By Eric Teniola
CHIEF Mrs. Olutoyin Olusola Olakunri was born on November 4, 1937. She attended primary school in Nigeria, and completed her secondary and tertiary education in the United Kingdom. In February 1963, Chief Mrs. Olakunri qualified as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England & Wales; and became a Foundation Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, in 1965. Chief Mrs. Olutoyin Olakunri is the first female Chartered Accountant in Sub-Saharan Africa and the second female President of ICAN
To date, there have been six female heads of ICAN, and quite a number of eligible women in line.
In 1978, Chief Mrs. Olakunri was the Chief Promoter of the Society of Women Accountants in Nigeria, SWAN, which she served as Chairman for over a decade. She got married to an Owo high Chief, Elder (Dr.) Simeon Moronfolu Olusola Olakunri, SAN, FCIArb, Life Bencher.
In 1978, the Federal Government nominated her along with 27 others as members of the constituent assembly. She died on June 3, this year in Lagos. Forty-one years ago, that is November 15, 1977, she addressed the Constituent Assembly. I hereby present her speech on that day.
“The first point I would like to raise is the question of the equality which is under Section 11, Subsection 1 (a) and (b). I would not waste too much time on that. It says: (a) every section shall have equality rights, obligation and opportunities before the law; (b) the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced—It then unfortunately goes on to say, This shall not invalidate a rule of Islamic Law or customary.
We realise that the Islamic Law and Customary Laws provide that the women in this community are not equal to the men. But we as women want this country to please concede that human beings in this country are equal to every other human being.
I feel that the main reason why maybe this section was included in is that Section 11 1(a) says equality of rights, obligation and opportunities before the Law. Maybe there are some questions as regards the words, before the law. So, maybe if we should drop ‘before the law’ in that section, we could just say, every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligation and opportunities. Maybe that would be adequate and then we can drop out the question of Customary and Islamic Laws. The next point I am raising is the question of legitimacy.
Twice in this Constitution, we referred to legitimacy. This is Section 19 1 (d) which talks about a child being entitled to Nigerian citizenship whether born in or outside Nigeria and if or whether born in or outside wedlock too. I think a child born of a Nigerian father or a Nigerian mother be it in Nigeria or as a Nigerian, is a Nigerian. I think it is irrelevant to talk about wedlock because you are a Nigerian because you were born of a Nigerian not because you were born in or out of wedlock. Again I would suggest that we drop this.
The next point I wish to raise is 35 (3), still on legitimacy, No citizen of Nigeria shall be subject to any disability or deprivation merely on the ground that he was born out of wedlock.
You all know that we have these various Forms which say: In what State were you born? Or in what town were you born? What is this and what is that? But there has never been in Nigeria any instance where you ask, Are you a bastard? Since nobody has asked that question, I do not think that any Nigerian is subject to any disability or deprivation on the ground that he was born out of wedlock. The only instance when one is subject to that is where we are talking about the distribution of the father’s estate and here, I think, the responsibility for the distribution of an estate lies with the father.
If a father having chosen to marry as, in Nigeria, it is legally available to be married to one wife, four or even a hundred wives if he has the capacity—-if having chosen whichever one he wishes, he still has a child or children out of wedlock, then I think, he as a father has responsibility to make specific provision for that child or children. If he does not make that specific provision for the child or children, I do not think that the Law can now overrule that and regardless of what any father or any family wants, they would impose that every child must share in the father’s estate.
I for instance can choose, female though I am, to provide that any grandchild of mine born out of wedlock, shall not be entitled to my estate. Are you now saying that because of this provision, the Law will insist that the grandchild must share out of my estate? Are you suggesting that this Constitution should make provision which will override the personal wishes of a father or a grandfather, whatever it is, towards the members of the family?
I do not think that this provision should be written at all as it only in respect of personal distribution of estates. This could be covered by the Laws of the Land. This then brings me to a rather important issue and that is the registration of marriages.
As I said earlier, in Nigeria, you could either choose to have only one wife or more. There is a system whereby you could have only one wife and there is another whereby you could have up to four wives. There is yet another legal whereby you could have as many as you like. Having made your choice you then lie with it so to speak, but the important thing is that at the moment, only one form of marriage is registrable and that is the marriage whereby you are committed to only one wife.
This tends to give it a sort of respectability above others. I would suggest that we insist that all forms of marriage are registrable, which also means that all forms of divorce are registrable and naturally all children are registrable too. I think we should publicise the various forms of marriage that are available and the various terms that go with various forms. I think that our young boys and girls should have the opportunity of knowing what chances are available to them before making a choice. The next point I want to go to is the question of majority.
Part of the Constitution says that someone may vote for people even to the highest office in the land from the age of 18 and yet part of the Constitution says that this same person may be deprived of his personal liberty up to the age of 21 years for educational purposes or for welfare purposes. If you are old enough to vote for a President, then you are old enough to know what is good for your welfare or for your education.
I think that if we are going to have someone old enough at the age of 18 to vote for the President, then we should make 18 the age of majority throughout the Constitution and not 18 for voting, 21 for liberty and 21 for legal issues affecting welfare, whether it should be or not. I think we should be consistent and I would opt for the age of 18.
This takes me to the next stage and it affects women. In most parts of Nigeria, up till a few years ago, and by a few years I mean twenty years ago, girls of the age of twenty or even younger were given off in marriage. I am appealing as a woman and a mother to this House, that we establish a minimum age for marriage. This is because girls of the twelve and younger being sent off to matrimonial homes are really being sent off into what is more or less slavery. They are going to stay in these homes for a few years and they do not have the mental capacity to participate in matrimony. I suggest that the age of eighteen years should be recognised as the legal age for marriage and maybe, sixteen should be the minimum.
Under citizenship we have made a provision that if someone is a Nigerian by naturalisation or registration, he may be deprived of his citizenship if within seven years he is sent to prison for a three-year term. My question is this: if say a Ghanaian has given up his own nationality and becomes a Nigerian, he is imprisoned for three years and we take away our nationality from him, what happens to him? He has lost his Ghanaian nationality, we have deprived him of ours. Are we then free to throw him away and where?
I think we should again make some additional provisions and I would not have thought that the United Nations should allow that sort of provision. I do not know about that and I am not a lawyer. While still talking about this, I want to mention two additional points about children.
Somebody talked earlier about abandoned children and said that we had not made provisions for such children where it is not possible to prove that their parents were Nigerians, but a child was abandoned and could not prove it.
I think also that in cases where a Nigerian father or mother have adopted children who might not have been of Nigerian origin, but the children were legally adopted, provision should be made for such children to be accorded the nationality of their adopted parents who are Nigerians”.
ERIC TENIOLA, A FORMER DIRECTOR AT THE PRESIDENCY, WROTE FROM LAGOS.