Gender Bill: We’ll Continue To Push For 35% Affirmation Action – Hon Onuoha

Gender Bill: We’ll Continue To Push For 35% Affirmation Action – Hon Onuoha

Miriam Odinaka Onuoha represents Onuimo, Isiala Mbano/Okigwe Federal Constituency in Imo State. In this interview with AljazirahNigeria, she speaks on the constitutional amendment.

The proposed affirmative action in the amendment act could not scale through, how would you describe the exercise?

First of all, I will congratulate Nigerian women, the elite, market women, grassroots women and indeed all the women in the House of Representatives for championing a course, for actually playing a very important role in the constitutional amendment, the fifth alteration of the 1999 constitution.

 I want to also use the opportunity to thank the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who in his wisdom approved the inclusion of women into the committee. 13 of us were automatically adopted as special members of the ad-hoc committee for the review of the 1999 constitution. That in itself is a statement on the nature and the position of leadership to run a gender inclusive ninth Assembly.

I see that as putting the best foot forward. However, they said perception is everything and that itself gave us the strength to partake in this onerous task of putting issues that affect women in the front burner. We were involved in the drafting, debate, national tours, opinion polls, considerations, public hearings, considerations, adoptions, then voting. Yesterday (the day of the voting on the amendment) was voting on the key areas of the constitution which affected women.

What are your thoughts on the rejection of the proposed affirmative action?

 I would not say that I am happy or sad. I was not happy that a lot of the clauses that were crafted to increase women participation in politics failed. Some may view it that we lost a battle, but we actually won the war, because it is not over until it is over. I am already imagining how we can recreate and recraft miniature bills that will be acceptable to the generality of Nigerians and our colleagues. Politics, lawmaking and advancing the course of your interest is all about lobbying.

Some of your female colleagues are alleging sabotage and hatred against women? What do you think?

I am not making a defence for men, but most of them that I have confronted said they are scared of being driven out of the system. In a society where women are already prepared educationally, giving us constitutional backing will put them at a disadvantage.

How true is this fear?

I don’t see it as totally true because even in political party administration there is hardly any position or party organ without a woman leader, a deputy woman leader, zonal woman leader. Party treasurer, welfare officers are usually given to the womenfolk. It means that women are already attaining 35 percent affirmative action.

There are instances where you have women as treasurers, financial secretaries, publicity secretaries, so what we are trying to do is to legitimize it and put it in the constitution so that it becomes a template. There is no man who wants to marry a woman without bequeathing to her, his right of indigenship and if a man marries a woman and confers to her his right of citizenship why can it not be the other way round? In South Africa, most of the women live off foreigners who marry them because they want to acquire citizenship. Why will a Nigerian lady be married to a foreigner for years and yet the foreigner is still not regarded as a Nigerian?  

These are basic things that affect people like me and you. I don’t want to say that my colleagues are misinformed or are unaware of the times. We cannot be dreaming of using clean energy vehicles yet keep moving backward when it comes to advancement. Look at Kenya and many neighbouring countries, in Tanzania where their constitution is tailored towards gender inclusion and inclusiveness, no gender can have less than one/third of its sex in political participation.

What is the way forward?

What needs to be done is in phases, we need to represent this bills in clearer terms and do a lot of lobbying. You are aware that it is the section that talks about the minimum percentage of women in appointive capacity that managed to pull through, the rest was hysterically and vehemently opposed by majority of our male colleagues, who I will say were not well informed of the real intent and content of the Bills. Not every member of the House was a member of the Constitutional Review Committee.

I thought that women groups or women cluster in the House would organize a retreat with the full membership of the House and brief them again after we have done clause by clause considerations on the actual intent. There are a lot of myths on the special seat, for instance, some men would say who will give up his own seat and then we are talking about reducing the cost of governance forgetting that the more hands you bring in to do the job, you reduce the time being wasted. You add more value so it will be a case of balancing cost versus output which would have come from these women.

I want to use this opportunity to encourage Nigerian women, most of us defeated a lot of men to be here. I want this to be a stabilizing factor in the life of Nigerian women including the girl-child most of whom were present in the gallery, when their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers voted against their interest. Believe in your dreams and fight for your emancipation and integration. Nigeria is for all of us, we will continue to walk along our male counterpart. There is no competition in destiny, is it a crime to be a woman? In all intent and purpose, I have attained the full potential of a girl, a woman, a mother, a nation builder and now a contributor to the development of this nation.

So any girl or woman can grow to become who she wants to be with or without the passage of this amendment. But then we cannot be speaking from both sides of our mouth. On one hand, we are claiming that we have advanced as the giant of Africa, we have conquered our societal and communal norms, we are rated high among the comity of nations but little things that are part of performance indicators that foreign countries and development agencies use to measure your development are lagging behind. How do you rate our access to political offices, how can we have 13 women in a House with 360 members?

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35% AffirmationMiriam Odinaka Onuoha