Among those jostling to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 10th National Assembly, Miriam Onuoha, representing, Isiala Mbano/Okigwe/Onuimo Federal Constituency, Imo, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress is the only female.
In the history of Federal legislation in Nigeria, Mrs Patricia Etteh is the only female to be elected as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Etteh later resigned following allegations of a contract scandal involving N628 million.
In the 9th National Assembly, Rep. Nkiruka Onyejiocha was the only female lawmaker that indicated an interest in the office of House Speaker but her dream was dashed when Rep Femi Gbajabiamila, the incumbent Speaker, won the election.
“Etteh was unjustly removed from office. This is the time for restitution 16 years after her removal”, she recently told the News Agency of Nigeria.
She argued that if Etteh did not properly utilise the opportunity given to female lawmakers it was time to try another woman.
Onuoha said the Etteh incident happened about 16 years ago, adding that in the course of time, the House of Reps evolved in a manner that the working relationship between female members and their male counterparts has improved tremendously.
“I have not seen any guideline in the standing order of the House that excluded women from becoming the House of Reps Speaker.
“Everybody is operating along agreed guidelines and rules; the Constitution of Nigeria frowns against discrimination”, she told NAN, adding that women were natural leaders.
Onuoha said her success as the Chairman, House Committee on Disability, with its 80 per cent male membership was a testimony to her good leadership skill, stressing that many other female lawmakers also excelled in that role.
“Committee is a miniature of the House,” she said.
She said by electing a female Speaker, the House would be making a bold statement for equal opportunities for both genders and demonstrating its institutional support for Affirmative.
“Nigeria women were in court and got a judgement favourable to the implementation of 35 per cent affirmative and electing a female Speaker will be a bold statement in support of that judgement.
“If we have the leadership of the National Assembly recognised as number three and four citizens in the country, and considering that the number one and two citizens are already men, why can’t we make a woman the number four citizen?
“I am not just from the South East, I am a woman and a youth and Christian and these are some of the things that have been raising dust and causing bickering in the country,
“I am not just from the South East, I am a woman, a youth and a Christian. I possess all of these as an antidote to the toxicity in our polity now,” she told NAN.
She said her leadership in the House would ensure equity and promote fiscal discipline and open door policy.
“How can you talk about a population with 55 per cent made up of females yet there is no single woman on the decision-making table in the country?
“There are a lot of efforts that go into futility when taxpayers’ money is being deployed by way of committee meetings and investigative hearings only for the outcome to be dumped; that will stop under my leadership.
“Where you have committees with similar mandates, you will discover that they are inviting the same minister over the same issue, this does not sit well and will be corrected during my tenure,” she said.
She said her tenure would promote transparency in the oversight functions of the House members.
“A situation where you want to carry out an oversight function on a ministry and the ministry or agency government will send you vehicles is not the way for a legislator to do his or her job effectively,” she said.
In spite of the strong case for a female Speaker, some Nigerians say competence should not be compromised for gender sentiments.
One of them is Rep. Benjamin Kalu who posits that “Nigerians are looking for a Speaker that will increase what I call parliamentary sovereignty; where the motions, the resolutions and independence of the arm of government will be showcased better than that of the 9th Assembly.
“Nigerians are looking for a legislature that will be led by a Speaker that understands that though we are diverse, it’s not an impediment. We need a sensitive person to add to that diversity so that he would give everybody that sense of belonging,’’ he said.
However, some gender-based pressure groups have thrown their weight behind the agitation for a female Speaker.
The Coalition for Women Participation in Governance and Leadership has even threatened legal action if female lawmakers are not nominated as presiding officers in the House of Representatives.
Atinuke Olaolu, secretary of the coalition was quoted by the media as saying that there were enough competent women such as Onuoha to lead the House.
“They must consider women who are ranking in order to emerge as presiding officers and chair of significant committees,” Olaolu said.
Similarly, the Women in Politics Forum have urged the Lower Chamber to uphold provisions of the national gender policy by electing a female as Speaker.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, WIPF President, Ebere Ifendu, told newsmen that in addition to electing a female Speaker, the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly should also appoint female lawmakers to lead key committees.
Although male legislators have successfully led the House in recent years, however, as gender advocates argue, what a man can do, a woman can do better.