Nigerian Women, National Assembly clash over Gender bills

The Senate has stated that there is no going back on the gender bills which members voted on and rejected in the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution.

 

The Senate spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said this during an interview with The PUNCH while reacting to the protests embarked on by women groups, which affected activities in some parts of Abuja

 

While noting that it was the right of women to protest, like they did at the main gate to the National Assembly on Wednesday, the federal parliament stated that it could not reverse itself on the decisions taken on the affected bills.

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Basiru said, “They are free to protest; it is part of their democratic right to protest.”

 

When asked if a gender bill could be revisited, he said, “It cannot! There were 68 bills, 21 of them could not pass, so why should we revisit three bills. They should continue with their lobbying and strategy ahead of another round of legislative amendments.



“To protest is a right of everybody. That it was rejected at this time does not mean it has been foreclosed. Then, they need to even come up with practical and implementable propositions.”

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The Senate spokesman listed some bills that other categories of Nigerians would have benefited from, including traditional rulers, which failed to pass.

 

“It is part of the democratic process that you must respect the decision of the government and it is also part of their democratic right to protest. We identify with their protests but there is nothing that we can do for now. The National Assembly has taken a position and we cannot reverse ourselves,” the senator added.

 

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, did not pick calls made to him, to also confirm if the lawmakers would review their decision on the bills.

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About four-gender related bills failed to pass at the Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday, which has generated condemnations both within and outside the National Assembly.

 

The Deputy Minority Whip of the House, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, particularly expressed her disappointment over the non-passage of the bills.

 

The rejected proposals include Bill 35 to “provide for special seat for women in the National and state Houses of Assembly;” Bill 36 to “expand the scope of citizenship by registration;” Bill 37 to “provide for affirmative action for women in political party administration;” Bill 38 to “provide criteria for qualification to become an indigene of a state in Nigeria;” and Bill 68 which to give women a quota in the federal and state executive councils or ministerial and commissionership seats.



While addressing journalists on Wednesday, Onyejeocha, who sponsored the bill seeking to create special seats of women in the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly, expressed her grievances.

 

The lawmaker, who is the only female member of the body of principal officers of the House, said, “Everybody saw what transpired on the floor of the House, even the Senate. To say the least, I am very disappointed; disappointed not because people shut down the bills but because the bills that were shut down have taken this country backwards.”

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The lawmaker disclosed that having known how bills “are killed on the floor,” she decided to let others co-sponsor the bill, including Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila.

 

The lawmaker disclosed that having known how bills “are killed on the floor,” she decided to let others co-sponsor the bill, including Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila.

 

“Yes, he spoke with them and yet, this bill failed with the sponsorship of one hundred-and-something male members. We are just 13. The first signatures we collected on the first day were eighty-something, and that just appeared in the first gazette. And after that, we had almost like 100 signatures again because we explained to them that your seats are secured; 360 and 60 seats,” she said.

 

The lawmaker said it was “more worrisome” that members who signed to the bill would “come on the day of voting to say no.”

 

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Also, some protesting women claimed that by rejecting the bills , the lawmakers have denied citizenship to a foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman, the chance of being citizens through marriage and refused to create a special seat for women in the National Assembly among others.

 

The women under the Nigerian Women Groups, a Coalition of over 100 gender Civil Society Organisations, accused men of the 9th Assembly of reinforcing the discrimination and political bias against women as enshrined in the 1999 constitution.



Speaking with journalists during the protest on Wednesday, the President, Women in Politics Forum, Ebere Ifendu, vowed to petition the United Nations.

 

She said, “What happened is a show of shame, not just because we had the wife of the Vice-President seated with them. I saw clearly that some certain percentage of men at the legislative arm was against us.

 

“We want to assure them there will be payback time. What they do not know is that they voted against their wives, mothers, daughters and it showed they do not have their interests at heart. All those that voted against the bill should enjoy whatever is left before 2023. We would ensure we get their names and make sure they don’t return in 2023.”

 

Also, the senator representing Ogun West Senatorial District, Tolu Odebiyi, in an interview with journalists, described as unfortunate the rejection of women-related bills by the National Assembly.

 

Also briefing State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, condemned the National Assembly’s rejection of a constitutional amendment allocating special seats for women to increase their political representation.

 

Also on Wednesday, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees President, Akeem Olatunj, said the union would resist any attempt by governors to scuttle the passage of the newly passed LG autonomy Bill at the state level.

 

The pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, in a statement by its National Publicty Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi, said allowing independent candidates in elections was quite good just as the proclamation on the electronic transmission of election results as well as the vesting of the collection of Value Added Tax in the states.

 

Moreso, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari and Wife of the Vice President, Dolapo Osinbajo, on Thursday, in Abuja called on the National Assembly to review its decision on women-related bills.

 

During the plenary session on Tuesday, a bill seeking to give at least ten slots to women as ministers and commissioners in the federal and state governments failed at the upper legislative chamber.

 

Out of the 88 senators who registered to vote, 44 voted yes, 43 voted no, and one abstained. The bill meant to guarantee the inclusivity of women in governance failed, as it could not garner the required 73 votes to pass.



Nigerian Women under various groups stormed the National Assembly gate, on Wednesday, to express their anger over the rejection. They included women from the United Nations Population Fund, Association of Women in the Arts, Federation of Muslim Women Association, Women Organisation for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, Women In Business, Yiaga Africa, the Islamic Youth League, Action Aid, amongst others.

 

Their agitation was that the National Assembly declined citizenship to the foreign-born husband of a Nigerian woman, while a Nigerian man’s foreign-born wife gets automatic citizenship; denied Nigerians in the diaspora voting rights; denied women the ability to take indigeneship of their husband’s state after five years of marriage; denied 35 per cent appointed positions for women; denied women 35 per cent affirmative action in party administration and leadership, and rejected specific seats for women in the National Assembly.

 

Reacting to the development in Abuja, on Thursday, the First Lady said, “The recent decision by the National Assembly to ignore the long-standing clamour for Affirmative Action for Nigerian women was contrary to the very high expectations of forward-looking Nigerian men and women.

 

“The anger of Nigerians in the circumstance is, therefore, understandable, more so that not a single concession was made to women, contrary to the global practice of give-and-take for which people’s parliaments are noted.

 

“Notwithstanding this temporary setback, however, I, on behalf of the wife of the Vice President, HE Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo, join the multitude of Nigerian men and women to thank relevant UN agencies, local and international Non-governmental organisations, faith-based groups, and all other stakeholders and individuals for their charitable support for fair representation of women in legislative houses, public governance, and management of political parties.”

 

She called on the Senate and House of Representatives to reverse their conclusions on Tuesday’s vote, saying, “I am of the opinion that our esteemed National Assembly can still review its decision and pray that our compatriots will deeply reflect on this political, but emotive matter.

 

“I call on both the Senate and the House of Representatives as husbands, fathers, brothers and grandfathers to revise and reconsider reversing their conclusions so that no group, especially mothers, wives, daughters, and partners who women are, would suffer discrimination, or be denied of opportunities to contribute to the process of nation-building.”

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