A bill to amend the 1999 constitution so as to create new legislative seats reserved for women scaled second reading in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejocha (PDP, Abia) and 85 others, was considered for second reading and passed.
A copy of the bill obtained by PREMIUM TIMES shows that the bill is proposing the creation of one additional senatorial seat in each state of the federation and Abuja. The seat would only be occupied by women. Currently, each Nigerian state has three senate seats while Abuja has one. While any eligible adult can contest for the senatorial seats, it has always been dominated by men with only eight of the current 109 senators being women.
The bill also seeks to create two new federal constituency seats in each state and Abuja that would be reserved for women. Nigeria currently has 360 federal constituency seats in the House of Representatives with only 13 of them currently occupied by women.
The bill intends to alter Sections 48, 49, 71, 77, 91 and 117 of the Nigerian Constitution.
The proposed Section 48 reads:
“48. Composition of the Senate
“(1) The Senate shall consist of:
“(a) three Senators from each State and one from the Federal Capital Territory; and
“(b) an additional Senator for each State and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be a woman.”
Also, the proposed Section 49 reads, “Composition of the House of Representatives
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of:
“(a) three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State; and
“(b) two additional members for each State and for the Federal Capital Territory, who shall be women.”
The bill also contains a proviso that women will still be allowed to contest for the existing seats.
Should the bill become law, the Nigerian Senate would have a minimum of 37 women while the House of Representatives would have a minimum of 74 women.
Furthermore, should the bill be passed into law, the State Houses of Assembly will also get three special seats per state exclusively for women.
In her lead debate, Ms Onyejocha argued that the current National Assembly has only 4.4 per cent of its population as women.
She added that the situation is worse in State Houses of Assembly.
“My respected colleagues, Women have only 4.4% per cent representation in the 9th National Assembly. You may wish to note that Nigeria has been identified as the worst performer in women representation in parliaments, in the West African region and one of the lowest in the whole of Africa.
“This is evidenced in the most recent Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranking of women in parliaments where Nigeria ranks 179 out of 187 Countries Worldwide. Eritrea is the only African Country ranked lower than Nigeria and this is because there have not been national elections since its independence in 1993.
“The situation is worse at the States Houses of Assembly level, where a good number of our states do not have a single woman in their State Assembly. In some of these states, men chair the Women Affairs Committee because there is no woman available to take the role.”
The bill was not debated by the House, and when the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, put the bill to vote, the “ayes” had it.
Although the latest bill appears to enjoy significant support among members of the House of Representatives, it still has a long way to go to become law.
Previous attempts to pass the 35 per cent affirmative action failed in the House. In the 8th Assembly, the constitution alteration bill to ensure 35 per cent of political offices were reserved for women was rejected by the National Assembly.
According to Section 9 (1,2) of the Nigerian Constitution, constitutional amendment bills must garner two-thirds support in both chambers of the National Assembly. Also, 24 of the 36 State Houses of Assembly must approve the amendment.
Therefore, the amendment proposed by Ms Onyejocha and 85 other lawmakers still has a long way to go to become law as it is yet to be debated in the Senate or taken to State Houses of Assembly for their votes before it will return to the National Assembly to determine if two-thirds of the federal lawmakers are in support.
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