Progress for Nigerian Women as Court Rules in favour of Affirmative Action
On Tuesday, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled in favour of the 35% Affirmative Action for appointive offices, stating that the Federal Government must enforce the National Gender Policy by allotting 35% of appointments in the public sector to women.
The suit which was filed by a coalition of women groups and civil society organisations including Yiaga Africa alleged violations of several sections of the 1999 constitution, the African charter on Human and Peoples Rights and several other international treaties with the lopsided appointments into political positions which is not in favour of women.
According to the presiding judge, Justice Donatus Okorowo, “the 35% affirmative action which entails appointive positions for women to ensure inclusivity must not be merely on paper, as Nigeria is a signatory to International Treaties, particularly on those entrenching the rights of women.”
Justice Okorowo dismissed the preliminary objection of the Federal Government’s lawyer, Terhemba Agbe, who had argued that the plaintiff’s case did not disclose any cause of action.
Referencing Section 42 of the Nigerian constitution as it relates to the suit, Okorowo upheld the plaintiff’s contention to the effect “that of all the 44 ministries, there are only about six female ministers, and that the situation is worse in other parastatals and agencies.”
The judge held that “dismantling barriers to women’s participation in public spheres has been achieved through progressive interpretation of municipal laws and international obligations and treaties.
“Formulating Policies based on sex, stereotyping and feudal and patriarchal traditions will no longer be tolerated due to the supremacy of constitutional values,” he noted.
Mufuliat Fijabi of Nigerian Women Trust Fund, one of the organisations that filed the suit, jubilated on the outcome of the suit, saying: “I am so happy that we get to witness today’s judgement in our lifetime in Nigeria. This is progress for Nigerian women, and partial success for women’s rights groups who occupied the National Assembly for many days. Better still, a step towards breaking the bias of the absence of women in politics.”
Nigeria has a very low proportion of women in appointive positions: between 1999 and 2015, only 6% of local government councillors, 24% of federal judges, and an average of 17% of each type of high-level government officials and senior administrators with decision-making power were women.
These proportions are a very far cry from the recommendations of the National Gender Policy for at least 35% of both elective political and appointive public service positions occupied by women in order to achieve a more inclusive representation of women.
It is hoped that this judgement will compel the federal and state governments to increase the proportion of women in appointive offices in order to achieve more inclusion of women in governance.