Recently, the House of Representatives introduced a Bill to improve gender equality within the Federal and State Legislative Houses by creating an additional 111 legislative seats. We examined the Bill, its practicality, and the impact on the cost of governance.
Issue-Brief | Rachel Ogidan
Gender equality has been correctly described as the cornerstone of inclusive growth, good governance, and sustainable development. Therefore, private and public institutions across various jurisdictions have adopted policies aimed at ensuring gender equality. Broadly, these policies can be categorised as affirmative actions and are targeted at ensuring an increase in the representation of women in areas where they are unrepresented, such as policymaking, governance, and education.
Despite recognising gender equality as an indispensable feature of democratic societies, the Nigerian political atmosphere reflects a failure to implement proper affirmative actions to ensure gender equality in policy and law-making. Even laws and policies, which seeks to ensure gender equality and preclude gender-based discrimination, are more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Only 4% of federal lawmakers in Nigeria are women, a total of 21 out of 469. The 9th Senate, comprised of 109 duly-elected senators, only has eight female senators, while the House of Representatives only has 13 women out of the elected 360 officials.
In an attempt to cure this abnormality, the House of Representatives introduced the Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Alteration) Bill, 2021 (The Bill) to improve gender equality within both legislative houses by increasing the number of legislative seats. This issue brief will concisely examine the Bill, its practicality, and its impact on the cost of governance.
What the Bill Says
The Bill titled, "A Bill for an Act to alter the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, to create additional special seats for women in the federal and states legislative houses; and for related matters", sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha the Bill has passed the second reading and has been referred to the Ad hoc committee on Constitution Review for further legislative action.
The composition of the legislative houses is regulated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic, 1999. Pursuant to section 48, the Senate comprises 109 senators, consisting of three from each State and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Likewise, Section 49 provides that the House of Representatives shall consist of 360 members based on the population size of each State. The Bill seeks to amend the above provisions to create 37 additional Senate seats, comprising of one for each state, including the FCT. The Bill also seeks to establish 74 additional, comprising of two seats at the House of Representatives for each State and the FCT; a total of 111 Federal legislative seats.
Similarly, the Bill seeks to amend sections 71, 99, and 117 on the composition of State Legislative Houses. Notably, the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, in the lead debate on the Bill, added that it is a temporary measure, which will be subject to review after four general election cycles of 16 years.
An Unorthodox Approach to Gender Equality
As mentioned earlier, gender equality is the cornerstone of good governance and is essential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030. Nonetheless, gender equality in governance remains a myth, and data indicates that women remain underrepresented across all levels of policy-making globally. Currently, only four countries have attained equality with 50% or more women in their parliaments, with Rwanda having the highest number at 61%. Conversely and alarmingly, there are over 25 states in which women account for less than 10% of their parliaments, with few countries having no women at all.
Nations have modeled their laws and gender policies using affirmative action to achieve gender equality. What originated as an instrument of racial equality has evolved as a viable tool to address inequality for all minority groups, including women. As a tool for ensuring gender equality, affirmative action for women is inextricably linked with Article 8 of the United Nations Charter and the Beijing Platform of Action (BPA).
The Bill may be correctly described as one of such moves to address the apparent inequality in the legislative houses. There are nonetheless significant problems arising, notably, the increased cost of governance.
An examination of the Appropriation Act, 2021 reflects a total expenditure of N13.588 trillion and total revenue of less than N8 trillion, thus resulting in a deficit of approximately N5.6 trillion, which is inherently reflective of fiscal irresponsibility. The cost of governance has become a source of concern with justifiable clamour by citizens for a reduction, as up to 43% of the country's population live in extreme poverty.
Despite the alarming poverty rate, Nigeria has some of the highest-paid legislators in the world, and approximately N128 billion was allocated from the 2021 National Budget for the legislative houses, in spite of the pandemic. In light of the above, the Bill, which seeks to create an additional 111 legislative seats, is expected to further spike the already alarming governance cost.
Additionally, the Bill, beyond increasing the cost of governance, is mere tokenism, as while there is a need for more female lawmakers, Nigeria does not need more lawmakers. The unorthodox approach in the Bill is inherently detrimental to the fight against gender inequality in governance.
In order to enhance gender parity within the Nigerian legislature and encourage more women's involvement in politics, the real long-term work should be addressed at political party structures. It is necessary for political parties to make recruiting and supporting female candidates a priority. If the political parties made gender parity an issue of significance within its ranks, more women will be involved in participatory politics, instead of the bare tokenism, this Bill proposes.
It is recommended that amendments are directed at laws that govern party organisation, encouraging gender consciousness in party leadership and administration.
Gender equality is indispensable to achieving sustainable development. Nonetheless, data reflects aggressive underrepresentation and discrimination against women in governance. While bridging this gap is crucial, strategies and policies made to bridge this gap must be well-considered, including the consideration of peculiar factors, in this instance, the increased cost of governance is too high a price to pay.
This issue brief was provided by
Rachel Ogidan | Research Analyst, Governance and Institutions | email@example.com
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