Posted by Godwin Onyemaechi
Happy International Women’s Day Ladies! The theme for this year as announced by the United Nations is, “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”. Apparently, this is not a goal that the Nigerian Legislature is interested in achieving. The Nigerian Legislature obviously believes that women are not particularly needed in law-making, party administration and governance, for the betterment of our nation.
I remember on International Women’s Day in 2018, Hon. Mohammed Gudaji Kazaure had stated on the floor of the House of Representatives, that while ‘womens’ (as he referred to us) should be given a chance, we shouldn’t be given too much opportunity because we would overthrow the men. In one breath, he admitted that ‘womens’ were very intelligent and constituted most of the voting population, and in another breath, he contradicted himself and said that if ‘womens’ took over the ‘Chambas’ (Chamber), they would, in his words, ‘mess up’; and that’s why ‘womens’ are meant to be under men and controlled by them. How insulting, especially from someone who obtained his WASC (School Certificate) at the age of 22, an age when many of us ‘womens’ in his age group already had first degrees! Yet, he and those of his ilk in the National Assembly feel a false sense of entitlement, not because they possess any worthy credentials, but simply because they are men!
This primitive, benighted, selfish, self-centred, ambiguous, confused, chauvinistic view crowned with feelings of gross inadequacy, seems to have been reflected in how the Senate voted recently in the Bills concerning women, particularly Bill No. 35 (Act to provide special seats for women in the National and State Assemblies) & Bill No. 37 (Act to provide affirmative action for women in political party administration). They failed to approve them. In fact, the House of Representatives must have had a similar outing to that of the Senate in this regard, so much so that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, reminded members about the importance of women, especially in our voting numbers, and threatened to publish their vote. I hereby request that the Speaker make good his threat, and publish the vote!
We had been hopeful that with the progressive move of Governor AbdulRahaman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State, setting up a gender parity cabinet and backing it up with the Political Offices (Gender Composition) Law 2021, in which there is a prescription of the appointment of at least 35% of either sex into political appointive positions in his State to enhance gender inclusivity, this would be a cue for other Governors and the National Assembly to follow. Alas! It hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, this is the trend that the world is following. Trust us to lag behind.
Discrimination Against Women
It is not news that in Nigeria, women are discriminated against in many areas including that of politics, governance and even law enforcement agencies like the Police, contrary to Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution) which prohibits discrimination against any person inter alia on the basis of sex. It is a breach of our fundamental right, for us women to be discriminated against. See the cases of Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti & 3 Ors v AGF, Chief of Army Staff & 7 Ors 1985 2 N.W.L.R. Part 6 Page 211 at 230; Ukeje v Ukeje 2014 11 N.W.L.R. Part 1418 Page 384.
For instance, I was shocked that Inyang Ekwo J. of the Federal High Court did not find for the NBA in the case in which the NBA sought to void some provisions in the Nigeria Police Force Regulations, particularly Regulation 127 which provides that an unmarried female Police officer who becomes pregnant, shall be discharged. Such provisions, are a breach of the women’s fundamental human rights, as well as discriminatory, contrary to Sections 37 & 42 of the Constitution. So what, if the Police women were aware of the Regulations before they enlisted, does that confer constitutionality on the offending provisions? No. Will a court enforce an illegal contract? I think not.
In African countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Senegal and Uganda, women have the highest representation in Parliament, because of the adoption of affirmative action (positive discrimination) policies for women. On the contrary, in Nigeria, in political party administration the only position that a woman is sure to clinch is ‘Woman Leader’ for obvious reasons! They are not considered for Party Chairman, Secretary, National Publicity Secretary, Treasurer and other worthwhile positions. In terms of governance, the best positions are reserved for men, from President down the ladder. So far, Nigeria has had only one female Governor, and it was by default; when Governor Peter Obi was impeached in 2006 – Dame Virgy Etiaba CON became Governor of Anambra State for about three months. She went back to her position as Deputy Governor when Peter Obi was reinstated in February 2007. Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had started the trend of appointing female Deputy Governors. Even this tokenism seems to have fizzled out, as today, correct me if I’m wrong, out of 36 States only Ogun, Kaduna and Rivers State have female Deputy Governors. Even with the large number of female judicial officers, Nigeria has had only one female Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mukhtar GCON (possibly the only Nigerian woman with such high National Honours too).
The Legislature is not any better. Out of 109 Senators, currently, there are only eight women (seven Southerners and one Northerner) (7.339 %). It seems that there are only about 11 females in the House of Representatives, out of 360 members (just over 3%). There has only been one female Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Fourth Republic, Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, and her tenure lasted barely three months. Even in our noble profession, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has only had one female President in its history – Dame Priscilla Kuye, who was elected as 1st Vice President and became President when Clement Akpamgbo relinquished his position as NBA President to become the Attorney-General of the Federation; two female General Secretaries, Mrs Hairat Balogun and presently, Mrs Joyce Oduah; and less than 30 female Senior Advocates of Nigeria out of over 500. Women who want to run for the office of President or Governor, are usually the butt of jokes. Why? Natasha Akpoti who ran for Governor of Kogi State, undoubtedly comes across as being more intelligent than Yahaya Bello, the incumbent Governor. Even a child, can decipher that.
Compare our record to that of USA which we base our political system on, where Senator Kamala Harris became the first ever female Vice President in January 2021; their House of Representatives has 121 voting female members (27.9%), with the Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is also female, while there are 24 female US Senators.
I will adapt the definition of Will Kenton in his Paper ‘Affirmative Action’, in the context of this discourse to say “Affirmative Action refers to a policy aimed at increasing opportunities in the political space for the underrepresented parts of society…..Affirmative Action focuses on demographics with historical low representation in leadership….and is often considered a means of countering discrimination against particular groups”. Women are definitely underrepresented in governance in Nigeria. The PDP had a better record than this APC administration, in this regard. Today, most of the female Ministers are Ministers of State, not substantive Ministers, apart from the Minister of Finance; and Women Affairs and Humanitarian Affairs (for obvious reasons). Aside from the Finance Minister, do the others have as much clout as their male counterparts?
There must be a deliberate policy change, to provide opportunities for the disadvantaged. In the case of women, this can be achieved by Positive Discrimination. For example, a couple of weeks ago, at the Federal Executive Council Meeting, when the Minister of Education was asked why pupils in the North could gain admission into Unity Schools with extremely low scores (as low as 2), while those from South needed much higher scores (in some States like Imo, up to 160 or so) to gain admission to the same schools; he responded that it was quota system, and it would not change. By virtue of Section 42(1)(b) this quota system is unconstitutional, as some States are being accorded privileges that others are not. But, this is a kind of affirmative action policy for the Northern pupils. However, this positive discrimination shouldn’t have become permanent, but a temporary measure adopted, while the standard of education in the North should have been steadily raised over the years, so that there came a time when Northern pupils could compete on a level playing field with not only their counterparts from other States, but globally.
If affirmative action can be done for these pupils, why can it not be done for women? Especially as in many cases the women are just as capable or even better than the men in terms of capacity? It is the backward mindset like that of Hon. Kazaure, who admitted that if he and Hon. Nnena Ukeje were from the same constituency and she ran against him, she would probably beat him in the election because there were more female voters who would pick her over him. Listening to Hons. Kazaure and Ukeje, it is obvious that she is superior in intellect. How fair is it then, that there are more women voters, yet we are so poorly represented in party and elective positions, and governance?
While positive discrimination like any other thing has it’s pros and cons, I believe that the only way to cure this unfair treatment of women, is by something akin to the same affirmative action which the Legislature refused to approve, or that of Rwanda. In the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda 2003 (as amended to 2015) Chapter III Article 10(4) it provides thus: “The State of Rwanda commits itself to upholding the following fundamental principles and ensuring their respect: building a State governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic Government, equality of all Rwandans and between men and women which is affirmed by women occupying at least thirty percent (30%) of positions in decision making organs;”. We should borrow a leaf from the Rwandan or the Ugandan book – See the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 as amended to 2018 Protection and Promotion of Fundamental and Other Human Rights and Freedoms Section VI (Gender Balance and Fair Representation of Marginalised Groups). As of 2011, Uganda had 35% female participation in the Legislature, ranking 16th worldwide of women in national legislatures (UNDP Uganda Case Study on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Public Administration).