Friday, August 21, 2009

Whipping skirts and the fraternity of the boys

I HAVE never wanted to be a man, I cannot imagine stuffing myself into a pair of trousers every day of my life but I am sure there are men out there who will equally shudder at the thought of being transformed overnight into a woman by a fairy godmother gone berserk or the witch from their village. Yet for some reason men fascinate me. I watch them go from a dawdling clumsy childhood marked with big knobby knees to a swash buckling adulthood characterised by premier league matches and beer-guzzling meetings. I am intrigued by the male of our species, I really am.
During my university days, I began to notice the wide difference between the two sexes. We ladies could squabble over the most insignificant things and keep long faces with each other for weeks, months and even years. We exchanged words over trivial things refusing to make amends with each other, afraid of looking weak. But the men? They made up and shook hands even if the whole fracas was over a girl. Charming!!! They bonded, laughed and patted each other on the backs while we snickered, hissed and involved our pretty selves in a heavy dose of back biting. I doff my hat to them for this ability to overlook trivial issues and forge a closer bond.
One thing though, are we seeing a largely themed male against the female philosophy sink its tentacles deep into the fabric of the society as a result of this chummy camaraderie our menfolk so obviously enjoy? I hope not. Every time I watch news about the Nigerian Senate, I realised that I was still staring at those young university course mates and their back slapping attitude. The Senate is a chamber of the Nigerian parliament called the National Assembly, it has a related chamber called the House of Representatives. It is bicameral in structure and currently houses 109 members. However in this hallowed legislative arm of the Nigerian government, it is very interesting that out of 109 members, only nine are women. Very interesting! Why should the number of female senators be at a dismal number of nine despite the advancement of today's civilisation and the generally touted success of women in politics? I beg for an answer just as desperately as I seek to understand the low tolerance and participation of the female senators in the National Assembly. The fraternity of the boys has won again and the women continue to stand at different poles of contending principles.
According to the June 26, 2009 edition of the Business day, the upper chamber, on return to democracy in 1999 considered and passed five bills, while 16 bills were passed in 2001._ It also considered and passed 22 bills in 2002 and 21 bills in 2003. At the end of the legislative session in 2003, the Senate passed 70 bills, out of which 36 were private, 33 executive and one from the House of Representatives. Between 2003 and 2007, following the inauguration of the National Assembly, the Senate considered and passed 106 bills, out of which 66 were executive bills, nine from members of the public, and four from the House of the Representatives._ Six of the bills were passed in 2003, while 35 were passed at the end of the 2004 legislative calendar._
The Senate also considered and passed 25 bills in 2005 and 40 in 2006, which represents the highest number of bills since the return of democracy in the country._ The country recorded a milestone in 2007 with the successful transition from a democratically elected government to another, which ushered in the sixth Senate, with the inauguration of the National Assembly by President Umaru Yar'Adua on June 5._ The upper chamber passed only eight bills during its first session, beginning from June 5, 2007 to June 2008, and has so far passed 15 bills from June to date._ Of the eight bills, five were executive and three were private members' bills, while nine executive and six private members' bills were passed from June 2008 to date.
From the above analysis, it would seem that the Senate has been very busy yet when you look closely you realise that despite the number of bills passed, very few were sponsored by women. However with the likes of Joy Emodi, a lawyer by profession representing Anambra North senatorial zone who is the chairman of the Senate committee on education and a member of four other committees and has sponsored bills and motions such as the National Ethics Curriculum Bill 2008 and the Bill for an Act to make for the establishment of National Institute for Education Planning and Administration (NIEPA), which has already gone through second reading, I hope that female senators will wake up and become serious about pursuing and sponsoring realistic bills. The case of Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette who proposed the dress code bill is a regrettable case of misrepresentation. The distinguished Senator must have forgotten that she was representing a constituency with probably more pressing needs for infrastructural development when she enveloped herself with the desire to make Nigerians adopt a common dress code.
When will we see more bills sponsored by the charming ladies of the upper chamber of the National Assembly? When will women actively participate in the sponsoring of bills without suffering the pitfalls of badly thought out projects? Somehow it seems women in the Senate are content to hide in the background, only coming out to sing discordant tunes which have no relation to the reality of the Nigerian society save of course a FEW stalwart female senators.
When Senator Patricia Etteh, the Speaker of the House from June till October 2007, was indicted and challenged by the opposition of the house because of the award of N628 million contracts for the renovation of her official residences and that of her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje along with the purchase of 12 cars, I could not help but feel like there was a conspiracy to get rid of this very vocal and vociferous female leader of the house. It was like the members of the house could not stand the thought of being led by a female no matter how highly qualified. Am I trying to justify the former speaker's antics? No.
I am only pointing out the fact that there was a sophisticated gang up of male chauvinists making intelligent and self righteous noises against her as if they had suddenly acquired spotless garments of unparallelled performance in their various constituencies and had never at one time or the other sullied their seemingly pristine reputations. The then Speaker Etteh committed some sins no doubt but the worse of it was being a woman. If the National Assembly were indeed sincere in its fight against its corrupt members, how come we can still count many sticky fingers in the house today?
Let section 41 of the constitution be respected and no member of the house denied any opportunity of leading on account of sex, tribe or religion.