Electoral Act and more women in leadership

Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s signing into law Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2022 preparations for the 2023 general is expected to go into full swing. In this report by ENE OSHABA examines implications of the Act on women in leadership.

On February 25, 2022 President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Electoral Act Amendment Bill with Nigerians from different sectors and groups expressing joy at the development. Women in particular lauded the gesture stating that it would remove all stumbling blocks to their political growth especially with the general elections around the corner.

They had lamented that the laws and policies on elections was a huge challenge for women, both at the grassroots and national level, hence their advocacy for its amendment to enable them make significant progress in politics.

Women groups laud Buhari

In appreciation of President Buhari’s decision to assent to the Electoral Bill some woman groups have commended the president for his timely decision.

“We believe that by this act of the President, the Electoral Act 2022 holds a lot of potential for improving the election processes particularly, with women’s affirmative action and efforts to engender clarity and transparency.

“President Buhari has shown commitment to democracy as the assent to the Bill came at the right time with the 2023 general elections underway,’’ said the Co-Coordinator of Womanifesto, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, in a statement in Abuja.

Akiyode-Afolabi stated that the Electoral Act seems to bring Nigeria closer to having a free, fair and inclusive election in which people’s vote count, regretting that the old Electoral Act had marginalised and limited chances of women participation in the country’s political process just as she stressed the need for guaranteed space for women in the polity where women would have their say.

However, amidst the euphoria of a better Electoral Act provisions in the constitution reform, especially with the rejection of all six gender-based Bills by the 9th National Assembly has left women in a worried state of being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

NASS hindrance

Since the commencement of constitution reform women had expressed high hopes for a favourable amendment through their participation and commitment to the processes including active involvement in public debates and continuously explaining the need for the inclusion of women.

As they celebrated the president’s assent to the Electoral Act, they were wounded by the rejection of all gender-based Bills by the 9th National Assembly where members voted against these Bills despite all efforts and strategies towards their passage.

The Bills rejected include: A Bill To Provide Special Seats For Women At The National Assembly; A Bill To Expand Scope Of Citizenship By Registration; A Bill Requesting For Affirmative Action For Women In Political Party Administration; A Bill On Provision For Criteria To Be Indigene Of A State In Nigeria; and A Bill To Reserve Quota For Women.

Reacting to the development, Akiode-Abiola lamented that Nigeria has a constitution which states that by virtue of marriage if a woman is married to a foreigner, the foreigner cannot become a citizen of Nigeria even by registration, whereas they don’t have a corresponding position for the men.

“If a man marries a foreigner she becomes an automatic citizen of Nigeria, this issue is critical because it boils down to the value of the constitution itself, a constitution cannot appear discriminatory on itself.

“The constitution is discriminatory against women as the word ‘He’ is used in the entire constitution as if it was made strictly for the men in 235 places.

“The two places the constitution talks about women were places where there were discriminatory where they wanted to bring the issues of child marriage, talking about who is an adult and stating that when a woman is married she is an adult, in a country where we know that 12-year-olds are being forced to marry,’’ she added.

On Indigeneship, she noted that there was nowhere in the constitution where who is an indigene is clearly stated, stating that the current reform was also acceptable because what it is saying is that one can only become an indigene when you have spent six years in a place.

“So if you are married and you spent two years in your husband’s state you cannot do anything there until when the marriage becomes six years but even the six years which we accepted has become too long for them so they shut it down.

“Another issues is that of appointment as minister or commissioners, there are some states that apart from the ministry of women affairs they do not appoint women to any positions.

“Again the issues of 111 seats was a big compromise, in other countries they don’t count the number of seats they just say 35 per cent will be women but it’s not so in Nigeria, and in political leadership women are part of every political party and so we are saying that we should have 35 per cent affirmative action so women could also be in leadership,’’ she stated.

Women demand redress

Following the rejection, over 500 women groups converged at the National Assembly to demand a reversal of the position.

National President of the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF), Barr. Ebere Ifendu, noted that the President’s assent to the Electoral Act showed that there would no longer be any opportunities for ballot box snatching.

She added that women can have the right to vote and be voted for, and be sure that their votes would count.

She, however, expressed disappointment at the rejection of all six gender-based Bills by the NASS describing the act as ”a show of shame”.

According to her, “Not even for having the Wife of the President and Wife of the Vice President make that historic visit to the NASS, it shows clearly that a huge percentage of the representatives are illiterates because the Speaker had to explain each Bill to them, and we saw most of them not knowing how to vote.

”We are not complaining again but there will be payback time and history will not be fair to all the people that voted against us.

“They didn’t vote against women groups but against their wives, mothers, daughters it is an embarrassment and more embarrassing to them.

”We are waiting to hear how they will redress these issues, we asked for special seats they didn’t give us, it will no longer be uhuru for them because the President has signed the Electoral Act into law and it means out votes will count and we will vote them out because we have qualified women, our women will take over the seats.

“We shall get the list on all the votes from the leadership of NASS and those who voted against us won’t smell the National Assembly in 2023.

The constitution says equality and that is our right, we are challenging them now and send their names to embassies and international conferences and let the world know that they are against us,” she declared.

Similarly, Akiode-Abiola demanded that the wrongs done to Nigerian women be reversed, stating that what happened at the national assembly is a manifesto of the historical injustices that has been affecting the participation and voices of the Nigerian women.

“We realise that those who are representing us are not representing 50 per cent of the population they are representing themselves because conversations that has to do with their own resource or revenue were the issues that were prioritized but the conversations dealing with the people, Nigerian women and young people were not prioritised.

“They titled it women and vulnerable groups bill meaning that we are very vulnerable and that is why they don’t care because its a matter of power and they feel they can do whatever and nothing will happen.

“We saw the disdain and impunity with which the gender bills were thrown out and they didn’t show any form of remorse rather is a noise that reduced women as humans when this country belongs to all of us. We are co-owners we are a majority group in terms of number.

“We are here to re-demand that the voting be done again because we had five pressing issues in the constitution affecting women and it is only in Nigeria that such happens because we agreed on five minimum demands and we negotiated these demands through their different interventions, met with the speakers of the house, participated in all the public hearing in six geopolitical zones and the five minimum standards which is the minimum we can go yet they rejected all. This is unacceptable,” she said.

”We are here demanding that the Senate President and the Speaker of the House or Representatives should come explain to us what they will do to correct the wrongs because we won’t allow this go to another time because we won’t be able to get to this level,” she added.

FIDA protests too

For the Country Vice President/National President FIDA Nigeria, Amina Susana Agbaje, the Nigerian constitution was not woman friendly. She described it as ”a constitution set against the woman and does not provide level playing fields for men and women.”

Agbaje added that ”It appears that our constitution seems to say that the men are superior than women that we do not own this country. It is against the woman.

”NASS members have the rights to vote for or against any bill and we also have the right to vote against them because unfortunately most of the senators were governors so we see how they trivialized women issues when they were governors.”

More reactions

On her part, the Country Representative of Action Aid Nigeria, Ene Obi, expressed disappointment over the development stating that Nigeria women have sacrificed a lot to be treated in such manner.

According to her, correcting the imbalance in the country’s population is not doing women a favour  women and girls, suffer gender based violence,  conflicts and rape everyday and the nation is not doing enough, women are tired, we need to be involved in  decision making.

“I’m very disappointed because when you look at issues of law you talk about leaving 50 per cent of your population behind in decision making and you are happy to do that.

“The fact that they could come out and vote massively against these bills shows we don’t have women in the NASS and they are so few they can’t give us the votes we feel wounded.

“The Speaker vetoed issue of 25 per cent for women when Nigeria signed 35 per cent affirmative action law in Beijing conference 1995 and here we are still debating 20 per cent what are you telling women?  We have women in all spheres of education, millions of professors and so there is enough capacity,” she queried.

”Women sell all their personal belongings for children to grow responsibly, yet the children graduate there are no jobs. Chibok girls and so many others are still in the bush kidnapped. How can you feel the pains of women when you can’t feel our pain,” she added.

Representing YIAGA Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, insisted that the National Assembly needs to release the records of the votes so women can see those against women.

”The NASS is the hub of democracy and we have representatives there so they must be the brightest and most brilliant set of people and if they cannot understand the content of the bills then they have no business making laws. They should have understanding of the difference of men and women, husband and wife.

”We are battling with less than 5 per cent and we called for special seats because we can no longer understand how fifteen states will have no female representatives at the NASS when other countries have gone ahead of us in this regard and we are called giant of Africa.

“If our law makers cannot think the future, about development, about democracy they don’t have any business being there. NASS is not a parlour for men to talk about issues and laugh because it is our hub of democracy,” she stressed.

On her part, the Executive Director Women in Management Business and Public Services (WIMBIZ), Azatu Adegbite, said women don’t want to take over the men but to make over Nigeria, noting that a lot is not going well in the country.

“We are tired of everything that has become a thing of shame and degradation. We have seen on the business community that when women have seats on the table the return on investments is higher.

“Why should only men take decisions for more than half of the population and all women must arise enough is enough and we are ready to make over this nation once and for all,” she stressed.

What do women want?

Akiode-Abiola called on stakeholders particularly political parties to ensure strict adherence to women affirmative action as contained in the newly signed legal framework in choosing next set of leaders to various political offices come 2023.

“We call on women and concerned stakeholders to make judicious use of key achievements of constitutional amendments favouring women such as: Adoption of not less than thirty-five percent of the members of the executive committee at all levels shall be women;

“Allotted seats for women in parliament at all levels passed which tends to create additional 111 seats in National Assembly alone plus such opportunity at the state constituent assemblies;

“Granting of indigeneity rights to a woman who is married to an indigene of a State different from her State of origin;

“Affirmation of citizenship rights to spouses of women from Nigeria under Section 26 (2) (a); and;  Inclusion of at least 10 per cent affirmative action in favour of women in Ministerial appointments

Finally, we urge all stakeholders to support INEC to achieve its regulatory role as political parties are encouraged to be more forthright and vigorous in spear-heading the campaign for women affirmative action as contained in the Electoral Act 2022 and 1999 constitution (as amended).”

She urged women and all stakeholders to make judicious use of the key achievements of constitutional amendments favouring women.

Agbaje on her part said women have submitted the kind of constitution that they want to see and it is a constitution that speaks to gender bills, stressing the need for the NASS to be convinced to come back to amendment else women would vote ahgainst them during elections.

“The National Assembly should recall those Bills else, we will use the power of our numbers to vote against the men.”

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