To be able to say, “Something good is coming from the stable of Nigeria’s political class,” and mean it is not something most Nigerians, myself included, would have thought possible. Particularly not in the current – to put it mildly – chaotic political clime. Something good is, however, coming. Specifically, from the South West Governors’ Forum.
The Governors from the southwest geopolitical zone in a document submitted to members of the National Assembly, have made proposals as part of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution that holds great potential to poster inclusion that could alter the course of the nation for good if approved and diligently executed.
In the document titled, ‘Proposals for the Review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended): Presentation by South-West Governors’ Forum’ and dated July 5, 2021, the governors sought amendments to the wordings of Section 14(4) in addition to other alterations that involves the conversion of the present six geopolitical zones into federating units.
Section 14 (4) presently reads, “The composition of the government of a state, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the federation.”
The version the Governors propose reads, “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, fair representation of individuals and groups and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of a particular gender and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
The political space in Nigeria has been in dire need of gender-focused inclusion from independence till date. Despite making up about 49% of the population. Despite the critical role that women like Chief Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and Hajia Gambo Sawaba among others played in shaping Nigeria into the republic it is now, Nigeria remains one of the countries with the lowest rates of female representation in parliament across Africa.
As it stands, women’s representation in the House of Representatives is 5.5% and 5.8% in the Senate according to UN Women. Globally, Nigeria ranks 181st out of 193 countries.
This is a critical problem that calls for drastic action not only because of its inherent unfairness but also because of the palpable and directly harmful consequences that lack of adequate female representation presents for Nigerian women.
Laws that have the potential to improve the lives of women and girls in the country like the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) (VAPP) Act among others, have historically faced blockade from the men-dominated upper and lower houses.
If approved, this proposed constitutional amendment will force critical inclusion of women, and the far-reaching economic, social, and cultural benefit for all – children, women as well as men – will be felt and seen in record time.
It now falls on all well-meaning Nigerians to push to see this particular amendment is achieved.