It is noteworthy that this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8, that is today, will be marked against the background of blatant misogyny and retrogressive patriarchy at the 9th National Assembly of Nigeria. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Gender Equality for a Sustainable Tomorrow: Time to Break the Bias. Women play a significant role in every part of our lives – the family, climate change, agriculture, the economy and basic human relationships. In Nigeria, women constitute about 50% of the population, any form of discrimination against that substantial part of the population would amount to a reduction of the country’s capacity and an act of bias. Nigeria is a signatory to major international conventions and treaties on the Empowerment of women, including protocols to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, or the Gender Equality Strategy 2022 – 2025. It is a fact that Nigeria publicly endorses these protocols, but without understanding the import of the same commitments.
The other week, during the National Assembly’s review of clauses relating to women empowerment in Nigeria, the lawmakers rejected the bills that are meant to further promote inclusion with regard to gender rights. These include the right of women to have their foreign spouses become Nigerian citizen; a proposal for women to claim their husband’s states of origin as theirs after five years of marriage, 35 % affirmative action for women in political parties and in appointive positions in government. The original Bill proposed by Hon. Nkiruka Onyejocha representing Isikwuato/Umuaneochi Federal Constituency also asked that additional seats should be created for women at the National Assembly – 37 in the Senate and 74 in the House of Representatives and one additional seat exclusively for women in the State House of Assembly. The lawmakers didn’t think these were important proposals. Rather, they voted for the re-affirmation of patriarchy. Currently the National Assembly has 5% female representation. Out of the 109 members in the Senate, only seven are women. In the House of Representatives, there are 12 women out of 360 members. Nigeria has never had a female Governor except Mrs Virgy Etiaba who became Governor briefly only because the incumbent Governor, Peter Obi was once impeached in Anambra State.
Should anyone be surprised? This is the same National Assembly where a lawmaker once paraded his four wives, and introduced them to the Assembly one after the other, to prove the point that he is a very capable man. The same lawmaker would return later to announce the birth of his child No. 28 and how fertile and prolific his wives are. He demanded that his house should be declared a polling booth because by 2023, if he so wishes, he would have produced up to 30 children! Indeed, this is the same National Assembly where the lawmakers have consistently rejected any Bill that is against child marriages and the rights of the girl-child. In February, the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari and a retinue of women including the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, visited the National Assembly to lobby for a productive and progressive amendment in support of gender equality. The wife of the Vice President, Mrs Dolapo Osinbajo also followed suit, a day after. But the lawmakers could not be swayed. They do not think that there is a need to break any bias against women. Ironically, Nigerian women are often blamed for their own woes.
On March 2, Nigerian women stormed the National Assembly carrying placards in protest. Today, in commemoration of the International Women’s Day, they have further organized a one million women march in protest. They want to “Break the Constitutional Bias, and Break the Political Bias”. They have my support.