OrderPaperToday- In spite of the series of consultations and conferences held globally targeted at the transformation of the lives of women across the world, not much has been achieved especially in Africa.
The issue of women’s discrimination has remained on the top burner, especially that in Nigeria not much has changed.
Although Africa has seen an increase in the number of women in parliament, a European research group, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, says African countries are unlikely to reach the United Nations (UN) goal of gender parity in politics by 2030.
To mark this year’s (2022) International Women’s Day (IWD) the United Nations (UN) has come up with a theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” A similar theme for this year’s celebrations adopted by many other stakeholders is ‘Break the Bias.’
However, recent development indicates that Nigeria is far from achieving these goals as regards disparity and women’s rights judging by the United Nations standard.
A lot of reactions have continued to trail the failure by the National Assembly to vote in favour of the women bills during the clause-by-clause consideration of the historic constitutional amendment which commenced last week.
This singular action has left a lot on the lips of many both locally and internationally have been wondering if Nigeria as a giant of Africa can discriminate against its then what could be said of other smaller countries.
Reserved 111 Special Seats for Women
“A Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Provide for Special Seat for Women in the National and State Houses of Assembly; and for Related Matters and approve the recommendations therein.”
This particular bill sought to amend, among others, Sections 48, 49, and 71 of the 1999 Constitution to create a total of 111 additional seats for women representatives of their Senatorial Districts and Constituencies, both at the National and State Houses of Assembly.
Statistically, the 9th National Assembly is made up of 95.9% men whereas women make up less than 5%.
According to the sponsor, Nkeiruka Onyejeiocha (APC, Abia), the rationale for additional seats was to push up the number of women in the NASS without threatening the existing structure.
She also pointed out that this quota-type model is currently being implemented in over 33 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including 13 countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania where the reserved seat approach is adopted.
This bill asking for the reservation of Special Seats for women was co-sponsored by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and over 80 others.
To the disappointment of Onyejeiocha and many others who felt the bill will scale through during voting for it.
The Senate voted: Yes: 30 No: 58; while the
House of Representatives voted: Yes: 81, No: 208 out of a total of 302 present.
For instance, in Rwanda, female representation in politics is nearly two-thirds of parliamentary seats and 52% of cabinet positions are held by women.
Speaker of the lower house of parliament is a woman, and female ministers hold portfolios that include Information and Communications Technology as well as Trade and Industry.
The high participation of women is attributed to Rwanda’s 2003 Constitution, drafted after the 1994 genocide, that mandates no less than 30% of political seats to be held by women.
35% Affirmative Action in Political Party Administration for Women
The women bills proposing amendment on 35% Affirmative Action in Political Party Administration for Women, failed at the Senate and the House of Representatives during the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.
Following the results of voting on the Affirmative Action Bill, Gbajabiamila called for a repetition of the process. He appealed to his colleagues to support the bill, as women formed the bulk of citizens who come out en-masse to vote during elections.
“Following existing statistics, it is women that come out en-masse to vote. It is the same women who come out in mass to vote for us. You are nowhere voting against their interest? I am going to publish those who voted against this particular bill,” Gbajabiamila stated.
Minimum Percentage for Women in Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees
In a related development, ‘A Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Provide a Minimum Percentage for Women in Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees; and for Related Matters and approve the recommendations therein.’
The bill seeks to adjust the time frame for submission of the names of Ministerial or Commissioner nominees, wherein it is proposed that Sections 147 and 192 of the 1999 Constitution be amended to provide a minimum of 20% for women as ministerial or commissioner nominees.
The Senate, despite being reduced to 10%.
For example, in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa was praised when half of his appointed ministers were women for the first time in the country’s history. This move was described by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as “a good balance of youth, gender, geographical spread, and experience.”
While 14 of the 28 ministerial positions were filled by women, 47% of the overall cabinet, including the president and his deputy, was female, falling just shy of an equal split. Despite some criticisms, that the top positions such as President and Deputy President are still filled by men, others say it is a step in the right direction in a country with one of the highest femicide rates in the world.
Namibia, for instance, the ruling party, SWAPO, ensures 50% of parliamentary seats is filled by women, thus guaranteeing a gender-equal parliament, while also ensuring gender balance in ministerial positions through their “zebra system.”
Under the Zebra system, if a Minister is a man, then the Deputy must be a woman and vice versa. For Nigeria, despite women constituting about 50% of the population, there is still a struggle for 35% affirmative action.
The Citizenship Bill sought to provide for citizenship by registration for foreign spouses of Nigerian women by amending Section 26 of the 1999 Constitution.
The said section grants a foreign woman married to a Nigerian man, the right to become a Nigerian citizen, whereas the same right is not extended to a foreign man married to a Nigerian woman.
By implication, a Nigerian woman cannot transmit her nationality to her foreign husband same way as her male counterpart.
While voting the Senate recorded– Yes: 83, No: 2; and House of Representatives – Yes: 135, No: 143, the Bill failed to pass.
The Indigeneship Rights Bill is to alter Sections 31 and 318(1) (the Interpretation Section) of the 1999 Constitution to allow a woman to become an indigene of her husband’s state after at least five years of marriage.
The inability of a woman to take up the indigeneship of her spouse from another state has had dire effects, including, but not limited to, the continuous practice of women being denied the opportunity to hold elective or appointive positions in their husbands’ states, while also limiting their appointments and promotions in their own States because of being married to a person from another State.
This bill failed to pass as voting was recorded as:
Senate – Yes: 90, No: 5; and HoR: Yes: 193, No: 98f
Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, alongside over 100 co-sponsors, would guarantee success; yet the Bill failed to pass with voting recorded as: Senate – Yes: 30, No: 58; and HoR – Yes: 81, No: 208.
First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Aisha Buhari, had on Wednesday, a week before visited both the Senate and the House of Representatives to witness the laying of report by the Committee on Constitution Review chaired by the Deputy President of Senate Omo Agege and Deputy Speaker Idris Ahmed Wase.
Mrs. Buhari who was in the company of Pauline Tallen, Minister of Women Affairs, as well as Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning was ushered into the Upper Legislative House by the Sergeant-at-arms.
Aisha Buhari in addressing journalists after the visit emphasised female inclusion in Parliament. She also stated her expectation on the Amendment of the Constitution scaling through voting on March 2nd, 2022 on completion of the process at the National Assembly.
Similarly, the wife of the Vice President(VP), Dolapo Osinbajo and the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen had on the 2nd March witnessed voting on the clauses up for consideration in the Constitution Amendment Bills in the House of Representatives.
However, visitors whom had come to with very high expectations were left disappointed as all bills concerning could not gain the 240 votes requirement for 2/3 simple majority.
The lobbying by the female gender came in late?
Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu had attributed late lobbying by the female gender and stakeholders as a reason behind the rejection of women Bills by the federal lawmakers during the report consideration of constitution act amendment.
Mr. Kalu who doubles as Chairman of the House committee on media and public affairs disclosed this to newsmen in Abuja during a media briefing.
He noted that in view of the socio-cultural and religious sensitiveness of the issues, effective lobbying, sensitisation and consultations by the female gender and stakeholders across the country would have been intensified earlier to attract maximum support.
According to him, “this lobbying was done a bit late. The advocacy would have started longer than now. You don’t lobby two days to on an important issue like this. It goes beyond lobbying at the last minute.
It takes a lot of reorientation, advocacy and sensitization to enable people to buy into this all important agenda because you can not play down on our current issues with regards to emerging democracy. One of which is our religious and cultural dispositions. These things play role.
We’re part of the society. Our culture and religion are part of the society. It needs a lot of advocacy by the civil society organisations, women group to push this agenda forward. It’s a wonderful agenda. But for people to buy into it even from the constituent not their representatives because Nigerians are shifting their focus to the representatives and their senators only. It was not the representatives and the senators that did the job.
It was the instructions from their various constituencies. This is the truth that must be told.
“And if the House as an institution was not interested in this agenda, it wouldn’t have passed the first reading, second reading and be allowed to go to the committee level and be one of the issues mentioned on the day of public hearing which means that the institution has given it all the wills to succeed but the joy of canvassing for the support to change our long standing dispositions culturally and religiously which we can not wave away. It takes time. It has started well. We’ll keep pushing”.
“Let us do a fair comparative analysis. Most of these nations we are using to compare with Nigeria started somewhere. Now that this agenda has been stimulated in the minds of Nigerians let’s not stop there. Let the CSOs and women not give up. Let them leaverage what they have achieved in pushing for this so far”, he said.
Aftermath of the failed women Bills
Over 50 women groups on Wednesday barricaded the entrance of the National Assembly to protest the rejection of bills to promote the interest of women in the ongoing constitutional amendment.
The women numbering over 200 blocked the Federal Secretariat axis of the National Assembly from 10am, insisted they would not leave until the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, come out to address them.
Various entreaties to them to leave as their issues would be addressed fell on deaf ears as they insisted that Lawan and Gbajabiamila must come out to listen to them and do something urgently to reintroduce the bills that were rejected.
First, the Deputy Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeiocha came to address the women. She thanked them for standing up to support that though the women’s bills may have failed but there was still hope.
“I that you all for all your support and for the time and advocacy. Thank you for the sleepless nights and all the resources spent in pursuing this course”.
The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, came out to speak to them but they refused. Also ranking senator, Robert Borroffice, led a delegation of senators to appeal to the women, but they also refused.
Borroffice said they were from the National Assembly leadership and assured that their message would be taken back and dealt with, but the women were not to be deterred.
The women in their numbers sat on the floor. They also brought bottles of water to rehydrate themselves as they waited. Some brought mats to sit on the floor of the gate of the National Assembly.
To keep themselves going, they were playing music and dancing and various supporters also addressed them.
One of their leaders, Dr. Abiola Afolabi, said the treatment of the bills by National Assembly was a manifestation of historical injustices against Nigerian.
Dr. Afolabi said it was unfortunate that the women are treated shabbily when they have so much to contribute to make the country better.
“Nigerian women are disappointed and aggrieved at the actions of the 9th National Assembly (NASS) today Tuesday March 1, 2022 when they denied women the opportunity of inclusion and representation in governance by voting against the gender bills. The NASS has spoken loud and clear that they do not want progress for society: for mothers, aunties, sisters, wives, and for daughters.
“It is particularly sad that in a month globally dedicated to celebrating women worldwide, our NASS has chosen to deny women basic human rights particularly, the right to identity and belonging.
“The proposed gender bills in the 5th Constitution Alteration Bills that were all rejected are Bills targeted at addressing the current gender imbalance across the legislative arm of governments across the country whilst reducing the under-representation of women in political office.
“The men of the 9th NASS have reinforced the discrimination and political bias against women as enshrined in the 1999 constitution by”.