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Rethinking the bill for additional female lawmakers

By Stella Odife
08 November 2021   |   3:53 am
As chairperson of a non-governmental organization that focuses on women’s rights, this article appears to be one of the most difficult coming from our stable, Women Organization for Gender Issues ...

Onyejeocha

As chairperson of a non-governmental organization that focuses on women’s rights, this article appears to be one of the most difficult coming from our stable, Women Organization for Gender Issues (WOGI). The reason is not hard to fathom, which basically stems from the problem with writing an article that may be misconstrued against women’s interest on one hand and taking slightly different stand on a Bill that is well intended and probably appreciated by Nigerian Women, as a whole, on the other hand.

The Bill titled, “A Bill for An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to create additional special seats for Women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly,” is sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip, House of Representatives, Honorable Nkeiruka Onyejeocha. If passed into law, it will create an additional 34 seats in the Senate and 74 seats in the House of Representatives.

Although the sponsor means well, the move, however, is against the dictates of economic realities on ground. While we at WOGI congratulate and thank Honorable Onyejeocha for her bold and inspiring move towards sponsoring the said Bill, our stance on any issue remains to always look beyond the superficial perspectives/realities surrounding an issue. We seek to highlight deficiencies (where they exist) and suggest ways to cure the defects.

Firstly, it is important to note that in a country where less than one third of the population constitute 100% of the work force, the country cannot be said to be operating optimally and will always remain incapable of feeding its entire populace. Global statistics show that about half of the population are women  (48%) and while they represent circa 47% of today’s workforce, this seeming equality does not portend in key leadership positions across all sectors of the economy and most especially in the three tiers of the Federal Government.

For instance, of the 42 ministers in the current government of President Muhammadu Buhari, only Seven are females
But while this is a well-intended proposition for gender inclusiveness, it appears not to bode well with the economic realities the nation currently faces. Presently, we have 109 Senate seats and 360 House of Representatives seats at the National Assembly. The passing of this Bill will increase the Senate seats to 143 and the House of Representatives’ seats to 434, bringing the total number of the Federal lawmakers to 577 as against the current number of 469. 

Does this Bill help the women? Yes, but who bears the cost of this increase? While the intent can be seen as a step in the right direction, the resultant effect however, does not solve our problem. It is like treating a serious ailment with pain medication without getting to the root of the pain to ensure its complete elimination. While we welcome this relief given to the women by Honorable Onyejiocha, we must go further to cure the defects in our system, if the women must progress.

We believe the Bill would have been more appropriate if it is stated thus: “A Bill for the Reservation of 111 (Hundred and Eleven) seats in the current House count, which will NOT preclude women from vying for the other remaining seats in the chambers.” 

The good role women play in governance cannot be over emphasized. They tend to mellow the tempo of strife, bitterness and rancor among various contending political gladiators. We need women to balance the 
equation with men, especially when it is obvious that women are more committed to delivering good governance than their male counterparts.

The first obstacle for women starts at the political party structure. Using the two dominant political parties, APC and PDP, as an example, the framework of these political parties placed men at the pinnacle of the party hierarchies starting at the Ward Level while the positions of Woman Leaders are reserved for women. And yet, the decision as to who becomes the candidate for any position is taken by the party executive, despite the pretense that the decision is done through primaries. This mischief is shrouded under the clause that allows for ‘indirect primaries’ in the party constitution. To cure the defect in the selection process, women must be appointed to some of the key positions of the party structure.

Following the manipulation at the party primaries is the money politics. Only very few women can compete with men when it comes to finance. Everything about Nigerian politics is money. It is this that has excluded the real technocrats and eminently qualified men and women from getting into any political position. 

Nigeria copied American democracy but failed to copy that most important aspect of their democracy that gives a level playing field to anybody seeking an elective position. Control of Campaign funding is what made it possible for a person like Barack Obama to run against the likes of billionaire Mitt Romney, John McCain etc. and win the election.

The party must fund the candidates, government must fund the parties and parties and aspirants must work together to seek for funds for the parties to conduct elections. Such monies collected must be accounted for by parties and individuals at the end of every election. And finally, there must be no inducement for the electorates who are exercising their civic responsibility. There must be strict and enforceable penalties for those who go against such regulations. We look forward to having Bills to cure these defects.

Going back to the matter of the cost for the increase, we are uncomfortable with the Bill because of WOGI’s research findings on the salaries and the emoluments of our National Assembly members. The research revealed that our lawmakers are the highest paid in the world. What Nigerians have been clamoring for is a reduction of the number of the National Assembly members and a drastic cut in their salaries and emoluments. Some have called for a part time seating of members to reduce the cost.

Currently, the National Assembly is run with annual budget of N134 billion. This is outrageous considering the biting economic crunch experienced by majority of the citizenry and the inflation rate devastating the economy. An increase in the number of the Federal lawmakers is the last thing Nigeria needs now. We believe that a more responsive and result-oriented approach in terms of inclusiveness of women in the decision-making process of government should start at the political party level. This is usually the starting point of empowerment in all democratic setting. We run a patriarchal party system in which women are tactically excluded from decision making. And this is exactly why women are underrepresented in politics.

WOGI research shows that appointing more women in key positions in the party’s structure at the Ward, State and Federal levels would ensure their engagement in the decision making process in the party administration. This in turn guarantees the actualization of the much-needed gender diversity and balanced perceptive on the issue of governance.
 
We need a radical departure from the way party politics and electioneering campaign processes are handled in Nigeria. The subsisting scenario in which money bags hijack political party structures and campaign initiatives make it difficult for women to have access to key political posts.

Godfatherism is a plague militating against the participation of women in politics. When selections are made based on competence as a result of collective decision by party members instead of powerful individuals, the chances of getting the quality of men and women who would impact positively on governance are profound.

The parties should also design certain mechanisms for proper analysis and evaluation of candidates’ antecedents and qualifications to checkmate moves by 419 individuals with money to impose themselves or their cronies on the party. This is one of the ways of ensuring that credible and responsible women assume positions of authority.

Finally, we must continue to use the affirmative action programme for the reservation of certain positions for women until we meet the UN mandate on gender equality. We have been clamoring for women inclusiveness in politics and decision-making process because studies have shown that gender diversity enhances greater delivery of democratic dividends across all strata of the society.

We are not opposing the Bill for lack of merit. Indeed, it is a bold step, but it will add more economic burden on our wobbling economy thereby rendering the whole exercise counterproductive. Women should insist on having the 111 members extracted from the existing 469 members.
Odife, chairperson, Women’s Organization for Gender Issues (WOGI) wrote from New York, USA.