Reps advance bill to create 74 additional seats for women in parliament  

Elizabeth AtimeJuly 10, 20248 min

Following a heated debate, the House adopted the bill for second reading, raising hope for the creation of 74 additional seats for women in parliament

The House of Representatives has passed for second reading a bill seeking to reserve 74 seats for women in the national and state houses of assembly in Nigeria.

However, a heated debate along religious and cultural lines defined contributions as members reluctantly resolved to push the bill through second reading.

The piece of proposed legislation, canvassing for 74 additional seats for women in the national and state houses of assemblies is titled: “A bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 to provide for seat reservation for women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly; and for related matters” and it is sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Kalu (APC, Abia), the deputy speaker of the House and 12 other lawmakers. It seeks to alter Sections 48, 49, 71, and 117 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to create one “special seat reserved exclusively for women in the Senate and House of representatives for each State of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) respectively.”

Additionally, the bill also proposes to alter Section 91 of the constitution to provide for three special seats “reserved exclusively” for women in houses of assembly of each State of the federation.

In a lead debate, Rep. Joshua Audu Gana (PDP, Niger), a co-sponsor of the bill, stated that the proposed legislation is aimed at addressing a “profound imbalance and the under-representation of women in the national assembly and at sub-national levels.” According to him, “this bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, specifically to provide for seat reservations for women in both the National and State Houses of Assembly.  It is anchored on the fundamental principle of equitable representation and aims to empower women by ensuring their voices are not only heard but that they actively contribute to shaping the legislative landscape and the overall development of our nation.”

He further expressed concern that “the issue of gender equality and representation lies at the heart of our constitutional democracy.  Despite the constitutional guarantee of equal rights, the representation of women in our legislative houses has been alarmingly low.  In the 7th, 8th, and 9th Assemblies, women accounted for only 6.4%, 6.1%, and 2.7% of the Senate respectively; and 6.4%, 3.05%, and 4.7% of the House of Representatives respectively.  These statistics underscore the urgent need for proactive measures to ensure equitable representation and amplify the voices of women in our legislative houses at the national and sub-national levels.”

On the rationale for seeking additional seats for women, Rep. Gana cited the principles of fairness and inclusivity, stressing that “Nigeria lags behind in women’s representation in parliament, ranking among the lowest. Countries that have implemented affirmative action, like Rwanda and Andorra, have seen significant strides towards gender equality in governance. This bill proposes a temporary measure of seat reservation for women to catalyse similar progress in Nigeria, ensuring that women’s perspectives and priorities are fully integrated into our national and sub-national decision-making processes.”

Argument for and against the bill

Speaking against the proposed legislation, some lawmakers emphasised that women should be allowed to go head to head with their male counterparts without any preferences that will put the men at a disadvantaged position. Rep. Ghali Tijani (NNPP, Kano) said “it is undemocratic for the House to be considering this type of bill, rather than reserve special seats for women, political parties should deploy mechanisms to improve women’s participation in politics.”

On his part, Rep. Olamijuwonlo Alao Akala (APC, Oyo) said “I am not sure there are men in this House that are ready to give up their seats. If we decide to look good on TV and just allow this bill to go it will be detrimental to the men folks.”

Rep. Patrick Umoh (PDP, Akwa Ibom)  also opposed the bill, citing violations of the constitution  “we may sound very emotional about this bill. Every law that is inconsistent with the law of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria it then becomes a problem. We have to oppose any law that is against the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria. We do not hate women, but we must look at the constitution because there is no aspect of the law of the federal republic of Nigeria that stops a woman from contesting in an election.”

However, speaking in support of the bill, some lawmakers appealed to their colleagues to allow the bill scale through second reading to allow for further debate by the general public.

Rep. Ahmed Jaha (APC, Borno) said: “I commend everyone that is a sponsor of this bill. I want members to understand that every bill presented in this House must follow the necessary procedure. Members have the right to vote for or against. I do not want us to throw away the baby with the bath water so I call on my colleagues to allow this bill to scale through .“

Rep. Chike Okafor (APC, Imo ) in his contribution said: “I want to add that we allow this bill to scale through second reading, let’s not allow our religion or cultural background to hinder this bill.”

The minority leader of the house, Rep. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers, PDP) also supported the bill, saying: “As we speak,  Nigeria is first from the bottom and Namibia is ranked first in the African continent. we have to be deliberate in pushing our women. We do not live as an island, there must be a sunshine clause to be able to meet up with other countries. Let’s not look at our religion and culture.”

Rep. Kelechi Nwogu (Rivers , PDP) while making reference to the situation in his state said: “Let me start with Rivers State, the then governor (Nyesom Wike) insisted that all women must be vice chairmen in Rivers and today as we speak the deputy governor in Rivers is a woman. I want to plead with my colleagues that there’s nothing wrong in giving women the opportunity

Following the heated debate, the deputy speaker proposed to withdraw the bill, noting that he may be biased since he was presiding over plenary. I will step down the bill until the day I am not presiding,” he stated.

However, Rep. Ahmad Satomi (APC, Borno) countered Kalu, insisting that the bill should be put to vote. It does not matter if you are presiding,” he insisted. Subsequently, Kalu put the bill to a voice vote and the “ayes” had it. 

Recall that a similar bill was amongst the 8 failed women bills that were considered in the 9th assembly during the constitution amendment process. The Senate and House of Representatives voted against it.

The leadership of the 10th House under Rep. Tajudeen Abbas vowed to reintroduce the bills

Elizabeth Atime

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