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House of Reps Rescinds Decision on 3 Gender Bills, But Is It Enough?

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Responding to protesters who converged at the gate of the National Assembly to commemorate International Women’s Day and protest the decision of national legislators voting down five women bills seeking to expand the rights of women, the House of Representatives rescinded its decision on three of the bills at plenary on Tuesday, 8th March 2022. It decided to re-open votes on the three bills. These bills include: the bill to expand the scope of citizenship by registration (to confer Nigerian citizenship on foreign spouses of Nigerian women), the bill to provide qualification for State indigeneship rights and the bill for affirmative action for women in appointive positions in the Federal and State Executive cabinets.  However, their decision on two most important of the five bills, namely a bill to create specific seats for women in the Federal and State legislatures and a bill for reserved quota for women in political party administration, remains unrescinded. It is unclear if the decision of the House of Representatives to take fresh votes on three of the five bills is a decision reached jointly with the Senate. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria requires that for any Constitution amendment to take place, both houses must pass the bill by two-thirds majority of members present and voting. Thereafter, it will require approval by a simple majority of members in two-thirds of States of the Federation. Thereafter, Presidential assent would be required. The five gender bills are part of proposals put forward by legislators articulating what needs to be done to reverse the apparent marginalisation of women in Nigeria’s governance. The National Assembly which has 469 members has only 21 women. In the State Houses of Assembly, of the 990 members in the 36 States of the Federation, there are only 45 women. Fifteen (15) States have no women in their Houses of Assembly.

The Specific Seats bill sponsored by Hon. Nkeiru Onyejeocha, Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives made its way past the Committee level on to plenary voting, where it failed. The bill seeks to create additional seats for women – one Senate seat from each of the 36 States of the Federation and two House of Representatives seats per State. At the State Assembly level, each of the three Senatorial Districts in each State is expected to produce one female member, adding three seats to already existing seats at the State Houses of Assembly. The bill does not seek to take away any of the existing seats in the Federal and State legislatures. It only seeks to add to the number of existing seats and does not interfere with any person contesting for the existing seats.

Women converged in front of the National Assembly in their numbers to protest gender inequality, as they commemorated the 2022 International Women’s Day with the theme, ‘Gender Equality for a Sustainable Future’ and #BreakTheBias. Similar demonstrations took place in several States across the Federation. Nigerian women and supporters of women’s rights and inclusion were disappointed to say the least,  on 1st March 2022, when the Senate and House of Representatives voted on 68 Constitution Alteration Bills, including five gender bills which failed to pass. Dissatisfied by the outcome of the votes,  women who had gathered at the gate of the National Assembly earlier that day to enjoin the legislators to pass the bills, continued to converge at the venue in the following days to protest the unfortunate development. It appears that the House of Representatives has retraced its steps as it rescinded its decisions on three of those bills. It is expected that the House will reconsider and vote on these bills, alongside another set of Constitution Alteration bills in the next four weeks. The House has however, read for the Third Time and passed the 5th Constitution Alteration bills  which were voted for at its plenary session on Tuesday, 1st March 2022. While the House of Representatives rescission of its decisions on three gender bills offers a glimmer of hope, citizens and groups advocating for women’s rights must remember to take advocacy to the State Houses of Assembly, which are the next stage of the Constitution review process, to ensure that bills passed by the National Assembly receive the required votes from the State Assemblies.

Nigeria ranks low in Africa and in the world for political representation of women. This is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately, to ensure that women (who account for half of the Nigerian population) are directly involved in policy and decision making. This highlights the need to continue to press on the government to take significant actions towards full participation and equal leadership opportunities for women at all levels of decision making in Nigeria. With continued women exclusion from these structures, a sustainable future cannot be guaranteed for Nigeria and the world indeed.