PREMIUM TIMES investigations have shown that women are under represented at the ongoing national conference in Abuja.
There are roughly 78 women out of the 492 delegates attending the conference, which is less than 20 per cent, and far below the widely agitated 35 per cent affirmative action plan in Nigeria.
Data from the 2006 National population census shows that out of the country’s total population of over 140 million, over 71 million are male while over 69 million are female.
Also according to a United Nations world population report released in June, 2013, the total population of Nigeria is estimated to be about 173 million, with over 88 million males and over 85 million females.
These data suggest that the difference in the population of male and females in Nigeria is negligible; therefore the quest for increased participation in public forums by the women is tenable.
Already, women delegates at the national conference are beginning to feel sidelined by their male counterparts.
There is only one woman among the six principal officers of the conference, and only three among the 37 elder statesmen nominated by the presidency.
In the Federal Government’s list of nominees, there are only six women out of 20 delegates.
Despite being a requirement that one of three nominees from the states must be a woman, five states – Delta, Edo, Oyo, Rivers and Yobe – failed to include women among their delegates to the conference.
At the conference proper, when it became apparent that delegates could not agree on either consensus, two-third majority or 75 per cent voting procedure, the leadership of the conference decided to call out a list of 50 delegates whom it would meet with to decide on the matter.
Out of the fifty names, only six were women.
During the plenary session, almost every woman that spoke asked for women to be considered whenever decisions are taken.
There were indications last week that female delegates might be heading for showdown with their male counterparts over what they consider the incessant harassment of the Conference Secretary, Valerie-Janette Azinge.
Mrs. Azinge, her colleagues say, was constantly harassed and nearly all powers given to her under the proposed Rules of Proceedings were either amended or given to the Chairman of the Conference, Idris Kutigi.
During plenary on Monday, March 24, it took the intervention of Otu Duke, a delegate from Cross Rivers State, to stop an amendment which was proposed to transfer the power to append Mrs. Azinge’s signature on the Conference Hansard to Mr. Kutigi.
Mr. Duke had argued that it was the duty of the Secretary to produce a verbatim report of Conference proceedings to the plenary, adding that Mrs. Azinge should be allowed to sign the document.
“My Lord,” he said, “I move that the secretary of the Conference should sign the Hansard since it is her responsibility to produce the document.”
Earlier another delegate, Femi Okurounmu, had openly canvassed that the powers assigned to the Conference Secretary under the proposed Rules of Proceedings be transferred to the Chairman.
But the female delegates, who met shortly after Monday’s plenary sitting, expressed disappointment at the way the male-dominated Conference treated Mrs. Azinge.
The meeting, which was addressed by a former Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Anenih, took a decision to challenge any other attempt to sideline Mrs. Azinge by their male delegates.
Over 50 women, representing various interest groups and organisations, attended the meeting.
An authoritative source told PREMIUM TIMES that the women took a strong position to defend any cause that might affect them at the Conference.
The source, who was at the meeting but pleaded not to be named because she is not authorised to speak on the matter, explained that subsequently, female delegates would vehemently oppose any attempt by men to malign or sideline them.
She said, “We have decided to speak with one voice on any matter that we feel strongly about.”
Mrs. Anenih was also said to have cautioned her female colleagues not to oppose any matter they agree upon as a collective.
“We should not miss an opportunity to make meaningful impact at the Conference,” she was quoted as saying. “This is a golden opportunity God has given us. We cannot fail to use it to our advantage. When one person has spoken on an issue affecting us, no other person should speak against such matters. When they (men) realise that we are speaking with one voice, they will take us very seriously.”
The female delegates claimed that some of the objections that were raised against the Secretary were based on her sex.
“Are you telling me that if the Secretary was a man, they would have done what they did today?” one of the female delegates was quoted as asking.
They insisted that every effort should be made to lobby representatives of civil society and youth to support the position of the group whenever the need arises.
This post is supported by the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme, funded by DFID and managed by a consortium led by the British Council