CIRDDOC/ AWDF/V4C NATIONAL TRIBUNAL ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, VAPP ACT AND GENDER AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES BILL ON THE 30th AUGUST 2016

AT THE BARCELONA HOTEL, ABUJA

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

On the 30th of August 2016, the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) with funding support from the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and Voices for Change (V4C) convened a one-day tribunal on Violence against Women, the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill at the Barcelona Hotel, Abuja FCT.

 

The opening session started with welcome remarks by the Executive Director of CIRDDOC, after which Goodwill remarks were received from development partners (NDI), CSO partners (WRAPA), Nollywood partners, political party representative, and Director of Women Affairs in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. A keynote address was delivered by Erelu Bisi Fayemi, former activist First Lady of Ekiti state. Two drama slots which were shot by known Nollywood faces specifically as a campaign tool for the passage of the GEO bill – “Like Flowing Waters” and “Volte Face” were shown to set the tone for discussions at the tribunal.

 

The tribunal was structured to hold three panels – Violence against Women, Violence against Women in Politics, the GEO Bill and VAPP Act. The Panel of Judges wrapped up the tribunal by delivering their verdict.

 

Panel 1 – Violence against Women

There were three testifiers on FGM, domestic violence, forceful seizure of property of late husband and oppressive widowhood practices. Panelists condemned the practices and endorsed the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill and the Violence against persons Act 2015 as the solution to these problems.

 

Key points of the Session

  1. Violence against women in all forms was condemned and The VAPP Act covers most of the forms of violence prevalent in Nigeria including harmful traditional practices, FGM and obnoxious widowhood practices and prohibits them, although it is not applicable outside the FCT.
  2. Police should be sensitised to use the VAPP Act to prosecute perpetrators of the violence where the Act applies and CSOs, and all stakeholders should intensify advocacy for the domestication of the VAPP Act.
  3. The need to pass the GEO Bill as a legal framework for the protection of women from discrimination was emphasised and a call was made to women to intensify advocacy for the passage of the bill.

 

Panel 2 – Violence against Women in Politics

There were three testifiers – from Cross River, Kano and Imo states detailing how they were short-changed, cheated out of the race and their political ambition killed because the society was not yet ready for women in high political offices.

 

The panellists condemned the way women political aspirants are maltreated and cheated by political parties, INEC and the public at large simply because they are women. They made recommendations on the way forward and pointed out the fact that for the first time, a national law, the VAPP Act, has made provisions prohibiting violence against persons in politics with accompanying punishment for perpetrators.

 

Key points of Panel 2 Session

  1. Political parties or top party members persuading women to step down for men during elections particularly during primaries was recognised as a violation of women’s rights to political participation.
  2. INEC was urged to ensure that political parties give women the same opportunities as men on the basis on no discrimination.
  3. Political parties were urged to implement the affirmative action provisions in their constitutions and manifestoes and expand the political space for women.
  4. Women endure all forms of violence in the field during campaigns, etc. including intimidation and this is covered by the VAPP Act.

 

Panel 3 – Addressing Concerns over the GEO Bill

This session addressed specifically the contentious issues in the GEO bill and the lessons to be taken from the 14 years struggle for the passage of the VAPP Act. Two religious leaders affirmed that the religious book, the bible frowns at discrimination and cited verses in the book that support equality of men and women. The Qur’an was said to have made provisions to protect women and give them a dignified life. A significant percentage of the GEO bill aligns with Islamic law. A woman inherits under Islam and she is not an item to be inherited. A traditional ruler stated that some aspects of the GEO bill are inconsistent with culture and tradition but those cultures can be modified to suit modern day needs.  Giving the youth perspective, a representative of a youth organisation assured the tribunal of the youth’s full support of the bill. Looking at the legal perspectives, a panellist stated that provisions of the GEO bill are targeted at one general objective: elimination of all legal and extra-legal barriers that have denied women full recognition and equal rights as productive and reproductive agents.

Key points of Panel 3 Session

  1. The provisions of the GEO bill are not inconsistent with scriptural provisions as the bible frowns at discrimination. But those that interpret scriptures do so out of selfishness, power play and patriarchy.
  2.  Islam has made comprehensive inheritance provisions for women so it is not against inheritance by women.
  3.  The GEO bill is inconsistent with some culture and tradition but those cultures can be modified to suit the modern day needs. There is need however to tread carefully and work with traditional rulers to modify traditional practices.
  4. The youth will use all the tools in their hands including social media to campaign for the passage of the GEO bill because it has several provisions that protect their rights.
  5. The GEO bill should be improved to remove provisions that have been covered in other laws.

 

Panel of Judges

Finally, the panel of judges delivered its verdict. Members of the Panel took turns to make their position known on violence against women as well as the GEO Bill.

Summary of the Verdict of the Panel of Judges

  1. The tribunal condemned violence against women in its entirety and commended the National Assembly for finally passing the VAPP bill into law in 2015 after so many years of advocacy.
  2. Stressing that the impact of the VAPP Act will not be felt across the country if its provisions do not extend its protection to women and girls at the state level, the Panel urged state legislatures to domesticate the Act in their various states.
  3. It welcomed the new partnership with traditional rulers (the custodian of culture) and Nollywood celebrities and encouraged them to join the crusade with full force to ensure that the GEO bill is passed into law and that the VAPP Act is domesticated at the state level.
  4. Recognising the role of the Royal Fathers as custodians of culture, the Panel, in line with the stand of HRM Dr. Etim, that although not all the provisions of the GEO Bill are consistent with culture, there is room to modify them to accommodate the new trends, encouraged traditional rulers to review customs and traditions in their jurisdictions with a view to incorporate the provisions of the VAPP Act prohibiting some of them and also modify or abolish harmful ones.
  5. The issue of women’s rights should be taken personally and seen as something that will benefit everyone, men, women boys and girls and not something that will take power from men and give to the women.
  6. The GEO bill is supporting the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil its international commitment of incorporating the provisions of treaties it has ratified into municipal law. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to explain to the legislators the importance of the GEO bill and the VAPP Act.
  7. NGOs and their partners are urged to use social media to popularise the GEO bill and the VAPP Act and their provisions to ensure that the public understands the provisions and what they seek to achieve.
  8. The tribunal urged INEC to live up to its responsibilities over political parties including the implementation of INEC gender policy and ensuring that women enjoy equal opportunities with men on the basis of non discrimination.
  9. The National Assembly should make the passage of the GEO Bill a top priority because of its importance to the men and women of this country. The State Houses of Assembly should ensure that the VAPP Act is domesticated so that men and women in the states will also benefit from its provisions.

 

The tribunal came to a close with a vote of thanks and closing remarks by the convener, Mrs. Oby Nwankwo.

 

Follow Up:

  • The Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN) that attended the tribunal has indicated interest in assisting the children of the widow from Kaduna state to get back to school and see them through school.
  • CIRDDOC will assist the widow to leave the village and return to the city through payment for an accommodation for her in Kaduna for two years and the provision of legal aid to her to mediate in her problem with her in-laws. Legal aid will also be provided to the victim of domestic violence and widowhood practices from Anambra state.
  • CIRDDOC will intensify sensitisation on the harmful effect of FGM on the victims in Ebonyi state where the practice is still prevalent. Discussions are on with the victim who testified at the tribunal to explore ways of assisting her.
  • Advocacy to INEC on exercising its supervisory powers over political parties to ensure that women are not discriminated against especially through forcing them to step down for male candidates.
  • The case of domestic violence will be further investigated to bring to book the culprits and ensure that the father of the kids provide for them adequately even if he no longer wants to be married to the testifier.
  • The widow whose land was taken from her has been invited to bring all the documents to enable the legal team look into the matter towards recovering the land.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is the CEDAW and African Union Protocol domestication bill. In March and July 2016 the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the House of Representatives respectively failed to pass the bill which had been pending before them for several years. Women’s rights activists, development partners and other stakeholders are rallying round the bill in different ways to ensure that it is eventually passed into law to provide a legal framework for the protection of women from violence and discrimination. In the same vein, the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, which was passed into law in 2015 is applicable only to the FCT thereby excluding millions of women and girls resident in the 36 states of the Federation.

In furtherance of its advocacy for the domestication of CEDAW and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women, CIRDDOC is adopting tribunals as a strategy to bring issues of violations and discrimination, which the bill seeks to redress in the front burner of public discourse.  It is also aimed at clarifying the misconceptions around the bill that led to its rejection in both houses of the National Assembly earlier in the year. Finally, it seeks to advocate for the domestication of the VAPP Act at the state level.

 

OPENING SESSION

The Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC), with support from the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) and V4C, held a National Tribunal on Violence against Women, the VAPP Act and the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill (GEO) on the 30th of August at the Barcelona Hotel, Abuja. The tribunal started 9:15am with the arrival of important personalities, participants and guests from different facets of life to grace the event. Personalities present included Traditional Rulers representing the six (6) Geo political zones, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Press and Media team, Nollywood icons, Politicians, political party leaders, development partners, representatives of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) Women’s wing, testifiers etc.

 

The event moderator Mrs Stella Odiase acknowledged the presence of everyone and gave a little insight into the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act and the Gender Equal Opportunities (GEO) bill in order to motivate the interest of participants. She went ahead and invited Nigeria’s expert to the UN Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Executive Director of (CIDDOC) Ms. Theodora Oby Nwankwo to present her welcome remarks.

The Executive Director, with great pleasure recognised the presence of our Royal Fathers, the chief guest of honour and former activist First Lady of Ekiti State Erelu Bisi Fayemi, political party Leaders, Nollywood partners, testifiers, media representatives, Civil Society activists and participants present at the tribunal. In her remarks, she highlighted the mission of Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) as an independent non-governmental organisation that is committed to promoting and protecting human rights and women’s rights, gender equality, good governance and access to justice through campaigns and empowerment in Nigeria. Also, she applauded the effort and support of the Affirmative Action Initiative for Women (NCAA) that is championing the campaign for the passage of Gender Equal Opportunity (GEO) Bill and the African Women Development Fund (AWDF) a grant making foundation, working tirelessly towards the empowerment of African women and the promotion and realisation of their rights.

Ms. Oby said that the objective of the tribunal was to highlight incidences of violence against women and harmful traditional practices that limit women’s enjoyment of human rights, seek support for the domestication of the Violence Against Person’s Prohibition (VAPP) Act at state level and the passage of the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill which seeks to address aspects of the testimonies that will be presented by victims/testifiers. She therefore called for everyone’s support to achieve this goal.

The Event Moderator, Stella Odiase gave room for respected personalities, international and national NGOs such National Democratic Institute (NDI), WRAPA, Ministry of Women Affairs and Nollywood actors to render good will messages as a way of motivating participants.

Hajia Saudatu Mahdi a women’s rights activist, and Secretary General of Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) commended the effort of Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre (CIDDOC) to bring stakeholders together to become  the voices of change and enjoined participants to continue to ask and demand for the passage  of laws that will protect women against oppression. She appealed to the public to support the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.

The Director of Women and Gender Affairs at the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Ms. Esther Eghobamien, said the bill if passed would enhance protection of women from violence. According to her, “when the gender and equal opportunities bill was rejected by the Senate in March, we, at the Ministry of Women Affairs were aggrieved. We have deepened our collaboration with the National Assembly by having a core team working with the Senate President to review the bill alongside the UN Women”. She further called on pressure groups to continuously push for women’s rights to be protected by law, which according to her, is what the GEO bill seeks to do.

Also, the Country Director of the National Democratic Institutes (NDI), Jasper Veen, said that all around the world, people are advancing and embracing gender equality and claiming their rights to participate in politics. Thus, we must ensure that women are politically active, and devoid of any form of harassment or assault. He said that NDI is supporting a number of political parties and civil society organisations to see how political parties can be more inclusive and allow women to run, aspire to offices and become effective politicians for their constituencies as well as highlight women who are effective in various constituencies.

In the same vein, the veteran actor, Mr. Sydney Dialla, commended the initiative and efforts of CIRDDOC and other stakeholders. He also assured that Nollywood worldwide would help to ensure that the issue of violence against women and the need for women’s empowerment would be well projected by the Nigerian film industry.

Erelu Bisi Fayemi, in her key-note address, emphasised the need for a healthy relationship between men and women in the society. In her words, “we want our sons to grow up, empowered, explore and be able to fulfil their roles as men in the family and we also want our daughters to grow up, empowered, and successful. We don’t want to see either one of our children to be subjected to violence or ridiculed” she said.

Uche Ndigwe a renowned Actor, Director and Writer in the Nollywood industry encouraged the participants to watch the two short video clips promoting VAW, VAPP and GEO bill. He explained that the clips were dramatized to pass a message to the public to stop Violence Against Women and support the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill.

The tribunal was subsequently divided into three (3) sessions – on Violence against Women, Violence against Women in Politics, the GEO Bill and VAPP Act. Each session comprised testifiers who shared their various experiences on how they have been violated, and facilitators were present to coordinate and highlight aspects of these stories that align with the passage of the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill.

 

Panel One on the Violence against Women

Moderated by Ms Hauwa Shekarau, Mr Stanley Ibe, Ms. Anne Ikpeme and Ms. Didi Odigie, the testifier told their moving stories.

 

The first testifier for this session narrated how she was circumcised/ mutilated at the age of 18 years. Her father forced her be mutilated because of the fact that culture permits her to do so. As a result of this act, she experienced severe pains which resulted to fever and headaches. In an attempt to treat these symptoms, her father took her to a pharmacist who ignorantly injected her with an expired medication that caused severe swelling. It took the intervention of another doctor to administer proper medication that made her better. She concluded by expressing her regrets of not being able to go to school because of the effect of the FGM that left her incontinent. She hopes that these harmful practices will be put to end.

 

The second testifier, reports her experience as an act of domestic violence. She recounts her experience of being thrown out of the matrimonial home because her husband was fed up with her. Her husband with the help of his family locked her up at the police station for two days and finally denied the paternity of their children. And so, he has abandoned the children and she alone takes care of them.

The third testifier said that after the burial of her husband, her house was broken into, and major items were removed from her matrimonial home by members of her husband’s family. The land her late husband left for her was also taken away, and in fact structures are being put up on the land  by strangers who bought the land from her in laws.

And the last testifier for this session from Kaduna State testified that after the death of her husband, her late husband’s family members took his estate, seized some important documents. The deceased family refused to renew the house rent which resulted to her going to the village with her children who now do not have access to education. She added that the reason why this happened is due to the fact, that she has no male child.

The panellist who heard these touching stories described them as inhuman and degrading. Mr Stanley Ibe frowned at the harmful traditional practices and called for their total abolition. He urged women to rally round the advocacy for the passage of the GEO bill so that there will be a legal framework for the protection of women’s rights.

The second panellist, Barr. Anne Ikpeme shared a personal story to depict how wife inheritance leads to sexual violence. A cousin of hers was inherited forcefully by a brother in law who was HIV positive at the death of her husband. She became ill and died soon after. The man himself also died. She expressed her joy on the enactment of VAPP Act and said the VAPP act section 38 covers women’s right. It also prohibits every form of violence from the private sector to the public sector, it prohibits all forms of violence ranging from domestic, psychological, physical etc. Also, the act also covers issues of rape as well and the sentences provided for such violence. She calls for the sensitisation of people who are not aware of the VAPP Act and said that everyone has a duty to intensify advocacy against violence. She thanked the traditional rulers for their support and urged them to make sure that harmful practices are abolished or modified. She encouraged the Royal Fathers to work in partnership with civil society to ensure the passage of the Gender Equal Opportunities (GEO) bill into law and also the domestication of the VAPP Act at the state level..

Lastly, Barr. Didi Odigie highlighted the sections of the VAPP Act that specifically protects the rights of women to freedom from violence – sections 4, 7, 14 and 18. She urged civil society organisations and practising laws to put the VAPP Act to test by ensuring that no act of violence against women goes unpunished. She pointed out that the right to seek redress is clearly stated under section 38. She advised that “what we need to do is intensify advocacy for the passage of the GEO bill.” She described the use of sharp and un-hygiene objects (scissors, razor stones etc) for FGM can lead to death and therefore it’s imperative to pass the GEO bill.

Key points of Panel 1 Session

  1. Violence against women in all forms was condemned and The VAPP Act covers most of the forms of violence prevalent in Nigeria including harmful traditional practices, FGM and obnoxious widowhood practices and prohibits them, although it is not applicable outside the FCT.
  2. Police should be sensitised to use the VAPP Act to prosecute perpetrators of the violence where the Act applies and CSOs, and all stakeholders should intensify advocacy for the domestication of the VAPP Act.
  3. The need to pass the GEO Bill as a legal framework for the protection of women from discrimination was emphasised and a call was made to women to intensify advocacy for the passage of the bill.

Panel Two “Violence against Women in Politics”

Three panellists for this session were Ms Ene Ede, Ms Ebere Ifendu, and Mr. Tordue Nyitse. Four (4) Testifiers shared their various experiences on violation of women’s right to political participation.

 

The first testifier was from Cross River State. She stated that she is a Master’s degree holder in law, a consultant and NGO practitioner likewise her husband. She regarded him as a highly disciplined man. She started working as an NGO practitioner many years back and in the course of her work in the field she discovered that if women must really be part of policies, they have to be part of governance also. This mind-set, led her into politics and she made an amateur effort to participate in politics. According to her, in 1999, she registered with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and 8 years after she joined, she decided to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives, in 2007. At some point, during the primaries, the party requested her to step down because the individual who already had the position would want to be re-elected. She was frustrated and disappointed. In 2012, she decided to try again for the same position two weeks to primaries, but she received a message from the party describing her as a proud person and that they may not be able to control her or her husband. And finally in 2015, fourteen (14) candidates contested and later shortlisted to nine (9) candidates. The 9 candidates in question ranged from Ph.D holders to First-degree holders. She lost to a Senior Secondary Certificate of Education (SSCE) holder, who had no intention of participating but was elected into the position. And it was discovered that an influential person at the opportunity to participate in politics, and political parties should remove personal interest in their dealings with aspirants.

The second testifier from Kano state said that her late husband was a politician, and after his death, his political supporters felt that she could fill the vacuum he left. She answered to this call and decided to create a change and contested for the House of Representatives. But at some point, the delegates asked her to step down. In fact, her opponent, a male counterpart, went as far as bringing hoodlums to disrupt/disorganise her efforts. She appealed to men to support the efforts of women and give them an opportunity to get involved in politics and decision making.

The third testifier hails from Imo state. She contested for a seat in the House of Representative in 2015. She won, but a respectable senator insisted she would not be declared the winner. So, after pressure from INEC, the result was declared inconclusive. After she contested for a second time, she was proclaimed winner, but the senator did not relent. In fact, he championed the course of going to court. But instead of the court to nullify the 25 polling booths that her opponent challenged, the court nullified the entire 142 booths in the constituency. Another election was rescheduled for July 2016, and so much pressure from the senator and some other leaders were mounted on her requesting that she stepped down for her opponent. In fact, they promised to give her a political appointment in place of the House of Reps position she is contesting for. She declined the offer and had the mind-set to serve her people especially, those who supported her course in that capacity. She added that one of the reasons they didn’t want her was because as a woman, she will not be allowed to break “kolanut” in the house of Reps. After the conduct of the re run election, her opponent was declared winner. This act showed that the election had been rigged.

The panelists made contributions based on the various experiences shared by the testifiers. Ms. Ene Ede, the Executive Director of Equity Advocates, a women’s rights group, stresses the need to create a wider room for women’s participation in governance. She advised women to join political parties and take up leadership positions within the political party that will influence women as candidates.

In the same vein, Tordue Nyitse added that, political parties should create gender responsive policy that will enable at least 35 percent of women participation in politics

The National president of Women in Politics Forum, Ebere Ifendu, said the issuance of free forms to women by political parties is no longer relevant and advised women who intend to participate to adopt the poll rules. And finally, Kemi Ndieli shared with the participants, preliminary findings on the research carried out on Violence against Women in Politics conducted in Nigeria and across other countries. She stated that records have shown that there is a systematic exclusion of women in the political sphere, and women often experience violence especially during rallies, campaigns and political party events. She added that the most common form of violence reported is intimidation and denial to exercise power. Perpetrators are often identified as party opponents. Thus, to fight this form of violence, the VAPP Act has prohibited it and provided punishment. Also the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill is the solution which offers critical provisions that address these peculiar forms of violence specifically targeted at women within the context of politics so that either they don’t vote or they do not participate and it has been found it prevents women from contesting. She concluded that there is need to engage political parties on promoting a peaceful election.

Key points of Panel 2 Session

  1. Political parties or top party members persuading women to step down for men during elections particularly during primaries was recognised as a violation of women’s rights to political participation.
  2. INEC was urged to ensure that political parties give women the same opportunities as men on the basis on no discrimination.
  3. Political parties were urged to implement the affirmative action provisions in their constitutions and manifestoes and expand the political space for women.
  4. Women endure all forms of violence in the field during campaigns, etc. including intimidation and this is covered by the VAPP Act.

 

Panel 3: Addressing Concerns over the GEO Bill

The tribunal proceeded to the third panel which entailed response to some framed questions on the GEO bill. The discussions around the VAPP Act were on the need to domesticate it at the state level and lessons that could be learnt from the 14 year struggle for its passage that would be useful in the advocacy for the passage of the GEO bill. The Panel also looked at the Youth perspective to the GEO bill and addressed the misconceptions that led to the bill’s rejection in the Senate and House of Reps.

Speaking on the experiences of LACVAW in the advocacy for the passage of the Violence against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act Ms. Charmaine Pereira explained that the (VAPP) Act was passed into law in May, 2015. The Act was a result of agitation for protection of persons against different forms of violence. She added that the Violence Against persons (Prohibition) Act is an improvement on the penal and criminal code in relation to violence because it provides for compensation to victims as well as the protection of their rights in addition to punishment. Also, the content of the Act is rich in its provisions as it covers most of the prevalent forms of violence in Nigeria today ranging from physical violence; psychological violence; sexual violence; harmful traditional practices and socio-economic violence. The VAPP Act includes offences such as wilfully placing a person in fear of physical injury; forceful ejection from the home; forced financial dependence or economic abuse; forced isolation or separation from family and friends; abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance. The reality of many men’s abuse of power over women’s bodies, mobility, social relationships and lack of economic independence is framed here as forms of violence she affirmed. She observed that its relationship with the GEO bill will really play a positive impact in ensuring all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex and gender in private and public spaces is eliminated and women are granted equal opportunities to realise their full potential and provide protection for their bodily integrity and human dignity.

In responding to the question whether the GEO bill is inconsistent with the Christian religious principles Pastor Otive Igbuzor, the General overseer of the Palace of Priests Assembly clarified the misconception of the GEO bill based on the Christian faith. He said the misconception comes in usually when some Christian religious leaders argue that men and women are not equal. He affirmed that the GEO bill aligns with the bible and is supported by the scriptures. He gave some scriptural passages – in Genesis 1:27 God recognises male and female. Likewise Genesis 2:18 buttresses the point of equality. He added that some Christian leaders put aside some verses and elevate other parts of the verses to suite their doctrines. According to him, another reason why scriptures are misinterpreted is due to selfishness, power play and the practice of patriarchy. However, the bible does not support discrimination but embraces everyone as one.

Rev Jack Mamven, a Senior pastor at the Rabbi’s House int’l Jos, Nigeria, still on the same note, added that women need to be heard and should be accorded the same equality and opportunities with men. In his words, the national tribunal on gender equal opportunities and violence against women is a good punch on target. The testimonies of women whose rights have been denied and victimized show how biased the African culture is against women. In most cultures in Africa, if a man dies, the woman is the prime suspect, but if the woman dies, it is seen as a natural death. What ever is good for the goose is also good for the gander. For how long should we continue to treat women as though they are less human? In Genesis 1:27, the Bible says, “in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them”. The same God that created man is the same God that created the woman. The fact that the man is stronger than her, doesn’t call for her rights to be denied. He therefore stated that the GEO bill is not in conflict with biblical principles. He commended the effort of the Civil Resource Development And Documentation Centre (CIRDDOC) and other partners for hosting the tribunal. He concluded that the presence and contributions of traditional rulers, religious leaders, Nollywood stars, political party stalwarts, civil society organisations, and other distinguished relevant personalities at the tribunal, is a clear indication that we are now getting it right!

 

Is the GEO bill inconsistent with the Muslim Religious Principles?

Hajiya Saudahu Mahdi, said that Islam has honoured women by issuing many laws to protect them and to give them a dignified life. She pointed out that a significant percentage of the GEO bill aligns with the Islamic law. She mentioned the area of contention on inheritance and said that in Islam the woman has a right to inherit and cannot be inherited as she is not an item to be inherited. The task of inheritance firstly is to determine which of the relatives of the deceased are entitled to such inheritance and also determine the quantum share entitlement of each of the heirs concerned. She went further to say that the GEO bill never stated the proportion that should be allocated to women to inherit.

Under Islamic law, the woman has economic rights because she is allowed to work, invest and earn and there is nothing like joint ownership or joint account in Islamic law. However, the fact that women have economic rights is not an excuse for men to deter from their responsibilities towards their working wife, daughter or sister. She added that the right to choose a spouse is allowed in the Qur’an, and it’s the role or responsibility of a parent to guide her daughter to make the right choice rather than imposing a person of no interest to her. Lastly, she said on the issue of custody in the Islamic law, the child goes to the mother up to five steps before it goes to the father. She concluded by saying when condemning a law, Islam seeks wisdom and sincerity. However, the Gender Equal Opportunities bill aligns with the Muslim doctrine.

In responding to the question whether the GEO Bill is inconsistent with tradition HRM Edet Okon Etim, recognised culture and tradition to be dynamic and traditional leaders as custodians of the culture. He said the GEO bill is inconsistent with some culture and tradition but those cultures can be modified to suit the modern day needs. He called on NGOs to work slowly and steadily with the traditional institutions and also a lot of advocacy will help modify these practices. He finally assured participants that traditional leaders are fully in support of the GEO bill.

Giving the youth perspective to the GEO Bill, Ms. Fadekemi Akinfaderin-Agarau who was represented by Olabukunola Williams assured the participants of the youths’ full support of the bill especially because it protects the rights of women and children. In her words, “If Nigeria is truly the giant of Africa and development champions, the youths have to be given a sense of belonging so they can benefit.” Therefore, she pledged the willingness of the youths to join the campaign if only the bill is a strong and meaningful bill that will impact positively on the youth at large.  She made reference to the findings of a legal opinion they commissioned on the GEO bill; one of which was that the country couldn’t be compelled to fulfil chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution and therefore there was a conflict between the provisions of the bill and the Constitution.

In addressing the concerns around the GEO bill, Barr. Chinonye Obiagwu, stated that the GEO bill seeks to protect the rights and privileges of women in public life and promote economic and political participation by women. These include prohibition of discrimination and promotion of equality and equal treatment of all persons in law regardless of their gender; elimination of discrimination in political or public life, access to education or employment opportunities. There are other progressive provisions as well. Furthermore, he said the second component is the bunch of provisions that seek to protect and promote the social and economic rights and privileges of women in the private or domestic arena. These include issues of marriage and family relations; widowhood, inheritance, divorce, custody of children, domestic violence and abuse, and trafficking in women. Also, section 8 of the Bill, according to him seeks to promote and empower women. He undertook to look at the bill again and improve its provisions through removing sections that have been taken care of by other laws such as the section on violence which has been taken care of by the VAPP Act and the age of marriage that has been provided for in the Child’s Rights Act.

Key points of Panel 3 Session

  1. The provisions of the GEO bill are not inconsistent with scriptural provisions as the bible frowns at discrimination. But those that interpret scriptures do so out of selfishness, power play and patriarchy.
  2.  Islam has made comprehensive inheritance provisions for women so it is not against inheritance by women.
  3.  The GEO bill is inconsistent with some culture and tradition but those cultures can be modified to suit the modern day needs. There is need however to tread carefully and work with traditional rulers to modify traditional practices.
  4. The youth will use all the tools in their hands including social media to campaign for the passage of the GEO bill because it has several provisions that protect their rights.
  5. The GEO bill should be improved to remove provisions that have been covered in other laws.

 

Panel of Judges

Finally, the panel of judges delivered its verdict. Members of the Panel took turns to make their position known on violence against women as well as the GEO Bill.

The former Executive Director, African Women Development Fund, Erelu Bisi Fayemi opined that there is a need for a national consensus that the personhood of women is not negotiable, she said that women are human beings entitled to rights, dignity and respect. Nigeria cannot continue to hide under culture, tradition and religion to abuse the rights of women. Secondly, there is a need to call an end to the culture of impunity that has become such an integral part of our way of life in Nigeria. If a distinguished Senator can stand on the floor of the Senate and threaten a fellow colleague saying he would beat her up and nothing will happen, what else can be impunity? Unfortunately every day news of rape of girls as young as 6 months by men sometimes as old as eighty years is rife on radio, news paper and TV and obviously nothing happens to the perpetrators. She emphasised the need to call an end to the culture of impunity.

With regards to women’s political participation, she stated that there is a consensus on that because it is not debatable. She stated that this must be elevated to women’s platform to make political demands such as asking candidates to political positions questions such as “what are you going to do about the economic empowerment of women”, “what are you going to do about the representation of women in politics” and lastly “what are you going to do about the safety and security of women” if we must vote for you. If Nigerian women are good enough to mobilise and organise cheers for rallies, then they are good enough to lead. Women need to engage with the mainstream political processes more creatively. One who is planning on running for an election in 2019 should start early, like in 2015. She urged women political aspirants to engage with their traditional system using the “age grade system” at the local level. She urged young women to stand up and be counted, and emphasised on the need for them to understand what the women’s movement is all about. For young people who are not quite convinced about women’s rights, there is a lot of work to do. She urged people of her generation to mentor and coach young people and prepare them to take on the baton. Lastly, she encouraged participants to minimise investment in the bank of patriarchy and concluded by saying “the change that women want must come from themselves”.

In concluding, she said that persons with disabilities should not be discriminated against, but rather be given a sense of belonging and a chance to add value in their own little way. In addition to sensitisation, aside the use of Media, advocacy visits, legal awareness, outreach programs, traditional rulers should employ.

Tony Umez, a Nollywood celebrity thanked all the contributors and said that one thing agreed upon at this tribunal is that women can be treated better and should be treated better. He said he does not think any system around the world encourages violence against women. But he however cautioned women to mind the words they use in order not to portray themselves as wanting to rub shoulders with men. Women should talk of equal opportunities for men and women. In the Nigerian society today women are relegated to the background, yet the family is the microcosm of the larger society and it is the woman that takes care of the home. Therefore, if a woman is treated well and empowered then the family and nation at large becomes empowered. He said there must be a synergy between the government, CSOs and NGOs. He recommended intensified sensitisation by the media, CSOs, NGOs and other organisations to ensure that the GEO bill is passed into law. He opined that gender roles are complementary and women should be carried along and not left behind.

In his own contribution, Dr Ejike Oji said that when we speak about creating political spaces for women, we look at a country like Kenya. Kenya has forced political parties to make sure they allocate some elective positions to women not with the use of force but with the use of economies. As a political party in Kenya if you meet the national obligation of allocating certain number of seats to the women, then you get government funding. These incentives have made political parties to be able to create an inclusive platform in Kenya for women. He referred to the saying that women are their own worst enemies and said that those women who are 70 per cent the problem of women are acting out the script written by men. The way forward, according to him is for every one to work hard to get the GEO bill passed and domesticated at the state level. Once it is domesticated our judges will be able to use the law to protect women from violence and discrimination in the law courts. He pointed out that the GEO bill focuses on opportunities on a level playing ground for every body and it so happens that women are the ones short-changed in the level of opportunities. It always seems like we are talking about women alone but the underlining word is gender which is inclusive and means male or female. He implored everyone to use every means possible; most especially the media to engage their legislators and traditional rulers to get the GEO bill passed and domesticated at the state level. He concluded by applauding Plateau State that recently passed the bill and he called for a minute’s silence in honour of the traditional ruler who championed the GEO bill in Plateau State but was recently assassinated.

The Chairman, Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu who is also the Chairman of the Tribunal Panel of Judges, in wrapping up the verdict of his panel, said that the GEO bill is about four things: first and foremost it is about the dignity of both male and female; no one’s dignity is more important than the dignity of the other. It is also about the effective participation of women in politics as citizens and as full members of our communities. The third is about the safety and security of all of us as well as justice. Now, because of the structure of power in our society, the likelihood is that men are more likely to enjoy lots of privileges than women. What detains us here is that we have difficulties in getting a bill affirmed through the National Assembly. We have to continue working until we get this instrument passed. The major problem that people have is prejudice. It takes growth to overcome our prejudice and in our society and many other societies people are brought up with jaundiced and prejudiced views about women, many of those views are founded in theology, tradition or on our personal insecurities.

The wonderful thing about this tribunal today is that we have listened to varied views. But there are also legal misconceptions. Making reference to an earlier submission by a Youth contributor, he said that he worries when he hears that a lawyer provided a legal opinion on the GEO bill saying that the country cannot be compelled to fulfil chapter 2 of the Nigerian constitution, which is the chapter that contains fundamental directives and objective principles of state policies. He said that he was very worried about the educational system because chapter 2 contains amongst other things social objectives and item 70 in the exclusive legislative list empower the National assembly to legislate to bring chapter 2 into effect. Section 45 of the Nigerian constitution empowers the National Assembly to legislate to protect chapter 2 and chapter 4 rights and that includes the right to freedom from discrimination, it includes the right to human dignity. So the legal foundations for this kind of law in our Constitution are very clear, safe and secure and no lawyer who claims to be learned should be allowed to mislead our country like that.

The GEO Bill seeks to bring into force instruments that Nigeria has already pledged to the world that it is going to comply with and abide by and protect in respect to every one who is in Nigeria. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights was adopted in 1981 at the Summit of African Heads of States that took place in Nairobi, Kenya and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was adopted in 2004. Mobutu Sese Seko, President Mubarak, President Eyadema and the late Mamman Gaddafi were all there and they signed and agreed to the treaties. He then posed the question: “are we more wicked than all these men who were dreaded but found these treaties appealing and agreed to them”? He stated that what we are pushing for is compatible with our customs, compatible with our theology and compatible with our values. No society in Nigeria approves of rape. He suggested that part of what needs to be done is “to emancipate ourselves and make ourselves happy with these provisions and by so doing we also need to recognise that much of these things are in principle now recognised in many of our laws”. Mention has be made of the VAPP Act and also the National Human’s Rights Act which, in section 5 requires the National Human Rights Commission to acquire all of these instruments and through it ensure that they are incorporated in municipal laws. What the GEO bill does is to elaborate the context of what these instruments could be and at the course of that we need to continue to advocate, we need to continue to build bridges to forge partnerships. We need to build a joint civil society partnership involving the ministry of youths, women’s affairs, CSOs etc. so that we can use the convening power of the executive to make a point that this is something we have to do and do swiftly.

With this background, he urged everyone to come on board and ensure that the GEO bill is passed at national and state levels and also that the VAPP Act is domesticated at the state level.

 

 

Summary of the Verdict of the Panel of Judges

  1. The tribunal condemned violence against women in its entirety and commended the National Assembly for finally passing the VAPP bill into law in 2015 after so many years of advocacy.
  2. Stressing that the impact of the VAPP Act will not be felt across the country if its provisions do not extend its protection to women and girls at the state level, the Panel urged state legislatures to domesticate the Act in their various states.
  3. It welcomed the new partnership with traditional rulers (the custodian of culture) and Nollywood celebrities and encouraged them to join the crusade with full force to ensure that the GEO bill is passed into law and that the VAPP Act is domesticated at the state level.
  4. Recognising the role of the Royal Fathers as custodians of culture, the Panel, in line with the stand of HRM Dr. Etim, that although not all the provisions of the GEO Bill are consistent with culture, there is room to modify them to accommodate the new trends, encouraged traditional rulers to review customs and traditions in their jurisdictions with a view to incorporate the provisions of the VAPP Act prohibiting some of them and also modify or abolish harmful ones.
  5. The issue of women’s rights should be taken personally and seen as something that will benefit everyone, men, women boys and girls and not something that will take power from men and give to the women.
  6. The GEO bill is supporting the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil its international commitment of incorporating the provisions of treaties it has ratified into municipal law. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to explain to the legislators the importance of the GEO bill and the VAPP Act.
  7. NGOs and their partners are urged to use the social media to popularise the GEO bill and the VAPP Act and their provisions to ensure that the public understands the provisions and what they seek to achieve.
  8. The tribunal urged INEC to live up to its responsibilities over political parties including the implementation of INEC gender policy and ensuring that women enjoy equal opportunities with men on the basis of non discrimination.
  9. The National Assembly should make the passage of the GEO Bill a priority because of its importance to the men and women of this country. The State Houses of Assembly should ensure that the VAPP Act is domesticated so that men and women in the states will also benefit from its provisions

 

Closing session

The tribunal came to an end at exactly 4:40pm with the vote of thanks by the convener, Executive Director of CIRDDOC) Ms. Oby Nwankwo. She expressed her deepest gratitude to the Royal fathers, the Nollywood team, political party leaders, various NGOs and CSOs, friends and colleagues, for their time and effort towards the success of the tribunal. She described the moment shared with Nollywood celebrities as the beginning of partnership with them. On behalf of the conveners of the tribunal, she expressed profound gratitude to AWDF and V4C for making the tribunal possible.

Follow Up:

  • The Centre for Women’s Health and Information (CEWHIN) has indicated interest in assisting the children of the widow from Kaduna state to get back to school.
  • CIRDDOC will assist the widow to leave the village through provision of legal aid to her to mediate in her problem with her in-laws. Legal aid will also be provided to the victim of domestic violence and widowhood practices from Anambra state.
  • CIRDDOC will intensify sensitisation on the harmful effect of FGM on the victims in Ebonyi state where the practice is still prevalent. Discussions are on with the victim who testified at the tribunal to explore ways of assisting her.
  • Advocacy to INEC on exercising its supervisory powers over political parties to ensure that women are not discriminated against especially through forcing them to step down for male candidates.
  • The case of domestic violence will be further investigated to bring to book the culprits and ensure that the father of the kids provide for them adequately even if he no longer wants to be married to the testifier.
  • The widow whose land was taken from her has been invited to bring all the documents to enable the legal team look into the matter towards recovering the land.

 

Report prepared by

 

Ms. Ebere Odika and Ms. Udochi Ruth Ucheya

CIRDDOC

September 2016