The University of Ibadan Medical Students’ Association (UIMSA) is on its way to redefining its age-long leadership status quo. This association which was established in the year 1960 has never experienced the high involvement of females in its electioneering processes and campaigns. In the past, the penchant has been for females to compete for the position of Vice-Presidents. Moreover, it is not far from the fact that the hard glass ceilings narrative that persists globally, constricts females’ leadership aspirations. However, on Thursday, 15th of April at 08:29 pm came the turning point. As female aspirants, Eniola Akinnuoye and Jaachimma Nwagbara, will be vying for the position of President in the UIMSA 2021/2022 election. In addition, the UIMSA Electoral commission has two females leaders, Ibukun Onietan and Caroline Nwamadiegesi, serve as the Chairperson and Secretary respectively.

This is indeed a historical moment on many levels, as these spectacular females will be breaking the social prejudice in the politics of the UIMSA executive arm. Firstly, members of the association are accustomed to having just one unopposed male candidate who ‘perspire to aspire’ for the post of President. Secondly, after about three score years of UIMSA’s existence, one of these powerful ladies, will plant her footprints not just in the sands of time, but evidently in the rocks of history and join the likes of Nike Omolehin, Mariam Olafuyi, and Victoria Osuji. Omolehin became the first female president of the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ), University of Ibadan after more than a score of years of UCJ’s existence; Olafuyi was the first female president of Law’s Student Society (LSS), University of Ibadan after a score and ten years of the association’s existence; and Victoria Osuji, the first female president of the Association of Faculty of Arts Students (AFAS), University of Ibadan after about threescore years of the faculty’s existence.

In the words of Michelle Bachelet, a physician who was the 33rd and 35th President of Chile, the first and only woman to be elected, the first President of Chile to be reelected since 1932, and the first head of UN Women, “We simply can no longer afford to deny the full potential of one half of the population. The world needs to tap into the talent and wisdom of women. Whether the issue is food security, economic recovery, health, or peace and security, the participation of women is needed now more than ever.” Research repeatedly proves that men tend to show more interest in politics than women. Even though women do have all the essential skills to lead, the gap is far wide. Women make up less than ten percent (10%) of national leaders globally and are still under-represented in cabinets, assemblies, and parliaments across the world.

To bring it closer home, Nigeria has never had a female governor or a female president. Hence, raising the likelihood that a lack of female role models discourages young girls from viewing themselves as part of the political process. You cannot be what you cannot see. This is an established principle in the Social Sciences that is true for us all. We rely on stories, examples, and mentors to remind us of who we are and what our potential is. Thus, seeing more women in visible positions of power could increase female engagement in politics. However, this entails having qualified and willing female candidates ready and supported to run.

Fortunately, the female students in the University of Ibadan’s College of Medicine are setting a good pace for the world to imbibe as they are repeatedly sustaining changes in student politics. This is significant enough to make a difference, especially in female leadership with their incessant prominence. For example, in the legislative arm of the University of Ibadan Medical Students’ Association (UIMSA), Senator Ebubechukwu Eriobuna won and was elected in 2021 as the second female Senate Chairman. She came on board two years after Senator Anyanwu Roseben made history in 2018 by being the first-ever female Senate Chairman (chairman because the UIMSA constitution is yet to be reviewed to be gender inclusive). During Senator Ebubechukwu’s tenure, seventy percent (70%) of the executive arm, and thirty-eight (38%) of the legislative arm were females with two female senators, Chioma Muotoh and Bisola Lateef, as class representatives for years 2018 and 2019 constituencies, leading over 160 medical students respectively.

The College of Medicine has a history of female leaders, both past and present. In the UIMSA Congress, the supreme and largest policy-making body of the association, Honorable Lagunju Mofe was elected as the first-ever female Congress Chancellor. Two years later, Honourable Ukachukwu Chika became the Congress Chancellor in 2018. This is in addition to the numerous female leaders currently at the College of Medicine. These include Henrietta Willams, President of the University of Ibadan Physiology Students’ Association; Dorcas Adeyemo, President of the Association of Physiotherapy Students; Tobiloba Peters, President of the Nigerian Medical Laboratory Science Students’ Association; and Halimat Abioye, President of Nigerian Universities Nursing Students’ Association.

Consequently, over eighty percent (80%) of students clubs in the College are currently led by females. We have Eghonghon Okojie as the Chancellor Hamstrings Club, a socio-philanthropic organization established in 1985; Commandant Nifemi Adetona, a two times Nigerian Red Cross UCH Detachment head; Atere Oluwasemiloore, Pioneer National President Asido Campus Network, nation’s premier student-led club supporting mental health awareness and education among young adults; Millicent Maduka, President, Federation of Catholic Medical and Dental Students University of Ibadan and the Editor-in-Chief of DOKITA Editorial Board (the first West African Students’ recognized Medical Journal by World Health Organization (WHO) established since 1960); Ifeyinwa Ogbogu, the Administrator of the Federation of African Medical Students Association; and Dorcas Oke, the President of the Osun State Medical Students’ Association just to mention a few. Furthermore, the College of Medicine is one of the first faculties created when the University College Ibadan came into being in 1948 and it made a historical feat in 2020 by having the first female Provost, Professor Olayinka Omigbodun.

The University of Ibadan medical community sends a message to everyone about the trajectory of leadership. As it is no longer the days when the hardest thing to overcome for females are self-doubt and political structures and regulations that were historically determined by men to exclude women. Rather, it is an era of females’ access to equal rights and opportunities. This depicts the type of world I want to see, where men and women are equally able and willing to participate in both the private and the public spheres. Today, young females are showing us that females can wax the lyrics of the Presidential chorus in whatsoever sector they are in. These females vying for the position of the UIMSA President are our great cloud of witnesses that females can and will.

In conclusion, achieving diversity in leadership is evidence of a progressive society. The soul of democracy is the factor of maximum participation by all. We should never be characters that are partakers of bias and barriers to inclusion. Nigeria still lies low in the murky waters of underdevelopment and our leaders show disregard for women’s inclusion with their affirmative actions of continuously discarding gender and equal opportunities bills over the years. One thing is clear, with active participation and prominence of women in student politics, there is the breaking of the vicious circle of the dearth of females in leadership.

Written by Atere Oluwasemiloore Peace