Politics

Court to deliver judgement on affirmation action suit in March


The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, fixed March 30 for judgement in a suit seeking the enforcement of the National Gender Policy in Nigeria as a means of addressing discrimination of women in politics and governance.

Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) filed the suit against the Nigerian government

“The predominant appointment of men to decision-making positions, especially ministerial positions, with the exclusion of women is discriminatory against women and is in violation of sections 147 and 42 of the Nigerian constitution and article 19 of the African charter,” Funmi Falana, counsel for the group, argued in her written address filed on September 29, 2021.

But the Nigerian government’s legal team led by Terhemba Agbe urged the court to strike out the suit on the grounds that it did not disclose any cause of action.

It said the policy is not a law that can be enforced in court.

The judge, Donatus Okorowo, fixed March 30 for judgement after both parties’ made their final submissions on Monday.

Plaintiff’s argument

Mrs Falana, in her submission, lamented that women were being discriminated against as a result of the belief that women were inferior to men.

She noted that the National Gender Policy (NGP) which provides that women should be allocated 35 per cent of all appointments, is being violated.

“Only seven of Nigeria’s 36 ministers are female. In the eyes of the law, 36 and 7 are not equivalent. Only four of the 37 members of the Federal Character Commission are women. This is ridiculous and insulting,” Mrs Falana said.

She cited section 14(3) of the Nigerian Constitution to back her call for the enforcement of the NGP.

She noted that the provision mandates that the composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies, and the conduct of its affairs shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria, promote national unity and also to command national loyalty.

The provision, according to her, also seeks to ensure “that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”

She said the provision is in line with Article 19 of the African Charter, which specifies that “no predominance in appointment of any set of people shall exist.”

Mrs Falana said the provision provides a basis for female gender inclusion in government, adding that section 42 specifies that no one should be discriminated against because of their gender.

“We are, therefore, saying, my lord, that the preponderance of men in ministerial and other decision-making positions is discriminatory, which may be summarised as anything that disadvantageous to a person,” Mrs Falana added.

She added that beyond the constitution, the international universal declaration of human rights 1948, international convention of social economic act and the convention of the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women all stages that women and men are equal and there shall be no discrimination. She said Nigeria is a signatory to all these convention which means, Nigeria is binding by these laws.

Mrs Falana recalled that the National Gender Policy states that women should be allocated 35 per cent of all appointments.

This, she noted, is a by-product of Nigeria’s signing of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

She sad the government had “refused to follow through on this strategy”.

“The defendant has argued that the policy is not a law. But the court has ruled that government is bound by their policies and they will be ‘extolled’ for denying the people of the benefit of such policies,” Mrs Falana argued.

She also disputed the defendant’s claim that the plaintiffs lacked locus standi to suit.

She stated that, with the scope of meaning of locus standi having been broadened in various court decisions, ”anyone or any non-governmental organisation has the ability to go to court in instances involving public interests.”

Defence

The defence lawyer, Terhemba Agbe, in his address, argued that the plaintiff’s case did not disclose the cause of action and then urged the court to strike out and or dismiss the case of the plaintiffs.

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He said the policy can be lobbied to be passed into law by the National Assembly, and not by the court.

He added that the Nigerian Constitution in section 147, gave the president a guideline for appointments of ministers, in doing that, the president should ensure there is a minister from every state and not from all sex.

“No matter how sentimental the plaintiffs are, ministerial appointment or appointment of any government parastatals is not guided by sex but on qualifications or on who the president thinks can deliver the job. This is guided by the constitution,” Mr Agbe said.

Mrs Falana replied the defence’s argument that when a provision under chapter 2 can be linked to any provision under chapter 4 or any other provision in the constitution, it becomes incidental and justiciable.

“The right to health is not justiceable until it is linked to right to life”, Mrs Falana added.

The judge, afteristening to both sides, adjourned until March 30 for judgement.

WIPF

WIPF is a non-partisan forum for women for addressing women’s marginalisation in politics and decision-making. It also recognises the significance of unity.

The forum which was created in 2011 is also working to increase the voice and capabilities of female politicians, groups, and individuals working to influence and advocate women’s participation in the political process, in order to achieve a more equitable society and democratic governance for women.

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