Constitution Amendments: Our Male Colleagues Stabbed Us On The Back..Hon Wunmi Onanuga

Chairman of the House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, Adewunmi Onanuga, in this interview with Punch speaks on the move against gender-related bills in the ongoing amendments to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly

What is the mood of women in the House of Representatives after the gender bills failed to scale through?

I cannot speak for anybody else; I can only speak for myself and the truth of the matter is that maybe it had a slight bearing on the way that I’m feeling. My mood reflects how I’m feeling and I want to believe that it is possible that it may reflect the feelings of other female legislators here. I am feeling a little blue, which is why I am wearing blue today (Thursday). I am feeling blue because you can imagine us having gone through so much and having been told not to worry, that some members could be relied on and then, you see how you get stabbed in the back. So, it happens. That is life. With that, we forge ahead. That is the kind of attitude that I have. But of course, you cannot help feeling a sense of disappointment and it showing on your face, in the way that you do things and react.

The margin in the votes for and against the gender bills was wide. Could it be that the women did not do enough lobbying in spite of the visits to the National Assembly by the First Lady and the Second Lady?

In situations where things like this happen, you would hear the fact that you did not do enough…‘If only you had done this much, you would probably have had a different outcome.’ It is like a couple having issues in their marriage and you say to the women, ‘You should have been patient. If only you were just a little bit more patient, you would have got him on your side.’ So, it is the same everywhere. If you want to do something and it does not turn out the way you wanted it, they would say to you that you should have explored some other avenues. Of course, we agree and we would take that on board. We cannot say we have done everything perfectly because nothing is perfect. For me, it is a learning curve – a painful and difficult learning curve. Yes, we probably or definitely did not explore all the options and we would, going forward, take all that on board, roll our sleeves up again and get on with it.

Is there any hope that you’ll be successful when you try again?

Definitely! We are not giving up. In 1928, the United Kingdom passed the Equal Franchise Act into law, and they had been on it since the 18th Century. So, if when they started (and failed) they gave up, they would not have had that success in 1928. More than a century of that has been celebrated…the right of women to vote (and be voted for) in the UK. Yes, we have a setback but that is all that it is; it is just a setback. We are going to come back, even stronger, and so some much more hard work. Come back, we will!

 Some lawmakers have blamed the failure of the bills on religious and cultural factors. What do you think actually went wrong?

It was not a case of men against women aside from the fact that I have a feeling that our men are afraid of women and the power that we possess. The truth is that any woman you have: check your children, if you have a male and a female child, if you saw the way the female child asserts herself, you would know that if she was given the opportunity to stand by herself, you may not need her to lean on you. So, a lot of women – all women I want to say – have this capability and capacity to multitask. We can do 10 things at the same time. Unfortunately, there are statistics to show that men are not wired that way. Men are wired like ‘I am doing this, let me finish it. When I finish this, I’ll go to the next one.’ So, it is possible that the men know that if they give more women the chance, they may find themselves in a position where the women would assert themselves on priority national issues and lead the way. I must give it to the men; they have some foresight in that respect and I want to believe that is what the problem was.

A lot of my colleagues sat around me and they were saying to me, ‘Why don’t you people just stay at home.’ For me, that meant ‘why did you go to school?’ ‘Why did you bother to serve your nation under the NYSC?’ ‘Why did you bother to get a (political party’s) nomination form?’ ‘Why did you bother to contest (an election)?’ ‘Why do you want to stand up for your people?’ ‘Why do you want to bother to make things different for your people, for generations to come?’ That, for me, was the question they were asking me. Even while the voting was going on, I got up and was trying to say to them, ‘This thing is not the way that you see it.’ I was trying to even read from the alteration bill to say, ‘This is what we mean; we are not asking you to give up your seats, we are saying let us try a temporary special measure for at least four Assemblies and see whether this thing works and whether it makes a difference in the life of the nation. And if after four Assemblies you do not think it has worked, then you expunge it. It is not a permanent provision in the Constitution; it is a temporary special measure.’ That is why I said to myself that maybe in certain situations, we did not explain that properly. Maybe the people did not understand what it was.

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So, I don’t think it was a problem of men against women; yes, religious and cultural. And yes, personally because when you say there is a religious and cultural side to it, people are individuals and God gave us the will to decide and be able to make a choice. So, even within the confines of somebody being religious and cultural laws, or the chauvinism or the patriarchal aspect of doing things, you have a personal will. There were some men who stood up and said the women are only 13 and it was not all of us who were on the floor of the House that day. But we had 81 votes. Where did that come from? It came from some men. Some men stood up and said ‘I am going to stand and be counted with this. I am going with the women because I feel it is a good law.’ I don’t think it has to do with men against women because some men voted for the bills and some (others) voted against them. It was a personal thing. It could have been influenced by religion, culture, chauvinism or whatever it is. But it was a personal decision at the end of the day.

The bill to create reserved legislative seats for women was sponsored by the Deputy Majority Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, and was co-sponsored by 85 others. Over a hundred signatures were also said to have been collected in support of the bill. What happened that it eventually got 81 votes?

I said it earlier that we were given the assurance that, ‘don’t worry, we are with you; we are going to support you. We have mothers, wives and daughters, so your bill is a good bill.’ Those were the things that we heard when we were going about, advocating for support. Yes, a lot of people put their names on the bill to say they were supporting it but on the floor of the House, it did not show that. That was why I said we felt we were stabbed in the back or…I don’t want to say betrayed or deceived but they all apply. It is just a pity that people would not be able to stand by their words. You don’t measure integrity by any other means; you measure integrity by the fact that ‘this is what I said and I am going to stand by it.’ I respect people who would come to me and say ‘I am sorry I cannot support you because my belief does not allow me to support you.’ So, I can determine how many people are with me and know that I don’t have enough (numbers). That is why a lot of people say politics is a dirty game. I don’t see any reason why they would come to an important issue like this and try and try to play politics with it. Integrity means different things to different people.

Women are protesting against the National Assembly over the rejection of these bills and they have gone as far as laying a siege to the main gate of the federal parliament. Do you support the call for the voting record to show those who voted for and against women?

It would even be difficult for us to determine those who voted for and against, because on the floor, while some people were lobbying others to say YES, those who said yes (but were not on their seats); some people went there and changed it to NO. While some said NO, some people went there (others’ seats) and changed it to YES. So, it might not be a determinant. Meanwhile, some people want their names to be published so that people would see that they said NO. For them, it is an affirmation to their religious or cultural belief and they would have a pat on their back and be told, ‘You did well. You did what our religion says should be done. You did what our culture believes in. So, you have done well.’ So, finding out those who voted for and against may not necessarily make that much difference because it is a person’s right to say yes or no


Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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