giving support to the writings on advisery and decision making bodies to ensure that such criteria do not discriminate against females.  Females in Nigeria should develop confidence in themselves as being able, courageous and competent.

            There is the need for a change in the existing culture, that is, the culture of domination and exploitation of female gender.  Official documents such as the census reports need to be reviewed and redefined with respect to terms like economic activity, household worker and head of household since these terms have made invisible the significant contribution of females to development processes in Nigeria.  With the re-conceptualisations of gender as an object of historical inquiry and a subject of political explanation, development planners would be better equipped to formulate policies and programmes that are gender – sensitive aimed at achieving sustainable national development in Nigeria.



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