By Luminous Jannamike and Alice Ekpang
The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, has stated that the Senate Committee on Review of 1999 Constitution is working ‘behind the scenes’ to pave the way for more women to occupy seats in the National Assembly.
The Deputy Senate President made this known while speaking at the Nigeria Men’s Conference on Gender Sensitive Constitutional Reforms, organized by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs in conjunction with Supporting Advancement of Gender Equality (SAGE), in Abuja on Tuesday.
Omo-Agege, who noted that certain cultural and religious doctrines prohibit women from some forms of social participation, explained that the Committee was working behind the scenes to remove the obstacles.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we must all join hands to deal with those obstacles that stand in the way of women towards bringing them on a level-playing held with their male counterparts.
“The on-going constitutional amendment has proposed specific quotas for women in all executive and legislative positions at both the federal and the state levels.
“What this means is that specific quotas for women in both elective and appointive positions will not just be a matter of our regular statute books, but a fully constitutional matter,” the Deputy Senate President explained.
He added said the Federal Government was also putting in place other necessary legal and policy frameworks that would put men and women on an even keel.
Omo-Agege, however, said that should not be the end of it, adding that deliberate and sustained advocacy was needed until adequate justice done and gender parity issues were no longer a challenge in all spheres of public life in the country.
Speaking also, the Chairman of Conference of Speakers of the 36 State Legislatures in Nigeria, Rt. Hon. Abubakar Suleiman, stated that only constitutional reform could address the low participation of women in politics.
To that end, he said: “Your Excellences, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, if the ‘Bill for an Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to create Additional Special Seats for women in Federal and State Legislative Houses and for Related Matters’ is passed by the National Assembly and its resolution transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly; I want to assure you that the Conference of Speakers shall sensitize our colleagues at the state level on the importance of this Bill; and consequently I am confident that we shall record more than the required two-third ratification in favour of the proposed amendment.
“This is because of our believe in the fact that paving the way for more women participation not only in politics, but in other arena like business is an investment worth venturing.”
Earlier in her address, the Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dame Pauline Tallen, lamented that with women, accounting for 5.6 percent of legislators in the House of Representative and 6.4 percent of the members of the Senate, Nigeria was still a long way from the benchmark of 30 percent recommended by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
She, however, said the Federal Government has placed a high premium on promoting women inclusiveness in National Development looking at those President Muhammadu Buhari has given key portfolios to hold in his administration.
“Women do not only constitute about 50 percent of Nigeria’s population, we contribute significantly to the country’s political and socio-economic development, when given the opportunity,” Tallen said.
Other speakers at the event include former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; Minister of Justice, Abubakar Abubakar Malami; Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; and the Emit of Keffi, HRH Dr. Shehu Yamusa III.
They were unanimous in call on the leadership of all political parties in the country to also include in their manifestos certain reserved positions for women, saying that it was worrisome that the low women participation in democratic activities was costing the nation a lot on many fronts.