Constitutional Review: Don advocates gender-neutral language, deletion of Section 29 (4) over child marriages

Prof. Ayodele Atsenuwa, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development Services) of the University of Lagos, on Thursday advocated a gender-neutral language, inclusiveness and deletion of Section 29 (4) from the 1999 Nigeria Constitution.

Atsenuwa, a Professor of Public Law, made the recommendations at the South-West Zonal Public Hearing on the Review of the 1999 Constitution organised by the Senate in Lagos.

She spoke in her capacity as a Researcher and member of the Network of Individuals and Women (Wo-Manifestoes), a coalition of over 300 Individuals and networks.

According to her, a constitution speaks to the spirit and the aspiration of a people and tells the people what their values are.

Atsenuwa said: “What it (constitution) stands for has the capacity to change us inside out and outside in for the better. It is the window through which we see the future that we want to achieve.

“We want to underscore the importance of language. Language can be inclusive or exclusive. Requesting that legislation in Nigeria including the constitution be drafted in gender-neutral language is just following an emerging trend.”

On citizenship, the professor said that Nigerian citizen must get a sense that citizen is equal for all, saying a foreign man married to a Nigerian woman who wishes to become a Nigerian by registration should be afforded the opportunity.

She added: “We also say that Section 29 (4) signals to the world indirectly that Nigeria supports child marriages. Section 29 (4) has to be deleted. We recommend also that the Nigerian constitution speak to the basis of determining indigenship.

“The Constitution assumes that indigeneship will be the platform on which the federal character is represented but the Constitution is silent on how to determine indigenship.

“The Constitution must be able to speak to how we determine which indigene, which state or ethnicity you are an indigene of.’’

On discrimination against women, youths and People Living with Disabilities (PLWD), she called for an additional section in Section 42 of the Constitution, to provide for special measures to redress historical or institutional discrimination.

On political rights of women, the professor called for more inclusion of women and other vulnerable groups in elective and appointive positions.

“We have seen that clearly we need help in the Constitution to help us to have inclusion of women in governance. We ask that the Constitution must be affirmative in its aspiration if we want Nigerian women in decision making, including political participation.

“The Constitution should be bold enough to assert that in very clear terms. We ask that we need a clear statement guaranteeing 30 per cent position for women in decision making which will be elective and appointive positions.’’

Atsenuwa also called for amendment to Section 14 (3) to clearly explain federal character to include gender diversity and as well as Section 14 (4), adding that Section 14 (5) should validate affirmative action, youth inclusion and inclusion of people with disabilities.

She asked that specific provisions in Chapter 2 of the Constitution relating to right to education and health needs to be justiciable and moved to Chapter 4 of the Constitution.

The professor said that the rights of people with disabilities should be explicitly stated in the Constitution while section 66 (c) of the Constitution should be deleted to elaborate the Constitutional Rights of Nigerians.

Similarly, African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) proposed a constitution guaranteeing the rights of widows and widowers to inheritance of properties jointly acquired in the absence of a will.

Ms Mandy Asagba, President, AWLA, said both male and female children should have explicitly stated rights to inheritance.

The AWLA president also said that the Land Use Act should be repealed according to the yearnings of Nigerians or amended to guarantee equal access to land and adequate compensation to men, women and the poor.

“The practice of denial of inheritance rights has caused untold hardship on women and girl children.

“The 1999 constitution has no provision which guarantee women’s rights to inheritance, we therefore, call on the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to guarantee their rights to inheritance of properties.

“The Federal Character principle should be amended to include gender as one of indices to composition and conduct of affairs of government,’’ she said.

Our correspondent reports that several groups at the public hearing advocated gender equality and opportunity for women and vulnerable groups in the ongoing process to amend the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.


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