Deputy speaker Kalu’s Bill Seeking Reservation of Seat for Women in National, State Assemblies Passes Second Reading

House of Representatives,Tuesday, passed for second reading a bill seeking to alter the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (As Amended) and provide for seat reservations for women in the national assembly as well as the State houses of assembly.

Titled “A Bill For an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to Provide For Seat Reservation for Women in the National and State Houses of Assembly; and for Related Matters”, it is sponsored by the deputy speaker, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu who represents Bende Federal Constituency of Abia State. 

The co-sponsors of the bill included 

Hon. Tolani Shagaya, Hon. M. D. Hassan

Hon. Oriyomi A. Onanuga, Hon. Blessing Onuh, Hon. Joshua Audu Gana, Hon. Kama Nkemkanma, Hon. Chinwe Clara Nnabuife, Hon. Amobi Godwin Ogah, 

Hon. Khadija Bukar Ibrahim, Hon. Jonathan Gaza Gbefwi, Hon. Jafaru Gambo Leko and Hon. Francis Waive. 

Speaking on the general principle of the bill after moving the motion for the second reading of the bill on behalf of the lead sponsor, Kalu who presided over the plenary session, a co-sponsor, Hon. Joshua Gana from Niger State said when passed, it will enable the women to contribute their quota to national development. 

He said: “Today, I stand before this esteemed House to lead the debate on a pivotal constitutional alteration bill that is aimed at addressing a profound imbalance in our Legislative Houses—the underrepresentation of women in legislative houses at the national and sub-national levels.  

“This bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, specifically to provide for seat reservations for women in both the National and State Houses of Assembly.  It is anchored on the fundamental principle of equitable representation and aims to empower women by ensuring their voices are not only heard but that they actively contribute to shaping the legislative landscape and the overall development of our nation.

“The issue of gender equality and representation lies at the heart of our constitutional democracy.  Despite the constitutional guarantee of equal rights, the representation of women in our Legislative Houses has been alarmingly low.  In the 7th, 8th, and 9th Assemblies, women accounted for only 6.4%, 6.1%, and 2.7% of the Senate respectively; and 6.4%, 3.05%, and 4.7% of the House of Representatives respectively.  These statistics underscore the urgent need for proactive measures to ensure equitable representation and amplify the voices of women in our legislative houses at the national and sub-national levels.”

Advancing the rationale behind the reservation of legislative seat for women, Gana said that Nigeria is ranking low in women’s representation in parliament. 

“The rationale behind this amendment is grounded in the principles of fairness and inclusivity.  Globally, Nigeria lags behind in women’s representation in parliament, ranking among the lowest. Countries that have implemented affirmative action, like Rwanda and Andorra, have seen significant strides towards gender equality in governance. 

“This bill proposes a temporary measure of seat reservation for women to catalyse similar progress in Nigeria, ensuring that women’s perspectives and priorities are fully integrated into our national and sub-national decision-making processes”, he said. 

Ultimately, the bill is seeking to alter Sections 48 and 49 to provide for one special seat reserved exclusively for women in the Senate and House of Representatives for each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, effective after the term of the current National Assembly and subject to review every sixteen years. 

It is also seeking to alter Section 91 to provide for three special seats reserved exclusively for women in Houses of Assembly of each State of the Federation which shall be spread across the three senatorial districts of each State. 

The bill further proposed consequential amendments to sections 71, 77, and 117 of the Constitution to ultimately establish special constituencies reserved exclusively for women, ensuring their direct election into and participation in legislative houses and processes at both the federal and state levels.

The piece of legislation however received a robust debate by various lawmakers for and against, prompting the lead sponsor and deputy speaker to suggest stepping down until a day he will not be presiding. 

According to him, this will help to dismis issues of sentiment and biases as the presiding officer. 

But the subsequent lawmakers who spoke showed predilection for the passage of the bill for its second reading, saying failure to put the vote may signpost a bad precedent for any presiding officer who may also to sponsor a bill or motion in the parliament subsequently.

Subjected to a voice vote afterwards, the majority of the lawmakers gave their nod for the second reading of the bill, necessiting its passage. 

The bill was eventually referred to the House Committee on Constitutional Review for further legislative input.