Finally, a president has emerged after what is widely recognized as the hottest presidential race ever in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. Opposition candidate General Mohammadu Buhari had more than 2 million more votes than the incumbent, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, after running for—and losing—three previous elections. This is the first time the country has ever had an election that is evidently void of malpractice by the ruling party.
According to reporters, Nigerians and the international community have mixed feelings about the results. Supporters of the opposition candidate are hopeful that, because of the president-elect’s resume, Nigeria will at last be ushered into a new era of firm leadership to achieve tangible economic growth and development, less corruption, and national security. Meanwhile, supporters of the current president are concerned that the democracy and freedom Nigerians have enjoyed has come to an end, and are concerned about the potential for Nigeria to become a breeding ground for religious terrorism. These concerns are motivated by the negative behavior that characterized the president-elect’s military administration, and acclamation of radical religious beliefs.
Not many, however, are asking the question of how all of this will affect women’s rights to quality sexual and reproductive health. The president-elect has indicated that corruption, insecurity, and job creation are priorities for the next four years, and although it is true that these broad goals can potentially impact health outcomes in the country, their impact on Nigeria’s health system and women’s’ sexual and reproductive health and rights seems to be left to chance. This seeming lack of interest in the country’s health could potentially lead to stagnation or even a loss of progress on key development outcomes.
Since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 15 years ago, Nigeria has made progress in improving infant and child mortality. But the country still has a long way to go in improving the health of women and girls. Data regarding key sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) indicators in the 1980’s are limited, but available evidence suggests that between 1983 and 2013, infant mortality declined from 125 to 74 deaths per 1000 live births; and child mortality declined from 211 to 117 deaths per 1000 live births. Further, in the last six years (2008 to 2014), unmet need for family planning declined by 4 percent and the country has demonstrated its commitment to lower maternal and child mortality by developing national and subnational level policies and strategies to advance SRHR, and including family planning services in the benefits packages of both the Community-Based Health Insurance Scheme (CBHIS) and the MDG/Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Project.
However, the overall contraceptive prevalence rate has shown little to no improvement in the last six years, and the number of women dying from pregnancy-related causes has increased (545 to 576 per 10o,000 live births between 2008 and 2013). Many Nigerian women also face domestic violence without redress (28 percent in 2014), and only 31 percent of currently married women participate in decisions pertaining to their own health care. In light of all of this, SRHR should be a priority for the next four years.
As the president-elect works toward fulfilling the legacy of democracy put forward by his predecessor, he must take actions to affirm that at the heart of true democracy is fulfillment of the rights of women and girls to enjoy quality sexual and reproductive health and rights.