In an unusual show of collective solidarity, Nigerian women stormed the National Assembly (NASS), recently, not just to protest over perceived injustices against them when bills that should have taken care of their needs including one on gender equality were thrown out by the lawmakers. In that emotional occupy NASS, they are demanding that the womenfolk be taken much more seriously in public and political affairs. The protesters were provoked enough by what they perceive as inconsideration on the part of the members to threaten to hold out at the legislative premises for as long as it takes them to get the lawmakers to grant their demands.
The women are angry and disappointed that the legislators played down the interests of women in the 68 constitutional amendments they recently deliberated on. Out of this lot, five were targeted at issues relating to the promotion of women participation in politics, governance and the society.
In particular, one of the bills sought to allocate 35 per cent of political positions based on appointments to women. Another sought to create special seats for women in National and state Assemblies. The women are also outraged that a bill that seeks to grant citizenship to foreign husbands of a Nigerian woman was rejected. In their indignation, they could not understand why a foreign wife of a Nigerian man is granted automatic citizenship while the same is denied the foreign man.
Before the lawmakers took a position on those amendments, the wife of the President, Hajia Aisha Buhari, had visited the National Assembly ostensibly to make a case for women. Her visit was perceived by most Nigerians as a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation and reverse things in favour of women. Apparently, in our considered view, that rare move by the First Lady was assumed to have been too little too late.
She was not the only woman of note to have made representations to the lawmakers on the issues under consideration. Some prominent women under the auspices of the Civil Society organisations (CSOs) had also tried to influence the law-making process. But as it seems, the effort was not persuasive enough. The women in the chambers of the Assembly were out-numbered and out-voted.
In their justified anger, the protesting women claim that the Ninth Assembly has reinforced the discrimination and political bias against women. They are, therefore, insisting that the lawmakers revisit the gender bills so as to give them a platform and opportunity to make their own contributions to governance.
As a newspaper, we are in sympathy with the plight of the women and will do all we can to assist them in their drive to get what they think they desire. In all fairness, some of their demands are reasonable and deserve the required legislative attention. But we disagree with the way they have pursued their goal so far.
We are perplexed that they have to wait until the process has been concluded before taking to the streets to complain about the shortfall in their expectations. That, in our view, was not proactive enough if, indeed, they are serious about making those bills part of the constitution.
Constitutional amendments in all climes are part of a complex political activity. Such exercises are often inundated with horse-trading and deliberate brinkmanship. To a large extent, interest groups engage the services of lobbyists who help in pursuing their arguments wherever they may lead.
We are persuaded by the position taken by the lawmakers and the attendant reaction by the women to posit that, perhaps, the women did not do their homework properly by not committing more time, energy and resources to matters of such importance and significance to their interests as a collective. There may have been a slack in their pursuit to the point of complacency or even assumption that the lawmakers will do the right thing.
We dare to conjecture that the lawmakers may have forgotten to do the right thing because there was no one close by to irritate them in an importuned manner to do what they were expected to do. It is axiomatic that power is not served while you wait. It is taken not given. What efforts did the women activists championing this protest make to bring the wives of the legislators into the fray? Knowing the power women wield over their husbands on dining tables and the bedrooms, those wives of legislators would have been persuasive lobbyists close enough to pester their spouses until they do the right thing whatever it is. The women should borrow a leaf from the not-too-young-to-run campaign. That effort became a success because it was concerted and sustained. The mobilisation was compelling and many bought into it.
Demanding that the NASS release the voting records of the constitution amendment bills is, in our opinion, shadow-chasing. However, it is yet not late for the women to change their strategy and have the humility to accept that they may not get all they ask for. We also urge the lawmakers to listen to the women and yield some ground.