SENATE President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila on Wednesday shunned women who gathered at the National Assembly to protest against the rejection of some gender-inclusive bills during the Constitution amendment vote.
The bills, including one which sought to create special seats for women in National Assembly and state houses of assembly, were rejected when the lawmakers voted on Tuesday.
The protesting women had demanded to meet with the presiding officers of the National Assembly over the rejected bills.
President, Women in Politics Forum Ebere Ifendu, who spoke on behalf of the protesters, described the situation as embarrassing and said members of the National Assembly who stood against the bills would be voted out.
“We are waiting for the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.
“They must come here to tell us how they are going to redress the wrong of yesterday. We asked for special seats, they didn’t give us. We are taking the seats back from them,” she said.
Though four senators, including Robert Ajayi Borroffice representing Ondo North, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Niger North and Nora Dadu’ut, Jos South, had been delegated by the Senate to address the protesters, the women insisted that the Senate President and Speaker must address them personally.
The delegates agreed to relate the women’s message to the presiding officers of the National Assembly.
Minority Leader of the Senate Eyinnaya Abaribe had earlier addressed the women, saying he had supported the concrete bills but was outvoted.
Hundreds of women had gathered for a protest against the rejection of the gender equality bills by the National Assembly.
The protesters, who are members of different women groups, described the rejection as disappointing and backward.
Speaking to journalists, Country Director, Action Aid Ene Obi said the rejection of the bills amounted to cutting off over 50 per cent of the nation’s population from the decision-making process.
“You are talking about leaving 50 per cent of your population behind. The fact that they could come out and vote massively against this law shows that we don’t have women in the House. There are very few women and these women cannot give us the votes. It is so disappointing,” she said.
Also expressing dissatisfaction, the National President of Business and Professional Women in Nigeria Yinka Ajibola, called for a total review of the bills.
“We are not asking for favours, we are asking for our right. We are calling for a total review. We are totally dissatisfied. Incidentally, women are more than 50 per cent, so why should we be treated as second class citizens?” she asked.
She described it as a stand against women and noted that they would continue to make demands until they are met.
Director of Programs Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu said legislators who voted against the bills did not believe in development and gender equality.
Mbamalu called for a list of voters.
“What we want is that they publish the records of votes. We can no longer afford to have a National Assembly made up of men that are not ready for development, democracy and freedom of all citizens.
“When it’s published we are going to start advocacy. We need to start making a demand on travel bans. Those who voted against these bills are obviously those who do not believe in democracy, equality and freedom. Nigeria has grown beyond that,” she said.
Some men were also present at the protest ground and joined the call for women’s inclusion in governance.
International Development Consultant Kemak Onyenaucheya described the decision by the legislators as troubling.
“To see our leaders at the National Assembly stifle a cause such as this calls a lot to question. It raises a lot of troubling thoughts and one is forced to ask: what is the agenda? Is this a deliberate attempt to stifle half the population?” he asked.
Sixty-eight bills were presented before the National Assembly on Tuesday. Five of the bills sought to promote women’s inclusion in governance and society.
All five were rejected.
The rejected bills include those which sought to grant citizenship to foreign-born husbands of Nigerian women, create special seats for women in the national and state assemblies and allocate 35 per cent of political appointments to women.