Making 35% affirmative action a reality in Nigeria

As the 2023 general elections draws closer, the need for continuous advocacy for women inclusion in diverse spaces formed the core of a webinar on making the recent 35 per cent affirmative action court ruling work, ENE OSHABA writes.

The 100 Women Lobby Group (WLG) as part of its strategy to ensure that the 35 per cent affirmative action court ruling becomes a reality and not the norm of being a mere policy which never implemented recently convened a zoom meeting where stakeholders strategised on how to draw government’s attention to the court ruling on affirmative action more women can be appointed into leadership positions.

National Coordinator of the lobby group, Mrs. Felicia Onibon, said women were not being given adequate opportunities to respond effectively in Nigeria, pointing out the importance of lending voices to improve on the efforts made for women development using the lobbying and protest activities that took place some weeks ago at the National Assembly (NASS) for the inclusion of women in leadership as an example.

The group is also following up members of the National Assembly for the passage of the five Gender Bills into law.

Legal backing

The long term advocacy for 35 per cent inclusion in public service slots for women got a big boost when a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the federal government to implement its 35 per cent affirmative action policy.

As contained in the National Gender Policy 2006, sections 42, 147 (3) and 14 (3) of the 1999 constitution as amended, and Articles 2, 13 (2) and (3) and Article 19 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2006, states that 35 per cent of public offices be reserved for women.

In his verdict, Justice Donatus Okorowo nagreed with the plaintiffs that the lopsided appointments by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government were unlawful and an arbitrary violation of the NGP, adding that the policy is not merely a policy statement, but one that must be backed with requisite action on the part of the government and therefore ruled in favour of women.

Nigerian women after winning the case in court called on the federal government to immediately follow through with the implementation of 35 per cent affirmative action for women and equality of the sexes in appointment as demanded by the court judgment.

They also called on the NASS to acknowledge and pass all the gender related bills before it.

Speaking on the development, President, Women in Politics Forum (WiPF), Barrister Ebere Ifendu, said the affirmative judgement came at a very good time for Nigeria as the country is preparing for another general elections.

She ascertained that the judgement was the law and the law must be obeyed until there was a superior judgement, stressing that women groups needed to ensure that this law was implemented and leaders were held accountable.

Putting words to action

The WiPF called on President Buhari to fill the vacant ministerial positions with women, stating that it was a good opportunity for the President to make an indelible mark in making the 35 per cent affirmative action court ruling a reality.

Buhari had last week ordered all members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) who expressed interest to run for elective offices in the general elections to resign on or before May 16, 2022.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had confirmed that nine ministers seeking elective positions had tendered their resignation.

According to Barr Ifendu, the judgement on affirmative action came at a very good time for Nigeria as the country was preparing for the general elections.

She noted that, “The judgement is the law and the law must be obeyed until there is a superior judgement.”

The forum president maintained that women groups needed to ensure that this law is implemented by holding leaders accountable.

“Since the President made the call that members of the panel, ministerial appointees that are interested in running at the election should resign from their respective positions this is the best time to call on the president to replace the empty positions with women just to ensure there is implementation of the law.

“WIPF has sent a letter to the President the previous day informing him that women should replace the men as enforcement of the judgement implementation is very important. The President as a matter of urgency must enforce the law as women groups will hold him accountable.

“The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) will give the protocol assistance to ensure implementation and assist in case there is a breach,” she stated.

Tracking success

In her view, the Manager, Women’s Right Programme at Action Aid Nigeria, Nkechi Ilochi-Kanny, described the court ruling in favour of women as a great feat for women groups and organisations.

Ilochi-Kanny noted the energy and resources put into the women’s struggle over the years, pointing out that a good number of organisations had been working on ensuring the 35 person Affirmative Action was passed into law to ensure that women get the right spaces in governance and other leadership positions across the country.

Given the discouraging outcomes experienced in the past she suggested that women should explore other options to achieve the desired goals, particularly in holding government to account on the marginalisation of women in leadership.

“We should not stick to only one strategy in getting things done as over the years we discovered some level of reluctance by the government in getting to live up to their commitment of getting women their right leadership spaces hence unconventional ways can be introduced to drive our demands home and get results,” she declared.

Corporate sector involvement

One important aspect highlighted was the need to keep the conversation on the women’s struggle on, as it is popularly said that a closed mouth is a closed destiny hence women groups were advised not to relent but always collaborate to achieve the desired goal.

Founder/Chairperson, Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR), Amina Oyagbola, lamented the poor statistics of women in appointive positions and since it is very unlikely that the men will be removed from their positions to be replaced with women.

She said women needed to be at alert for appointments to boards, to executives or committees.

“We should ensure that the 35 per cent representation of women is put into place and if otherwise we challenge them.

“We can ask that the appointments be reviewed to ensure 35 per cent participation of women as this is in line with the National Gender Policy (NGP).

“This will encourage women in the corporate sector to aspire higher and give them a sense of heightened worth,” she said.

Oyagbola further charged the private sector to take the lead in ensuring that women empowerment principles are enforced, adding that women should not be discriminated against on account of their rights.

“Women’s rights are human rights which have also been enshrined in the Nigeria’s constitution,” she maintained.

According to her, the court ruling showed the power women possess and they must analyse the situation themselves to determine what they must do to achieve the impact they desire.

She expressed her delight on the judgments in favour of women and commended the women that championed the cause for the court ruling.

“This ruling is a victory, a feat that has been accomplished and the 35 per cent Affirmative Action should be a baseline for men and women and we must include it in our message.

“In the areas where there is a shortfall for men, 35 per cent Affirmative Action will be required and the barriers that hinder equality for women must be broken.

“Women must quit waiting for permission or waiting for others to act first, rather take charge and determine clearly the steps to be taken to make impactful decisions that will enable us to achieve the results we desire as a group.”

Oyagbola made reference to the second chapter of the Nigerian Constitution that talks about the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy under section 14 was sighted in the judgement, saying that this makes it clear that the sovereignty of this nation belongs to us (women Inclusive) the people of Nigeria.

She said, “It is important that women must be careful not to take this ruling primarily as legal backing. The state of the Nation is poor, concerning infrastructure, insecurity, poverty and so on Nigeria is not performing well and this is because women are not fully involved and included in decision making.

“Women are a blessing to the nation, the portal through which everyone in the world is present, they are care givers, nurturers, and the enablers of every success story. For that reason, women are entitled to their own place in the society and have to use this judgement to drive home these messages.

“Also, to encourage all those whom this judgement and court ruling was targeted at, to not see it as a loss but as victory and progress for the nation and society which will strengthen our democracy as a nation for example, Justice Donatus Okorowo, the Judge who delivered the judgement, ruling in favour of women is a man.

“The male and female gender are very important and must always work together to achieve positive results. Women groups, activists and feminists must keep the tone and spirit of the judgement alive through the media.

“The message should be more of advocacy; we need to encourage the media to keep it in the news and to keep reminding the actors present to commit to enforcing this law.

What women should do

The federal government has been urged to leverage on the court ruling by making certain appointments to showcase that they are indeed committed in empowering women and putting women in political appointive positions.

Ilochi-Kannu stressed the role of women in bringing this to bear by collectively strategizing to ensure that the court ruling is acted upon and implemented as stated by the law to make sure there are mechanisms in place to make the implementation possible.

“We should be alert as there could be opposition groups working against the process of implementing this law. CSOs, feminists group, and activists may need to come together in leveraging resources as a collective to deal with this issue.

“We also need to build our knowledge around the issue of the court ruling on the 35 per cent Affirmative Action. We need to ensure a lot of ways suitable to our context environment. For the 35 per cent Affirmative Action to be obtained, some institutions should be held accountable and responsible. It is a test to know how we can obtain it at various levels.

“Women should deliberate and decide on resources that will be required to obtain the implementation. Nigeria is a huge country we need more than one strategy to win this war, we need to think critically to proffer suitable solution to ensure that the per cent Affirmative Action ruling is completely implemented.

“Women should access grants and funds available from donor agencies like Actionaid and Global Affairs Canada to stakeholders that want to respond to opportunities to making the 35 percent Affirmative Action implementation a reality. The funds can make us respond immediately to push forward the agenda,” she stressed.

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