by Isi Esene
Former World Bank Vice President, Oby Ezekwesili has lent her voice to the growing number of Nigerians objection to the inability of the Senate to make amendments to Section 29 of the Nigerian Constitution which allows young girls to make decisions bothering on their nationality based on their marital status.
Ezekwesile who was also a member of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration reacted to the decision of the Senate to maintain the status quo on that particular section of the Constitution saying, “Contrary to its equality of persons preamble, the 1999 Constitution discriminates against the Nigerian woman. It was the inherent discrimination against women by the 1999 Constitution that Sen. Ahmed Sani Yerima exploited to reverse the deletion on second vote.”
According to her, the assertion of Senator Yerima that the deletion of the contentious section of the Constitution is against Islamic Law should be examined by credible scholars who speak with authority on the matter.
Ezekwesili said, “Senator Yerima said deletion was against Islamic laws. We need to seek out the voice of the Islamic Scholars who should know.”
She enjoined Nigerians to take a more active role in the process of governance by engaging the National Assembly in its duty of making laws favourable to the both genders and to all citizens in general.
“Women need to engage collectively with the National Assembly. I am gladly working with a number of our women leaders to do so. Our women must urgently get a crash course on the Constitution.
“[The] lack of ownership of the 1999 constitution by most of our citizens in turn bred wide lack of knowledge of its provisions. Unlike South African and Kenyan citizens who fully participated in their constitutional processes, Nigerian citizens hardly so,” she noted.
She went on to outline the lessons learnt and the suggested actions for citizens to understand their roles in a fledgling democracy.
She alluded to the fact that Senator Yerima, who championed the non-deletion of the section of the constitution used religion to sway his colleagues into towing his line of reasoning thereby garnering the needed support to maintain the status quo ante.
“By the time Sen. Yerima was through many of our Muslim senators that had earlier voted the deletion had changed their minds.
“With support from Sen. Goje, Sen. Yerima succeeded in forcing the hands of a reluctant Senate President, David Mark to revisit the votes. Sen. Yerima further cited Part I, item 61 of Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution to argue against DELETION of 29(4)(b).
“Senator Yerima quoted Sections 37 and 38 guaranteeing both the right to privacy and the freedom of religion. Following vote of many other recommendations, Senator Yerima rose to question the vote on the deletion of 29 (4) (b). At first voting of the recommendation to delete 29 (4) (b) the Senators overwhelmingly backed it with required 2/3 majority.
“We must give kudos to Ekweremadu Committee for recommending deletion of that noxious definition of ‘full age of a woman’. Now odious 29 (4) (b) that clearly injures the girl child “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of ‘full age’.
“29 (4) For d purposes of subsection (1) of this section. (a) ‘full age’ means the age of eighteen years and above.
“29.(1) Any citizen of Nigeria of full age who wishes to renounce his Nigerian citizenship shall make a declaration in the provided manner for the renunciation,” she noted.
Oby Ezekwesili went on to outline the injurious segments of the section raising objection to the Constitution referring to a woman as ‘him.’
“The 1999 Constitution uses the pronoun ‘he’ 235 times and the word ‘woman’ only twice in Sections 26 (2) (a)&29 (4) (b). As some clauses of the 1999 Constitution read, its architects were not the most girls/women friendly constitution makers,” she concluded.