4th February 2023
  • 9:11 pm Through the Eyes of Ides Ofune – Women Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Motherhood and Higher Education
  • 11:32 am Meet the 2022 shortlisted authors for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.
  • 5:13 am 6 African startups among World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers 2022 cohort
  • 1:01 pm Canadian Based NGO GoldenKes Foundation holds First Empowerment Program in Nigeria 
  • 5:38 am Meet the 6 Africans shortlisted for 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
  • 7:49 am Facebook invests in fibre optic cables to improve internet access in Edo State
Women and Gender Equality

On March 2, six days before the International Women’s day, scores of Nigerian women converged at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. These women were protesting the Senate’s decisions at the constitution’s amendment session. 

The Senate had reviewed some parts of the 1999 constitution for amendment and about five bills concerning women failed to pass during the session. One of the proposed amendments would grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women; the Nigerian constitution already confers citizenship on foreign-born wives of Nigerian men. Majority of the Senate voted for the amendment, with only 2 voting against it. The House of Representatives, however, had a ratio of 135:143 in favour of those voting against the amendment. 

Another bill would give women the right to become indigenes of their husband’s state after five years of marriage. Earlier, a bill was pushed to the house sponsored by Senator Ovie Omo-agege to allow married women become indigenes of their husbands’ state in order to take up political seats. As at the time of this report, this bill had not yet been passed. Prior to this, the bill to allow married women freedom to choose their state of indigene: either their fathers’ or their husbands’ was passed in 2019. This bill was sponsored by Honourable Edward Pwajok. Although this present amendment received the majority of votes both at the House of Senate and Representative, it still did not meet up with the required two-thirds majority vote for it to be passed.

The protesting women also called for provisions to allow 35 percent of legislative seats to women, as well as reserve 35 percent of political party leadership for women. 

The Protest

“I am here [at the protest] because I am angry,” Nimisire Emitomo, a 25-year-old writer, who joined others to sing and chant about Nigerian legislators neglecting their concerns at the parliament gates. “When I saw the vote yesterday, the first thing that came to my mind is why do they hate us so much? They are literally saying we are second-class citizens.’’

For months, Chioma Agwuegbo, executive director of TechHerNG and other activists had held consultations on the bills with legislators, civil society groups and various other stakeholders. It seems all of their efforts ended up being futile. “They shut the bills down with a vehemence that actually scares us,” said Agwuegbo, one of the organisers of the protest. “The reason why women are out today and tomorrow and keep having this conversation is because women are not just good only for votes. You cannot lead us without us.”

However, on March 22nd—the 10th day of the protest—the women occupying the National Assembly were locked in the premises. Nimisire, who was also in the premises shared in her tweet that the women were denied access to toilet use and from getting water or food. “The sight here is heart-rending as the police has barricaded women, keeping them from coming out of NASS to get water, food, or even use the toilet” she said.

By 4:56pm, four hours after the first tweet, Nimisire tweeted that the women had been released. 

It is important to note that the five bills are not the only demands being made. A statement released by Womenifesto also called for the passing of the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEOB) bill. They also included a call for the immediate adoption of the UN convention on eliminating all forms of violence against women. In past two years, violence against women has increased with cases of rape and ritual killings being reported.

Gender Bills To Be Reviewed

The protests at the National Assembly have been suspended for 2 weeks, following the promise of the National Assembly to recommit the gender bills in 7 legislative days. This announcement was made by the leader of the House, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, at the press conference organized by Womenifesto in Abuja on Wednesday.

“It is on this note that I would like to on behalf of the speaker, and the entire membership of the House of Representatives, to say that we still stand by you. We have rescinded our last voting, which means we will take it again.” Ado-Doguwa said. “We have rescinded those positions to look at them again to see how we can accommodate Nigerian women so that they can participate effectively in the management and the discharge of our democratic process in the country that we all call our own,” he added.

Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, co-convener of Womenifesto also spoke at the conference.  She says “we acknowledge the efforts of Nigerian Women in occupying the National Assembly for ten days, the tenacity which they have demonstrated has shown that women can no longer be taken for a ride, we hope the Nigerian Government hears the demands of the Nigerian women and give them their due as we are all entitled to Equal Rights. We also urge all Nigerians, especially its women, not to give up hope as we shall continue to apply pressure to persuade the NASS to act responsibly. We will continue to engage the media and state assembles to vote in favour of the gender bill.”

Here are the five proposed amendments to the 1999 constitution:

Reserved seats: Amend sections 48,49 and 71 of the Constitution to create a total of 111 additional seats for women representatives of senatorial districts and constituencies at the National and State Houses of Assemblies.

Citizenship: Amend section 26 of the Constitution to grant citizenship by registration to foreign husbands of Nigerian women as currently granted for Nigerian men with foreign wives. 

Affirmative action: Amend section 223 of the Constitution to ensure women occupy at least 35% in political party administration and appointive positions across Federal and State levels. 

Ministerial or Commissioner nomination: Amend sections 147 and 192 of the Constitution to ensure a minimum of 20% (HoR) or 10% (Senate) ministerial or commissioner nominees are women. 

Indigeneship: Amend sections 31 and 318(1) of the Constitution to allow a woman to become an indigene of her husband’s state after at least five years of marriage. 

Ruth Torty

Ruth Torty is a biochemist, and freelance science writer. She writes to shed light on health issues, rare diseases and science research in Nigeria. She is also a creative writer and has published on different literary sites including Spillwords and Nnoko Stories. She is passionate about genomics and its role in healthcare.