Nigerian Women in National Assembly and the GEO Bill: Matters Arising!

July 26, 2019

Women are underrepresented in politics globally. African countries – Ethiopia, Rwanda and South Africa – continue to be deliberate about increasing the representation of women in politics. Unfortunately, Nigeria is far behind. Today, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female representation in parliament across Africa, and globally, it ranks 181st out of 193 countries according to the International Parliamentary Union. In the current Nigerian 9th National Assembly, women occupy 7 out of 109 Senate seats and only 11 out of 360 seats in the House of Representatives.

Globally, it has been recognized that inclusivity in political participation is a fundamental aspect of modern democracy. Improved representation of women has been shown to have benefits such as improved policy changes, economic growth, enhanced peace building and a more egalitarian society.

Out of the 109 Senators in the Red Chamber of the 9th National Assembly, only seven are women and, strangely, just one was elected from the entire 19 northern states of the federation that make up the North-West, North-Central and North-East geopolitical zones.

Interestingly, in the South-East, Anambra alone produced the only two female Senators for the entire region, while in the South-West, only one female Senator from Lagos State made it to the federal parliament.

The remaining three female Senators are from the South-South states of Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Rivers.

The National Assembly in 1999 had three (2.8 per cent) female Senators. In 2003, they were four (3.7 per cent). In 2007, the National Assembly had nine (8.3 per cent) female senators.

In 2011, the number declined to seven (6.4 per cent) while in 2015, the 8th National Assembly had the same number of seven (6.4 per cent) female Senators, a statistic that portrayed Nigeria as a gender insensitive country when it comes to political participation.

Also, not only has no woman been elected president, none has been elected vice president nor elected as governor in this 4th republic.

According to figures by the National Population Commission (NPC) and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria has a population of about 200 million people with approximately 51 per cent males and 49 per cent females. The population figures have, however, never turned in favour of women in elective positions.

In 2016, the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO) was sponsored by Abiodun Olujimi. The bill seeks to guarantee the rights of women to equal opportunities in employment; equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance; protects the rights of widows; guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and ensure the prohibition of violence towards women.

The gender divide in Nigeria’s political landscape is more of culture and religion rather than anything that has to do with women’s brains.

The GEO bill has been sitting in the Senate for the past 3 years! When will the nation see gender equality as a priority?