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Why it is time for a female speaker, by CSOs


Mrs Mufuliat Fijabi

Following the 35 per cent affirmative action, signed and ratified by the United Nations of which Nigeria is a member, the declining rate in women’s inclusiveness in governance has been a source of concern to various women and civil society groups. Presently, women’s representation has moved from 5.9 per cent to 3.6 per cent, which is far removed from the reality of the affirmative action.

Recently, a female member of the House of Representatives (HoR), 8, has declared interest in the position of Speakership, and this has aroused the interest of women groups who have, however, called for a more gender-responsive and inclusive government, saying it is key to sustainable democracy. Onyejeocha, who has been representing Isuikwato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Abia State, from 2007 till date is the current Chairman, House Committee on Aviation for the second consecutive terms and has also headed the committee on Women in Parliament.

For the Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, Mrs. Mufuliat Fijabi, it is important to have women in parliament in order to have the voices of women in the legislative process. She said gender-responsive legislative process would enhance Nigeria’s drive towards a democracy that is inclusive. Nigeria currently ranks at the lowest on the table of global parliaments and any effort at strengthening and strategically positioning the few elected women is highly welcomed.

According to her, “Having a female Speaker is a welcome development and no Nigerian should say that because the first female Speaker of the HoR did not stay long then women should be out of it. Male Speakers have also been removed before. It should not be about the sex of the person but about the experience and track record. All Nigerians should support female speakership in order to lift up Nigeria from its current shameful position in terms of female representation.”

Fijabi noted that the presence of women at top positions of Nigeria’s parliament would enhance legislation with gender inputs. She noted that Nigerian women who suffered intimidation and violence in political partiesí primaries in the lead up to the 2019 elections and in the elections itself would also have renewed hope in Nigeria’s democratic process.She said Onyejeocha has expressed her interest to serve and should be supported by all, adding, ìShe also has a good track record on legislating and in my opinion will deliver. Women should be supported to positions like this because as a country we need the voices of women to move the nation’s development forward and to be able to achieve the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Nigeriaís representative and committee member at the United Nationsí Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Esther Eghobamien, stressed that in the top three tiers of government there havenít been women, stressing that this is the time to demonstrate that women can outperform men. She stated that inclusive government that includes women makes the society a better place because peace negotiations and accords that include women would outlast menís peace accords by 10 years: ìSo, when we talk of enduring governance, the participation of women is crucial and negotiable.î

Eghobamien, who doubles as the chairperson, Women Arise Development and Humanitarian Initiative (WADHI), noted that with various social groups and bills available, there are no bills exclusive to women, even as the SDGs cannot be achieved without women as they are critical and central to achieving these targets.

‘Having a woman head the parliament will set us on a pathway of creating model women leadership, to show that women can serve at any capacity,î she offered. ìOther countries of the world are now having female presidents and prime ministers. In Nigeria we haven’t really had a woman at the top rank in government for us to demonstrate the potential, capacity, and contribution of women and that is why we are asking for it.’’

However, the founder, Emerge Women, Mary Ikoku, said there is no true democracy in a government that excludes a gender that makes up over 50 per cent of its population, adding, ìSo, if we have to practice true democracy, women should not just be voters but elected members and be allowed to lead in strategic levels. It is very important for Nigeriaís development and lawmaking. A lot of the potential and talents women bring to fore is untapped. So, to have a National Assembly that thrives on all sides, women must also be in leadership. Ikoku added that when a woman is in the helm of affairs the standard the society has kept for her is higher and every woman understands that you cannot fail yourself and so Nigeria will benefit from this to a reasonable extent.

According to her, ‘‘The right thing to do is to get a woman to be a speaker and then we start counting. This woman who has declared has been in the House since 2007 and is a ranking member. She has passed bills that are very effective and has the people at heart. So when you elect a leader who has spearheaded such bills, you will expect more bills, more leadership and a greater Nigeria.’’

While Chief Executive Officer, Women Radio 91.7 FM, and women advocate, Toun Okewale Sonaiya, said that it is not just about having a woman at the helm of affairs as there are competent women with the capability to deliver at all levels. She added that women should be given a chance like every other citizen of Nigeria.

Women are under-represented at the National Assembly and any opportunity to address female under-representation should be given weighty consideration,î she argued. ìNigeria made a commitment to the world through its agreement with the UN for 35 per cent women participation and president. President Muhammadu Buhari has also confirmed at various fora his desire to improve on the status quo which is currently below 10 representation. The majority of the just concluded 2019 elections have not improved the situation. so, affirmative action should play out here. For power balancing, it’s important to have women at the helm of our legislature.

Sonaiya stressed that having an additional woman elected at the top would give prominence to the capability of the woman in our lawmaking process and for Nigeria to have proportionate legislative body. According to her, this would surely encourage more women to actively participate in politics, ìOne major benefit to Nigeria will be a boost to our reputation in addressing female under-representation and Nigeria will be sending a positive and strong signal that our government and leadership recognise and understand gender equity in legislative participation. This will also address those aspects of our cultures and tradition that frown at the thought of a woman at the helm of affairs. They will start to reconsider and see the positivity in diversity. We will also benefit from the goodwill, respect and progress globally.

“There’s nothing wrong in having a female speaker again. This is the time for Nigeria to genuinely walk the talk. Women and men should be given equal opportunity in terms of capacity and competence. Hon. Onyejeocha is competent and has the capacity and I see no reason why she cannot take on this very important political position. We need to have more women in legislative capacities and I hope the house will see her merits and vote her in as the 9th Speaker of the House. This will also aid the achievement of gender balance in Nigeria’s political space.”

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