Nigeria: Bill to Create Extra 74 Seats for Women in Parliament Passes Second Reading

The bill, among others, proposes to amend Sections 48 and 49 of the Constitution to provide one special seat reserved exclusively for women in the Senate and House of Representatives for each state of the federation and the FCT.

The House of Representatives passed for second reading a bill seeking to amend the constitution to create extra legislative seats for women in the National and State Assemblies on Tuesday.

The bill, jointly sponsored by the Deputy Speaker, Ben Kalu, and 12 others, was debated on the floor, with several members vehemently opposing it.

It proposes to create one senatorial seat and one House seat in each state and the FCT.

It seeks to amend Sections 48 and 49 of the Constitution to provide one special seat reserved exclusively for women in the Senate and House of Representatives for each state of the federation and the FCT, effective after the term of the current National Assembly and subject to review every 16 years.

Additionally, the bill seeks to amend Section 91 of the document to provide three special seats reserved exclusively for women in the Houses of Assembly of each state of the federation, which shall be spread across the three senatorial districts of each state.

The Debate

Leading the debate on behalf of his co-sponsors, Joshua Gana (PDP, Niger) said the House must address gender inequality in the governance space in Nigeria.

The legislator noted that the bill is "anchored on the fundamental principle of equitable representation and aims to empower women by ensuring their voices are not only heard but that they actively contribute to shaping the legislative landscape and the overall development of our nation."

He added that "the issue of gender equality and representation lies at the heart of our constitutional democracy."

Despite the argument by Mr Gana, the opposition against the bill was fierce among the members, many of whom argued that the proposed alteration offends the spirit of the Constitution.

Those in favour of the bill

Speaking in support of the bill, the Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), said the legislation seeks to cure obvious mischief in the polity, which is gender inequality.

Mr Chinda said Nigeria is ranked the least in terms of gender representation in Africa, noting that there is a need to address the gap through the proposed legislation.

"The question is - do we have any deficiency in women's representation? The answer is yes. Nigeria is deficient when it comes to women's representation. Nigeria is the least when it comes to women's representation. If that is the case, as a parliament, we must address the deficiency," he said.

He also dismissed the argument by some of his colleagues that the provision of the bill offends the spirit of the Constitution.

Ahmed Jaha (APC, Borno) urged his colleagues to allow the bill to scale the second reading and enable Nigerians to participate in determining the future of the bill.

Others who spoke in favour of the bill include the spokesperson of the House, Akin Rotimi (APC, Ekiti), Maidala Balami (PDP, Borno) and Chike Okafor (APC, Imo).

Opposition to the Bill

Ghali Tijani (NNPP, Kano) called for the outright rejection of the bill, stating that it offends the principle of the Constitution and has the potential to undermine political parties.

Mr Tijani argued that instead of creating extra seats, the National Assembly should consider bills on appointive positions.

"Accepting this bill is against democratic principles, and it is undermining human rights. This should be rejected. Of course, I can support women if there is a political provision for non-elective positions. If we continue on this path, we are undermining political parties," he said.

Also speaking against the bill, Juwonlo Alao-Akala (APC, Oyo) argued that the bill is going to promote inequality by treating women especially.

Mr Alao-Akala, a son of a former governor of Oyo State, Adebayo Alao-Akala, said he and his other colleagues got into the House based on merit; therefore, the argument of exclusion does not hold water.

"All of us came here on equality. All of us came here on a free and fair platform. We came here because we struggled to come. Our political parties.....some of us came here on merit. If you are saying that we should create extra seats, we are going against the constitution," he said.

Others who spoke against the bill include Billy Osawaru and Patrick Umoh.

While the debate was in progress, the presiding officer and main sponsor of the bill, Deputy Speaker Ben Kalu, said it should be stepped down until a day when he is not the one presiding.

"How I wish I were not the one presiding because there is no way I will rule that it would not be seen as biased. I think this bill should be stepped down. It is not being stepped down for the merit of it but to avoid the conflict of interest. The bill should be stepped down until the day I am not presiding," he said.

But before the deputy speaker could rule on it, Ahmed Satomi raised a point of order that since the debate has been on for a while, it would not be right to step the bill down.

Taking the opportunity of the support, Mr Kalu put the bill to a voice vote. The deputy speaker ruled in favour of those in favour of the bill even though those against it were mire.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Constitution Review, statutorily chaired by Mr Kalu.

Previous attempt at passage of the bill

A similar bill on the creation of extra legislative seats was introduced in the last Assembly, but the lawmakers rejected the bill.

It was one of the five gender bills introduced in that Assembly.

One of the bills sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women.

Another bill sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointment to women.

Following the rejection of the bills, women's groups barricaded the entrance of the National Assembly in protests at the time. The then leadership of the House had promised to revisit the bills but failed to do so till that House adjourned sine die.

Item in Legislative Agenda

The passage of this bill is one of the items on the legislative agenda of this current Assembly.

According to the document, the bill was to be introduced before the end of 2023. The lawmakers are already behind schedule.

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