To my distinguished Senator Ahmed Lawan and Right Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, I write to you over a pressing matter concerning Nigerian women; I pen these thoughts as a Nigerian woman, not in any official capacity. Permit me to cast your mind back to Nigeria’s democratic course since the fourth republic and return of democracy in 1999. Nigerian women have grappled with near lack of representation in our dear country reputed to be the largest black nation in the world. Every Senate has proposed constitutional amendments of the 1999 constitution handed down to us by the military.
Twenty-one years after, we are still largely short of any institutional changes. With every election period drawing near, political candidates make endless promises to women. Promises that are not kept are fast becoming routine lip services. However, I am somewhat convinced that you both are genuinely concerned about the current state of Nigeria and will be instrumental to the change Nigeria deserves to herald a progressive development.
2021 should be the determinant year for Nigeria and you are both holding enviable and influential positions to make it a historical year. It will take a huge chunk of political will for Nigeria to hold a place in global politics and I am convincingly hopeful that you both will take critical actions towards achieving this as legacies for the offices you currently occupy. I need not emphasise how much of our collective interest is at stake if we do not put in place a constitutionally backed framework for women’s inclusion in our country’s political progression.
Amending the 1999 constitution and passing the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEOBILL) will actualise this and now is the time, as you have recently both shown public interest on this. I am privy to meetings and consultations your offices have had with representatives of Nigerian women at different times including with Dame Pauline Tallen, the Minister for Women Affairs; hence my conviction that now is the time to rise to the occasion.
Distinguished Senate President, I urge you to rouse your distinguished colleagues to ensure all recommendations submitted on behalf of Nigerian women are considered and implemented in the 1999 constitution currently undergoing amendments. I thank you for reassuring Nigerian women on International Women’s Day 2021 that the senate will amend the constitution. My honourable Speaker, I was delighted by your tweet of Thursday 25 March 2021 on intention to re-introduce the GEO Bill and in your words “Nigeria can’t be left behind in protecting women… Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind in the global trend to protect and defend the rights of women”. Sir, Nigeria left behind her Women over 60 years ago, but I am glad that you want to rewrite history for us.
May I mention that the GEO Bill was first sponsored in 2011 by Senator Abiodun Olujimi your distinguished colleague, an admirable politician who continues to serve Nigeria, working with both young and old to advocate an inclusive Nigeria. The 2011 GEO bill was rejected by your colleagues on basis of religion. Senator Olujimi re-presented the bill in 2019 and again it met with stiff opposition. The Bill is currently being reviewed and with your backing and that of your colleagues in both the green and red chambers, will scale through.
Recently, the National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus admitted that the party lost the 2019 elections because it lacks adequate involvement of women and youths during primaries. One must acknowledge the PDP for its honesty and hopes for calculative affirmative opportunities for women to emerge as winners.
The singular political will and action of Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq who made political history by appointing 9 females out of 16 commissioners; a 56.25 percent female representation which surpassed the 35 percent slots for women is exemplary and commendable. This for me was the smartest move ever made in Nigerian politics by a governor. It is a good avenue for developmental agencies and donors to rally round Governor AbdulRahman in building more capacity of women politically and economically to progress Kwara State. In Rivers & Kogi States, the deputy chairman position in every local government is allocated for women and occupied by a female. These are deliberate and intentional political affirmative action by Governors Nyesom Wike, Yahaya Bello and AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman. These positive and purposeful actions show political determination and willpower that is needed at states and federal levels for Nigeria to benefit and make developmental progress.
Ahead of 2023 I hope the All Progressives Congress (APC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and others will support women to emerge as gubernatorial and Presidential candidates. I am aware of strategic actions and plans in galvanising Nigerian women and youths to support female and young candidates in 2023. The smartest political party will play smart with winning teams, and nominate female candidates as their presidential, vice-presidential, governorship and deputy governor candidates and for many other positions.
As history beckons on you to change the face of our nation for equity and fairness towards an inclusive Nigeria, please remember that rebuilding Nigeria and restoring her glory is a joint task. No team succeeds by fielding only half its potential in any game. To succeed in our journey of progress and change, women must have equal access to opportunities in all areas like their male counterparts. Only then can Nigeria regain its position in the comity of nations.
I thank you for your time and commitment to a new Nigeria.
Toun Okewale Sonaiya
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