REPORT OF THE CIRDDOC/AWDF/V4C TRADITIONAL RULERS’ ROUNDTABLE
VENUE: BARCELONA HOTEL, WUSE II ABUJA.
DATE: 31st August 2016
On the 31st of August 2016, CIRDDOC with support of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) and Voices for Change (V4C) brought together traditional rulers for 13 states representing the six geopolitical zones in a roundtable to brief them on the recently promulgated VAPP Act that among other things banned some harmful traditional practices and the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill that seeks to remove discrimination against women in all aspects of life. The objective was also to seek their involvement and support in the campaign for the domestication of the VAPP Act at the state level and the passage of the GEO bill at the national and states levels.
An overview of the Act and GEO bill was presented and participants had the opportunity to comment on the Act and make suggestions for the strengthening of the GEO bill. Two short dramas titled “Like Flowing Waters” and “Volte Face” depicting male child preference, discrimination against women in education and lack of respect for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women were shown. Participants watched with rapt attention and made the following comments:
- The notion that a male child is more important than a female child was condemned and instances of female children taking care of their parents better than the male children were recounted.
- Women should be seen as partners and friends as they play a very important role in the lives of men. Besides, medically, it is not the fault of a woman that she is producing only female issues. No woman should be punished or maltreated for producing female children.
- Women should not be discriminated against and should be given equal opportunities with men in education, healthcare and political appointments.
- The dramas should be mass produced and circulated for public viewing as a tool for sensitizing the public against issues of violence against women and denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- The Royal fathers were urged by one of them to ensure that the report of this meeting is presented to the Traditional Rulers’ Council of their states and encouraged them to ensure that all colleagues are on board of the campaign.
- The participants expressed total support for the GEO bill because in their view, it will remove discrimination against women. It was noted that demanding for equal opportunities for men and women is easier to achieve than demanding for gender equality. Many of the participants pledged to use the power and influence they have to campaign for the GEO bill and the VAPP Act.
- Intensified advocacy using social media, fliers, posters, bill-boards, jingles should be used to reach the public, particularly those in the rural areas.
- Denial of inheritance rights is prevalent in the South East of Nigeria where women do not inherit especially in polygamous families, so advocacy on the issue should be focused. The Sharia provides for inheritance of women too.
On the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, the following comments were noted:
- The participants pledged support for the VAPP Act and undertook to engage their legislators and join the campaign towards the passage of the provisions of the Act in their respective states.
- The full version of the VAPP Act should be mass-produced and widely disseminated to guide people with implementation.
- In compliance with the VAPP Act, the Royal Fathers pledged to work towards the modification or abolition of harmful traditional practices in their domains. The VAPP Act banned all harmful traditional practices and specifically FGM and oppressive widowhood practices.
- Although the Osu caste system was not mentioned in the VAPP Act, it has long been banned in the South East. The VAPP Act prohibits forced isolation and the practice of isolation of a group of people under the guise of Osu has thereby been prohibited.
- Because the Act is applicable to Abuja FCT only, every state should domesticate the provisions in order to bring the provisions home to their states.
- State Houses of Assembly has the power to modify the VAPP Act in line with their peculiarities but a note of caution was sounded that the law is perfect the way it is; so any modification that derogates from the spirit of the Act will be unacceptable. The Act itself provides that if any law is inconsistent with the VAPP Act, the provisions of the Act will prevail.
On the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, the following comments were noted:
- In as much as the traditional rulers are expected to modify and abolish harmful traditional practices, there are some that may be difficult to change e.g. the cultural curfew banning women from coming out for 2 days or more because of the operation of masquerades.
- Copies of the full version of the GEO bill were given to participants and they were informed that the final amended version would be produced and shared with them as well.
- A thorough review of the bill should be done to ensure that the contentious sections are redrafted to accommodate the views of those who oppose the bill. For instance, the section on inheritance should be redrafted to exempt Muslims whose Sharia has taken care of inheritance for male and female. Also the subsection on widows holding on to property inherited from their late husbands in the event of remarriage and women retaining their maiden name after marriage should be reviewed.
- CDs of the dramas and the full version of the amended bill should be mass-produced, sent to the participants and widely disseminated so that people can campaign from an informed position.
- The report of this meeting should be shared with other members of the States’ Traditional Rulers’ Council at the first meeting after this event. Members should be urged to engage their representatives in the National Assembly and state houses of Assembly to support the GEO bill at the National level and in their states.
- The Royal fathers will, after consultations, consider setting up state and zonal traditional rulers’ network against violence which already exists in the South East and some parts of the South South zones of Nigeria.
- CIRDDOC was advised to develop a communication strategy for stakeholders to adopt and work with.
- Obnoxious and harmful traditional practices should be modified or abolished in the spirit of change and in compliance with the provisions of the VAPP Act.
- To share the report of this meeting with the states’ traditional rulers’ council on return home and before the National Traditional Rulers’ Council with the hope that they will come up with a document to send to the National Assembly in support of the bill.
- To invite CIRDDOC to show the dramas and address the Traditional Rulers’ Council meetings on the importance of VAPP Act and the GEO bill and the role they can play in the campaign.
- To assist with the dissemination of the documents in three major Nigerian languages.
- To support and campaign for the domestication of the VAPP Act in their respective states and the passage of the GEO bill as well as engage their representatives to support the bill.
- To modify and abolish harmful traditional practices in line with the provisions of the VAPP Act.
The Royal Fathers issued a communiqué in support of the passage of the GEO bill and the domestication of the VAPP Act at the state level.
The overall objective of this activity is advocacy for the implementation of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act in the states of the Federation of Nigeria and the passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill at the National and state levels. Traditional rulers are the custodians of culture and tradition and are the only ones able to modify or abolish them. It is immaterial whether or not there is a law banning the tradition because implementation of the law in the communities depends on them. It is on this basis that CIRDDOC with support from the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and Voices for Change (V4C) organized a roundtable with traditional rulers selected from the 6 geo political zones of the country. Furthermore, traditional rulers are influential and would be great allies in engaging legislators towards the passage of the GEO Bill which was recently rejected by the National Assembly.
The meeting started by 10.00am with a Christian opening prayer led by HRH Igwe M.C Okechukwu and the Muslim prayer led by Alhaji Sani Umar Jabbi. A brief introduction by traditional rulers present was done followed by opening remarks said by the Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Etim Okon Edet. He commended the Executive director of CIRDDOC for a job well done at the Tribunal on Violence Against Women and the GEO bill held the previous day and emphasised that traditional rulers have a pivotal role in ensuring that violence against women is prohibited in their various communities and that support for the passage of the GEO bill is secured.
In her welcome address, the Executive director of CIRDDOC, Mrs Oby Nwankwo stated the mission and vision of CIRDDOC which is primarily to protect and promote human rights most especially the rights of women and children. She went further to correct the misconception on the title of the “Gender and Equal Opportunities bill” which has been given several misinterpretations. She said that when people hear GEO bill they assume that it is advocating for men and women to be equal. She stated that men and women are different in the way God created them and so can never be equal. She said the GEO bill seeks to ensure that men, women and other vulnerable persons such as persons with disabilities are treated equally on a basis of non discrimination in all aspects of life in order to reach their full potentials.
She acknowledged the support for the roundtable by the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and Voices for Change (V4C). She informed the Royal fathers that the bill was thrown out by the Senate in March 2016 and in July 2016 the House of Representatives failed to pass it on the ground that some its provisions conflicted with the Constitution, religious principles and culture. She said that because of the influence the Royal Fathers wield over their subjects, as well as the respect traditional rulers command from the government, the who is who in our society and most, importantly our legislators, CIRDDOC is, through this meeting reaching out to them for a partnership, as new voices in this area. She acknowledged the role of traditional rulers as custodians of the culture.
She went further to say that the aim and objective of the Roundtable was to brief the traditional rulers on the content of the VAPP Act which, among other things, prohibits customary practices like FGM, oppressive widowhood practices etc. and to seek their collaboration in the advocacy for its domestication in their respective states. She pointed out that the VAPP Act has been passed at the National Assembly but is not applicable at the state level until it is domesticated at the state level.
Another objective of the meeting was to seek to form a partnership with traditional rulers as new voices that will join the campaign to ensure that the GEO bill passes into law and in respect to that, share the content with traditional rulers to give them an opportunity to comment on any of the sections that will hinder its passage. She emphasized the importance of a movement that will include traditional rulers from the six geopolitical zones to support women’s rights and reject violence against women. She informed them of the existing network of traditional rulers against violence in the South East and South South of Nigeria and encouraged other states councils to key into the network. The man objective of the network is to work together on modifying or eradicating traditional practices that are harmful especially to women. She concluded her welcome address by saying that the outcome of the meeting will be published and widely disseminated to take the message forward.
A short drama acted by Nollywood celebrities, titled “Like flowing Waters” was introduced and shown by one of them, Prince Uche Ndigwe. The drama depicted the stereotypic importance placed on a male child over a female child in the Nigerian society. At the end of the drama the following reactions ensued:
HRH. Alh. Ja’afar Imam abhorred the notion that male children are better than female children and narrated an incidence he mediated, where a man drove his wife out of the house because she could not give him a male child.
HRH. Alh. Sani Umar condemned the attitude of men towards female children because he is a witness to the fact that female children take better care of their parents than male children do. He said women are our friends and not our servants and they play an important role in the life of men; therefore they should not be denied access to quality education, healthcare and political appointments.
HRM Dr. Etim Edet asked if the movie is already in circulation for public view. He said there is a need for the public to be sensitized and the movie can serve as an important tool in sensitizing the masses to correct the stereotypic impression that male children are more important than their female counterpart. He advised that the drama should be mass produced in CDs and circulated for public viewing.
Oby Nwankwo replied by saying that the movie was produced specifically for the AWDF Program to push the GEO Bill. She responded that that the movie is not yet in circulation since she wanted them to see the movie first and then, subsequently the movie will be aired on AIT, NTA and other Media houses. She welcomed the suggestion of mass producing the CD of the dramas and circulating for public viewing and promised to mail copies to all the participants.
HRM Igwe M.C Okechukwu asked when a woman can not bear a male child, Is it the fault of the man or the woman. Participants unanimously agreed that scientifically it is the fault of the man.
In his contribution, HRH Mai Ya’u Muhammed urged traditional rulers and religious leaders present to pass on the information gathered at the meeting to their communities during their Council meetings and meetings with their subjects. He reiterated his firm belief that when you educate a woman you educate a nation. He urged CIRDDOC to organise forums to inform the ignorant and misinformed.
HRH Oba (Dr) Nak Akinyemi stated that he whole-heartedly supports the bill and would want to see it passed. He condemned the culture of people who prefer male children over female children. He said the culture is not predominant in the south west but often seen practiced in the south East. He however acknowledged the fact that in sending children to school, male children are preferred over female. He narrated how his wife, an Igbo woman and the first and only daughter of six children of her father was refused the privilege to manage the father’s business on the ground that she was a female. He said his wife had to work twice as hard as her brothers in order to gain the confidence of her father who later on reluctantly gave her his business to manage. He said when women are given the opportunity, most of the time they do better than their male counterparts. He concluded by saying that if the GEO bill is passed into law it will stop discrimination against female children.
HRM Oba Adeyemi Adediran suggested that sensitization must be conducted at the grass root level because harmful traditional practices are perpetrated at the local level or rural areas. He also suggested that social media should be used as a tool to sensitize and advocate for the GEO bill to be passed into law. He promised to use the power invested in him to stop discrimination against women.
HRH Oba Olatunde pointed out that the most fundamental issue to be addressed in the GEO bill is the issue of equal opportunities. He said that we are all born free and are also born into opportunities; so both male and female children should be given equal opportunities. He said that there is a need for proper advocacy and that traditional rulers need to be engaged because traditional rulers relate better with their subjects. Therefore, gaining the support of their people to pass the bill will not be an uphill task.
H.R.H Nwojiji Emmanuel spoke on the prevalence of discrimination against women and girls in his community, Ebonyi state. Laying emphasis on inheritance rights, he said women do not inherit anything especially in a polygamous family. He supported the passage of the GEO bill saying that he can do anything within his power to support it. He emphasized that there needs to be advocacy in the rural areas too, especially in Ebonyi state.
HRH Alhaji Sani Umar Jabbi said that the reason why people from different cultural backgrounds were invited was for everyone to contribute to the solution of the issue. He said that in the North, the Quran guides a man to marry four wives, and when he passes on, his property is divided amongst the four wives, and then a certain percentage will be given to his sons and daughters. According to him, women’s rights are important and thus he supports the passage of the GEO bill.
HRM Eze P.N. Okpanku applauded the organisation of the tribunal. He said bad things are subject to change and that is why the Christian religion plays a role in trying to eliminate some harmful traditional practices like the killing of twins. He advised that change should be supported and that he supports the passage of the GEO bill because it is changing something bad to good.
HRH Igwe Dr. Chris Ngene said that if the bill is focused on ensuring that every child gets what he or she deserves, then the GEO bill is worth supporting. He suggested that the bill should also try to prevent divorce on the grounds that a woman has no male child or the maltreatment of a woman who has no male child. He also suggested that what the stakeholders should advocate for is a system that creates opportunities for both male and female. He said the government should create an enabling environment for children to grow by providing free education instead of leaving it in the hands of individuals. He advised that women should not abuse opportunities given to them, but make good use of the opportunities to prove their competence and importance.
FIRST SESSION: UNDERSTANDING THE VAPP ACT
This session was facilitated by Barrister Anne Ikpeme who explained the provisions of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which was signed into law on the 25th of May 2015 by President Goodluck Jonathan. She stated that the aAct prohibits all forms of violence including physical, emotional and psychological violence, as well as discrimination against persons. She referred to the testimonies of some women at the tribunal the day before and how they have not been able to get redress in their cases because of lack of a legal framework to fall back on. She mentioned the innovative features of the Act, such as the expansion of the meaning of rape in the Act. Another feature of the Act is that male and female can be protected against rape. The punishment for rape according to the VAPP act is 20 years in prison. She also mentioned that the victims of rape or any form of violence is entitled to free medical care and their identities are also protected. She also mentioned that an attempt to commit the offense itself is already an offense. She also mentioned that the act also has provision for protection against political violence which is not covered in the Nigerian constitution or any other law.
She further mentioned that the reason for this sensitization on the VAPP Act at the tribunal and in this meeting is for the traditional leaders to join the advocacy for the adoption of the Act at the state level.
She also mentioned that the Act made provisions for victims such as counseling to allow them to become fully reintegrated in to the system without fear of stigmatisation. She went further to state the offences under the VAPP Act and the punishment accompanying such offences.
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
HRM Oba Nak Akinyemi asked what the Act says about a man who abandons his wife and children without any financial support. He also asked for the punishment for those who kidnap.
Bar. Ann Ikpeme replied that once the man can be located, he can be charged to court (in Abuja for now) and he will face the stipulated punishment in the VAPP Act for that particular offence. She went to say that kidnapping is a violent Act and the VAPP act can be used to prosecute offenders.
Udochi Ucheya asked what happens to those who discriminate against the Osu. Oby Nwankwo said that there is a law prohibiting discrimination against Osus. She said high courts are allowed by the Constitution and laws to uphold only cultures that are not repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. She also said that even though the court has ruled out Osu caste system, people are still skeptical and scared of mingling or marrying the so-called Osu. She said a lot of sensitisation is needed to change the mindset of people in that regard. She concluded by saying that under the VAPP Act it is an offence of Isolation and it attracts a fine of five hundred thousand naira.
HRH Oba Olatunde said the full version of the VAPP Act should be made available to the traditional rulers for reference purposes because the summarized version given to them does not serve the same purpose. He observed that some sections of the Act would be difficult to apply at the local communities. According to him, most of the sections In the VAPP Act favour women, irrespective of the fact that men also go through a lot of maltreatment from women. He said that such sections should be looked into to create a balance and if the Act is going to be implemented at the grass root level it is going to go through modification to suit the customs and tradition of the people.
Barr. Ann Ikpeame reiterated that the VAPP Act protects male and female without discrimination and the prescribed punishment applies to all offenders – male and female.
HRH Mai Ya’u Muhammed asked why the VAPP Act is only functional in Abuja and not at the state level. In response, Bar. Ann said that the VAPP Act is a National Law enacted by the National Assembly and it has to be domesticated at the state houses of assembly for it to be applicable at the state level.
HRH Igwe Nwojiji Emmanuel asked whether states have the authority to modify or remove some contents of the Act that is not in line with their customs and beliefs during domestication. Oby Nwankwo answered in the affirmative that it could be modified to suit their customs and tradition but that the Act is perfect the way it is. She urged the traditional rulers to accept the Act the way it is because it is for the betterment of their society.
HRM Dr. Etim Edet wanted to know the position if states pass a law before the National passes a similar law; wouldn’t there be a conflict (most especially when the bill has been modified to suit the customs and tradition of the state) he asked. Doesn’t the one passed at the National Assembly take precedence?
Oby Nwankwo explained that it depends on the legislative list in which the issue falls. She said that only the National Assembly has the power to legislate on all matters in the exclusive legislative list. The states can pass laws in the concurrent legislative list independent of the laws passed by the National Assembly on the same issues. But as regards issues such as women, children and violence that are neither in the exclusive nor concurrent list, any law passed on them by the National Assembly must be adopted by states Houses of Assembly for it to become applicable to the state. If it has to do with treaty ratification, the same applies and this is why the Child’s Rights Act, the VAPP Act and the GEO bill must be passed at the state level for their provisions to apply to the states. She went further to say that if for instance a different version of the GEO bill is passed into law at the National Assembly today it will not affect the GEO bill that has already been passed in the five States. She stated that if any of the provisions of the VAPP Act conflicts with the Penal Code or Criminal Code, the provisions of the VAPP Act would prevail, according to the Act.
HRH Alh. Sani Umar Jabbi pointed out that every state has its own peculiarities and that is why the State house of assembly has the power to domesticate the National law. He said the essence of the traditional rulers’ meeting is for them to study the law and play the role of actors in bridging the gap. He emphasised the need for traditional rulers to engage their legislators and ensure that the VAPP Act is domesticated at the state level.
HRM Oba Nak Akinyemi pledged that on getting back to his domain, he would work towards getting more support for the bill by relaying all that has been discussed at the meeting to the state traditional ruling council. He said he would inform CIRDDOC of the date of the traditional council meeting so that CIRDDOC team can attend and explain the contents of the Act to the members.
Basking on the pledge by the royal fathers, Oby Nwankwo took the liberty to inform Oba Nak Akinyemi that the GEO Bill is before the Lagos State house of assembly, being sponsored by Hon. Tejuosho. She encouraged the Oba to join in supporting the bill and speaking to Tejuosho so that it can be passed in Lagos state.
HRH Dagyang Dahoro appreciated CIRDDOC for organising the traditional rulers’ forum. He implored every traditional ruler in the room to write a report on this meeting and ensure that the report gets to the highest authority. Therefore, he requested that CIRDDOC provides the full version of the VAPP Act and the GEO bill so that it can also be presented to the authorities. He pointed out that there is a need to promote the Act and the bill on radio and TV stations and create fliers for disseminating and sensitising people on them. He acknowledged that all these require finance. He therefore called on CIRDDOC to provide financial support to enable traditional rulers carry out the function effectively.
The moderator, Prince Ralph Ndigwe pointed out that culture is dynamic but unfortunately the present day generation of traditional rulers does not quite believe in the dynamism of culture. He said that because patriarchy has continued to reign supreme in the land, the possibility of women being crowned as traditional rulers is still remote. He said that he firmly believes that some day we will see a woman occupying a strong traditional position.
The traditional rulers in the house opposed what he said by retorting “it is not possible”
Once again another short drama titled “Volte Face” was projected by Uche Ndigwe. The drama depicted the injustices and discrimination perpetrated against women and also showcased the benefits men and women will get if the GEO bill is passed into law.
THE GEO BILL
Oby Nwankwo gave a detailed explanation of the GEO Bill and the process of passing it to law. According to her, the bill will help the government in fulfilling its international obligation of ensuring human rights are protected and enforced within the country. She mentioned the international treaty CEDAW which Nigeria had ratified since 1985. She said no Nigerian woman would benefit from the provisions of CEDAW until it is passed into Nigerian law. She further stated that people complained that CEDAW is based on foreign culture, but the African Union has adopted our own home grown treaty, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and then in 2004 it adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. She said that at the time it was adopted, General Olusegun Obasanjo our then President, was the chairman of AU.
Taking the bill section by section, Oby Nwankwo explained the parts of the bill which needed explanation and discussion for general consensus. The bill, she explained is targeting not just individuals, but also organs of government, corporate bodies, ministries, companies and communities. The bill prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender, sex, disability and status. Any law that conflicts with it will be null and void while the law takes precedence. Companies, government and different bodies are to take measures to promote the development and advancement of women, young women and children. The bill accords every group of people equality before the law. She made reference to the sharia law which states clearly that there is no equality between men and women before the law. But the GEO bill states that every institution, community etc must place women and men equally before the law, and any rule that goes contrary to this, is discriminatory and should be expunged.
The section on temporary special measures, that is affirmative action, further stated that as a result of the fact that women have been relegated to the back ground for a while something drastic has to be done to close the gap and bring them on an equal standing. The bill suggests that 35 % of political seats should be reserved for women. According to her, the population of women in Nigeria is almost 50:50, as such if women are excluded or under represented, issues concerning half the population of Nigeria would be excluded from national discussions especially issues concerning women. She further stated that temporary special measures are usually temporary in nature, and would be discontinued when the objective is achieved.
The section on reproductive health of women says that organizations, communities, etc, must make sure that women’s maternity status and reproductive health must be protected. Government should be responsible for ensuring that women’s health is not put at risk because of the dangers involved in child bearing. Government should make sure that the adequate health facilities are put in place both at the national and local levels to reduce child and maternal mortality rate. Reproductive health also applies to men’s reproductive function and not just that of women. It implies that people should be able to have a satisfying sexual life. A woman should be able to say when she wants to have sexual intercourse or not. Men and women should also have access to safe and acceptable methods of family planning and should be equally informed about their reproductive health rights. They should have access to appropriate health care services that will enable them go through pregnancy and child birth safely. The bill gives the woman the right to decide when she wants to give birth and how many children she wants to give birth to. It also includes the rights to necessary information on health and reproductive health. The section states that both young men and women are entitled to reproductive health information and guidance. She mentioned that the bill gives individuals, corporate bodies, organisations, communities, leaders etc, the responsibilities to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women in the society. The section also talks about all the beliefs and customs that are based on the idea of inferiority or superiority of any of the sexes or the roles for men and women. There are also educational materials that depict discrimination and these should be changed in the educational system. There should be a balance between opportunities for the boy and the girl. Furthermore the section also makes emphasis on the importance of rearing children in the right way that depicts balance between the male and the female sexes. The bill also recognises the common responsibilities of men and women in the upbringing of the children.
The bill prohibits inhumane humiliation and degrading treatment of widows. According to Oby Nwankwo, this is one of the problematic sections of the bill. This section states that when a man dies, his wife should not be given humiliating treatment, the widow becomes the custodian and guardian of her children, unless it is not in the interest and welfare of the children. It also gives the widow the right to remarry the person of her choice or not remarry at all. She should also have an equitable share in the property of her husband. In the case of marriage, she can retain the house if she inherited the house. She pointed out that one of the reasons given by a legislator opposed to the bill is that a widow should not have a right to custody of her children on the death of her husband; any one can be custodian of the children. She stated that no matter how bad a wife has been, she is still the best person to take custodial care of the children unless she is incapable. The Royal fathers agreed that there is nothing wrong with the provision. One of them however raised the issue of property retention in the case of remarriage. He was of the view that if a widow remarries, she should vacate the property she inherited from her husband. Ms Nwankwo explained that reference to the house is specifically on property owned by the wife or inherited by her from her father or other sources.
The following sections dealt with men and women’s participation in voting and being elected in public office; non-discrimination in the field of education; equal opportunities for boys and girls to benefit from scholarships, bursaries and other study programs; non discrimination between men and women in the field of adult.
On employment, the bill provides that everybody should be paid for work of equal value and skill. She noted that in some places, men earn higher income than women. According to Oby Nwankwo, the GEO bill gives room for women to be entitled to both maternity and annual leave at the same time. The bill also states that in cases of employment there should be no form of discrimination because of a person’s marital or maternity status.
Oby Nwankwo also brought to the table a section of the bill that was removed as a result of opposition. The section refers to abortion and states that the abortion laws shall be expanded on four grounds: a woman should have the option to procure abortion on the ground of rape, incest, where the life and health of the woman is in danger and where the foetus is severely malformed. She called for a discussion of this particular section to seek their individual opinion.
The next section she addressed was non-discrimination on economic ground. The section makes provision for women to access credit or loans and mandates the to ensure that women have access to credit and loan. Another controversial section she highlighted was on the equal right of a woman to confer citizenship on her children and to retain her maiden name upon marriage. Accordingly, when married, a woman can choose to maintain her maiden name or to have a compound name that is the name of her father and the name of her husband. The woman should also have the right to confer citizenship to her child in cases where she is divorced or has a child out of marriage.
Ms. Nwankwo stated that for the first time the elderly has been provided for in a bill. The section makes provisions for elderly people who do not have anyone to take care of them. She called the attention of the Royal fathers to the section on Family relations, which emphasises the ability to make free choices in marriage, equal rights in marriage including the right irrespective of their marital status, of women to take part in decisions concerning their children. A woman should jointly contribute to safe guarding the children and providing for them. In all cases, however, the best interest of the child should be paramount. The woman’s right to choose when to have children or how to space children was highlighted. She informed them that the age of marriage in the bill is eighteen years (18) in line with the Childs’ Rights Act of the Federation. Finally the bill provides for the registration of all marriages.
She noted that the bill makes provision for offenses and punishment. The bill states that anyone that violates any provision, the punishment is one year imprisonment or a N50, 000 fine or both of them. When the offender is an institution, the Chief Executive will be responsible for the punishment.
Oby Nwankwo also mentioned that the bill made provision for a Gender and Equal Opportunities Commission to monitor the implementation of the law when passed, but some governors refused to sign the law on the ground that there will be no fund to run the commission. Therefore, the bill has been amended to move this responsibility to to National Human Rights Commission.
REACTIONS FROM THE GEO BILL
In his contribution the Oba of Lagos, HRM Oba (Dr) Nak Akinyemi said there is the existence of cultural curfew during certain periods, and during that period there is usually a ban on women from coming out for two or more days. He asked if the curfew is construed as impeding on the rights of women.
Oby Nwankwo responded by saying that even though it is cultural, the curfew infringes on the right of movement of women. Since it is meant for women only, then it could be perceived as discrimination. She however noted that there are more dire and serious situations where women are being discriminated against that the bill wants to address. She however urged the Royal fathers to consider modifying some of those practices that infringe on the rights of women and that do not add any value to society.
The moderator Ralph Ndigwe reiterated that when the GEO bill in Lagos state can be modified to suit their customs and traditions but emphasized that culture is dynamic and can be modified or changed in the course of time.
H.R.M Oba Olatunde of Ekiti State pointed out that it is important that traditional rulers have the copy of the GEO bill to study. He mentioned that some sections of the GEO bill contradict what the bill actually stands for, saying that those contentious sections are trying to make men and women equal, which is wrong. He suggested that a thorough review of the still needs to be done to look into those contentious sections before the bill is passed into a law.
HRM Dr. Etim Edet replied by saying since they have copies of the GEO bill, they should study it and point out those sections that do not go down well with them so that it can be addressed.
Oby Nwankwo went on to give clarification on the sections referred to by the Oba of Ekiti. He raised the issue of conflict of the bill with Sharia provisions on inheritance, pointing out that the Sharia has made progressive provisions on the sharing of property among children, including daughters and among wives and family members. He felt that the bill’s provision of equal shares is in conflict with the provisions of the Sharia. In her response, Ms. Nwankwo explained that the section on inheritance addresses “equitable share of inheritance with regards to women” and not “equal share” as presumed by Oba Olatunde. She explained that the provision on inheritance is not binding on everyone. Driving home her point, she said the sharia law already has a set down rule on equitable share of inheritance amongst males and females, therefore Muslims are not victims of that kind of discrimination the bill is trying to redress. She stated that in the southeastern part of Nigeria, traditionally, women do not inherit any property. Hence, that section of the bill takes care of them. She went further to hint that there is nothing wrong with the bill because if there was, Ekiti and four other states – Anambra, Imo, Plateau and Kogi would not have passed the bill. If those states could pass the bill, then the bill can very comfortably be passed at the National Assembly and in other states.
Oba Olatunde raised concern again over the section of the bill that allows a woman to keep a property she has inherited even on remarriage. He argued that it is wrong for her to hold on to her late husband’s properties when she remarries.
Alh. Ja’afar Imam gave a different perspective in regards to inheritance from the Islamic point of view. He said that under Islam when a husband dies, his estate is shared between the wives and the children of the late husband and if the woman was given a house as her share of the estate, she has every right to bring her new husband into the house and also to take the property to her new husband’s house when she remarries.
Oby Nwankwo said that this will be difficult to sell in the South East and promised that the section will be reconstructed to send the actual message across so that there will be no room for misconceptions or misunderstandings.
H.R.H Igwe Chris Ngene said he would want some of the sections in the bill to be dropped because they have no value. He referred to the section where a woman should have the right to either retain her maiden name or adopt her husband’s name. He also mentioned that the breaking of kola nut is not for everyone even amongst men so when women propose that they should be allowed to break kola nut that would be very difficult to achieve. He suggested that we should focus on the section of the bill that helps women to live up to their full potentials without tampering with the culture and tradition of the people. Ms Nwankwo explained again that issues such as breaking of kolanuts by women are not included in the bill because there are more serious issues of discrimination that the bill is addressing. She reminded the Royal fathers of the VAPP Act that has prohibited some of the obnoxious customs. She urged them to be open-minded and embrace the changes that come with civilization.
THIRD SESSION- INTERACTIVE SESSION ON THE GEO BILL, CULTURE AND CUSTOMS
Oby Nwankwo expressed the gratitude of the organisers of the Roundtable to the Royal fathers for their active participation in the Round table and the openness they exhibited in the discussions so far. She introduced the last session, which is the commitment session. She explained that the session provides an opportunity for participants to make concrete commitments on how to take the discussions in this meeting forward when they return to their domains. She stated that the objectives of the Roundtable is to get the Royal fathers involved in the campaign for the domestication of the VAPP Act and the passage of the GEO bill at the national level and in the states. She promised that the CDs of the movies they just watched and the full version of the VAPP Act will be sent to them as soon as they are ready.
Adding his voice, Prince Ralph Ndigwe made suggestions on the best way forward. He urged the traditional rulers who are representing the major traditional heads to ensure that they give a detailed report of this event on the first meeting of the traditional rulers council and encourage them to give their support to the domestication of the VAPP Act and the passage of the GEO bill in order to see that discrimination and violence against women is stopped.
He encouraged the traditional rulers to put up a strong voice in support of the above at the local government level and reach out to politicians representing them at all levels to support the bill and the VAPP Act. He said that politicians need to be briefed on the importance of the GEO bill, so that they will be good and informed advocates. He also urged the traditional rulers present to convince their fellow traditional rulers to engage their representatives in the legislature to give their full support because the bill and law concern members of their communities. Ralph Ndigwe also advised the traditional rulers to assist in making sure that the GEO bill is domesticated when eventually the law is passed at the national level.
Finally he informed them of the existence of the CENGOS traditional Rulers’ network which exists only in the South East and part of the South South zones. He encouraged them to start a similar version of the network of traditional rulers in their own zones. This will help the advocacy of the bill to be sustained. Participants stated that they will consider this after consultations since many of them are representing the overall Royal father.
Concrete Commitments by Participants
Mai Ya’u Muhammed in his contribution mentioned that traditional rulers and politicians are different and that they do not work as much as traditional rulers. However he said the traditional rulers would send information of this meeting to council and try to convince them that the network, the GEO bill and the VAPP Act are in the best interest of the communities. He asked that a report of the Roundtable should be shared with them and that advice should be given on how to set up the network although they need to consult with their traditional councils.
The Oba of Lagos HRM Oba (DR) Nak Akinyemi laid emphasis on the issue of finance for disseminating information and pledged to ensure that the information received at the meeting will definitely reach his traditional ruling council members. He said it is necessary to interpret the GEO bill and the VAPP Act in three major Nigerian languages – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba.
Oba Adeyemi Adediran from Osun state said that he will write a report which will be read by relevant stakeholders during their meetings, after which he will bring a feed back. He commended the intention concerning the passage of the GEO bill.
HRM Oba Olatunde from Ekiti suggested that qualified lawyers should be hired to fine-tune the sections of the bill which have been controversial, so that the House of assembly members will have no reason to throw it out. He also stated that with traditional rulers involved, it would be a shame if failure is recorded again in this bill. As such more effort should be put into making the bill a success. Furthermore, he emphasized the need for intensified advocacy. He said it was important to work out a communication strategy for all of them to adopt and work with.
HRM Dr. Etim appreciated CIRDDOC for being in the forefront of this campaign, working hard for the GEO bill to be passed to law. He advised his colleagues that obnoxious traditions should be eliminated in the spirit of change. He said there was need for intensified advocacy. He pledged to table the issues mentioned at the tribunal during the meeting of traditional rulers’ council of Nigeria and hopefully they in turn will come out with something concrete that will be taken to the national assembly.
The Communiqué committee read out the draft to the participants. A few adjustments were suggested by the participants after which it was adopted and signed by six traditional rulers representing the zones of the Federation. The communiqué is attached to the report as Appendix 1.
The meeting came to a close at 4.45pm after the vote of thanks and closing remarks by the Convener, Oby Nwankwo. She expressed the gratitude of CIRDDOC, AWDF and V4C to the Royal fathers for making out time from their busy schedule to attend the meeting. She stated that she is overwhelmed with the support and encouragement that the Royal fathers have offered to the campaign throughout the meeting. She urged them not to renege on the commitments they made to mobilize support of their colleagues for the campaign. She encouraged them to see the GEO bill as good for their mothers, wives and sister and ensure that it is passed into law. She wished them safe travels to their various destinations. Finally she expressed the gratitude of CIRDDOC to AWDF and V4C for their funding support to CIRDDOC for the campaign and for making the meeting possible.
Report prepared by
Ms. Ebere Odika
The traditional rulers agreed to issue the following communiqué, which was thoroughly considered and adopted. Representatives of the six geopolitical zones signed the communiqué.
Communiqué of the CIRDDOC/AWDF/V4C Traditional Rulers’ Roundtable Held on the 31st day of August 2016 at the Barcelona Hotel, Abuja
The Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) with support from the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) and Voices for Change (V4C) held a Traditional Rulers’ Roundtable on Violence against Women, Violence against Persons Prohibition Act (2015) and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill on the 31st of August 2016.
The Roundtable was attended by traditional rulers from the 6 Geopolitical Zones and 13 states – Cross Rivers, Lagos, Borno, Kano, Sokoto, Ekiti, Osun, Anambra, Enugu, Abia, Ebonyi, Niger and Plateau states. An overview of the VAPP Act and the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill was done to enable the traditional rulers to understand their contents and make their input to the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill.
The Roundtable was interactive in nature and participants expressed their views on the two documents and made recommendations towards the fine-tuning of the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill.
Given that the VAPP Act is applicable only to the Federal Capital Territory, and given the need to domesticate the Act at the state level to enable the provisions to apply to the states, the participants at the Roundtable urged their colleagues and other stakeholders to get involved in the campaign for the domestication of the VAPP Act in their jurisdictions.
At the close of the presentations and interactions, participants at the Roundtable, recognising the influence that traditional rulers wield in their communities resolved as follows:
- That the provisions of VAPP Act cover almost all forms of violence that plague Nigeria and therefore the urgent need for all the states to domesticate it.
- That they will support and work in partnership with CIRDDOC to ensure that the Act is domesticated in their jurisdictions.
- That the VAPP Act should be translated into major Nigerian languages and widely disseminated to enable citizens at all levels to understand the provisions.
- That they will work towards the modification of customs and traditions that are repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.
- That they support the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill with few modifications raised during the Roundtable.
- That advocacy plans should be developed for engaging state and national legislators and other relevant stakeholders towards the domestication of the VAPP Act and the passage of the GEO bill.
- That each participant should brief their Traditional Rulers’ Councils when they get back home and secure their support for the domestication of the VAPP Act and passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill in their states.
- That Government at all levels should strengthen the role of traditional rulers to enable them to perform their functions more effectively.
- That as part of strategies for the passage of the bill, social media, bill boards, radio jingles, should be used to sensitise Nigerians on the GEO bill and the VAPP Act.
- That NGOs working on this should collaborate with the National Orientation Agency for effective campaign for the domestication of the VAPP Act and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.
- That the participants should explore the possibility, after consultation, of the formation of the traditional rulers’ network against violence in their jurisdictions.