Constitution amendment process without Nigerian Women

The cavalier and arrogant manner in which the National Assembly threw out these Bills very clearly says that they do not want progress for Nigeria, and that their sole interest is in enhancing the power of Nigerian men. This is unacceptable and Nigerian men must come out and demand that all the five gender Bills be reconsidered by the federal parliament. We must not allow the men of the Ninth National Assembly to get away with reinforcing…discrimination and political bias against women…

 

Women have been protesting at the National Assembly since Wednesday, against the rejection of several bills seeking gender equality in the country. They have very clear demands, that Nigeria belongs to all its citizens, half of who are women. The systematic discrimination against women and their marginalisation in national and state affairs must stop if Nigeria is to develop into an inclusive and functional democracy. I believe that this struggle requires that progressive and democratically-minded Nigerian men must come into the ring and make it clear that they stand for inclusiveness, so that our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters would also be part of what we enjoy and take for granted.

 

The National Assembly had on Tuesday voted on the 68 bills that sought to alter or amend the Constitution. Five of the bills endeavoured to promote more opportunities for women in political parties, governance and the society at large. All the five bills were rejected by the “Distinguished” Senators and “Honourable” Members of the National Assembly, demonstrating their contempt and lack of regard for Nigerian women.

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One of the bills sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women. Currently, all Nigerian men married to foreign born wives have the right to automatically confer citizenship on their wives. The National Assembly has taken the position that this right should not be enjoyed by Nigerian women.

 

Another Bill sought to allocate 35 per cent of appointed political positions, such as ministers, commissioners and board memberships to women. This would have given meaning to the 20-year old Nigerian Gender Policy that first enunciated this 35 per cent allocation. Nigerian men were ready to accept the policy as a theoretical right, which would never be implemented. Precisely for this reason, the Bill sought to give teeth to this government policy, so that it can be implemented, but they threw it out.

 

One of the most important Bills sought to create special seats for women in National and State Assemblies. This was proposed because the men who are gatekeepers in political parties have almost always blocked women seeking nomination to contest for executive and parliamentary seats. The reserved seats would have gone around this problem and it is now crystal clear that these men simply do not want women to have access to decision-making meeting rooms and chambers in the country.

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Today, I feel terrible for all the great advocacy work done by women’s groups. The Minister of Women’s Affairs has worked tirelessly to ensure the success of these Bills. The First Lady and the wife of the Vice President had both gone to the National Assembly in person to lends their support to the passing of the Bills.

 

Given the history of male gatekeepers within political parties regularly blocking female aspirants, another Bill had proposed the application of the 35 per cent gender policy in the appointment of women into party administrations and leadership. This too was thrown out.



Yet, another Bill rejected by the National Assembly had sought to address the problems of marginalisation that women face when they are married to men from states they are not indigenes of. The proposal was that such women should automatically enjoy the indigeneity rights of their husband’s states. This too was thrown out.

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Today, I feel terrible for all the great advocacy work done by women’s groups. The Minister of Women’s Affairs has worked tirelessly to ensure the success of these Bills. The First Lady and the wife of the Vice President had both gone to the National Assembly in person to lends their support to the passing of the Bills.

 

The cavalier and arrogant manner in which the National Assembly threw out these Bills very clearly says that they do not want progress for Nigeria, and that their sole interest is in enhancing the power of Nigerian men. This is unacceptable and Nigerian men must come out and demand that all the five gender Bills be reconsidered by the federal parliament. We must not allow the men of the Ninth National Assembly to get away with reinforcing the discrimination and political bias against women that is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

 

Inclusiveness for women will benefit not just women but Nigeria as a whole. More women in governance will only bring progress and respect for Nigeria in the comity of nations. Even more important, by ensuring that Nigerian women fully enjoy the rights that the Constitution says are for all citizens, we deepen our democracy and enhance the respect and consideration of the other half of our citizens. It would simply make all of us better human beings.

 

Inclusiveness for women will benefit not just women but Nigeria as a whole. More women in governance will only bring progress and respect for Nigeria in the comity of nations. Even more important, by ensuring that Nigerian women fully enjoy the rights that the Constitution says are for all citizens, we deepen our democracy and enhance the respect and consideration of the other half of our citizens. It would simply make all of us better human beings. What the disrespect to women by the National Assembly shows is that most of the members have very little respect for democracy and we as a nation have to use the coming elections to ensure such people do not return to power.



My concern is that the Ninth Assembly has grown very distant from the core values of democracy and accountability. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Forth Republic is the immunity clause that protects the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors from prosecution while in office. While the original intention of the Constitution was to protect such officers from frivolous suits, in practice many such office holders have abused the immunity they enjoy by recklessly engaging in criminal activities, including corrupt acts and abuse of office. It is for this reason that there have been persistent calls by proponents of good governance to eliminate the clause altogether.

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One of the Bills considered, but correctly thrown out in the constitutional amendment process, was a surreptitious attempt to expand the immunity clause to cover the legislative and judicial arms of government. The proposed constitutional amendment would have broadened the non-accountability circle to more public officers and create conditions for the escalation of criminal acts of corruption, abuse of office and breaches of the of rule of law. The implications of extending immunity to top legislative and judicial officers could cripple the rule of law in the country, as holders of such offices are likely to be emboldened by the clause and they would begin to think they are above the law. Given the massive growth of corruption in the legislative and judicial branches of government, it was an amendment that was proposed consciously to make the leadership of these branches above the law. The anger generated by the proposal was so high that they had to drop it during the Tuesday session. For the rest of their tenure, we need to keep eagle eyes on the National Assembly to ensure they prioritise amendments that are beneficial to citizens, rather than seek self-serving amendments that would place our democracy in jeopardy.

 

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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