Growing Agitation for More Women Inclusion in Politics and Governance
Jan. 23 (THEWILL) – There is renewed agitation for greater inclusion of women in politics and governance in Nigeria. Analysts and observers of political events in the country believe this is justifiable, given the number of women elected to political office since the establishment of the current democracy in 1999.
To ensure that more women are included in politics and governance, some legislators have recently called for reserved seats for women in both houses of the National Assembly.
Furthermore, a bill to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic in order to create new legislative seats for women is currently before the House of Representatives.
Sponsored by Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejocha (PDP, Abia) and 85 other lawmakers, the bill proposes the creation of an additional senatorial seat in each state of the federation and in Abuja which will be filled only by women .
Currently, each of the 36 states has three seats in the Senate, while Abuja has one. Although the constitution gives any eligible adult the right to run for a senatorial seat, the reality is that the senate has always been male-dominated, with only eight of the current 109 senators being women.
The bill also seeks to create two new federal constituency seats in each state and Abuja which will be reserved for women. Nigeria currently has 360 federal constituency seats in the House of Representatives, of which only 13 are currently held by women.
The Bill intends to amend Sections 48, 49, 71, 77, 91 and 117 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Proposed section 48 reads as follows: “48. Composition of the Senate (1) The Senate shall consist of: (a) three senators from each state and one from the Federal Capital Territory; and (b) One additional senator for each state and for the Federal Capital Territory, who must be a woman.
In addition, proposed section 49 reads as follows: “Composition of the House of Representatives. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of: (a) three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as practicable, provided that no constituency falls within of more than one State; and (b) Two additional members from each state and from the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be women.
The bill also contains a provision that women will still be allowed to compete for existing seats. If this becomes law, the Nigerian Senate would have a minimum of 37 women, while the House of Representatives would have a minimum of 74 women.
Additionally, if the bill passes, state houses of assembly will also get three special seats per state exclusively for women.
When introducing the bill, Ms. Onyejocha argued that the current National Assembly has only 4.4% of its population women.
She added that the situation is worse in the State Houses of Assembly.
“My respectable colleagues, women only have 4.4% representation in the 9th National Assembly. You may wish to note that Nigeria has been identified as the worst performing country in the representation of women in parliaments in the West Africa region and one of the lowest in all of Africa .
“This is demonstrated in the latest Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranking of women in parliaments, where Nigeria ranks 179th out of 187 countries in the world. Eritrea is the only African country ranked lower than Nigeria and that is because there have been no national elections since its independence in 1993.
“The situation is worse in the state Houses of Assembly, where many of our states do not have a single woman. In some of these states, men chair the women’s affairs committee because there is no woman available to take on this role.
While the bill appears to have huge support among members of the House of Representatives, analysts believe there is still a long way to go before it becomes law.
During the 8th Assembly, the bill to amend the Constitution aimed at ensuring that 35% of political offices are reserved for women was rejected. According to Section 9 (1, 2) of the Nigerian Constitution, Constitutional Amendment Bills must command the support of two-thirds in both Houses of the National Assembly. Additionally, 24 of the state’s 36 Houses of Assembly must approve the amendment.
It should be recalled that a report by an indigenous non-governmental organization, the Center for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), in 2020 found that the Nigerian Senate had only 36 women since 1999.
The report says the Senate has had 654 members since 1999, meaning men have held 618 seats and women only 36, a meager female representation of 5.5% compared to 94.5% for men.
The report says the total number of senators which is 654 was inferred from Nigeria’s electoral history during the reporting period, with elections held six times in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 He stated that in each of the election periods 109 senators were elected.
The report, in its breakdown, notes that of the 109 senators elected in 1999, only three were women; while in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019, only 4, 8, 7, 8 and 6 women were elected as senators, respectively, with an additional seat won through the judiciary in the 2019 general election for do number 7.
Analysts also believe that the figure given by the report may not be accurate if we consider the fact that some women have served or have served more than one term in the Senate, such as Senator Remi Tinubu who is currently in her third term, having been first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015 and 2019.
Reserved seats for women through the constitution could be seen as a good way to bring more women into politics and elective positions. Is the bill new to Africa? No, Rwanda and France are countries with good examples where seats are reserved for women. In 2003, Rwanda adopted a new constitution that reserves 30% of parliamentary seats for women and requires political parties to ensure that women hold at least 30% of elected internal positions. France and 48 other countries also have statutory quotas or seats reserved for women.
In 2020, most African countries have in place at least one gender quota, including 13 countries that reserve specific seats for women in parliament, as opposed to quotas for candidates or political parties imposed by law. As of 2021, 26 countries around the world have reserved seats in the lower or single house.
The question posed is: will this bill, if passed, address the perceived marginalization of women in politics and governance? A political scientist and gender specialist, Damilola Agbalajobi, says this may not solve the problem holistically.
She says, “I don’t see the creation of additional seats as an effective way to bring more women into politics. At first glance, this is a way of sparing women the challenge of having to compete with men for existing seats. In fact, it is crucial to adopt distinct approaches that address the underlying barriers that women face in running successful campaigns and getting elected.
“Interconnected barriers include lack of trust between women, fear of success or rejection, fear of popularity, inherent violence in politics, and most importantly, entrenched and odious socio-cultural structures and patriarchy.
“All of these issues need to be tackled to ensure that women gain power. If these challenges are not met, the seats will be available and there will be no women to fill these positions”.
Although the need to engender greater recognition of women’s participation in politics, public affairs and governance has been at the forefront since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995 Nigeria has very few women participating in politics.
Only seven of the current 109 senators and 22 of the 360 members of the House of Representatives are women. Moreover, only four of the 360 deputy governors are women. The country has never had a female state governor.
Speaking to THEWILL, member of the Campaign for Democracy Comrade Olusola Olawale says it is true that the number of women in political office is low. But he says he will not support the idea of reserving seats for women, saying it will hamper the growth of democracy.
“Reserving seats for women only can lead to mediocrity. Everyone must show their will. I support the idea that political parties should encourage women by preventing them from paying huge sums of money for nomination forms to contest political office.
“Certain key positions in the party leadership may also be reserved for women. But I do not support the idea of changing the constitution to reserve seats for them. It’s not very good,” he said.
Also addressing THEWILL, the KOWA party candidate for the 2015 presidential election, Professor Oluremi Sonaiya said, “It is not a position I like to support because I believe Nigerian women are capable. We have seen them demonstrate this ability in many areas of human endeavour. Only in politics do the doors seem closed to Nigerian women. It’s because of the godfathers, the moneybags or whatever you want to call them, who have conquered the political terrain. So if they don’t consider a level playing field, then we need to legislate and require that a certain number of seats be reserved for women.
“So you probably know by now that it has been suggested, and I hope the Senate will pass the bill, that in the Senate, one more seat be created for senatorial ridings that should be reserved for women. This will create also more seats for women in the House of Representatives. This is not the kind of solution I would have liked to have had, but unfortunately it is not as if the political class is willing to play by the rules and to have a level playing field for everyone so that women can compete favorably. Our politics is a politics of money and vote buying and things like that. A lot of women can’t engage in that. It is the country that suffers from the fact that women do not participate in politics.