Nigeria’s population is estimated to be 180 million, and mostly youthful.Situatedin Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria has enjoyed 19 years of uninterrupted civil rule. Nigeria is governed by a secular Constitution that was amended in 1999. Other laws include The Criminal Code, The Penal Code, The Customary Law, The Shari’a and Legal Jurisprudence.
Nigeria is a committed to Sustainable Development Goals, The Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population, Health and Development (ICPD) and The Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), which took place in Beijing in 1995.Nigeria has also ratified a number of regional and international treaties. These include The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and its optional protocol, Convention Against Torture (CAT), the Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR). Among these, only one, the CRC has been domesticated.
Nigeria has policies, strategic and action plans in the areas of population and development, Adolescent and Youth Development, Gender, Reproductive Health, HIV/AIDS, Persons with Disabilities. Recently, Nigeria passed the anti-discriminatory law (2014), the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (2015).The various treaties and consensus documents have informed greatly the provisions of these policies.
Concerted effort to pass the Gender Bill to law for over a decade has failed. Similar fate has befallen the call by human rights movement for review of the constitutional provision that stipulates the domestication procedure for treaties and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Despite these seeming success milestones, Nigeria remains a challenging terrain for initiatives and programmes on issues of population and development.
Nigerians still live below poverty level, a situation exacerbated by bad governance. With women constituting 70% of those living below poverty level despite the contributions they make to national development in all sectors.
Many women still suffer disabilities, sometimes lifetime disabilities from pregnancy related complications and delivery. Recent statistics indicate that 40,000 of women die annually from pregnancy related causes. Unsafe abortion contributes to high rates of these morbidities and mortalities. Reports state that 60% abortions are performed by unskilled providers in unsterile conditions and 33 per 1000 women aged between 15 and 49 perform abortions in a year.
Gender-based violence is a daily experience in Nigeria and was declared a public health issue when in 2005, it reached epidemic proportions. Reports state that up to 3 in10 women in Nigeria have experienced sexual harassment by age 15. Many workplaces do not have sexual harassment policies and where they exist, they are mostly not implemented. Even though Nigeria signed a Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act in 2015, many domestic violence incidents are not reported. The few that are reported are either not taken to court or the victims are put under pressure by families, churches, communities, until they drop charges. Over 1,110 girls have been abducted by insurgents in nine years and many others raped. The cases of Chibok and Dapchi girls are highlights of this sort of gender-based violence. The more insecurity Nigeria has experienced, the more the suffering of women and girls has increased in the areas worse hit by the insurgents and killer herdsmen.
The Affirmative Action, which is one of the critical areas in the Beijing PFA, has suffered a blow in Nigeria. It is a huge departure from 1995 because soon after the conference, women’s activists carried out advocacy and put government under pressure and monitored the private sector to see to the implementation of this provision, key to achieving gender equality.
The height women have attained in Nigerian politics still leaves a lot to be desired. No woman has been elected as a State Governor in Nigeria. Between 1999 and 2015, only four states have female deputy governors out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
There were 3 women senators compared to 106 men elected in1999; 4 women and 105 men elected into the senate in 2003. In 2007, 8 women and 101 men; In 2011, 7 women as opposed to 102 men and in 2015, 8 women and 101 men were voted into the senate.
The representation in the lower house is lopsided as well. There were 12 women and 348 men in1999, 21 women, 339 men in 2003, in 2007, 23 women and 337 men; in 2011, 26 women and 334 men and 19 women and 341 men in 2015.
The implications of this systemic marginalisation of women in policy making positions tell a lot about the low status of women in Nigeria and the strength of patriarchal hold which perpetually weakens the political will to address issues of gender inequality in Nigeria. It means that women in the senate and in the lower house would find it difficult to pass any law that does not favour men. For instance, the provision for third party reporting on domestic violence caused the gender-based violence bill to be thrown out from the house. The provision on marital rape did not make it into the law when it was passed in 2015 as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act.
Although school enrolment remains high for the girl child, Nigeria is yet to have a 100% enrolment for girls as desired by the provisions of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) Platform for Action (PFA). Dropout rate of girls from school is still a critical area of concern. 53% of girls are out of school at the secondary school level compared to 37% of boys. Most of the girls would have dropped out of school by the tertiary level.
Discriminatory laws that run contrary to the provisions of the Nigeria constitution rob Nigeria of advancement in the elimination of violence against disadvantaged groups. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI)persons have always been a target of violence. This was made worse by the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2014. Activists working in this area have continued to document violence against LGBTQIs which include abuse of rights to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of expression, right to life, etc. These manifest in mob violence, expulsion from institutions of learning, evictions by landlords, alienation by families, organised rape, unlawful detention, indiscriminate arrests, blackmail and extortion, cyber bullying, workplace discrimination, etc. Nigeria has been categorised among the most homophobic and transphobic countries in the world.
With very grim development indicators, it is not surprising to see that Nigeria is always behind its counterparts, and poorly rated even behind countries that have been at war for a decade or more.
The Government and various development partners, including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)affiliated to various movements in Nigeria have been working hard to address these issues. However, there has not been durable strong collaborations to advocate for issues termed as controversial or sensitive and this includes rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the right to choice regarding abortion, access to contraception for unmarried adolescents, and the fight against child marriage.There are pockets of successful interventions in these areas but not large enough to dent the face of injustice that is experienced.