Constitutional/ Electoral Reforms: Nigerian Women Seek Inclusion

Nigerian women participating in election

BEVERLY HILLS, February 21, (THEWILL) – Nigerian women have watched their political fortunes rise and dip with every administration in Nigeria and wonder if they are considered stakeholders in the Nigerian project. And as the National Assembly set to amend sections of the Constitutional and Electoral Act, they want to make a case for inclusion. Leaving nothing to chance, they are fighting from several fronts; the law courts, mobilization and lobbying and exploring the possibility of all woman party by 2023.

They indeed have a case. Beginning with the fourth republic’s first democratic government under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, women got up to 20 per cent of representation in appointive and elected positions. President Goodluck Jonathan raised the bar to 32 percent. That progressive climb collapsed under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to a shocking 7 per cent. In 2015 there were 20 women representatives and 6 senators. In 2019, the number fell to 11 in both chambers in the National Assembly.

In political representation, the statistics is poor. Only 62 women amounting to 4.17 per cent, won election across the country out of 2,970 that contested in the 2019 election, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Women representation, which got a boost between 1999 and 2007 has further dipped since then.

From a paltry three senators in 1999, women representation at the Green House rose to 4 and 9 in 2003 and 2007 respectively. But this declined in 2011, 2015 and 2019 as only 8, 7 and 11 women members got elected respectively.

On a Continental scale, the picture is bad for Nigeria’s image as the giant of Africa. Women representation in Ethiopia is 47.6 per cent; Rwanda is 61.3 per cent; S/Africa 47.7 per cent; Namibia 46 per cent; Senegal, 41.8 per cent; Uganda, 36.7 per cent, Mali, 34.4 per cent. The lowest in Africa are; Morocco 8.6 per cent; Nigeria, 8 per cent; Mauritius, 8.7 per cent and Sudan 9.5 per cent.

Yet Nigeria, like many of these countries, is a signatory to the 1995 Beijing Convention that mandated member states to intensify efforts on women and girl child equality issues and the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals that give premium to issues that would raise women participation in national affairs.

The reason for this ugly trend is that while all countries have instruments and structures in place to solve the problem only a few, as the statistics above show, are ready to legislate quotas or reserve spaces for women to occupy.

Again, Rwanda and S/ Africa represent countries that have adopted affirmative action on women parity in national affairs. Rwandan Constitution contains provision that reserves 30 per cent of seats for women in its parliament. South Africa’s Municipal Structure Act of 1988 directs political parties to, “ensure that 50 per cent of candidates in the party list are women.”

“The Nigerian government has been reluctant to adopt and implement laws to improve gender equality in politics and appointive positions,” Mrs. Mufuliat Fijabi, Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria Women Trust Fund, a woman empowerment NGO, said in an interview.

“The Nigerian Constitution (1999) guarantees equal political rights. The National Gender Policy (2006) recommended a benchmark of 35 per cent of seats in parliament to be filled by women. Nigeria is also a signatory to international agreements. The government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and endorsed the 2005 Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. There is lack of political will by both present and past leaders to rectify the international treaties on affirmative action that Nigeria is a signatory to.”

Faced with this situation, Nigeria women and relevant stakeholders are poised to make their case at the ongoing electoral reforms, amendment of the Constitutional and Electoral Act. They already have a case in court to make governments enforce the laws.

At a point last year, female politicians at a cross -party conference in Ado Ekiti, last year convened to review the outcome of the 2019 General Elections, proposed the floating of a women only political party to mitigate the growing gender imbalance in elective and appointive positions in the country

Under the Reclaim Naija platform of Community Life Project (CLP), the women suggested the formation of a Nigerian Women Democratic Party (NWDP) in the belief that an only gender biased platform can advance their interest.

Dissecting the issues involved through zoom, Mrs Rhoda Tyoden, National President of International Federation of Women Lawyers, FIDA, said there is need to prioritize the demand for gender driven electoral reforms. She lamented through zoom that though women outnumbered men in population, they were relegated the scheme of things.

According to her government after government had a way of ignoring implementation of “constitutional provisions that prohibit gender inequality including the National gender policy (2000) which she observed is all-encompassing. So too is the Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee recommendations on gender equality and other international treaties to which Nigeria was a signatory.”

“Under International standard, women and men should enjoy equal rights particularly in political participation. Gender inequality, economic inequality and lack of political representation need to be addressed for equity”.

Speaking in the same vein at a virtual media roundtable on gender and electoral reforms, Mr Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director of the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria, noted that IPC along with other European Union-Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria, EU-SDGN, partners, were interested in ensuring that the on-going electoral reform process leads to the passage of an electoral legislation that would serve as an enabling instrument to promote qualitative female participation in the electoral process while serving as mechanism that enables more women to be elected.

According to him, “Section 31 (1) of the Electoral Act need to be amended to make it mandatory for political parties to include women, persons with disabilities and youths in their list of candidates for elections and Section 87 of the Electoral Act, to make it mandatory for political parties to ensure 50 per cent inclusion of both genders as delegates in their primaries.

He also said that Section 100 of the Electoral Act should be amended to make it mandatory for the media to grant special advert concessions to female candidates, youths and PWDs while Section 104 needs to be amended to ensure that the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the political parties are not of the same gender.

Mr Samson Itodo, Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, is, however, worried about the position of the politicians and federal lawmakers on vexed issue of gender inequality. He said there is a lacuna created by the constitutional provision in sections 40-42 which prohibits gender inequality, often cited by politicians to argue against making needed amendments to the Electoral Act to promote women participation.

“Section 31 of the Electoral Act says list of candidates of political parties submitted to INEC must include women, youths and persons with disabilities. The National Assembly says the Act must not be amended to give advantage to women.”

The dilemma arising from whether it is the Constitution that should be amended before the Electoral Act, he argued, must be overcome by mobilization targeting legislators, female members of the NASS and the media to ensure to the passage of the amendments that would empower women in the electoral process.

Adeteju Okunaya, a lawmaker in the Ekiti Assembly, Nomai Lasana Abel, another lawmaker from Gombe and a politician, Aisha Ali Tijanni, agree with Itodo that more action and less talk was needed to overcome serial violations of statutes and conventions by the government.

“Members of the National Assembly have practically handed over so many things to political parties to decide; hence, parties have been relegating women when it comes to making important decisions in the electoral process”.

According to him, there was a dilemma as to whether it was the constitution that should be amended before the electoral act reform. He noted that what women were indeed asking for was simply for improvement in women and youth representation in the electoral process.

He proposed that there should be mobilization targeting the legislators, female members of the National Assembly and the media to ensure the passage of the amendments that would empower women in the electoral process.

Since the lawmakers are about to engage in the process of considering the amendments clause by clause after the Committees have submitted their reports, there is the need for lobbying to change the narrative on gender inequality, Itodo concluded.

As part of the mobilization to correct wrongs of the past, National President of the Nigeria Association of Woman Journalists, NAWOJ, Mrs. Ladi Bala, suggested that the media should assist by going beyond reporting of stories but setting agenda on women issues.

That is why women need to be in power to participate in making decisions that affect their lives, said Tyoden, (see Interview.) They also need to be in the position of decision making to be able to forward more equitable policies and outcomes. Formal access to positions of authority or decision-making processes is critical for gender equity, she maintained •