By Ejiro Umukoro
While the 9th House had the opportunity to make history in West Africa along with other countries striving towards intentional gender balance in their parliamentary structure, they shut down five critical gender equity bills, namely: a bill to provide special seats for women within the national assembly – an affirmative action for women in political party administration; a bill to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of a Nigerian woman as is the case with a foreign-born wife to a Nigerian man who automatically becomes a Nigerian; the enforcement of the 35% affirmative action as ordered by the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2022; creation of additional 111 seats in the national assembly as well as the state constituent assemblies; inclusion of at least 10% affirmative action in favour of women in ministerial appointment.
The 10th House, however, under the leadership of Speaker Abbas is set to reintroduce gender bills and review the constitution on women’s seats in parliament.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, Ph.D, has said that the 10th House would do everything within its powers to ensure women get proper representation in politics and governance.
Speaker Abbas also stated that achieving improvement in women’s participation in governance should be seen as an important aspect of sustainable national development
He spoke in Abuja on Wednesday while addressing participants at the International Conference on Women in Governance, organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS).
Speaker Abbas, while lamenting the slow pace of gender mainstreaming in politics and governance, cautioned that not speeding things up to catch up with the rest of the world would mean that Nigeria stands the risk of missing out on the all-important aspect of development.
Speaking on the Gender Bills that failed during the 9th Assembly, Speaker Abbas said they would be reintroduce in the current 10th House.
He said: “…let me assure Nigerians, and particularly women, that the 10th House of Representatives will do everything possible within the legislative powers of the House to ensure women’s proper representation.
“I understand the frustration of women following the rejection of the Gender Bill in the 9th House of Representatives. That bill failed to pass because of the challenges of finding modalities for its success. But the 10th House will be revisiting the Bill as part of our Legislative Agenda, and we believe that working together with the women and stakeholders, we should be able to have a law that will benefit the women and all Nigerians and improve governance in Nigeria.”
The Speaker noted with concern that “with barely six years and just one more general election cycle before 2030 (when the SDGs should have been attained), Nigeria stands the risk of missing out on this all-important aspect of development.
“Nigeria’s lagging progress in political inclusion for women is not comforting. While many countries around the world have made significant strides in this area, Nigeria seems to be falling behind. It is even more embarrassing considering that other African societies, facing similar challenges and traditional practices, have managed to move ahead.
“Gender equality, especially the political inclusion of women, is a critical issue worldwide, and Nigeria is no exception. Despite progress made in recent years, very significant gender disparities persist in various aspects of our society. Women and girls still face challenges in accessing education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and political representation. Discriminatory cultural norms and practices, limited access to resources and decision-making processes, as well as violence against women, contribute to these inequalities.”
He said the United Nations recognised the need to address these problems when it introduced the Millennium Development Goals, which was later changed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls as fundamental aspects of sustainable development.
“While we have made commitments towards achieving the SDGs through various national policies and programmes, women and girls in Nigeria continue to face significant barriers to participating in decision-making processes across various sectors, including politics and the economy. This is in spite of their substantial numerical strength in the general population and as voters,” he said.
Speaker Abbas, however, commended both the last and the current administrations for laying a policy foundation by approving a new gender policy that would span 2021 to 2026, which sets new minimum standards expected to be attained by the Nigerian government in order to meet the mandate for gender equality, a policy which he said the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration has adopted and is implementing.
“It is gratifying that the new administration under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is making conscious efforts to align with the new gender policy, especially with the number of women appointed into the new Executive Council and it is hoped that future appointments will take further steps to expand the inclusion of women in the governance process.”
Speaker Abbas also lamented the low level of support given to women by the electorate during elections, pointing out that having 3.91 percent of 469 seats in the National Assembly occupied by women was nothing short of abysmal.
The Speaker called on the male gender to do more within their spheres of influence to enhance women’s participation in politics and governance, saying that since it is men who usually shut the doors, they should make efforts at opening them.
“What this means is that men must lead the drive for women’s inclusion in governance; after all, it is men who shut the door. They have to open it and allow the women to enter. This is the import of the growing awareness across the globe of the need for men to lead the charge for the expansion of the governance, political and development space for the greater accommodation of women.
“On our part as Members of the Legislature, the 10th House of Representatives set up a Legislative Agenda Committee, which has captured the issue of women prominently. The House will be looking forward to taking a position on the review of the Constitution and the electoral laws, with the possibility of increasing the number of seats in the legislature for women in subsequent elections.
“The legislature will work with the leaders of political parties to find a model, looking at other countries with high women’s representation, that will best suit the Nigerian political culture and ensure that women are properly represented in the legislature and other arms of government.