Abayomi G. Omotayo

The Sultan of Sokoto wants the Gender Equality Bill rejected by the Senate. He expressed his opinion which he is entitled to at the closing ceremony of the 20th Zamfara State Annual Qur’anic Recitation Competition. I hope this remains an opinion and this does not become a directive. This is Nigeria and there is a thin, almost nonexistent line between opinions and directives especially if it is coming from a ‘big man’.

Some of the elements of the bill include; the equality of male and female children in sharing inheritance, the widow should be entitled to the custody of her children unless it is contrary to the welfare of the children, a widow should have the right to remarry any man of her choice and should have the right to the fair share in the inheritance of her late husband’s property and the right to live in her matrimonial home. I am still at a loss figuring out why a move to protect the most vulnerable people in our society would be blatantly opposed. This is Nigeria, we don’t care about women and children. The alarming number of beggars and hawkers who are school-age children and the abuse of women and children in the IDP camps are indicative of this. The sad news from the IDP camps only succeeded in making headlines but be rest assured that the perpetrators will not face any hard times. This is Nigeria, justice uses its discretion judiciously.

In a multi religious society like Nigeria, our leaders must be careful and very thoughtful when making statements or expressing opinions. The opposition from the Sultan is based on religious reasons, this raises the question whether Nigeria is a religious or a secular state. The constitution rightly guarantees freedom of religion but it does not cede supremacy to any religion whatsoever. It is therefore imperative that the laws that guide and protect us as a people must be made based on common good and not on religious sentiments. Let us imagine that all the traditional worshippers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and other religious affiliations begin to ask for their rights based on their personal religious beliefs to be enshrined into the constitution. Chaos will be the result. Well, this is Nigeria and we are no stranger to chaos.

Our lawmakers will do well not to confuse universal rights with religious rights. While religious rights should be accommodated by universal rights to the extent that it does not compromise the common good or well being of the society, the senators must not forget that we did not vote them in because they owe us any religious obligations, we voted them with the hope that they will make laws that will make our country a better place. The debate and deliberations over this bill should be devoid of any religious consideration. The bill should simply be considered on its merits. I hope the senators will allow objectivity and not religious and cultural sentiments to prevail. This is Nigeria, religion makes simple things complicated. Very complicated.

I urge the civil societies and the NGOs, even though there is no prospect of ‘IDP Donation’ in this matter, to keep the pressure on the senate and continuously put this issue at the front burner of national discourse to ensure that this bill is passed. Let every learned, objective and common-sense-bequeathed citizen from the constituencies of our senators hold their representatives accountable over this bill. It must see the light of the day. This is Nigeria, darkness oftentimes triumph over PHCN.
In this season of goodwill and as we approach the new year with high hopes, let us remember the vulnerable women and children in the IDP camps, the woman left with no inheritance because the men, her siblings have grabbed it all, the child with no future because the father is dead and the family have ejected the mother with the children from her matrimonial home, stripped her naked financially and socially. They need our prayers but beyond that, they need our voices and active engagement to ensure that they are shielded from abuse and protected. This is Nigeria and a certain circle in gold guarantees more protection that the law.

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