BY ADEBIYI ADEDAPO, Abuja
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has advocated the inclusion of provisions in the country’s constitution to guarantee a “more equal” society where both men and women could contribute to development.
He noted that doing so was the only way Nigeria could achieve the success it desired, adding that women in particular should be free to “pursue their highest aspirations and achieve their maximum potential.”
Gbajabiamila spoke in Abuja on Thursday at the opening of a two-day retreat on ‘Achieving Gender Equity in the Constitution Review Process.’
The event, an initiative of the Office of the Speaker and the House Committee on Women Affairs, was organised in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute.
The speaker stated that there was no better time to push for the protection of the rights of women than now that the National Assembly was reviewing the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.
Gbajabiamila explained that such practical steps must include giving girls and women more access to education, healthcare, commerce and participation in politics.
“To achieve such a society, we have to make sure that girls across the country have access to education and healthcare.
“We have to create opportunities for women to thrive in politics and commerce, and we must make sure that the laws of our land do not take away the rights of Nigerian women to participate fully in every sector of our national life”, he told the session.
The speaker asked participants to use the opportunity of the retreat to dissect the Electoral Act and the constitution to identify for excision, “any discriminatory provisions that might exist”, so that actions would be taken to “include provisions that guarantee a more equal society for all.”
He commended the timing of the retreat, coming at a period of increased awareness in the country that gender equity was no longer a women’s issue, but something that would guarantee peace and justice for all Nigerians.
Gbajabiamila assured women that the 9th House under his leadership would act on the recommendations of the retreat, as he told the organisers that he eagerly awaited the report.
The Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs, Rep. Onanuga Adewunmi Oriyomi, in her welcome address, said both the constitution and the Electoral Act needed “reengineering to reflect equity.”
She added, “This, among other things, is the crux of this retreat.
“It is my hope that this event inspires ideas and discussions around ways to improve gender integration mechanisms and systems that can be adopted into the amendment of both the Nigerian constitution and the Electoral Act.”
The Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs Pauline Tallen, observed that Nigeria, the ‘Giant of Africa’, appeared left behind in recognising and granting equal opportunities to women to participate in governance.
She cited the case of the 3.8% representation of women in all the legislative houses in Nigeria, which she said was not good enough.
The minister said the demand of women in Nigeria remained 35% representation in elective and appointive positions.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, and the Country Representative, UN Women, Comfort Lamtey, delivered goodwill messages at the occasion, supporting the call for gender equity in Nigeria.