The Coming of Liz Truss as UK PM & The Challenge for Nigerian Women

Liz Truss, as Leader of the Conservative Party, became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on Tuesday 6th September. She had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for South West Norfolk since 2010. Truss held various Cabinet offices under Prime Ministers David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, most recently as Foreign Secretary from 2021 to 2022.

After two unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the House of Commons, she was elected as the MP for South West Norfolk in the 2010 general elections.

Truss served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Childcare and Education from 2012 to 2014, before being appointed to the Cabinet by Cameron as Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the 2014 cabinet reshuffle. After Cameron’s resignation in July 2016, Truss was appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by PM Theresa May, becoming the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the office. Following the 2017 United Kingdom general election, Truss was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

After May resigned in 2019, Truss supported Boris Johnson’s bid to become Conservative leader. Following Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister, he appointed Truss as Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade. She took on the additional role of Minister for Women and Equalities in September 2019. She was promoted to Foreign Secretary by Johnson in the 2021 cabinet reshuffle. She was appointed the government’s chief negotiator with the European Union and the United Kingdom’s chair of the EU–UK Partnership Council in December 2021.

Following Johnson’s resignation amid a government crisis, she won the 2022 Conservative Party leadership election, became the UK’s third female prime minister.

Mary Elizabeth Truss was born on 26 July 1975 in Oxford, England, and she joined the Conservative Party in 1996.

From 1996 to 2000, Truss worked for Shell, during which time she qualified as a Chartered Management Accountant (ACMA) in 1999. In 2000, Truss was employed by Cable & Wireless and rose to economic director before leaving in 2005.

After losing her first two elections, Truss became the full-time deputy director of Reform in January 2008 where she advocated more rigorous academic standards in schools, a greater focus on tackling serious and organised crime, and urgent action to deal with Britain’s falling competitiveness.

On 4th September 2012, Truss was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education, responsible for childcare and early learning, assessment, qualifications, curriculum reform, behaviour and attendance, and school food review.

In a 15th July 2014 cabinet reshuffle, Truss was appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, replacing Owen Paterson. On 14th July 2016, Truss was appointed as Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor in Theresa May’s first ministry. Truss became the first woman to hold both positions and the first female Lord Chancellor in the thousand-year history of the office.

After Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, she was promoted to the position of Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, while also concurrently serving as Minister for Women and Equalities.

On 15th September 2021 during a cabinet reshuffle, Johnson promoted Truss from International Trade Secretary to Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, thus becoming the second woman to hold the position after Margaret Beckett. On 10th July 2022, Truss announced her intention to run in the Conservative Party leadership election to replace Boris Johnson.

On 20th July, Truss and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were chosen by Conservative Party MPs to be put forward to the membership for the final leadership vote. She finished second in the final MPs ballot, receiving 113 votes to Sunak’s 137 votes. But in the membership vote, it was announced on 5th September that 57.4% of ballots were for Truss, making her the new Tory leader.

As the duly elected Leader of the Conservatives, the largest political party in Parliament, Truss was received by Queen Elizabeth II, who appointed her the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Due to the Queen’s “episodic mobility problems”, she received Truss at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the first time she has not received a new prime minister at Buckingham Palace during her reign.

Margaret Thatcher-1980

Liz Truss has had a long career in public office as a politician and even when she failed several times in the beginning, it did not deter her becoming the third female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after Theresa May who was PM from  2016–2019  and late Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady who ruled from 1979 to 1990.

Many Nigerian women have made name and paid their dues in different spheres of life but none has been seriously considered as contender to the office of President. Competence is not lacking among our women. But with Presidential elections just a few months away, it is already too late to even think of a woman aspiring for the top office, not to talk of being taken serious.

Has Liz Truss’ emergence in UK come too late to inspire our women for 2023? Of course it has.

But it is still okay to ask the question: “When will a woman become Nigeria’s President?”

However, looking at the political landscape, such a situation is looking so unlikely that it is the possibility of it happening that seems to occupy the mind.

INEC has not yet published the official list of candidates for next February’s elections so we cannot be definite as to who is representing which party, even among the male candidates, except the big two and the new wave Labour. Well, we always expect that the big parties will ride roughshod over the minnows and we tend to wave off the other parties. But there are usually a couple of female candidates who seem to just show up and be counted without being considered serious. Even during party primaries, the women were seriously nowhere to be found.

In the 2019 election, we had the then 60-year-old Oluremi Comfort Sonaiya. The retired Linguistics Professor was touted as Nigeria’s first-ever female presidential candidate in 2015 when she contested under her KOWA Party banner.

The title of first female presidential candidate could have been flaunted by those who forgot Mrs. Sarah Jibril, the Kwara politician and psychologist who is undoubtedly Nigeria’s first female presidential candidate both at the primaries and main elections, having contested to be president on four separate occasions. As far back as 2003 when she could not get the party nomination, she moved from PDP to Progressive Action Congress and was that party’s presidential candidate. Olusegun Obasanjo won that presidential election on PDP platform.

Sarah Jibril

Apart from Professor Sonaiya, other women who were listed to contest against Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria included Professor Olufunmilayo Adesanya-Davis, Dr. Elishama Rosemary Ideh, Adeline Iwuagwu-Emihe, Eunice Atuejide, Princess Oyenike Roberts and Obiageli Ezekwesili, who withdrew before the election.

According to some Nigerians, the country is long overdue for a female president. The women contestants and their followers said in 2019 that for the good of the country, the electorate must elect a woman as President. Unfortunately, there is not much strong advocate for female president for 2023.

So, what hope do we have for a female president in 2023 and beyond?

Many Nigerians, especially even women, who seem to be their own worst enemies, are quick to point out that even the world’s largest democracy, the United States, has never had a female president and so it is not time for Nigerian women. They seem to ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton was this close to defeating Donald Trump some years back and that at least Kamala, a woman is now Vice-President to Joe Biden. Before Barrack Obama got to the White House, it was thought that it was impossible for a black man to become US President.

So, when is the right time for women in Nigeria? Many African countries are already ahead of Nigeria in giving women top positions in their political system.

In 2018, Sahle-Work Zewde, was elected the first female President of Ethiopia. The President is the Head of State of Ethiopia while there is a Prime Minister as Head of Government. Zewde was elected on 25th October 2018 by members of the Federal Parliamentary Assembly and the position is largely ceremonial, just like that of Nnamdi Azikiwe in Nigeria in the first republic.

But executive presidents such as Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Malawi’s Joyce Banda have broken through the gender barrier to hold the highest political office in their countries. We had Ameena Gurib as President of Mauritius from 2015 and Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of Namibia same year.

In other continents, there seems to be no gender difference in who rules their countries.

Down memory lane, Benazir Bhutto – the first woman Prime Minister in an Islamic state – ruled Pakistan until she was assassinated on December 27, 2007. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India up till 31st October 1984 when she was also assassinated at her residence, by two of her own Sikh bodyguards. In a political world dominated by men who feel it is their birth right to rule, these two women, along with others like Golda Meir of Israel, Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Margaret Thatcher of United Kingdom and Corazon Aquino of the Philippines showed that what a man can do, a woman can do even better. And they were all women of steel, afraid of no one, not even death, like Bhutto and Gandhi.

Others include President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in Croatia, Theresa May, who as mentioned earlier, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, was President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) from 2016, Angela Merkel, who was Chancellor of Germany from 2005, Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 2008, Dalia Grybauskaitė, President of Lithuania from 2009, Dilma Vana Rousseff, was President of Brazil since 2011 up till 2017. In Norway, South Korea, Malta, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, etc, the list is endless.

So, when will it be time for Nigerian women? We are told that the female population in Nigeria is more than their male counterparts. Is it possible for the women to join hands and boost one of them to the top office? Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was like the highest the ladies have gone in Nigeria’s history because as Coordinating Minister of the Economy, she was more or less like a Prime Minister in an executive Presidency which is not really the same as the top-top.

The ball is in your court, ladies! And for the men who think the time has come. Let the new spirit of Liz Truss as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom propel us to try a woman too. It will not be in 2023 because those elections are just around the corner. But why not?

 

IMAGE CREDIT: 10 Downing St, Britannica, Face2Face Africa

2 Comments on “The Coming of Liz Truss as UK PM & The Challenge for Nigerian Women”

  1. Nigerian Women and Nigerian Politics?

    I do not believe Nigeria is ready for a Female President.

    A country that is still dealing with and condoning Emi Lokan chauvinism coupled with the popular view among even educated people that new entrants like Omoyele Sowore cannot win Nigerian elections because voting for candidates like Omoyele Sowore is tantamount to wasting one’s vote on a baby politician

    A country that still considers apdpc (APC with PDP) as 2 separate political parties when in fact it is just two sides of the same coin

    Such a COUNTRY is not ripe for a Female President.

    If the UK and USA with all their political and legal sophistication are still struggling with a negligible number of successful female political heads, then Nigeria, a puppet of these countries is still a learner.

    When we are done crawling out of our political hollowness as a country, we can then soar on political disruptions like female presidency.

    But for now, we have a task. And the task is to troubleshoot our political minds and remind ourselves that WE the people are the masters of our political fate and it is how we lay our political bed that we will lie on it.

  2. Culture and religion is part of the obstacles preventing Nigeria from having a female president. The first time we had a female as speaker the house of a representative, we saw how she has quickly shoved way by false allegations of misappropriation of funds. Some men find it offensive to bow for a woman; for them it’s against their religion and culture. Politics in Nigeria is expensive and a lot of meetings are done under the cloak of darkness. Nothing is constant in life except change. One day, a woman will be a Nigerian president.

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