June 11, 2009

One For Women

A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria or ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject. – Section 42 (1a) of the 1999 Constitution

DISCRIMINATION is a growing phenomenon in our nation forms. It does not really discriminate. Women cannot bail someone, though no law says so.

Some landlords openly tell prospective tenants that they have no place in their property if they come from certain parts of the country or because they are unmarried women.

Relations of widows, single parents or unmarried women accompany them in search of accommodation and sometimes have to pose as their husbands. Evil as these forms of discrimination are, none rankles more than the ones government officials foster, striving harder daily to find a veneer of reason for them.

Discriminations against women are too many to be recounted.
For years, the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, had required married women to obtain their husband’s permission, in writing, when they are applying for passports.  It was such a vital condition for issuing passports that those who failed to meet it were denied passports. Their age and status did not matter.

Dr. Priye Iyalla-Amadi, wife of celebrated writer, Elechi Amadi, contested a case of discrimination against her at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt and won. She had lost her international passport and applied to the NIS for a replacement.

One of the conditions she was given was that she had to obtain her husband’s consent in writing. She rejected the position, the NIS refused to replace her passport.

Her argument was that she was mature enough to apply for a passport without anyone’s consent, since that condition was meant for minors. The NIS informed her that before the law, married women, in this instance, were minors.

She sued the NIS and Justice G. K. Olotu ruled that the NIS’ position was a violation of constitutional provisions in Section 42. It also violated Section 18 (3) of the West African Peoples Charter on Human Rights. Nigeria is a signatory to the convention.

The NIS’ lame defence was that the provision was to ensure that women recognised the authority of the husbands at home. It was meant, too, to curb breakdown of marriages, a point that rams home the discrimination against women. Who cares when the man obtains his passport and how he uses it in relation to his marriage?

Justice Olotu rated the NIS defence “spurious” and “sociological dissertation” that ran against further constitutional provisions in Section 17 on equality of the genders.

Hopefully, this marks the beginning of the end for discriminatory laws in Nigeria.