Udora Orizu writes that almost 23 years since the return of the country to democratic rule, Nigerian women are still facing rejection by their male counterparts in all ramifications. Recently, the 2022 International Women’s Day themed “Break the Bias” was dealt a painful blow as lawmakers in the National Assembly voted against all four bills for greater representation of women in politics and other sectors of the society
A fortnight ago, members of the 9th Senate and House of Representatives concluded voting on 68 proposals for alteration of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), rejecting five bills seeking to among others, increase women participation in politics. What would have been one of the lawmakers greatest achievements, yet again suffered a major setback.
It’s been almost 23 years since Nigeria returned to democratic rule, yet the country constantly declines in terms of stepping up push for more women inclusion in political leadership. Nigeria’s low ranking in women’s political participation is usually linked to a myriad of challenges such as culture, violence, intimidation, sexual assault and lack of internal party democracy.
The Anambra Example
Since 1999, the country has never had a female President or Governor. No female has been elected as Governor. However, Virginia Etiaba was sworn in as the governor of Anambra State between November 2006 and February 2007, making her the first female governor in Nigeria’s history.
Her emergence came when Peter Obi was impeached by the state legislature for alleged misconduct. Her short reign came to an end when an appeal court nullified Obi’s impeachment and thereby returned him as governor.
Skewed Representation At the federal parliament, current statistics show that women constitute only 11.2 per cent of the membership in both chambers of the 9th National Assembly, with seven females in the Senate and 11 in the House of Representatives.
Out of the total 479 members of the federal parliament, only 19 were originally female members in the two chambers. But with the demise of a female senator, Rose Oko in 2020, the number had reduced to 18.
In all, there are seven serving female Senators and 11 House members. The female Senators include, Oluremi Tinubu, Stella Oduah, Uche Ekwunife, Betty Apiafi, Eyakenyi Akon, Aishatu Dahiru, and Abiodun Olujimi.
In the House of Representatives, the list include Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, Khadija Abba; Lynda Ikpeazu; Onuh Blessing; Princess Onuoha, Olukemi Oluga, Zainab Gimba, Ogunlola Olubunmi, Aishatu Dukku, Onanuga Oriyomi, Tolulope Akande-Sadipe and Beni Lar.
International Women’s Day
The International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day commemorated every March 8 to celebrate social, economic, political and cultural achievements made by women.
It is also a time to reflect on growth towards gender equality, call for action while celebrating acts of courage and determination by women who break the glass ceiling at different endeavours.
This year, to commemorate the 2022 International Women’s Day, the theme was centred on “Breaking the Bias”.
According to to the IWD, “Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead.
Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field.”Every year, Nigeria joins the rest of the world on March 8th, to celebrate the political, cultural, social and economic achievements of women globally. Each year, female legislators clamour for inclusion of more women in elective positions.
Every Assembly to no avail, as part of their legislative agenda always promise to make efforts to allow more women to participate in politics and governance.
Gender Bill Rejection at 8th Assembly
It’s not the first time pro-women bills were rejected by the parliament. The lawmakers voted against affirmative action during the last constitutional review by the 8th National Assembly.
This took place specifically in July 2017, when the Senate voted against a proposal to alter the Constitution to provide for 35 per cent affirmative action for women in federal and state cabinets.
A total of 49 of the 96 senators present during the electronic voting on the bill to further amend the 1999 Constitution supported the proposal. Despite the slight majority, however, the proposal still failed as it came short of the 73 votes required to approve the affirmative action.
In Nigeria, the extant National Gender Policy (NGP) recommended 35 percent affirmative action and sought for a more inclusive representation of women with at least 35 per cent of both elective political and appointive public service positions respectively.
On March 8, 2021, female lawmakers in the 9th Senate and the House of Representatives yet again stepped up the push for greater representation of women in politics and other sectors of the society.
The lawmakers who expressed their views at a two-day training and advocacy workshop for federal and state female lawmakers on gender responsive legislation, in Abuja, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to forward an Executive Bill to the two chambers of the National Assembly on 35 percent affirmative action.
At an event organised by the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians to commemorate the 2021 edition of the International Women’s Day, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said the parliament would be considering amendments to the constitution to further allow women participation in politics and governance of Nigeria.
Despite, the Speaker’s assurance, 2022 International Women’s Day, themed “Break the Bias”, was dealt a painful blow as lawmakers in the National Assembly voted against all women bills.
Before the bills were voted on March 1, the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari had made a surprise appearance in both the Senate and House chambers, on February 23, to witness the laying of the reports of the Constitution Review Committee in both chambers.
The first lady, who was accompanied by the Minister of Women Affairs, Pallen Tallen and her counterpart in the Ministry of Finance and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, was there to mobilise support for the gender bills.
Gbajabiamila, while addressing the President’s wife expressed optimism that the bills will be approved by the parliament.
However, tale tale signs that the gender bills will be rejected were seen on the voting day in the House of Representatives, when members protested against a motion for the admittance of Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo into the chamber to observe proceedings.
When the Speaker put the question on a motion to admit Mrs. Osinbajo into the chamber, majority of the lawmakers shouted “Nay”. Regardless, Gbajabiamila ruled that the wife of the Vice President be admitted into the chamber to observe proceedings.
But, the presence of the VP’s wife didn’t stop the male lawmakers from voting against all four bills. The 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, had 208 members voting against the amendment with only 81 supporting.
Similarly, the second Bill seeking for Affirmative Action for Women in Political Party Administration was equally rejected by majority of the lawmakers despite appeals of the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila. Equally rejected was a provision to give a woman the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state after five years of marriage.
During consideration of the Bill, PDP lawmakers Bamidele Salam from Osun state suggested that the 35 per cent affirmative action should be reduced to 15 per cent. While 195 lawmakers agreed with Salam’s amendment, 107 voted against.
Gbajabiamila called for repetition of the process appealing to his colleagues to support the bill as women were the ones that come out en masse to vote during elections. However his appeals were not heeded to, he thereafter vowed to expose those who voted against women Bills.
The fourth Bill seeking to provide for a Minimum Percentage for Women in Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees was also rejected by the Lawmakers, despite pleas from the Speaker, Gbajabiamila, Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu and Chairman Committee on Defence, Hon. Babajimi Benson for them to support the Bill.
Gbajabiamila clearly disappointed by the development, resorted to voice vote to pass his amendment to the Bill that 20 per cent should be given to women. However, none of the gender Bills saw the light of the day in the Senate as the lawmakers all voted against them.
After the rejection, women groups protested at the National Assembly main gate to show their disappointment. The aggrieved women groups tackled the parliament over the outcome of the exercise, insisting on a revisit.
One of the convener of the protest, Abiola Afolabi, said the women would sustain the protest until they meet with the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan or Speaker Gbajabiamila to submit their demands.
The House Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, who was the lead sponsor of the bill seeking to create special legislative seats for women, expressed disappointment in her male colleagues who voted against the bills.
Onyejeocha, speaking to journalists in Abuja, lamented that Nigerian women are hurting due to the rejection of the Bills by the male lawmakers.
She recalled that from 6th Assembly, female legislators pushed for 35 per cent affirmative action to no avail. According to her, the reason it kept failing was because the men kept on asking ‘which seat do you want to take’.
She lamented that with the gang up, conspiracy and hatred for inclusion of more women, there’s no guarantee that in the 10th assembly, it will not decline further.
Joining hundreds of protesters at the National Assembly gate, the Governors’ Wives’ Forum, led by its Chairperson and wife of Ekiti State Governor, Bisi Fayemi, said by rejecting the gender bills, the lawmakers had rejected the progress of Nigerian women.
Mrs. Fayemi, who was accompanied by her counterparts from Edo and Akwa Ibom States, Betsy Obaseki and Martha Udom respectively, demanded that the lawmakers rescind their decision on the bills.
She said, “This country belongs to all of us. 50 per cent of the country’s population is women. No women, no nation. We therefore demand that our rights be recognised; our rights as full citizen, to take leadership positions, not to die in childbirth, not to live in poverty, not to suffer from gender-based violence.
“We want our leaders in this building whom we campaigned and voted for, to recognise that Nigerian women’s lives matter. Anything less than that is totally unacceptable.”
Reps Rescind Decision
Few days later, on women’s day Gbajabiamila, after an executive session, announced that the House will rescind its decision on three out of the four rejected bills.
The Speaker said the Bills, which seeks to “alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for 35 percent affirmative action for women in political party administration; expand the scope of citizenship by registration and provide criteria for qualification to become an Indigene of a State in Nigeria,” will be reconsidered in the coming weeks by the lawmakers.
He said the House will be relying on the provision of the constitution to harmonise the differences between it and the Senate.
Will the Gender Bills be Passed This Time?
While the House has rescinded its decision, assuring it will reconsider the bills, however their counterparts in the Senate are yet to do so. The women groups have continued their protest vowing not to stop until the Senate also rescind their decision.
As Nigerian women await the lawmakers action in the coming weeks, it falls on them to ensure that they fulfill their promise to revisit the Bills and as well lobby very well to see to it that they are passed this time.
Quotes“By rejecting the gender bills, the lawmakers had rejected the progress of Nigerian…the reason it kept failing was because the men kept on asking ‘which seat do you want to take”
“This country belongs to all of us. 50 per cent of the country’s population is women. No women, no nation. We therefore demand that our rights be recognised; our rights as full citizen, to take leadership positions, not to die in childbirth, not to live in poverty, not to suffer from gender-based violence”