By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
A coalition of over 100 women organisations has called for the speedy passage of the bill seeking to amend the Constitution to create a total of 111 additional seats in the National Assembly exclusively for women.
They made the call on the sidelines of the ongoing National Assembly Retreat On Electoral Reforms and Constitution Review in Abuja on Friday.
Speaking on behalf of the women organizations whose members bore placards with inscriptions such as ‘Please, Pass the Reserved Seats Bill’, ‘Side-by-Side With Nigerian Women’, ‘Reserved Seats Bill Shall Benefit All Nigerians’ amongst others, Mrs Felicia Onibon, lamented that Nigeria’s electoral system has been unfair to women.
According to her, Nigeria women were still excluded in mainstream politics and governance in spite of their contributions to national development, stressing that the situation was worse at the State level.
She stated, “The Electoral System in Nigeria has not been fair to women. It contributes to women’s underrepresentation in Nigeria’s legislature.
“Nigeria is considered the worst performer in the West African Region when looking at the representation of women in parliament and the second-worst after Eritrea in the whole of the African Continent. This is sad and does not speak well of Nigeria as a nation with women occupying only 21 out of 469 seats in the National Assembly.
“The situation is worse at the State level with the national percentage of State seats being 4.5% with women occupying 45 of the 990 seats in all State Houses of Assemblies.
“On a general note, Nigeria women have paid their dues in all sectors and human endeavors including politics. Nigeria Women have also shown integrity and capacity in governance. Despite their contributions, Nigeria Women are still excluded in mainstream politics and governance.
“Records show that the presence of the few women in the National Assembly led to the proposition of critical actions to promote affirmative action and equal opportunities for women. These bills include an Equal Opportunities Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2020; Gender and Equal Opportunities, Abuse and Administration Bill 2012; Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunities for Women) Bill 2012; Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill 2015; Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill 2015; Women Participation in Elections Support Bill, 2018. Note that this does not take into consideration, the number of proposals for affirmative action, not considered by the National Assembly.
“This low number of women in the Assembly is a factor for the lack of support or push for these bills. In a space where voting numbers matter, the numerical presence of women is key.
“Today we are asking the Additional Seats Bill and all other gender-sensitive bills that are receiving attention at the National Assembly to get the support of all members so that Nigeria can move forward in all aspects of life.
“Our prayer is for our legislators to consider working to effect change by creating an enabling environment for Nigeria Women through the passage of these bills and the inclusion of women-focused issues in the constitution.”
Responding to the demands of the women, Chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Reforms, Hon. Aishatu Jibril-Dukku, said: “Everywhere in the world, the percentage of women in parliament is ascertained and Nigeria cannot be left behind. And so, we hope that other members of the National Assembly joint committee will see reasons and grant your requests.”
If passed by both chambers of the National Assembly and given the presidential nod, the bill entitled, ‘A Bill for an Act to Alter the Provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to create Additional Special Seats for Women in the Federal and States Legislative Houses; and for Related Matters’ the legislation will create an additional Senate seat for each state including the FCT, making 37 extra seats and bringing the total seats to 146, while for the House of Representatives, two additional seats will be created in each state as well as the FCT, making an additional 74 seats, bringing the total to 434.