Friday, June 9, 2023

IWD’s #BreakingTheBias: Top five bills for women quashed by Senate, Reps

Nigeria’s first couple, President Muhammadu Buhari and Aisha Buhari, set the tone for an awkward commemoration of women’s day.

• March 8, 2022

Women made up 47 per cent of Nigeria’s registered 84 million voters in 2019. Today, they are grossly under-represented per political appointments or offices. Only seven women are legislators in the 109-member Nigerian Senate, and less than 20 women are in the 360-member House of Representatives.

Nigeria’s first couple, President Muhammadu Buhari and Aisha Buhari, set the tone for an awkward commemoration of women’s day. As the world celebrates International Women’s Day with the theme ‘Breaking The Bias’, the spotlight has again shifted to Nigerian legislators who shut down five separate bills seeking the inclusion of women in a male-dominated polity.

Does Buhari want women empowered or in ‘the other room’?

The pall of clouds of aspersion that Mr Buhari, a former military dictator, cast on his wife of many years, signposts the derision in which many Nigerian men, particularly politicians (recently, federal lawmakers) hold women.

Mr Buhari, before the whole world, reduced his wife, Nigeria’s first lady, Aisha, to a chore mistress who labours endlessly in the kitchen and as a sex object in “other room.”

“I don’t know which party my wife belongs to. But she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room,” Mr Buhari had stated disparagingly about Mrs Buhari in 2016 before the then-German leader Angela Merkel.

Mrs Buhari also has a measured disdain for Mr Buhari regarding the latter’s seeming misogynistic view of women. She has always lamented the plight of women under Mr Buhari’s regime.

Let there be no women

On March 1, the Senate and the House of Representatives voted on 68 bills in the long-overdue amendment of the 1999 Constitution, out of which five bills sought to increase representation for women in politics and society.

The Senate quashed all five bills despite intense lobbying from Nigeria’s first lady Aisha Buhari and the vice president’s wife, Dolapo Osinbajo, who attended the plenary session of the constitution amendment.

The Gazette compiled a list of the top five bills rejected by the federal legislators.

Bill to provide special seats for women at the national assembly

The bill sponsored by Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC-Abia) and titled Act to Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Provide for Special Seat for Women in the National and State Houses of Assembly; and for Related Matters’ failed to garner the required votes to be included in the amended constitution.

Although 30 senators voted in favour of the bill, they were outnumbered by 58 senators who voted against the bill. Eighty-one voted for the bill at the House of Representatives, while a whopping 208 members voted against it. The bill sought to add 111 seats to be occupied solely for women at both chambers through one additional seat at the Senate and two seats at the federal constituencies of each state. 

Bill seeking to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women

Presently, any foreign-born wife to a Nigerian man enjoys automatic citizenship, but the case is different for a Nigerian woman. Nigerian legislators have denied the womenfolk the same right. Foreign-born men who marry Nigerian women are still regarded as foreigners.

Bill seeking to grant women the right to become indigenes of their husbands’ states

After five years of marriage, a bill that sought to grant women the right to become legitimate indigenes of their husbands’ states was rejected by lawmakers.

Thirty-five per cent affirmative action in political parties administration

A bill seeking a 35 per cent quota for women’s inclusion in political parties administration did not secure the required votes by legislators who flippantly dismissed it. Responding to the bill, federal lawmaker Bamidele Salam (Osun PDP) implied that 35 per cent was too high and might be viewed as discrimination against the menfolk.

He asked that the percentage be reduced to 15 per cent to be considered.

“We may be able to reach a form of consensus on this floor on the need to ensure greater participation for our womenfolk without necessarily discriminating against the menfolk by reducing the percentage proposed in this clause from 35 to 15,” said Mr Salam.

Twenty per cent affirmative action in favour of women in ministerial appointments 

Although the bill was passed at the House of Representatives after securing two-thirds of the lawmakers’ voice vote, the Senate quashed it without much consideration. The bill would have ensured that the next president allots at least 10 of 44 ministerial seats to women if passed. 

Many have argued that the rejection was hinged on the religious and cultural beliefs of the male-dominated parliament, who believe that gender equality was anti-Islam.


The rejection has provoked a furore among the womenfolk who have vowed to stage “mother of all protests” on March 8 (International Women’s Day) to pressure the two chambers of parliament to reconsider the bills. The protest is set to hold across different states in the country.

Less than 24 hours after the rejection, several women groups occupied the national assembly complex chanting solidarity songs. The protest organisers demanded to speak with Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.

Reacting to the rejected bills, Mrs Osinbajo said the gender bill should not be viewed as “a favour” to the womenfolk.

“The demand was because we have capacity. We don’t believe it is a favour. We know we have the capacity, and this is not the end,” said a disappointed Mrs Osinbajo.

Meanwhile, women affairs minister Pauline Tallen described the rejection as “a show of shame” by men who have no regard for the womenfolk.

“It clearly shows that the men that were against the bill don’t have any respect for women, it’s clear. But I am not generalising, not all the men in the national assembly,” Ms Tallen pointed out.

The women affairs minister also hinted that the male-dominated parliament would receive the consequences of their actions at the 2023 polls.

“Other strategies have also been put in place, which I will not disclose now. But we are putting strategies towards the 2023 elections. And we know what to do by the grace of God,” she stressed.

Chioma Agwuegbo of TechHerNG, who organised a protest against the federal lawmakers on Wednesday, said it was disturbing the speed at which the legislators quashed the bill.

“They shut the bills down with a vehemence that scares us. The reason why women are out today and tomorrow and keep having this conversation is that women are not just good only for votes. You cannot lead us without us,” stated Ms Agwuegbo.

Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, co-convener of Womanifesto, vowed to keep occupying the NASS complex till legislators reconsider the gender bill. 

“The failure to address women issues through the gender bill shows that women are irrelevant. We reject further dehumanisation of Nigerian Women. The constitution should cure the defect, and we will continue to protest to show our dissatisfaction,” insisted Ms Akiyode-Afolabi.

She added, “We call on the Senate President and the Hon. Speaker to call an urgent meeting to discuss how to redress the wrong if not, we shall continue to occupy the NASS.”

Among the protesting groups are the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), Action Aid, Women In Business (WIMBIZ), Federation of Muslim Women Association (FOMWA), Women Organisation for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), Association of Women in the Arts (AWITA), Yiaga Africa, the Islamic Youth League, etc.


While many men in government would lavish praises on the womenfolk on International Women’s Day, the reality contradicts the accolades.

The alacrity with which the lawmakers halted the gender bill raised concerns about women being regarded as second-class citizens. For many decades, Nigerian women have defied misogyny to rise to the peak of their careers.

The likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO’s director-general, Ibukun Awosika, ex-First Bank’s chairwoman, the late Dora Akunyili (one-time information minister and ex-NAFDAC boss), who fought vehemently to eradicate counterfeit drugs and foods, and Oby Ezekwesili (ex-World Bank vice president for the African region and co-founder of Transparency International) are success stories of Nigerian women capable of running political and corporate offices at the highest level. 

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