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Constitution Amendment: Why gender bills failed

By John Akubo (Abuja), jeoma Thomas-Odia (Lagos) and Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt)
05 March 2022   |   4:28 am
As women across the country continue to raise eyebrows over the rejection of some gender bills in the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution by members of the National Assembly...

Nigerian Senate PHOTO: Facebook/Nigerian Senate/TopeBrown

• Buhari Is Against Affirmative Action, Says Wike
• Men Had A Mindset, Olujimi Reveals
• Majority Of Lawmakers Didn’t Study Rejected Bills, Ifendu Alleges
• NASS Still Has Room To Redress Wrong- Akiyode-Afolabi

As women across the country continue to raise eyebrows over the rejection of some gender bills in the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution by members of the National Assembly, it has been discovered that the bills failed largely because male legislators could not be convinced on their relevance.

The revelation came from the senator representing Ekiti South Senatorial District, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, who told The Guardian in an interview yesterday, that “the men were just set on what they wanted to do” and simply had their way.

Olujimi, who described the failure of the bills as a sad commentary, noted that it was disheartening that “no single bill for the women sailed through.”

Her words: “The men were just set on what they wanted to do. It was tough; only a few of them supported us and God knows why, because most of them have very special daughters, daughters who have done very well; daughters who have made them proud and have grown in the system. Yet, they couldn’t vote for the simplest thing – their future – because the future is in the woman. The woman is an epitome of the future, a representative of what the future will be. When we don’t look after the nation, the nation is at the risk. It is just confusing, because everything has added up. We make ourselves a laughing stock in the comity of nations and that is not good for Nigeria.”

The lawmaker described the development as a great set back, saying the women had worked hard a lot.

“It has taken us two years and beyond the two years, we had spoken to everybody that we thought mattered on the issue and we got support. It is very painful to find out that all of them didn’t survive.

“We are just too disappointed; we are too unhappy we believe there will be some other day. Not even the smallest one, 10 women out of the ministers, not even that passed and that shows you how our gender is valued in this entity called Nigeria. It is a sad commentary on how people place us as the female gender and I pray that does not continue because if it does, it would be a disservice to those coming behind.”

Olujimi’s submission was at variance with the submission of the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, who had stated last Thursday that the bills failed because the lobbying for them was late.

“The lobbying was done a bit late,” Kalu said. “Yes, I want to say that, but this lobby and advocacy ought to have started longer than now. I say that without mincing words.

“You don’t lobby two days to the voting on a very important issue like this. It goes beyond lobbying at the last minute. It takes a lot of orientation; it takes a lot of advocacy. It takes a lot of sensitisation to enable people to buy into these important agenda. Do you know why? Because you cannot play down on our current issues with regards to emerging democracies, one of which is our religious disposition, our cultural dispositions.

“These things play a role. We are part of the society, our religion and culture is part of society. It needs a lot of advocacy by civil society organisations, women groups, to push this agenda forward; it is a wonderful agenda.

“Nigerians are shifting their focus to the representatives only. It was not the senators and the representatives that did the job; it was the instruction from their various constituents. This is the truth that must be told.”

However, in an interview, yesterday, the convener, Feminist Womanifesto and founding Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, described Kalu’s assertions as false.

She said: “It is not true; 119 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored the bill; 89 of them voted, what happened to the rest? Ordinarily, 119 who sponsored the bill should have been able to lobby their members. Furthermore, the women honourables have been talking and lobbying, which is what led to the gender bills making the delineation in the house in the first instance.

“Most bills died along the line. It’s a lot of deceit by them. The manner with which the bills were trivialised was also a great pain; it shows disrespect for womanhood and disregard. How can equal citizenship be a challenge in this century or the right of a woman to claim to be an indigene of a place she married into? Or that there should be more women in political spaces? It’s a total embarrassment to Nigeria; even the Senate votes were better.

“The NASS disrespect was so bad that they even disregarded the visit by the first and second ladies. Their behaviour was a declaration of war against women in Nigeria and we will resist it this time around. The constitution, since 1999, has been insensitive. We may never have any opportunity as close as this. So, no going back.”

Akiyode-Afolabi also said that the National Assembly still has the opportunity to redress the wrong, saying they could either recommit the bills or present them as separate gender acts.

The chairperson, Women in Politics Forum, Ebere Ifendu, also said the women did all they could to ensure the success of the bills, but for the obstinate disposition of male legislators who are the majority in the National Assembly.

“This is the first time we carried out the level of advocacy we did and we got everyone on board. That bill had over 80 men co-sponsoring it. How did we get to that point if we didn’t lobby? How did we get to the point that even the First Lady was part of the delegation to the National Assembly? What would they say about the Vice President’s wife, as well as the ministers that were also there? We had one-on-one talks with them. How many times did we visit the Speaker, Gbajabiamila? How many times did we visit the Deputy President of the Senate and the Deputy Speaker? We also visited the chairman of the Constitution Amendment Committee. We reached out to them, and they have no excuse.

“What played out was just a matter of an already made up mindset. I’m sure some of them didn’t even read the bills to know their content. So, if somebody can wake up and vote against citizenship by registration and for a woman to give her foreign husband Nigerian citizenship, do you think that person is literate enough? Besides, following the proceedings, we could see Gbajabiamila virtually explaining every bill to these people. Documents were also sent to them more than a week before the voting day.”

Ifendu noted that the attitude of the lawmakers indicated that some of them were not prepared to be part of parliament.

“People didn’t even have time to read. How can anybody vote against indigeneship? Some of them are married to women that are not from their communities, others are married to women that are not from their states. So, should the women continue to float? She gets to her husband’s place and they tell her that she’s not an indigene. She gets to her father’s place and they tell her that they have married her out. Is that the future that they want for their children?

“This is just a matter of people that are not ready. They don’t understand why they are there. So, for anyone of them to come out and say that they didn’t do enough lobbying, something must be wrong honestly. We have to lobby them to do the right thing? Are they that daft that we need to lobby them to do the right thing?

“We are not going to just sit down and watch them; it’s not going to be possible. Definitely, we will continue to respond. As you know, since Monday, we have been at the gate of the National Assembly. So, we are going to respond; we are not just going to lie low.”

On her part, the Special Adviser to Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) Chairman on ICT, CSOs and donor agencies, Abiodun Essiet, said women started lobbying for the bills to be passed from the day the constitution Review Committee was inaugurated.

“We started lobbying from the day the Constitution Review Committee was inaugurated. Since then, we have been pushing for our amendment to be accepted by the committee and we have paid open and close visits to members of parliament.

“Maybe they are referring to the financial aspect of lobbying; women don’t have the financial muscle like men. What caught my attention was the fact that they referred to cultural and religious limitations as to their reasons for voting against women’s bills. Are they saying our culture and religion do not promote women’s development? My holy book doesn’t say that. They even said we are Africans, but Rwanda has the highest number of women in Parliament. We are therefore demanding that all our bills should be reconsidered,” she said.

Meanwhile, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, yesterday, described the rejection of the bills as a major setback for Nigeria’s democratic advancement.

The governor queried the kind of policy the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its members have to deny women desirable roles in politics.

A statement by the governor’s media aide, Kelvin Ebiri, said he spoke at the inauguration of Ahoada-Odiemerenyi -Ihugbogo-Odieke Road project in Ahoada-East local council.

He said that women, including the wives of the President and Vice President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, and Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, respectively, had approached, lobbied and secured the promise of members of the National Assembly for affirmative action but it was still not considered.

Wike stated that it was rather baffling that the lawmakers voted to frustrate the bill requesting such legislative rights.

He said: “Look at what happened in the National Assembly. I watched it and I laughed when I saw how our wives and women were disgraced. It has never happened anywhere. I saw wives of the president and vice president go to the plenary session of the National Assembly to lobby them, to please help them.

“They (National Assembly) promised them. The party (APC) promised them. The same party that promised them failed them.”

Wike said such things would not happen in progressive societies that harness the potentials of women in the advancement of their countries.

He blamed the rejection of the bills on President Muhammadu Buhari’s lack of interest in allowing for affirmative action for women in the political administration in the country.

“APC controls the National Assembly. If Mr. President was in support of this, there is no way they will disgrace women in the National Assembly, “ he said.

Talking about the situation in Rivers State, the governor added: “Look at this state; as a matter of policy, we said we are going to do this and we agreed that if women cannot be chairman of councils, they cannot be refused the position of vice-chairmen.

“Today in this state, all 23 vice-chairmen are women. Today in this state, we said we must have five women as councilors in each local government. It is a matter of policy and it is leadership,” he noted.