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Constitutional Amendment Controversy over Section 29(4)(b):

A Note on Meeting with Senate Leadership, Abuja, Wednesday 24 July 2013.

A cross-section of advocates, including representatives of senior public officers, civics and professionals met earlier this afternoon at the premises of the Senate with the leadership of the Senate led by the President of the Senate, David Mark, GCON over the fallouts from the vote of the Senate to reverse itself on the deletion of Section 29(4)(b) from the Constitution.

Organised under the Gender & Constitutional Reform Network (GECORN), the advocates, who  were led by the Honorable Minister for Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina, included two former Ministers, Josephine Anenih & Oby Ezekwesili; member of the African Committee of on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Mrs. Maryam Uwais; Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu; Executive Secretary of WRAPA & member of the Governing Council of the National Human Rights Commission, Saudatu Mahdi; Executive Director of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, Ayisha Osori; Country Director of Action Dr. Hussaini Abdu; country Vice-President of FIDA, Hauwa Shekarau; National Women Leader of the Labour Party, Mrs. Ebere Ifendu; and representatives of several other non-governmental organizations.

Led by the Senate President, the Senate delegation included Senators Ningi, Chris Anyanwu, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ganiyu Solomon, Nenadi Usman, Anyaogu Exe, and James Manager and later swelled to include Senator Helen Esuene. Outside Senators Kabir Gaya and Nuru Abatemi, among others, also engaged the group

In introducing the dialogue, the Minister for Women Affairs informed the Senate President about the worries of Nigerians which led to the visit of the delegation. Hajiya Saudatu Mahdi presented a two page petition calling on the Senate to re-visit its vote to retain Section 29(4)(b) and making the case why this is both lawful and in the overall interest of the country. The petition also made the point that this is about citizenship and not about religion.

The Honorable Minister, who had called short a working visit to Geneva to attend this dialogue with the Senate formally presented to the Senate President 14,129 hand-written signatures in support of the petition.

In his response on behalf of his colleagues, the Senate President acknowledged that he agreed with the position articulated in the petition. He explained that the Senate on its own took initiative to move, in keeping with the wishes of Nigerians, the deletion of S. 29(4)(b) from the Constitution and reported that when the first vote was taken on this proposal, 85 Senators voted in support of the deletion.

To re-visit this vote successfully, the Senate requires the affirmative vote of 73 members, constituting two-thirds of the 109 members of the Chamber.

He regretted that a member of the Chamber chose to inject religion into the debate and, as a result, sowed division in the proceedings, pointing out that, as a responsible institution, the Senate has always strived to eschew sectarianism from its proceedings. He equally regretted that as a result of the act of this Senator, some of his colleagues “were blackmailed” to revisit their votes and, as a result, when the vote was taken again, they had lost 25 votes and the 60 affirmative votes were not enough to sustain the deletion.

He reported that as he left the Chamber to go home after the vote, he was deluged with calls from all over Nigeria, saying: “some of them didn’t even bother to hear my explanation. They just told me to go to hell.” He said that the Senate was on the side of Nigerians and that they were not happy with being called “paedophiles”, child molesters and the various other names that have been circulating on the social media.

The Senate President said that they have been deluged by the calls and messages of angry Nigerians and affirmed that they were willing to consider re-visiting this vote. He appealed for more education on the virtues of religion scholars and those knowledgeable in these issues, so that people can understand that the vote has nothing to do with religion but is only about citizenship. In his words, the Senate is willing to “find a way forward…. I know that we brought this one on ourselves but please help us to get out of it. We are doing our best to get out of it.

The civic advocates also requested the Senate to hasten action on pending legislative measures affecting the protection of women in Nigeria, including the Violence against Persons Bill, which has been passed by the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, two members of the House of Representatives: Minority Whip, Monday Osagie and Chair of the Diaspora Committee, Abike Dabiri, have introduced a Bill in the House of Representatives for the deletion of Section 29(4)(b) from the Constitution. The Bill may be considered for First Reading when the House meets to begin voting on the Constitutional amendment process on 25 July 2013.

In a related development, The Minister for Women Affairs, Hajiya Zainab Maina, will be addressing a press briefing on the issues arising from the on-going controversy concerning Section 29(4)(b) at the SGF’s conference room, Federal Secretariat, Noon on Thursday, 25 July 2013.

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