People & Money

Gender Agenda and the 2022 Constitutional Amendment

This week, the National Assembly voted on 68 constitutional amendment bills. For an amendment bill to pass, it usually requires two-thirds of lawmakers from both chambers of the National Assembly to vote “yes”. There are a few constitutional provisions that require 80% yes votes to pass. The bar is set high and it was no wonder that more than 22 of the proposed amendment bills failed. Among the failed bills are four gender equality bills, namely Citizenship, Reserved Quota for Women, Affirmative Action, and Indigeneship. This was despite last-minute lobbying by the prominent women including the Wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo who was at the National Assembly on the day of the votes.

If you have lived in a state for five or years, you should be able to aspire to any posts in that state regardless of whether you are married to anyone in that state”. 

What exactly are the bills about? The Citizenship Bill is the most meritorious of all the women-focused Bills. The amendment bill simply seeks to amend Section 26 of the 1999 Constitution, to allow women to be able to grant Nigerian citizenship to their foreign husbands. This is a right that Nigerian men already enjoy, and it is a travesty that the drafters of the 1999 constitution excluded women. So, 23 years later, the National Assembly has failed to correct this unfortunate error. While the Senate voted overwhelmingly in support of the Bill, more than half of the lawmakers at the House of Representatives voted against it. The advocates of the Bill are encouraged not to give up, but to reintroduce the Bill again when the opportunity presents itself.

While the Citizenship Bill attempted to correct a patriarchy-inspired error, the Indigeneship Bill on the other hand wanted to perpetuate and constitutionalise a patriarchal practice. The Bill seeks to allow women to become an indigene of their husband’s state of origin by amending Sections 31 and 318(1) (the Interpretation Section) of the 1999 Constitution. Advocates of this Bill argue that it is already a cultural practice for women who marry across state lines to be considered an indigene of their husband’s hometown and state and the nonrecognition of this practice by the constitution denies women some benefits. But what benefits?

Also Read: Constitutional and Political Reforms in Nigeria: Why So Many Important Constitutional Amendments Fail – Cheta Nwanze

Women are already able to represent their marital states in both elected and appointive positions. Senator Bent Grace for example is an Ondo State woman who represented the good people of Adamawa South Senatorial District at the National Assembly. Nimi Akinkugbe, Nigeria’s ambassador to Greece, is originally from Rivers State but uses Ondo State’s slot. The important thing is for the women to be accepted by the people they seek to represent. What we should clamour for is the replacement of indigeneship with residency as a basis for which state one should represent. If you have lived in a state for five or years, you should be able to aspire to any posts in that state regardless of whether you are married to anyone in that state.

There are two other Bills which tried to give women guaranteed seats in government. There is a Reserved Seat Bill which, by amending sections 48, 49, and 71 of the 1999 Constitution, attempted to create one hundred and one (111) new seats at the National Assembly that will be solely for women. Considering the high cost of governance in Nigeria, this was always a ridiculous idea. Nigeria already runs a 469-member National Assembly that costs the country 134 Billion Naira in 2021. The proposed seats could have added another 31 Billion Naira to the budget, aside from the cost of expanding the National Assembly complex to accommodate the new lawmakers. If replicated at the state level, the cost would have been unforgivable.

The second Bill on affirmative action is a more reasonable bill that would have required 35% representation for women in appointive positions across the country. This would have brought about more female presence in government without adding extra cost to the national budget. Unfortunately, the Bill was also killed by the men-dominated National Assembly whose members must have seen the Bill as an attempt to put a cap on their ambitions. The lack of gender diversity in the governance of Nigeria is a call for concern but perhaps the solution is not in constitutional amendments but in more women joining politics and wrestling away power from the men. Like young people who are also poorly represented in government, women should consider not putting their fates in the hands of old men who have proven uninterested in a more diverse governance structure.

Sodiq Alabi

Sodiq Alabi is a communications practitioner and analyst who has experience in leading and supporting communication processes. He has expertise in organising media events, preparing reports, creating content, and managing websites and social media platforms.

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