The House of Representatives Special Committee on Constitution Review on Tuesday adopted a bill seeking to create 111 extra-seats for women at the National Assembly.
The bill, sponsored by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia) and 119 members, seeks to alter sections 48, 49, 71,77,91, and 117 of the 1999 constitution by creating one senatorial seat and two federal constituencies in each state and FCT for women.
In addition, the bill seeks to amend section 91 of the 1999 Constitution by creating an additional 108 seats in the state houses of assembly for women.
With the adoption of the bill at the public hearing on Tuesday in Abuja, the committee will now recommend and present it before the House for consideration.
Meanwhile, the committee stepped down the 35 per cent affirmative action bill, which seeks to amend section 223 of the 1999 constitution to make it mandatory for all appointments to reserve 35 per cent for women.
The bill was stepped down after it was criticised by some members of the committee.
Uzoma Abonta (PDP, Abia), while reacting to the bill, said women will have to choose between 35 per cent affirmative action and more seats for women.
He said that 35 per cent should be left to be policies of political parties and not a constitutional matter.
“We have been battling with the rights of women, trying to accommodate women in the things we do. I make bold to say that the constitution is our ground norm. Tomorrow, women alone may want to form their party, and men alone may want to form their party. And in the National Assembly, we have agreed to special seats to cure the ills. If we say take the special seats or 35 per cent, which one will they choose? I think that the special seats should remain in the constitution,” Mr Abonta said.
“In every parliament, special seats should be done to balance the gender gap. In the political parties, it should be policies, and remain like hat so that we can have….otherwise, tomorrow, the youth might also come that they want 35 per cent affirmation. I should think that in choosing for them, let the special seats remain, let the other one be a policy thing for the political parties. In parliament, we ought to balance it.”
The Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, who is the chairman of the committee, also concurred with Mr Abonta, saying that it could work in other climes but not in Nigeria. He said the law will not be respected if passed by the lawmakers.
“Without sounding immodest, I want to beg so that we understand our various backgrounds. It is doable in some climes, but I want to tell you sincerely, it is not attainable everywhere. When you put it in the constitution that this ought to be done, you are making a law that cannot be respected. It is not just about women, what about the culture? When we allow parties to carry out the policy, it is better, even in Plateau State, it will be difficult.”
Following his submission, he ruled that the affirmative clause be stepped down for further consultation.
This is not the first time affirmative action will be suffering defeat in the National Assembly.
The bill was considered in the 8th Assembly, but was however rejected during the clause by clause consideration by the Committee of the Whole in the Senate.
Citizenship for foreigners married to Nigerian women
There was another victory for women at the public hearing on Tuesday, as the committee agreed with the amendment to ensure that foreigners married to Nigerian women can become citizens by registration.
Joy Ezeilo, one of the consultants working with the committee, while presenting the recommendation of the consultants to the lawmakers, said existing provision in the constitution is discriminatory against women.
She said the bill seeks to amend section26 (2a) of the 1999 constitution, by opening citizenship registration to male and female.
Mr Wase, while speaking on the bill, called for more clarification on the specifics regarding the bill.
According to him, even in Nigeria, there are differences in culture as regards the rights of spouses in Nigeria.
“Even within the context of our culture, I want to give an example of Idoma culture, you can only bury an Idoma woman in her homeland. In this age, we have a lot of attachment to our culture.”
He expressed concerns on the conferment of automatic citizenship on foreigners based on marriage. The deputy speaker argued that Nigerian citizenship should be guarded jealously.
Ms Ezeilo argued that citizenship is not automatic, noting that the bill seeks to replace “any woman” with “any person”, which according to her is discriminatory.
The Minority Leader also raised concerns on the bill. According to him, such a bill could confer rights to vote and be voted for by foreigners.
“What I was saying is– if we are going to agree to that provision, what about, for instance, somebody from Taraba State is married to a woman from Delta or Abia. Can that man from Taraba come down to Abia to contest? We should include it. If we are allowing the husband to come from abroad and claim citizenship, we should also allow any Nigerian man that is married outside a particular state, not even a constituency…”
Despite the concerns, the bill was adopted by the lawmakers.
Women absent at hearing
During the composition of the constitution review committee, Mr Gbajabiamila had announced that all the women in the House are to be automatic members of the committee.
However, while the conversation on the bill regarding women was on during the public hearing, only Aisha Dukku (APC, Gombe), Tolu Shadipe (APC, Osun), Boma Godhead (PDP, Rivers) and Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), were present.
Currently, there are 12 female lawmakers in the House, and all of them are members of the committee.