By Maureen Okpe
The Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the federal government (fg) to enforce the National Gender Policy by allotting 35% of appointments in the public sector to women.
A coalition of women based organisations led by the Women in Politics Forum (WIPF) filed the suit against the Nigerian government, seeking the implementation of the 35 per cent Affirmative Action in appointments of women into public office.
“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.
He argued that the policy is not a law that can be enforced in court.
But delivering judgement on the suit, the judge, Donatus Okorowo, agreed with the plaintiff that Nigerian women had been subjected to various forms of discrimination concerning appointments into key positions of government.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections of the defence lawyer, Terhemba Agbe, that the plaintiff’s case did not disclose the cause of action.
Referencing Section 42 of the Nigerian constitution as it relates to the suit, the judge upheld the plaintiff’s contention “that of all the 44 ministries, there are only about 6 female gender, and that the situation is worse in other MDAs and agencies.”
Mr Okorowo noted that the defendant’s conduct is insinuating that there are no competent and reliable women that should be appointed to “stop the apparent male dominance as witnessed in the appointments” of men into key government positions.
“I agree with their (plaintiff) contention that this cannot be possible out of 70 million women in Nigeria,” Mr Okorowo said.
The judge held that the Attorney-General of the Federation who was the sole defendant in in case, “failed to disprove the material allegations contained in the affidavit, and led no credible evidence to debunk material evidence of the plaintiff.”
“The plaintiff has led cogent, verifiable evidence backed by incontrovertible depositions in their affidavit evidence contrary to the objections raised by the defendant,” the judge said.
The court held, “These violations with impunity and reckless abandon were projected by the plaintiff,” adding “the defendant merely based their arguments on the grounds that the plaintiff’s demands are not justiceable.”
In a stern tone, the judge held, “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.
Mr Okorowo said the court was duty-bound to uphold “the 2006 Affirmative Action for women.”
“This court is not expected to achieve less for Nigerian women, since the constitutional obligation of this court is to apply the law.”
“The two issues for determination are resolved in favour of the plaintiff,” the judge declared.