Like every politician seeking to get into power, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari made numerous promises to Nigerians before the 2015 general elections. Part of those promises was that his administration would improve the state of gender equality and work towards the elimination of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in the country.
His administration, however, did not start out well on that front as the President appointed 34 men as part of his 40-member cabinet, leaving only 6 positions to women.
Buhari also gave a glimpse into his own view of gender issues when he rebuked his wife in public.
Speaking at a summit in 2016, while standing next to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Buhari said his wife “belonged in the kitchen, and the other room.”
Aisha Buhari had criticised some of the office appointments his administration had made.
The incident set the scene for how women could expect the next few years to go.
In March 2016, an opportunity to make ground presented itself in the form of a gender equality bill, which sought to “incorporate and enforce certain provisions of the United Nations Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, the protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of women in Africa and other matters.”
But the bill was rejected on the grounds that it was contrasting and conflicting the Sharia law which is in turn duly recognised by the Nigerian constitution.
The bill was presented two more times but was only able to make it to the second reading before it was brought to a halt for the same reason that it was opposed the very first time.
Figures published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2018 offer some insights on the state of SGBV some years into Buhari’s 8-year tenure.
The percentage of women (aged 15-49) who have experienced sexual violence increased from 7.4 per cent in 2013 to 9.1 per cent in 2018.
While 29.6 per cent of women in Nigeria (aged 15-49) experienced physical or sexual violence, the figure increased to 33.4 per cent by 2018.
“In Nigeria, about one out of three women (33.4 per cent) aged 15-49 have experienced physical or sexual violence in 2018 while it was 29.6 per cent in 2013,” the NBS says.
Similar figures showing increases in SGBV-related matters were recorded by the NBS with few of the decreases being in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
An advocacy brief by Spotlight Initiative also shows devastating figures. The figures on child brides for instance:
“Nigeria has the largest number of child brides in Africa (23 million girls and women married as children), and carries the third largest burden of child brides globally, after India(26.6M), and Bangladesh (3.9M).”
In the Northwest of the country where different terrorist groups operate, “almost one in two girls (46%) are married off by the age of 15.”
The country is also ranked 11th when it comes to teenage pregnancy, making it one of the highest in the world.
The under-representation of women in governance was sighted in the document as a fact that “exacerbates” the abysmal figures.
Even though he was highly criticised for his seemingly discriminatory appointments in 2015, he did nothing to remedy the situation when he was reelected in 2019 as only 7 out of the 43 names that he forwarded to the Senate for confirmation were women, making the percentage of his female ministers a meagre 16 per cent. This move drew condemnation from more than 150 women groups in the country at the time.
“This list maintains and reinforces the historical exclusion of women in the country,” a letter written to the senate by the groups read in part.
Few good things
The Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and the Child Rights Act (both signed into law by Buhari’s predecessor) saw significant action as it has currently been adopted by all 36 states of the federation (including the FCT), a major positive development achieved in Buhari’s time.
While the adoption of the act is undoubtedly a big feat, it is also important to note that it has also not seen much action on the implementation front, an aspect which is as important as the enactment of the law itself.
In 2022, HumAngle spoke to a gender-equality-based NGO that explained that the lack of implementation of the Act was caused by a lack of resources for their implementation.
“If we have enough of these things (Sexual Assault Referral Centres) across the country, women would feel empowered even if they leave their homes, they’ll know that they can go to such a place, they can learn a thing or two. They can have that income and money that is making them stay in abusive relationships and they can be able to move on with their lives,” Women Africa tells HumAngle.
The Child Rights Act (CRA) made for the protection of children’s rights faces similar problems as the VAPP Act, so even though it has seen implementation in 32 states of the country, implementation has remained a problem. In the same vein, the establishment of family courts in 17 states (which is supposed to foster the efficacy of the law) has had minimal impacts as the courts do not get the proper funding required for them to serve the people.
And so there are two laws, (praised for their thoroughness) in Nigeria which are currently not maximally serving the Nigerian people due to weak implementation and poor funding.
There are other thoughtful initiatives created under this administration that are not as productive and as helpful as they should be.
Another instance of this is the National Gender-Based Violence dashboard (set up by the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs with support from Spotlight Initiative) for reporting violence against women which has recorded 16,666 reported cases of GBV but has only recorded an underwhelming total of 230 convicted perpetrators.
The criticism surrounding Buhari’s seemingly discriminatory political appointments was long forgotten as other issues (chiefly security) which plagued his government overshadowed the treatment of women in his time.
But it would be brought into the fore again by a rejection which could best be interpreted as utter disdain for the rights of Nigerian women.
In 2022, five bills seeking gender equality presented to the House Of Representatives were rejected.
The bills sought the following rights for women: affirmative action for women in ministerial appointments, indegenship rights, the scope of citizenship, special seats for women, and affirmative action for women in political party administration.
The rejection of this bill sparked outrage from Nigerian women who again, took to the streets in protest, compelling the lower house to make a U-turn on its decision as it recalled 3 out of the 5 bills.
The three recalled bills include the bills seeking indigen-ship, citizenship, and 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
The 2023 elections were no improvement either as the number of female representatives further decreased.
The incoming administration of Ahmed Tinubu and Shettima has its work cut out for it:
In the area of appointments and political representation, it needs to, unlike its predecessor, lead by example by appointing more women.
It also needs to show and canvass support for the bills seeking equal rights for women.
Other powerful laws and thoughtful initiatives need to be spurred into maximum action through funding and monitoring so that in that way, a law like the VAPP act can actually reduce the horrendous SGBV figures emerging from the country and a law such as the CRA can help Nigeria move away from its position as the country with the 11th highest rate of child marriage in the world.
The government will also have to do more in the area of sensitization and public education; other government agencies such as the National Orientation Agency can also be rallied together towards the education of the general public, (especially those living in hard-to-reach areas) about existing laws that can fetch them justice in the event of abuse.
The incoming government also needs to strengthen SGBV desks in police stations (and other government parastatals across the country) to better assist victims who report to them, chief of the strengthening process being the reorientation of officials working under the desks as reports of Police officers urging victims to cease pursuing SGBV cases still abound.
In the same vein, the process of reporting cases of sexual violence needs to be reassessed to ensure that the sometimes rigorous processes do not dissuade victims from coming forward with reports of abuse.
More importantly, the incoming administration must ensure that the insecurity ravaging different parts of the country is brought to an end because not only are women more vulnerable to different crimes during conflicts, opportunities available to them, unequal as they already are, will shrink even further by virtue of the insecurity in their surroundings.
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