Reps move to create additional special seats for women in politics

•Speaker breaks jinx of including all-female legislators in Constitution review Committee ― Onyejeocha

A bill that seeks to create additional special seats for women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, on Wednesday, scaled through Second Reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The private member bill sponsored by the Deputy Majority Whip, Hon Nkiruka Onyejeocha, comprised of six major clauses that seek to alter Sections 48; 49; 71; 77; 91 and 117 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

While leading the debate on the general principles of the bill, Hon. Onyejeocha argued that the “bill seeks to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to remedy the low representation of women in Legislative Houses by providing for the creation of additional separate seats to be contested and filled by only women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly as a temporary measure to promote women’s representation.

Speaking on the intendment of the legislation, Hon. Onyejeocha applauded the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila for including all the serving women Parliamentarians into the House of Representatives’ Special Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution.

While noting that over 70 Northern lawmakers endorsed the bill, she underscored the need to subject relevant Constitutional provisions to a review after four general election cycles of sixteen years for the purpose of either retaining, increasing, or abolishing the temporary measure.

According to her, all the political parties would be compelled to comply with the Constitutional provisions to allocate a seat for women in any elective positions, adding that if any political party fails to comply others may use such lacuna to wrestle such position during the election.

She proposed the alteration of Section 48 by substituting the existing section 48(1 and 2) with a new section which provides that three Senators from each State and one from the Federal Capital Territory; and an additional Senator for each State and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be a woman.

“Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (1) of this section, nothing shall prevent a woman from contesting for any of the senatorial seats referred to in subsection (1) (a). The provisions of subsection (1) (b) shall commence after the current life of the National Assembly and shall be reviewed after 16 years from its commencement notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution.”

She also proposed the alteration of Section 49(1) which provides that: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of:
(a) three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State; and (b) two additional members for each State and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be women.

(2) Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (1) of this section, nothing shall prevent a woman from contesting for any of the seats in the constituencies referred to in subsection (1a).

Hon. Onyejeocha also sought amendment of Section 91(1a, b) Subject to the provisions that a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of: three or four times the number of seats, which that State has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible, nearly equal population; and one additional member from each of the three senatorial districts in the State referred to in section 48 (1a) of this Constitution, who shall be a woman.

Provided that a House of Assembly of a State shall consist of not less than twenty-four and not more than forty-three members.”

She also called for the amendment of Section 117(1) by inserting immediately after the words “every State constituency” in line 1, the words “and the additional seats.”

On the Direct election and franchise, she said: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every State constituency and the additional seats established in accordance with the provisions of this part of this Chapter shall return one member who shall be directly elected to a House of Assembly in such manner as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.

“Women has only 4.4 per cent representation in the 9th National Assembly, you may wish to note that Nigeria has been identified as the worst performer in women representation in parliaments, in the West African region and one of the lowest in the whole of Africa.

“This is evidenced in the most recent Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) ranking of women in parliaments where Nigeria ranks 179 out of 187 Countries Worldwide. Eritrea is the only African Country ranked lower than Nigeria and this is because there have not been national elections since its independence in 1993.

“The situation is worse at the States Houses of Assembly level, where a good number of our States do not have a single woman in their State Assembly. In some of these States, men chair the Women Affairs Committee because there is no woman available to take the role.

“Currently more than 130 Countries have adopted some type of special measure (or quota system) to address women’s under-representation. Over 75 per cent of these cases were introduced in the last 20 years – particularly since 2000. Strikingly, the majority of Nations that have adopted special measures/quota systems are low or middle-income countries – many of them in Africa.

“A very good example is South Africa, where the introduction of quotas in the 1994 election by the African National Congress (ANC) party resulted in 27per cent of women in their very first democratic election. Currently, South Africa has 46.5% of women in their lower chamber and is one of the top ten Countries for women in parliament. Rwanda is the world leader in women’s political participation with 49per cent of women in their lower chamber. This followed from deliberate constitutional efforts taken to include women in government to foster re-building of the Country post-genocide in 2003.

“Even conservative countries are beginning to realise the usefulness of political inclusion of women. For instance, women in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, the State of Palestine and Tunisia have successfully lobbied for the introduction of various measures, such as electoral quotas, to increase and strengthen women’s political representation.

“Between 2010 and 2017, the majority of countries in the Arab region have seen an increase in the representation of women in their parliament. In 2013, it may also interest you to note that for the first time, 30 women were appointed to Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council (advisory body), representing 20 per cent of seats as of 2021. In Algeria, the proportion of female members of parliament (MPs) tripled, from 8per cent to 32per cent in line with a quota introduced in 2012.

“In Afghanistan, women now make up about 27 per cent of the upper and lower houses of parliament and were active in drafting the country’s new constitution. This was facilitated by a male President who signed and supported declarations of women’s rights and in 2005 appointed the first female governor. Our West African neighbour, Senegal, adopted a parity law in their Constitution in 2012.

“This was facilitated by then President, Abdoulaye Wade and resulted in an almost 50-50 balance between men and women in the Senegalese Parliament. Nigerian women are not even asking for 50-50 but 35 per cent which is what is indicated in our National Gender Policy and several international Treaties that we are signatory to. The number is identified as the ‘critical mass/number’ of women required to achieve impactful results.

“I would like to emphasis that women’s inclusion in politics is not just a women or human rights issue, but also an issue of reflecting our history and traditions in our governance process, and I truly believe that this Bill has potential for improving women’s political representation,” she noted.

The bill was referred to the Special Ad-hoc Committee on Constitutional amendment for further legislative action.

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