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Concerns, recommendations as experts laud Senate on constitution amendment

Senate President Ahmad Lawan on March 10 resolved to amend the Nigerian Constitution to ensure gender parity, enact laws to improve the fortunes of women and girls and discard provisions of the law that infringe on their rights.

This pledge was to mark this year’s International Women’s Day.

The amendment will likely target provisions like section 26 subsection 2(a) of the constitution which provides that a woman who is not a citizen of Nigeria can acquire citizenship if she is married to a Nigerian citizen but the same does not apply to men who are not Nigerian citizens that are married to Nigerian women.

Despite campaigns to ensure gender balance in the political sphere, and the implementation of the 35 percent affirmative action, the gap keeps widening, creating a huge female deficit in the political space amidst obvious evidence of women’s capabilities to lead in critical decision-making roles.

So, in response, experts across the fields of gender, and government have commended the Senate for the move, which they believe would improve the lot of women, especially those interested in politics, as they have been shortchanged with regards to full rights of citizens as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as altered.

Arguing that women have been made to take a back seat, they emphasised the efficacy of a quota system in creating space for women.

Brenda Anugwom, a lawyer and gender expert said with the ongoing constitution review, she hopes that a quota system will be introduced and adopted which will allow women to occupy at least 35 percent of the public service workforce as well as appointive positions in the country.

Her conviction is premised on the fact that countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Africa, and even Senegal made similar deliberate effort to include women in government.

“Gender parity in Nigeria will become a possible target or a possible goal if amendments are made and a quota system is adopted,” Anugwom said.

If these amendments to the electoral laws are made, according to her, there will be an inclusive government politically, and economically there would be a near equitable distribution of economic growth at all levels—the upper class the middle class and the lower class.

Speaking to BusinessDay, the experts urged The Senate to focus on the glaring absence of Nigerian women in leadership positions of the country in the amendment, as women are able to compete fairly when there is a level playing ground, and when merits and competence are paramount.

In addition, other issues of deep concern include money politics which places women are at a disadvantage because the economy is largely controlled by men; and insecurity, as women also face electoral violence.

Anugwom suggested that fundraising for political purposes should be open, transparent and regulated to avoid abuse, and there should also be a separate law specific to electoral offences, as well as a special court for that, so that there are speedy trials and speedy convictions to reduce electoral crimes.

In her submission, Remi Sonaiya, a politician and KOWA Party’s 2015 female presidential candidate, said it was time Nigeria truly lived up to its potential and part of that potential is for women to take their rightful place in the leadership of the county’s decision-making.

While she is happy that the matter has been taken on by The Senate, she expects the decision to be backed up with action, stating that it [action] is really the area where Nigeria falls short as it has been signatories to many conventions and protocols but finds it difficult to follow through.

“This is very important and I hope our expectations won’t be dashed this time,” Sonaiya said.

She also stated that the 35 percent affirmative action is very important, noting that Nigeria is a signatory to it but in reality, the positions occupied by women have been dwindling. This is a reason women are demanding legislative backing to ensure the affirmative action in favour of female representation would become a reality.

Sonaiya believes that if the amendment works out, it would have a tremendous impact on the entire country, as women participation in the leadership of a nation leads to greater stability and advancement.

Although Austin Aigbe, senior programme officer, Centre for Democracy and Development, describes the move as fantastic, he questioned the motive behind the statement at the time it was made. He, however, urged the senate president to commit to his words.

For him, gender parity has a whole lot of advantage to society, so, such amendment would have a greater impact on the system.

He further advised that women should be on the table when decisions that affect them are made, even as he restated the importance of following through with the conversation to see that the senate president fulfils his promise.

“What I think Nigerian Women should focus on now is to continue to remind the senate particularly the senate President under the leadership of the senate president Ahmad Lawan, to remind him that he has made this commitment and he should make it strong,” he adds.

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