Good, but… – The Nation

  • More female representation in law making is good, but it should not tear the tax-payers’ pocket

A bill being considered by the House of Representatives to reserve legislative seats for women is most welcome in intention, but the implications must be thoroughly worked out to suit the present Nigerian socio-economic context.

The green chamber of the National Assembly (NASS) last week processed through second reading the proposed law 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,’ and sponsored by Deputy Chief Whip Nkeiruka Onyejeocha and 85 other members.

The bill seeks, among others, to create a total of 111 seats in the national and state legislatures that will be reserved for women. The Senate currently has 109 seats constitutionally prescribed, with each of the 36 states having three members and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), one. The bill proposes creating an additional Senate seat reserved for women for each state and the FCT, translating to 37 extra seats and bringing total seats in the chamber to 146. The House of Representatives presently has 360 seats constitutionally prescribed, with the seats shared on the basis of the population size of each state. The proposed law seeks two additional seats reserved for women for each state and the FCT, making an additional 74 seats that will bring total House membership to 434. The bill equally seeks additional seats in respective state legislature to be reserved for women.

Considering the gross under-representation of women in the political space at the moment, the intention of this proposed law is germane and can’t be faulted. With a total registered voter population of some 84million persons, of which women constitute nearly half, Nigeria presently fields only seven females in the 109-member Senate and 20 females in the 360-member House of Reps. It is widely recognised that the political space as it currently works isn’t conducive to female participation and could do with special considerations to facilitate more intensive participation by women and promote gender balance.

Besides, many countries have adopted special considerations for women to encourage their participation. In Africa, 15 seats out of the 255 in the Tanzanian parliament are reserved for women. The Ugandan constitution prescribes a reserved woman parliamentary seat from each of the country’s 39 districts. In the parliament of Rwanda, a minimum of 30 percent of elected representatives in the 26-member Senate must be women, while the 80-member Chamber of Deputies has 24 of the seats reserved for women. Even in troubled Eritrea, 10 seats out of the 105 parliament seats are reserved for women. Outside of Africa, in the United Kingdom for instance, political parties are permitted to limit selection of their candidates in constituencies to a specific gender under the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, although only the Labour Party is known to have utilised that law.

So, there isn’t any challenge with the intention, but there is with the methodology outlined in the proposed bill. With the cost of the big government Nigeria presently runs already a huge burden, such that not a few have suggested eliminating one of the NASS chambers and adopting unicameral legislature among cost-saving options, the proposed bill seeks to expand the membership of legislatures by more than a hundred seats. Analysts calculated that this would translate to tax payers committing more than a billion naira more on monthly basis to fund the personnel expansion. We consider this totally unacceptable in the light of inadequate resources to fund the current budgetary level, which is driving government on an insatiable quest for loans.

By all means, legislative seats should be reserved for women. But these seats should be carved out of the present level of membership without additional costs to the already overstretched economy.

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