According to a former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
The optimism and hope that heralded the coming on board of the Eighth National Assembly is fast eroding as the lawmakers have been largely disappointing in their duties.
It seems the modus operandi of the current National Assembly is to taunt, enslave, gauge and trample on the moral, financial, physical and ‘national’ rights of Nigerians that massively voted for them.
Over the time they have been in power, no meaningful bill has been passed that will benefit Nigerians, rather bills that will farther enrich them have scaled second readings and will be passed. Take for example, the motion to acquire vehicles for oversight duties which is different from the car allowances given to them. This even had the President Muhammadu Buhari in his maiden ‘Presidential Media Chat’ admitting that he wondered why they needed to buy over 400 new vehicles valued at over N4.7 Billion at a time the nation is facing cash crunch.
It will be recalled that ‘Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith Bill,’ otherwise known as the anti-social media bill had earlier put the lawmakers in the same ‘ring’ with Nigerians under the conclusion that many of them had been victims of false reportage, accusation, attacks on the Social Media.
This is the same Social Media the lawmakers embraced massively and used to promote their candidacy during the 2015 General Elections. Many of them signed up on Facebook, Twitter and employed young Nigerians to update, monitor these accounts. After getting into power, they turned around and decided to ban the use of these platforms. Thank God, it was shut down.
Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 is unequivocal in its provision that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions, and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.” Although the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki explained that senators were mindful of fundamental rights provisions in the constitution and would do nothing to contravene them
The crux of this write up has to do with the way our lawmakers especially the Senators have been treating our women. Just recently, a 42 year old Senator representing Kogi West constituency once equated Nigerian women as objects who should be bought. According to him, Nigerian should stop buying foreign made goods and patronise Naija made products where he said “We will also move in order to encourage the made in Nigeria products in Nigeria, begin to talk about Made in Nigeria women. “Apologies to my uncle, the governor of Edo state, we must as a people stop paying dowries in dollars and pounds. It is time for my colleagues here to become born again,” he said.
Another women issue came up again this week. During its plenary session on Tuesday, 15th of March, 2016, the Nigerian Senate rejected a bill titled “A Bill Seeking Gender Parity and Prohibition of Violence against Women” presented by Abiodun Olujimi, a senator from Ekiti state, which is designed to grant women the same marital rights as their husbands.
While explaining the content of her bill, Olujimi, who is the deputy minority whip of the Senate, said that it seeks equal rights for women in marriage, education and job. In her bill, she said that a widow would automatically become the custodian of children in the event of the death of her husband, and would also inherit his property.
Speaking in support of the bill, Ike Ekeremadu, deputy senate president, stated that countries develop where women are given equal opportunities. “Only last night, I was going through a document prepared by George Bush of America. Those countries that are doing well are those who give women opportunities.
“Where I come from, women don’t eat egg and are restricted from touching the non-essential parts of animal. But now that has changed.
“What is needed is time and education, not necessarily legislation. We will continue to encourage our women. I support this bill.”
A senator from Zamfara state, Sani Yerima, expressed aversion to the bill, arguing that it was in conflict with the Nigerian constitution, adding that the bill negates the principles of the Sharia law, which the constitutions regards.
Making his contribution to the debate, Ali Ndume, Senate leader, urged Nigerians to stick with either religious or traditional marriage, adding that crisis usually occurs when couples who had performed both traditional and religious marriage rites find themselves in the middle of a divorce.
“This law that is being amended is very important especially when there is a clear conflict when it comes to dealing with widows, inheritance, divorce, even marriage itself in our society.
“There are various traditions. The problem we have is the combination of our traditions and new religious beliefs. You will find an Igbo man who cannot speak Igbo language because he studied abroad. He will do traditional marriage then go to church again to get married in the church.
“The church wedding says if you marry, the couple become one while the Igbo tradition says when you marry a wife, she becomes your property. So when issues come up after the marriage, you now wonder which one to take.
“As for inheritance and divorce, in Islam, it is very clear how it is being done, but if you combine that with your tradition, you find out that women are being discriminated in a disadvantageous manner. There is a need for women who are involved in this advocacy to also engage in enlightenment.
“If you will marry, you will marry; either Christian or Muslim. I think this bill is timely and important and at the public hearing stage, we will look at this bill very well,” he said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki put the bill to a vote, to which the opposing senators shouted a thunderous ‘nay’, and subsequently had their way.
The bill was being read a second time when it was rejected. And what this simply means is that women will remain at the mercies of men – the good, bad and the ugly. And that is sad.
There have been ugly tales where widows are deprived of their late husbands’ inheritances that they also contributed too very largely, only for the relatives to come and pluck from where they didn’t sow. Poverty sets in, criminality creeps in and the nation suffers for it.
We pray for common sense be instilled in our lawmakers. Just as Margaret Thatcher once opined “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”