January 23, (THEWILL) – There is renewed agitation for more inclusion of women in politics and governance in Nigeria. Analysts and watchers of political events in the country believe this is justifiable, considering the number of women in elected political positions since the inception of the present democracy in 1999.
To ensure that more women are included in politics and governance, some legislators recently called for reserved seats for women in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Also a bill aimed at amending the Constitution of the Federal Republic in order to create new legislative seats for women is currently in the House of Representatives.
Sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejocha (PDP, Abia) and 85 other legislators, the bill is proposing the creation of one additional senatorial seat in each state of the federation and Abuja that will only be occupied by women.
As of now, 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 contest for a senatorial seat, the reality is that the Senate has always been dominated by men, 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 that will be reserved for women. Nigeria currently has 360 federal constituency seats in the House of Representatives, with only 13 of them currently occupied by women.
The bill has the intention to alter Sections 48, 49, 71, 77, 91 and 117 of the Nigerian Constitution.
The proposed Section 48 reads: “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) An additional Senator for each State and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be a woman.”
Also, the proposed Section 49 reads, “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 possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one state; and (b) Two additional members for each state and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be women.”
The bill also contains a proviso that women will still be allowed to contest for the existing seats. Should it become law, the Nigerian Senate will have a minimum of 37 women, while the House of Representatives will have a minimum of 74 women.
Furthermore, should the bill be passed into law, the State Houses of Assembly will also get three special seats per state exclusively for women.
During the presentation of the bill, Ms Onyejocha argued that the current National Assembly has only 4.4 per cent of its population as women.
She added that the situation is worse in the State Houses of Assembly.
“My respected colleagues, Women have only 4.4 per cent representation in the 9th National Assembly. You may wish to note that Nigeria has been identified as the worst performer in women representation in parliaments in the West African region and one of the lowest in the whole of Africa.
“This is evidenced in the most recent Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranking of women in parliaments where Nigeria ranks 179 out of 187 countries worldwide. Eritrea is the only African country ranked lower than Nigeria and this is because there have not been national elections since its independence in 1993.
“The situation is worse at the States Houses of Assembly level, where a good number of our states do not have a single woman. In some of these states, men chair the Women Affairs Committee because there is no woman available to take the role.”
While the bill seems to be enjoying huge support among members of the House of Representatives, analysts believe there is still a long journey to go before it becomes law.
In the 8th Assembly, the Constitution Alteration Bill meant to ensure that 35 per cent of political offices were reserved for women was rejected. According to Section 9 (1, 2) of the Nigerian Constitution, constitutional amendment bills must garner two-thirds support in both chambers of the National Assembly. Also, 24 of the 36 State Houses of Assembly must approve the amendment.
It would be recalled that a report by an indigenous nongovernmental organisation, the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), in 2020 revealed that the Nigerian Senate had had only 36 women since 1999.
The report states that the Senate has had 654 members since 1999, meaning that men have occupied 618 slots and women only 36, which is a paltry 5.5 per cent female representation as against 94.5 per cent for men.
The report said the total number of senators, which is 654, was deduced from Nigeria’s electoral history within the period under review with elections conducted six times in 1999, 2003,2007,2011,2015 and 2019. It stated that at each of the election periods 109 senators were elected.
The report, in its breakdown, notes that out 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 one additional seat gained through the judiciary in the 2019 general election to make the number 7.
Analysts also believe the figure given by the report may not be accurate when one considers the fact that some women did or have done more than one term in the Senate, like Senator Remi Tinubu who is currently serving 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 get more women into politics and elected positions. Is the bill novel in 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 per cent of parliamentary seats for women and requires political parties to ensure that women hold at least 30 per cent of elected internal positions. Also France and 48 other countries have statutory quotas or reserved seats for women.
As at 2020, most African countries have at least one gender quota in place, including 13 countries that reserve specific seats for women in parliament, as opposed to legislated candidate or political party quotas. By 2021, 26 countries around the globe had reserved seats in the lower or single house.
The question being asked is, will this bill, if passed into law, solve the problem of the perceived marginalisation of women in politics and governance? A political scientist and gender specialist, Damilola Agbalajobi, says it may not solve the problem holistically.
She says, “I don’t consider the creation of additional seats an efficient way to get more women into politics. At face value, it is a way to save women the challenge of having to compete with men for the existing seats. In reality, it is crucial to adopt distinct approaches that deal with the underlying barriers women face in conducting successful campaigns and getting elected.
“The interconnected barriers include lack of trust among women, the fear of success or rejection, fear of popularity, violence inherent in politics and importantly, the entrenched, obnoxious socio-cultural structures and patriarchy.
“All these need to be tackled to ensure that women get into office. If these challenges are not dealt with, the seats will be available and there will be no women to occupy such positions”.
Although the need to engender more recognition for women’s participation in politics, public affairs and governance has been in the front burner since the United Nations Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing, China in 1995. Nigeria has very few women participating in politics.
Only seven out of the current 109 senators and 22 of the 360 House of Representatives members are women. Also only four out of the 360 deputy governors are women. The country has never had a female state governor.
Speaking with THEWILL, a member of the Campaign for Democracy, Comrade Olusola Olawale, says it is true that the number of women in political positions is low. But he says he will not support the idea of reserving seats for women, saying such will hinder the growth of democracy.
“Reserving seats for only women may bring in mediocrity. Everybody should show his or her willingness. I support the idea that political parties should encourage women by shielding them from paying huge sums of money for nomination forms to contest political offices.
“Some key positions within the party’s management can also be reserved for women. But I don’t support the idea of altering the constitution to reserve some seats for them. That is not too good”, he says.
Also speaking with THEWILL, the candidate of the KOWA Party in the 2015 presidential election, Prof Oluremi Sonaiya, said, “It is not a position I like to support because I believe Nigerian women are capable. We have seen them demonstrating that capability in many areas of human endeavour. It is only in politics that doors seem to be shut against Nigerian women. It is because of godfathers, money bags or whatever you want to call them, who have captured the political terrain. So if they are not going to make allowance for a level playing ground, then we have to legislate and to require that a certain number of seats be reserved for women.
“So you know probably 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 districts which should be reserved for women. It will also create more seats for women in the House of Representatives. It is not the kind of solution that I would have like to have, but unfortunately, it is not like the political class is willing to play by the rules and have a level playing ground for everybody so that women can compete favourably. Our politics is politics of money, of buying votes and things like that. Many women cannot engage in that. It is the country that is suffering by not having women participate in politics.”