Nigeria and the entire world woke up to the news of the rejection of the bill by the Senate on ‘Gender Parity and Violence against Women’ introduced by Sen. Biodun Olujimi. Before I go into the reasons given for the rejection, it’s important to get a background of the bill. Gender Parity – An index used to measure the access to education of both males and females, this is central to the achievement of the MDG 3 gender equality and women’s empowerment through education. Prohibition of violence against women in private and public places . The senator said the bill seeks to promote equality, development and advancement of all persons in Nigeria especially women, the bill if passed will give women freedom of movement that has been hampered by social and cultural practices in some parts of the country, sexual abuse against elderly people, all forms of trafficking in women and children, medical experiment on women and children without their consent or guardians, equal rights for women in marriage, divorce and land ownership/inheritance and much more.
In response to the bill, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu supported the bill saying Nigeria would develop if women were given the same rights as men, Senate Majority leader Ali Ndume criticized it urging Nigerians to stick to either religious or traditional marriage while Senator Sani Yerima condemned it saying it was in conflict with the Nigerian constitution citing the Sharia law as his basis which is recognized by the constitution. It shouldn’t be a surprise why the bill was voted down.
I have often asked in a plural state like Nigeria, what law supersedes the other, for example we have the Nigerian constitution and the Sharia law. Article 10 of the constitution states “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion” this simply means Nigeria is a secular state. In 1999 twelve states adopted the Sharia law without the implementation of the Apostasy law (an offence committed when a Muslim leaves the Islamic faith or gets converted to another religion, the punishment is death). Article 38 “ Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief…” contravenes the Apostasy law and Nigeria is equally a convener and gave her accession on 29 July 1993 to Chapter IV of the Human Rights Treaty by the United Nations which states in Article 18 ‘’Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, this right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice…’’.
One of the senators cited religion as one of his reasons for rejecting the bill, I am a Christian and I’ll speak from that point of authority. My people are destroyed because of lack of knowledge – Hosea 4:6. The day I came across this information in the Bible I was stunned and wondering why it hasn’t been expounded upon since we are a very “religious” nation. I will summarize the chapter Numbers 27, the daughters of Zelophehad from the tribe of Joseph had lost their father in the wilderness and they had no brother brought up the case before Moses and asked a profound question “why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no sons? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers” this is what my people call Alu!!!. Just like what some senators felt, how can such bill even be mentioned, it was a taboo but Moses took their case to God and this is God’s response in vs 7-8 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. “Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter… In a conference I attended a Muslim scholar said a man asked the Prophet, who deserves the best respect and the lyrics of a song I love written by Yusuf Islam sums up the answer “Who should I give my love to, My respect and my honour to Who should I pay good mind to? After Allah And Rasulullah Comes your mother Who next? Your mother Who next? Your mother And then your father”. The repetition of the question and answers isn’t an error.
I have presented the two reasons cited for the rejection of the bill. So I ask what exactly are they against, empowerment of the women, violence against women, education or the well being of the widows. Nigeria is a secular state although there is freedom of religion which provides the ultimate source of a group’s identity and reason for their existence. In creating laws to govern the state the question should be, who are the laws made for, in the case of Nigeria we are talking of the female gender and a time comes when the fundamental human right of an individual needs to be considered first regardless of the gender . There is the need to separate the state from religion, granted religion has a public figure, we should be mindful of making state laws based solely on religion especially when the state is secular. The Apostasy law hasn’t been implemented because it contradicts the constitution of Nigeria, it goes to show not all religious laws are acceptable in all countries. Dear Senators with your recent actions, you have placed Nigeria as one of the countries against the development and empowerment of women, let’s not forget the “Chibok girls saga”, the many Ese Oruru’s out there. “The hand that rocks the cradle, is the hand that rules the world” if that hand is not protected what will become of that world?
Laods of Love
N/B : Alu is an Igbo word for taboo