By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Josephine Agbonkhese, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Chris Onuoha & Omeiza Ajayi
LAGOS—Outrage overflowed, yesterday, against the Senate over its rejection of restructuring and renunciation of women’s rights with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, lamenting that his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, had betrayed its 2015 election promises.
While Ohaneze flayed the Senate for thwarting the popular move to restructure the country, the National Council of Women Societies, NCWS, gender groups and activists also flayed the Senate for suppressing the bid by women to express themselves in the polity. Condemnations came from among others, some female members of the House of Representatives, President of Women Arise, Dr. Joe Odumakin; leading lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN; national vice-president, Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani; President of Transition Monitoring Group, Dr. Abiola Afolabi-Akiyode; Executive Director, Women Law and Development Centre Nigeria, WLDCN, Dr. Keziah Awosika; deputChairman, Human and Environmental Developmental Agenda, HEDA, Olarenwaju Suraj; among others.
The condemnation of the Senate’s actions during Wednesday’s votes to alter the 1999 Constitution came as female members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, caused a riot in the chambers. The female legislators, fearing that their male colleagues were about to follow the lead of senators in voting against women rights and affirmative action, besieged the chair, holding down proceedings for about 10 minutes.
Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, presiding over the affairs of the Committee of the Whole for the first time since his election as speaker in 2015, had to be rescued by the whips and several male members who persuaded the female members to relent.
The dramatic showdown by the women was subsequently replaced minutes later with the hilarity of House members with near unanimity raising placards to support the proposal to reduce age qualification for elective offices. The bill had been seriously canvassed by the youth advocacy group, Not Too Young To Run, a group that had allegedly received the spirited support of Speaker Dogara.
Crucial moves for electoral reform and autonomy of the local governments advanced by the Senate were derailed by the House, yesterday, when members failed to get the 240 key votes needed to scrap State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs. The proposal garnered only 229 votes, yesterday.
The proposal for the separation of Office of the Attorney General of the Federation/State from the office of Minister/Commissioner of Justice also gathered only 234 votes, six votes short of the votes needed to alter the constitution.
Even more disappointing for some legislators was the failure by the House to muzzle the 280 votes needed to alter Section 9 of the Constitution that would have allowed the National Assembly to override vetoes of the president on constitution alteration. Members voted 248 for the proposal.
Our party has failed Nigerians — Atiku
Describing the Senate’s rejection of restructuring as saddening and shocking, Atiku said it was even more confounding coming from a Senate with an APC majority.
In a statement released by his media office in Abuja, “the Wazirin Adamawa decried the lost opportunity to honour one of the Party’s election promises to bring about change by shifting power closer to the people in the remotest regions of our country.”
He also tackled the party for reneging on one of the pivotal promises, restructuring, that made many Nigerians to key into its ‘change agenda,’ describing it as disingenuous.
According to him, “this blockage of the Bill by an APC-led Senate majority is a betrayal of our Party’s pre-election promises,” Atiku said. “It was an important vote, and I’m shocked by some so-called progressives’ visceral and cynical opposition to restructuring.”
Atiku decried the reluctance of democratically elected lawmakers to remove the insidious structural impediments to development, which decades of military rule had foisted upon the nation.
According to him, “instead of building the foundations for a true federation, a small group of so-called progressive Senators decided to stick with the new party line, pretending they didn’t know what restructuring was all about, and that even if they knew, it couldn’t be done.
“I think this is disingenuous. And I think it is a sad day for our Party. But I’m confident the APC will learn the right lesson from this self-inflicted defeat and remember the mission and mandate given to us by the people.”
The Waziri also expressed hope that Nigeria’s lawmakers would find the courage to stand by what is right, and not by what serves their vanities and political interests.
“Let me be clear: Restructuring is no panacea to all our nation’s problems. But devolving resources and responsibilities from an overbearing, unresponsive, and ineffective federal government to the states is the first step we must take if we are serious about putting our nation back on track, and our people back to work,” he said.
Wrong time for Constitution alteration – Ohanaeze
Atiku was joined by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group in lamenting the action of the Senate.
Ohanaeze said in a statement signed by its President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo that the National Assembly should have taken counsel by preparing the framework for a national conference to discuss the national question.
“The barrage of voices in this country lately shows clearly that majority of Nigerians are desirous of the country running a true federal system and one expected the NASS to have appreciated this in all their actions, especially in constitutional amendment.
The Ndigbo umbrella body advised the National Assembly that rather than go into constitutional amendment at this time that the mood of the country is tuned towards total restructuring, they should have concerned themselves with making the necessary legislative enactment to empower the convening of a national conference for real constitutional drafting.
According to Ohanaeze, “any action whether legislative or executive in this country today that is not programmed to respond to the yearnings of the populace will amount to excise in futility.”
Ohanaeze said it had expected the Senate after accepting to consider the 2014 Confab report put it into consideration before passing their constitutional amendment bills.
Women legislators, others protest
Meanwhile, women within and outside the National Assembly, yesterday, lamented the rejection of two key proposals on gender.
The proposal to provide women with 35% of all appointments at federal and state cabinets was rejected by the Senate on Wednesday. The move was passed by the House. Yesterday, but to no effect.
The proposal for married women to use their husband’s state of indigeneship for elected and appointed positions was, however, rejected by the House as it was in the Senate.
The rejection in the House was despite a repeat of the vote ordered by Speaker Dogara, following the malfunctioning of the electronic score board.
Members had voted the first time 216 for and 77 against votes with two abstentions.
However, the electronic scoreboard failed to register it leading to mutterings which increasingly led to a revolt with women marching down from their seats to the floor to confront Speaker Dogara.
Many of the women walked up and down the floor in front of the speaker demanding another vote.
After about 10 minutes, the Speaker listened to the women, saying that everything must be done to please “our mothers.” That was after the electronic board was checked by technicians.
In the subsequent vote, those in support scored 208 against the 78 nays, further demoralising the women.
‘Not too old to run scales through’
Joviality returned to the chambers as the speaker announced vote on the “Not too old to run” bill which scales down age qualifications for elective political offices.
Just before the vote, the Speaker explained to the members, the import of the bill, reminding the members that they could not afford to disappoint Nigerian youth.
He said: “This bill is in the interest of the youth which we must empower because if we empower them, we are empowering the future generation.”
As the speaker finished addressing members, the House erupted in excitement with a substantial number of the members chanting “Not too old to run,” many of them raising the placards of the advocacy group, #Not too Old To Run.
The proposal was carried by 261 votes as against 23 nays.
It’s unfortunate — Women Reps
Following the session, almost all the female members walked away from the chambers with sad looks.
Betty Appafi, (PDP Rivers State), refused to respond to some journalists who approached her for comments.
Nkiru Onyejiocha (PDP) representing Isikwuato/Umunneocha Federal Constituency, Abia State, said it was very disappointing that the gender themed bills failed.
“It is quite unfortunate that we are not looking forward. It is quite unfortunate. This is a bill that will not harm anybody. It is as if they were not born by women. As we speak, women are becoming presidents of countries that are even more liberated, more economically stable than ours. And here, we are talking about appointive positions.
“You can decide to represent your husband’s place. What’s the big deal? If somebody can leave Kaduna to come to Abia to marry and somebody can leave Abia to marry in Kaduna, why can’t the person represent the people based on the fact that she understands the culture of the people and represents them very well? It is quite unfortunate. It doesn’t make sense as far as I concerned.”
Nnenna Ukaeje, (PDP, Bende Federal Constituency, Abia State) expressing her disappointment said: “It is very disappointing. But it also spurs us on. We will continue making efforts until people realise that we do not have a truly representative democracy if all the aspects of our democracy are not represented.”
Now, we will take more than 35% representation — Dr.Laraba Shoda, National President, NCWS
Stating that many other countries, including Rwanda, have got in their constitution over 35% affirmative action for women, National President, National Council of Women Societies, NCWS, Dr.Laraba Shoda, said: “This is the time for us to come out, work in solidarity and ensure we take our place in government, even more than 35%. For this reason, we will corporate more than ever before to make sure this injustice is overwritten.
“We have the number like the Senate has said, and we also have women that are more qualified than many men. Let us all come out this time around, with one voice, and take whatever we want.”
Our legislators not in tune with global realities —Joe Odumakin
President, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Odumakin, in her reaction, said the current legislators have lost touch with reality.
“The rejection of the 35% affirmative action and 20% commissionership at states level for women is a clear reflection of the mindset of the average person occupying positions in our legislative chambers today. By this historically insensitive decision, our legislators have shown, that they are not in tune with global realities that encourage women empowerment and political participation.
“Sadly, we have seen that every promise made to Nigerian women can now best be described as deception, as there is no willingness to practicalise anything that seeks to empower the women,” she said.
Meanwhile, Odumakin called on womenfolk to use their numerical strength to seize power and aspire to all possible positions, to send a clear message to the male folk.
The Senate is Primitive — Sagay
Flaying the Senate’s decision, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, described the action as primitive and stone age behaviour.
Sagay said: “The Senators have demonstrated their hostilities to women and the best thing that can be said about them is that they have no regard for women. In our society, we cannot make progress without our women folk. In fact, if you notice, where there is equal opportunity, women even tend to do better. So, pulling them down as it is happening now will have devastating effects on our progress and development. I would say the Senate’s reaction to women is extremely primitive and stone age.”
It’s a wrong action—Ubani
Also speaking, Second Vice President of the NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani said: “It is not a good omen for our country even though I am of the opinion that women will find some of the things men do politically difficult. I am not supporting shooting down of the bill because it shows that the Senate is male dominated. It is not good for our country and democracy because I feel women should be given the chance to participate in politics. We have intelligent women all around, so, it was wrong to have denied them opportunities. What has happened shows that there is male chauvinism in the country.”
The fault lies with political parties -Dr. Keziah Awosika
Commending the House for, at least, throwing its weight behind 35% slots for women in appointive positions, Dr. Keziah Awosika, Executive Director, Women Law & Development Centre Nigeria, WLDCN, primarily blamed political parties for the poor number of women in elective positions.
“Our representation in governance is the fault of political parties; they do not put forward their women for elective positions. Women were only 12 in the 1999-2003 parliament, and this increased a little in 2007, but by 2011, it all disappeared. It is not as if women are not getting the votes. The problem is that at the party level, they are not being given a chance. Parties claim they should not pay for nomination forms but how can they get equal chances with men who paid millions for these forms? You can see the deceit is clear.
“The northerners have been encouraging their women at party levels, and that is why you see women like Hajia Aisha Jummai Alhassan almost winning governorship elections. I will urge other regions to take a clue from the northerners. A constitutional backing is not the only way out,” Awosika said.
Nigeria has been taken 100 years back -Josephine Effa-Chukwuma
On her part, women’s rights activist, Josephine Effa-Chukwuma, described the senate’s action as a huge setback, declaring that the nation has been taken 100 years back.
“It is indeed a shame that 20 years after Beijing and the numerous gains made in all spheres of women’s human rights in general, including their political engagement, we are now suffering a roll back. Women gained 64% of seats in the parliamentary elections in countries like Rwanda as far back as 2013. In Senegal too, they were given 43%. Meanwhile, we are still negotiating 35%,” she said.
We’ll ensure these Senators don’t return – Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi
Chairperson, Transition Monitoring Group, and Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, WARD-C, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, on her part, said the senators have only succeeded in showing their gross insensitivity to women issues.
“For that, we will ensure that they are not returned. They will know what women are made of; we will use our numbers to resist this injustice. Enough is enough,” she vowed.
Olanrewaju Suraj, a civil right activist and chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, HEDA on his part said: “For us, it is important that National Assembly respects the right of women. Constitutional amendments are not just another killer; it is the right of the people to enjoy equal freedom and also to promote gender equality.”
In his reaction, Francis Abayomi, executive director, Peace, and Development Project, PEDA said: “For me, I think it shows that we have a long way to go and it also shows the kind of leadership we have in the National Assembly. The people are not prepared to move with the global trend. People still go about with this patriarchal mentality that limits women. For us in the civil society, what happened, yesterday, calls for action. We have to take action to let our people in the National Assembly to appreciate the need for them to be gender sensitive.”
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