The constitution has explicit provisions against inequality or bias, argues IKENNA EMEWU
It is just proper at this time of heated arguments to draw attention to what has been my concern over the rejection of the bill to allocate a certain quota of National Assembly (NASS), all legislatures, and political positions or appointments to our women in the ongoing constitution amendment.
That little concern is that we are discussing a constitution that has an express provision against inequality or bias against any citizen on grounds of sex, race or ethnic identity, or faith inclination.
This little concern of mine is that any amendment that makes provisions for special rights for women or men has invariably contradicted the same constitution that provides for equality until we first amend that clause on equality.
Section 15 and Section 42[a] and [b],  and  of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, prohibit and say a vehement ‘nay’ to discrimination on the basis of sex and ensure that men and women have equal rights. These rights and provisions are quite large and expressly encompassing.
So long as those clauses in our constitution remain intact, I doubt the efficacy of any infusion of special rights to a particular gender in the same document. It would be a serious contradiction in the same document.
And to amend those provisions on equality and non-biases of the constitution would have ripple effects as the interpretation would be stretched to any limit, far beyond just some exclusive rights based on gender. That would also introduce inequality and special favours in so many directions – political power rights, ethnic rights, economic rights, etc.
We also have other applicable laws in Nigeria such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that have grown since 1948 to a universal standard rule and also the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), already domesticated into municipal application all decreeing non-bias on reasons of sex and total equality of the sexes. Article 2 of the UHR is particularly against biases on sex or other considerations, just like Article 13 (1)(2)(3) of the ACHPR.
Regardless, there are areas such as the appointment of women based on the state of marriage that need to be looked into, no doubt. It has so many times ridiculed many states canvassing that a woman married in their state from another state won’t be appointed to a particular office. One of the downsides of that blind fixation is that it overlooks the basic truth that a woman from state A married in state B has children who are native to her state of marriage and whatever she earns in an appointment is what she would invest in raising her children to the benefit of her state of marriage.
For instance, she is dropped and a woman native to State A but married in State P is preferred, simply put, her earnings from her appointment in her state of origin would be invested in raising her children who are from her state of marriage. So who gains from this blind rule? A woman’s state or Local Government Area (LGA) of marriage should be fully hers unless she willingly opts out.
As per marriage to a Nigerian woman by a foreign husband and conferring citizenship on the husband, that should be the choice of the husband to drop his existing citizenship, especially as Nigeria does accept only qualified dual citizenship on certain grounds. And it would not work if the conditions don’t fall within the acceptable range.
Even a Russian or Canadian, Eritrean, or Swiss woman married to a Nigerian also exercises the right to choose Nigerian citizenship that would deny her of her existing citizenship, or not.
In the political parties, for instance, I am sure they are entrenched privileges to female candidates aspiring to elective positions.
Most of the parties exclude them from paying to obtain forms for expression of interest which the male counterparts pay.
But to elevate such privileges to constitutional rights introduces a different thing that would have unfathomable effects and rewrite a lot of balances into imbalances.
Let’s assume women in the next 20 years, by merit, exceed that number stipulated in the constitution, in the intended amendments, would it be fair to say that the “excess” number of women be dropped or stopped from contesting in order not to breach the provision of our constitution, having exceeded the constitutional provisions? Won’t that cause another problem?
I could not see if the Beijing Declaration of 1995 on affirmative action for women was adopted as a Convention of the UN and ratified by state parties. But I, however, saw that the 189 state parties of the UN adopted the agreement, which is good, but technically has some inherent disabilities in adoption or domestication at the municipal application, since it is just an agreement that does not carry the force of law and not declaratory of international law.
Yet, without the Beijing document, there are many conventions and local laws that provide for the equality of the sexes to rights and privileges without necessarily having them as special and exclusive rights of the women in the constitution of Nigeria.
Our problem has been the application or implementation and not the want of laws that guarantee equality of the sexes.
Today in Nigeria in non-elective positions such as the professional and public service areas, there are places that women now dominate. For instance, I am persuaded that in some states, there are more women judges than men. From the days of Governor Bola Tinubu in Lagos, I have a feeling Lagos has had more female high court judges and chief magistrates than men. Last year December, Lagos appointed nine female high court judges and five male counterparts. Coincidentally, there are two judges from my very little community of origin. Guess what? Both are women – one at the Court of Appeal and the other at the National Industrial Court (NIC) That is on merit, and we love it and celebrate them to the heavens.
Emewu, journalist, writes from Afri-China Media Centre, Lagos
It’s possible women will exceed the number and percentage we aim at today in political positions as the days roll.
But in other areas where women are statutorily unfavoured, there should be a change for balance and equity. The sense of natural justice and fairness support that totally.
Emewu, journalist, writes from Afri-China Media Centre, Lagos