By Gabriel Ewepu
Women over the years have agitated for implementation of 35% Affirmation Action on women’s participation in governance as the Programme Director, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, lamented that only seven women appointed ministers under Buhari-led administration, and called for legislative back up for women to have a sense of belonging in the scheme of things.
President of Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan said the Senate has resolved to amend the Nigerian Constitution to ensure gender parity, how certain are these words prior to the previous Senate’s statements?
I think it is an important statement that was made on International Women’s Day by the Senate President thanks to the motion moved by female senators in the 9th Assembly.
My only concern is that we have had several commitment made by to promote gender parity in the previous assembly by different leaders especially on International women’s day, usually on International women’s day we have all this inspiring statements that are made to promoting gender parity but at the end of it we don’t see concrete action.
The expectation is beyond the statement by the President of the Senate that he provides leadership, now as the constitution amendment process is ongoing to ensure that truly specific session of the constitution are amended to promote women political inclusion and to guarantee equal representation of women in government, I think that is what is important.
I would have expected that in the statement of the senate president is key or intentional in highlighting specific sessions that they would be amending. It was not as concrete a commitment it was more of a general commitment to promote gender parity it would have been nice to see special intentionality in his statement highlighting the areas in the constitution where he believes would be granted specific amendment and how that would promote women Inclusion that form would have made his words more certain.
However, his statement is a first step, it is an important statement and we look forward to what the 9th Assembly under the leadership of the present President of Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and even the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and what this 9th Assembly would achieve under their leadership promoting gender parity in the constitution.
What specific clauses in the constitution do you think should be amended to ensure gender parity and a level playing ground for women?
I believe there are different Sections in the Constitution that should be considered for amendment, there are different ways to view this amendments to increase the representation in the legislative arm of government that is in the National Assembly, the senate and the house of representative and at the State Assembly, the other conversation is the appointment for both Federal and State levels because we need to see gender representation at that level also, and also conversations around federal character, how do we define that, I would specifically highlight Section 14 that talks about composition of government at the federal level at the state level, the intention of this section is to ensure that there is no predominant of a particular section or ethnic group when it comes to appointment or the predominant of states and one of the proposals here is to also include within this particular Section of 14 that there shouldn’t be a predominant of a gender, that way in every appointment rather than just considering balance across state and across ethnic groups, we should also consider balance across both gender whether male or female.
The other conversation is to look at section 26 of the Constitution talks around citizenship that provides for a foreigner. Whatever we are proposing let’s think about the future that there’s a representation of both gender in government. If we don’t start having women take over positions in political parties there won’t be much influence in policies.
The provision of equal opportunities in the interest of Nigeria is key but we do not see this being of interest or priority to any of our political parties. Why is there no political will?
I think we will need to understand the patriarchal system upon which our political parties are built, that has being a major challenge which is why it’s been very difficult to even get the political parties to support our proposals pushing for gender equality or even legislation to promote and guarantee the rights of women. Why there is no political will is the issue of power, people in power and the demand for women Inclusion is the demand for women political representation which is political power for women to make decisions as equal partners in development in Nigeria, this who have been in the system see the advocacy of women has a threat to their position, it’s a question of power which is affecting the political will. Social orientation and lack of legislation is another reason why there is no political will.
The system is not nominated, most women struggle to get in very few end up emerging political parties don’t see the need to open up the space, if we have something in place we would find political will. We need to get voters and citizens to get involve in getting demand for women political Inclusion. Because that’s the biggest power we need.
President Muhammadu Buhari on International Women’s Day, IWD 2021 said that any government that neglects women stands the risk of stunted growth and likely failure. The President on occasions has spoken on this but has only seven ministers in his cabinet, what would be your take on this statement?
The President needs to show his commitment by implementing more action, appointment of seven ministers is very poor. That is less than acceptable requirements which is a minimum of at least 35 per cent even 30 per cent we are not there yet. I believe that for the president this is his second term in office, the president need to leave a legacy as he leaves the office.
The idea for me at this point is that the President should ensure that this statement of his commitment to promote gender Inclusion of women should ensure that he puts pressure on the national assembly, to pass the constitution amendment proposals for women inclusion in government that support from the presidency is what we need.
We also need the president to lead conversations on women Inclusion and for appointment for positions that still require leaders to be nominated or appointed which the president should identify women with capacity, women that have the prerequisite competent to lead and appoint the because Nigeria is blessed with women who have the capacity and competent to lead, and most of them are being great globally within the continent, we are neglecting that huge resource in Nigeria, the President should in his remaining term, make some other appointments that consider women but beyond that he should be the champion on the constitutional amendment that really guarantee women political inclusion and electoral act amendment that would also guarantee women political inclusion in Nigeria.
What can be done to hold the President accountable for his promises on inclusive governance as he has only a few females in both his appointive and elective positions?
Holding the President accountable requires multidimensional approach which includes, stakeholder collaboration, civil societies partners, the media, women led groups, youths led groups, groups that care about women issues to work together to continually remind the president of his commitment.
Also to ride on the statements of both the speaker and senate president, they have made several statements committing to women, promoting women political Inclusion, we also need the national assembly to stand up and actually l as on this proposal and demand that the president takes his stand because at the end we need Presidential assent to both the constitutional and Electoral Amendment Bill.
The President made this statement at a meeting with some international partners and some groups working on women issues and I do believe that our international partners should also continually remind the president of his commitment to promoting women inclusion.
We need to support our female legislators at both federal and state level, the media needs to keep this message in the limelight so that he would be constantly reminded of his commitment and that he truly leaves behind a legacy that would have a legal framework which guarantees the rights of women in Nigeria.