John Stuart Mill’s Concept Of Liberty And Women’s Participation In Nigerian Politics

John Stuart Mill’s Concept Of Liberty And Women’s Participation In Nigerian Politics: A Philosophical Appraisal



1.1       Background of the Study

Women form a large proportion of Nigeria’s population, constituting about 78 million out of 170 million Nigerians. But unfortunately, this numerical strength does not reflect in the level of women’s involvement in governance, the United Nation’s global development indicator reveals that women in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world trail behind men socially, economically and politically.In Nigeria today, a close look at the governance structures shows that women’s involvement is marginal although the population of men and women in the country is relatively slow. In her article, “The Emergence of Women Political Leaders”, Orji posits that:

Progress in the area of political participation of women remain slow. In almost all countries, women have the right to vote on paper, to be eligible for elections or appointment to public office, and to exercise public functions on equal terms with men at local, national and international levels.1

It is on record that Nigerian women are virtually invisible and inactive in the country’s political and decision making structures. Men were said to have dominated strategic decision making positions in Nigeria since her independence. In the First Republic (1960-1966), there were only two women members in the 48 members of Federal House of Senate. During the Second Republic (1979-1983), there was only one female senator and a female member of the House of Representatives out of 57 and the house respectively. Between 1999–2003, there were three female senators out of 109 and 12 female members of the House of Representatives out of 360 members.2 The foregoing analysis depicts women’s low participation in Nigerian Politics. Furthermore, from 2011–2015, there were 9 female senators, compared to 4 in 2003. Also, there were 26 female members in the House of Representatives. The result of the just concluded 2015 general elections in Nigeria has not shown improved women representation in elective positions in the country. However, out of the 14 candidates that contested for the seat of the presidency, the only woman among the contenders came out the 12th position, just as men have always dominated the national assembly.

Meanwhile, the importance of women in the political process, economic development, and the social life of any nation need not to be emphasized. It is widely acknowledged that women constitute key national resources, whose ideas, creative solutions and concerns for cohesiveness of the social fabric can help improve the quality of life of individuals and society at larger.

Recent achievements and participation of Nigerian women in politics today shows that if given full support and encouragement to the Nigerian women, they will do better than their male counterpart. Moreover, Nigerian state has not taken the issue of low participation of women in politics seriously despite some progress made by some great Nigerian women and their contributions to social, political and economic well being of the country.

On this note, this work shall examine critically the constraints and opportunities for the emergence of women political leaders in Nigeria. J. S. Mill’s concept of liberty stands as a focal point in this study in attempt to ameliorate the plight of the women and elucidates the predicament of womanhood in a male dominated socio-economic and political environment.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

Every research or investigation must be motivated by a desire to address (or at least attempt to solve) a problem or set of problems. This work is an attempt to address the issue of gender inequality and women empowerment in Nigerian politics. It is a demand for equal access to leadership positions. Since Nigeria had independent we have never had female president or elected female governor? Why do we have few female genders in Nigerian politics? Why have women remained in a state of political paralysis? Are women all that powerless? Do women educations really belong to the kitchen? Don’t women have political behaviours? Is women age affecting their political aspirations? What are the roots and causes of this situation? Slaves had already been freed from bondage by this time, why not women too? Why still using premodern law of forces instead of modern law of reason? The rights of millions of Nigerian women are undermined by men; that is why our society remains male-oriented and male-dominated. Women are constrained by the customs and traditions made by men and constantly frustrate the rights of women and take control of their destiny. It is inhuman for man to enslave another.

The mention of the word ‘liberty’ one may shout liberty again? What will women do with liberty? How far have they gone with the one given to them? Are they still thirsty of equality? Don’t women know that they belong to other room? Can women empowerment be the solution to the problem of Nigerian leadership? Can equality between men and women be possible or justifiable? These, as it were, seem to be born out of Sophocles observation that “miracles in the world are many but there is no greater miracle than man”.

This problem of gender equality has a solution since it is man-made and men are in the best position to address this problem. Protagoras the most famous and perhaps the first sophist proffer solution to this gender problem by saying that “man is the measure of all things, of the things that they are, they are and of the things that they are not, they are not”.3 What these means here is that the ethical values and judgments: laws and customs are simply products of human agreement. However, since men decides for themselves what exists as laws and customs and what should not exist as laws and customs in the society, they should also re-dress this unjust acts against women. If not, Nigeria dreams will remain a mere dream until women are emancipated and empowered.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The meaning of the word liberty connotes some form of freewill and autonomy which should be the core of human fundamental, as individual liberty and self autonomy gives the humans the credibility of happiness. Thus, since individual freedom is necessary for happiness, therefore, women with the enormous role they play in the family cum society especially as it relates to child bearing and training of children need to be empowered for self-reliance. If the right of choice or freedom is given to women, the government and its functions will witness enormous “functionality” as women will play fundamental roles in the society cum governance. One of the major things this study stands out to achieve is that liberty is essential for the existence required by women for their survival. If a woman is to live on earth, it is right for her to use her mind, it is right for her to act on her own free judgment, it is right for her to work for her values and to keep the product of her work.

It is also to trace the history of women’s involvement in Nigerian political participation. To identify the factors that are responsible for women’s participation in politics. To make suggestions that will enhance women’s participation in party politics.

This work is also hope to achieve set objectives which include: to prove that Nigeria will be a better place if women were to be empowered; to provide explanation for the problem of women inequality in Nigeria; to show that there is something in Mill’s concept of liberty that will be useful in understanding the problem of women empowerment in Nigeria as well as to show that the inequality between men and women is not a natural creation but a socio-cultural construct. Furthermore, recent achievements of women in this present and past administration show cased that if women are given the full support in leadership position, they will do better than their male counterpart.

1.4       Scope of the Study

This thesis is an exposition of Mill’s concept of liberty vis-a-vis women participation in Nigerian politics. The scope of this work centres on Mill’s position on liberty and gender issues and how these ideas on liberty and minority rights as found in Mill’s philosophy will stand a chance of empowering the women, especially the Nigerian women into politics, because the most neglected parts of development in Nigeria is not road or electricity as many may assumed but women. Women need to be developed in order to account for genuine and inclusive development. The scope of the work is limited to Mill’s concept of liberty and women emancipation in Nigerian politics.

1.5       Significance of the Study

The concept of liberty by J. S. Mill provides new insight in the analysis of the problem of women empowerment. His ideas did not descend from the blues; it was as a result of the dastardly act meted out by men to women. This work is significant because it would provide a refreshing addition to the research materials available to students and the general readers interested in liberty and women empowerment especially Nigeria perspective. It is important because it would motivate scholars who have taken the existence of gender inequality for granted to realize its importance. It is also significant because of it focusing attention on Mill’s minority rights with renewed interest in the empowerment of women; no matter how minor they are conceived. The study will be of immense significance to women as a means to inform women for it is often said: if you are not informed, you will be deformed especially now that education is vital for women empowerment.

Finally, this work will help women to realize their full rights and provoke them to reflect on Mary Astell’s argument: “if all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves”.

1.6       Methodology

The method adopted for this research is analysis. Analysis is the process of breaking down a complex topic; a detailed study or examination of something in order to understand more about it as a basis for discussion. The most prominent of these techniques is the analysis of concept known as conceptual analysis. It involves breaking down or analyzing concepts into their constituent parts in order to gain knowledge or better understanding of a particular philosophical issue that the concept is involved.

According to Onyeocha, “ Philosopher tries to clarify an issue by using certain mental tools to break the general concepts under enquiring into smaller ideas that are easier to work with. In practice,this amounts to searching for specific definitions of the ideas or concepts involved, in the philosophical issue under investigation.”4

For a systematic study, this work is organized into Five Chapters. Chapter One is the introduction. Chapter Two focuses on the literature review. Chapter Three tells more about the man John Stuart Mill, his intellectual influences and the concept of liberty. Chapter Four of this work looks into the aspects of women empowerment in Nigeria and the obstacles involved in women’s participation in politics. Chapter Five captures evaluation and conclusion of the work.

1.7       Definition of Terms

To achieve clarification which is the business of analytic philosophy, it is necessary in this work to analyse terms which are essential to this work. These concepts are liberty, empowerment, feminism and politics.


According to Odimegwu in his article: “The African Person in the Dialogic of Religion, Politics and Development”, posits that “politics is about the need, the development, the manipulation, the struggle for and the maintenance of the instruments and mechanisms of power and control in human societies and human relations generally”.5 Generally, politics deals with the state or political society, that is a people organized for law within a definite territory. Aristotle’s description of politics as the master science whereby he indicated that politics is concerned with men’s attempts to control their fate on earth, to control the nature around them, and ultimately to control their fellow men in order to direct all these according to their own fundamental beliefs and visions of reality and human existence.

On a general note politics has been variously conceptualized as an influence game, a conflict game, a power game, and as a value game. Each of these perspectives affects the definition of politics.


Various philosophers and thinkers have presented a general view of what liberty means. In his unpublished lecture note on “Socio and Political Philosophy” Okolie Charles (Quoting Hayek) refers to liberty as that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is drastically reduced.6 This definition in order words means that a man who is not subject to the coercion of another person is said to be enjoying individual freedom. In his book The Substance of Politics, Appadorai perceives liberty as “the faculty of willing and the power of doing what has been willed without influences from any other source or from without”.7 From the above views when an individual does something according to his own will, then his action is considered free.

Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson in his book Genius of Liberty posits that, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. He contends that, “no one automatically has the prerogative to dominate another because to be created equal entails the right to liberty, so this right are not merely legal privileges that government grant or withhold as they please. Rather, such rights are natural as part and parcel of what is meant to being human; they belong equally to all both men and women and would not be violated with impunity”. So, liberty is a condition of existence required by women’s nature for their proper survival.


Empowerment simply means to empower, and to empower means to give increase capacity or ability to do something. Evans Offor in his book Women Empowerment posits that, to empower means “to delegate legal power to”, “to authorized” “to enable”.8 However Empowerment deals properly with enablement authorization, legalization and what more; the process of uplifting the status of human beings to self-actualization and the realization of the integral development of humanity. Women empowerment is the focus of this work as regards to empowerment. Women empowerment simply means, women developing the capability and ability to control and direct. Empowerment of women therefore is a process and as well as an end result of activities that improve the quality of life of women generally. In her article on “Education for Women Empowerment in Nigeria”, Obidike, N. D. stressed that, “women empowerment portrayed as the process that question the socio-political status quo and seeks to distraction which degrade woman hood and deny the female equity as a human being”.9


Feminism is a movement that advocates for equality between men and women. It developed from a position of opposition, opposition not to men but the oppression of women and first by implication and then implicitly, all peoples who are treated as inferior by dominant groups. It centres its demand on the basis that man constantly frustrates the right of a woman to take control of her own destiny. “It strives towards equalizing women with men in the areas of social, political and economic responsibility”.10

In broad context, the feminist argued that women have not only been accorded rights inferior to those of men, their status is implicitly taken as inferior. This has increase patriarchy and has consequently dampened their emotions, thoughts, activities and subjugation in social relations.