Rights Of Women In The Constitutions Of Nigeria, 1960- 2007 Case Study Of Afikpo

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Rights Of Women In The Constitutions Of Nigeria, 1960- 2007 Case Study Of Afikpo


This study is written in view of the growth of the waves of feminism, which pay special attention to women’s rights within the society that is more or less gender insensitive. It is following the regard of women as human legal entities who or which are endowed by nature or by law with the capacity to enter into legal relations such as contracts of employment, commercial contracts and marriage contracts without detraction from social constraints. Thus this study is concerned with the sum total of rights and duties concerned with the women as provided in the constitution by reason of their legal affiliation to the state-Nigeria.

Table of Contents

  • Title page
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents

Chapter One

General Introduction

  • 1.1 Background to the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Purpose of Study
  • 1.4 Significance of the Study
  • 1.5 Scope of the Study
  • 1.6 Sources and Methodology of Data
  • 1.7 Organization of Study
  • 1.8 Review of Related Literature
  • 1.9 Endnote

Chapter Two

Concept and Development of Rights

  • 2.1 The Concept and Development of Rights
  • 2.2 The Adoption of Rights in the Constitution of Nigeria
  • 2.3 Rights of Afikpo Women in Historical Perspective
  • 2.4 Endnotes

Chapter Three

Women’s Rights and Afikpo Women

  • 3.1 Women’s Rights, Afikpo Women and the 1960 Constitution
  • 3.2 The 1963 Constitution
  • 3.3 The 1979 Constitution
  • 3.4 The 1999 Constitution
  • 3.5 Endnotes

Chapter Four

Applicable Principles of Rights and Afikpo Women

  • 4.1 Applicable Principles of Rights of Women in Afikpo
  • 4.2 Limitations to the Rights
  • 4.3 Widowhood Perception in Afikpo
  • 4.4 Girl Child Perception in Afikpo
  • 4.5 Women’s Organizations and Issues Canvassed
  • 4.6 The Impacts of the Women’s Organizations
  • 4.7 Comparative Analysis to Other Igbo Societies
  • 4.8 Endnotes

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • 5.3 Recommendation
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

This study is written in view of the growth of the waves of feminism, which pay special attention to women’s rights within the society that is more or less gender insensitive. It is following the regard of women as human legal entities who or which are endowed by nature or by law with the capacity to enter into legal relations such as contracts of employment, commercial contracts and marriage contracts without detraction from social constraints. Thus this study is concerned with the sum total of rights and duties concerned with the women as provided in the constitution by reason of their legal affiliation to the state-Nigeria.

Rights, as used in this regard, are privileges or prerogatives that are conferred on a person or a group by law. In other words, they are lawful claims, which the state defined and is ready to protect.1 Rights (both political and civil rights) according to Olakanmi Olajide, are fundamental freedom which all men and women, are entitled, without discrimination. These, he further noted, are based on the laid down philosophy of the international law which reads: “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.2

Rights are entitlements that are essential for human existence. Umozurike, Oji U. observes that these rights are third generation rights. The first generation rights, which were first to be recognized are: the right to life, liberty, dignity, etc; the second generation rights are: the right to education, health, work, etc; and other third generation rights include the right of self-determination, to develop, to natural wealth and resources, etc.3 However it must be pointed that in spite of the declarations for these rights, there are still agitations for freedom and rights which are evident in the different waves for the rights of women, thus showing that these rights are not being enjoyed by the people they are meant for.

Chukwudifu A. Oputa says that every human being (i.e. both male and female) is a valuable creature on which justice is built. The Bible commands us to love one another, but justice asks that if we cannot love, at least we do not injure. For anything that constitutes an injury is thus against the law, after all the law cannot compel us to love. However, he maintains, it is pertinent to note that the violation of rights, especially of women is the fault of the countrymen who have failed to cultivate law culture or acquire the virtue of reverence of law. Olisa Agbakoba submits that when injustice, discrimination and degradation of human value tend to thrive, human right groups such as women liberation movement or wave of feminism is very imminent.

There is no doubt that women have played dynamic and constructive roles and thus contributed tremendously to societal development, but those roles as well as their status are yet to break the chauvinistic and patriarchal dominance. They are socialized to accept inferior position to their male counterpart.

Afikpo, the second metropolitan town in Ebonyi State, has the population of 61956 out of which women are 29864.6 Here the women represent about 48.9% of the population and also command numerical strength. But the age-long inferior status or perception of women that emanated from cultural and religions beliefs have continued to affect them (women). Some of these beliefs have been practiced for so long that they are embedded in the societal norms, and such that the laws of the land or constitutions and international instruments, which protect the rights of women, are flagrantly infringed in the guise of cultural and religions beliefs. Jivka Marinova notes that:

We represent over half of humanity. We give life, we work, love, create, struggle, and have fun. We currently accomplish most of the work essential to life and the continued survival of humankind. Yet our place in society continues to be undervalued.7

Despite the equality in right enshrined in the Nigeria constitution, some statutes and international instruments, the male dominated society of Afikpo preferred the application of some of these discriminatory aspects of the customary law, which adversely affected the status and position of women. For instance, in the case of Nzekwu Vs Nzekwu (1989) Z.N.W.L.R. (pt 104) C.A., the Supreme Court held that “on the event of the husband’s death, a widow who has no male issue has only a right to occupy the building or part of the building belonging to her husband subject to good behaviour”.8 This judgment witnessed remarkable dissatisfaction on the grounds that it was repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience; also it was said to be unconstitutional to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which Nigeria was signatory. But the ruling, which was dispensed in favour of the customary law, remained, thereby equating the human right charters or provisions to the laws, which the wicked do not obey and the righteous do not enforce.

There is a saying in Afikpo that; an old woman never forgets the dance steps she learnt while she was still young. The fact that the old woman (still) remembers or knows the dance suggests her possession of admirable mental capacity. Some of these proverbs of Afikpo are however being undermined by other negative, derogatory and sexist ones which are, in the majority and are constantly, being used to highlight the inferiority of women. Some of these proverbs are:

  1. A woman whose husband has just died and she prepares to go to market knows what killed him;
  2. A dog trained by a woman (always) bites people to death;
  3. A woman whose husband has decided to hate cannot solve the problem by mere cooking of delicious soup; and
  4. When a woman is getting old, it would seem as if money (bride price) was not paid to marry her.

These proverbs portray women as unreliable and inferior to men. In other words, they are used to consolidate gender gap, subject women to the state of servitude and perpetuate the dual burden of domestic task and sexual or professional obligation. O.O. Bisi and A.A. Abiola, noted that in this type of society, the educated and rich women are not left behind, only that uneducated and poor women especially in the rural communities are worse victims than educated and rich women in the urban centres.

As noted earlier, the constitutions of Nigeria have provided checklists of the fundamental rights. The vague interpretations of these rights prove that the constitution have betrayed the seeming desire, especially of the women to discontinue with patriarchal tradition of our society. For instance, in the 1999 Constitution, the pronoun “he” appears 235 times and the word “woman” is used only two times such as in section 26(2) (a) and 24 (4)(b).10 The implication of the application of any of these provisions affects such cases that may concern the rights of women and hinders the development of women.

The constitutions strengthen masculinity, thereby violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, Beijing Platform for Action on Women, which stipulates that 30% of political appointments and elective positions should be reserved for women, and Millennium Development Goal, specifically goals no. 3 which stipulates ending discrimination against women. Thus while making dichotomy, the international perspective of state obligation to protect its citizen, particularly women, makes the state culpable consequent upon which the women in Afikpo suffer inequality and various forms of violence such as genital mutilation, sexual assault, rape and getting over burdened by household chores.

Although, different States and Local Governments in Nigeria have moved to make legislations that will grant equality of right and create more freedom to women. In Afikpo, these legislations are protracted because of the believe that they will not only destroy the cultural stereotype or patriarchal dominance but that they will bring about animals-like nudity in the name of civilization, destroy the intrinsic nature of women in the name of equality, and destroy the family value. Further, it is believed that they will destroy social configuration or social paradigm which is inevitable in every socieity.12 With this, it is difficult to incorporate the principle of equality of women and men in the domestic laws, and also it had made the enforcement of such laws that protect women’s right ineffective. In fact the constitutional frameworks in Nigeria has been defective, hence this study.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

So much has been written on human rights and the status of women. However in Afikpo, there is clear-cut controversy between the men and the woman as to who should be blamed for women inferior perception of their rights. Whereas the men claimed that women are the architects of their misfortune, and that they destroy their bid for freedom through petty jealous and self-aggrandizement, the women on their part argued that men hide under the cloak of culture to subjugate their rights; in other words, that they are cast in the mould of victims of male chauvinism to remain perpetually servitudes. This argument or problem has created room for sentimental approaches by writers and researchers. In view of this, this study tends to balance these views with reference to the constitutions of Nigeria.

Further, there is problem in giving correct meaning or definition to the issue of women’s rights or the agitation for the observance of equality as enunciated in the constitutions of Nigeria. Some writers see it as the means to destroy the intrinsic nature of women and popularize animal-like nudity, while some see it as the means to respect the humanity of women, foster morality and decency, and contribute effectively to societal growth. Even some writers claim that it is a plan by women to usurp the position of men. This problem has led to the emergence of different schools of thought. However, this study aspires to give ascriptive meaning to these rights with reference to the constitutions of Nigeria and particular emphasis on Afikpo.

Also there is a problem in establishing correct relationship between the culture of Afikpo and the rights of women. Some women writers believe that the subjugation of women’s rights is embedded in the culture of Afikpo, and that women can only be liberated when the culture is destroyed, while some writers argue that women can assert their ability to achieve equality without altering the structure or culture of the society. This problem has continued to generate different cases owing to the fact that the culture determines the economic activities, social values, clothing, music, language and religion of women. In view of this, this study tends to address this problem by giving detail description to the status of women and their rights in the culture of Afikpo and as defined in the constitution of Nigeria.

1.3 Purpose of Study

The constitutions of Nigeria have enunciated fundamental rights. The interpretations of these rights have varied according to the wordings of the provisions thereby creating different approaches to the adoption of the rights in feminist issues in different societies including Afikpo. According to Uduma, U. O., there are aspects or provisions to which we can and those to which we cannot attach normative significance to the feminist issues.13 But many feminist writers have failed to establish relevant linkages to the provisions to justify the roles of women or their claims of violation of the rights. They could not have critical review to their claimed “inferioritization” of women or some traditional practices such as widowhood practices, female genital mutilation, force a marriage and other with regard to the provisions of the constitution rather they scorn the customary practices.

Against this backdrop, it becomes imperative to undertake an indepth study into the rights of women with particular reference to Afikpo society, thus establishing the basis for the traditional practices in relations to the constitutions of Nigeria. This is aimed at dispelling the growing prejudice of culture and men, and to make women take their rightful position in the Afikpo society, considering that gender equity and women participation are crucial to social justice, thereby serving as a yardstick for measuring development of any society.

It is aimed at creating political will to the constitutional provisions of the rights of women in order to translate the dream of socio-cultural, economic, political and technological struggles into concrete realities which will also benefit Afikpo society. The former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Anan said that gender equality and the women empowerment are vital tools to combat poverty and disease.14 Ban Kin Moon Submits that until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice all goals of peace, security and sustainable development will remain in jeopardy15.

1.4 Significance of the Study

So much has been written on the status as well as the contributions of women with little or no attention to the rights of women in reference to the constitutions of Nigeria. However this study will help to examine the different facets or aspects of the rights in the constitutions, that is, 1960 Constitution, 1963 Constitution, 1979 Constitution and 1999 Constitution, as well as how they have affected women particularly in Afikpo society. Critical interpretations of the provisions shall help to justify the basis of customary practices, which are parts of the legal system or sources of constitution and the areas they violate the rights of women. Thus it will bring to the fore the contemporary status of women in Afikpo.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is signatory to many international instruments on women, which have sensitized the successive governments on the plight and status of women. Also there were, and still are several programs and policies whose impacts have created a watershed in fostering the rights of women. But none of the writers established relevant linkages of these impacts to women in Afikpo society. However this study will help to have a critical review of these programmes and policies, as well as the impacts on Afikpo women.

This study will help understand the notable Afikpo women who have contributed in fostering the agitation of women’s rights through their active role in politics. This is to discredit the assumptions that women in Afikpo were unfit to hold positions of authority. Also, the operations of some solidarity organizations in Afikpo shall be examined one of which is the women wing of the Afikpo Town Welfare Association. This is to discredit the assumptions that women in Afikpo did not have any solitary organizations, and that their everyday relationships with other women were based on individual friendship.

Finally, this study will help make a case for subsequent research. In other words, it will aid students, researcher and human right writers or activists to sustain the feminist struggle.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This study tends to examine the trends of interpretations and applications of the rights of women in Nigeria with emphasis on Afikpo society. For the purpose of clarity, Nigeria here covers all the 36 states including Abuja and the 774 local governments on which the constitutions had and still have binding force, but it is limited to Afikpo local Government area in Ebonyi State of Nigeria.

The study spans a period of forty-seven years, 1960-2007. The reason for the choice of this period is to review the various Constitutions: 1960 Constitution, 1963 Constitution, 1979 Constitution and 1999 Constitution; as well as their interpretations and applicable principles to women, especially in Afikpo. The 1960 constitution took effect on 1st October 1960 when Nigeria became independent. Although the Queen was still the Head of State, it gave, for first time, full fundamental rights to Nigeria. However to make Nigeria fully independent of Britain and to correct vague interpretation associated with the 1960 Constitution, the 1963 Constitution was adopted as a Republication Constitution. This Constitution was not yet free of problems coupled with pogrom and civil war when women were the highest victims of human right violation. In 1979, a new constitution was adopted. It was amended to form the 1999 Constitution. The study is extended to 2007 because of the continuous impacts of the constitution on the rights of women in Afikpo.

1.6 Sources and Methodology of Data

The sources used for this study are in two categories viz; primary sources and secondary sources. For the primary sources, oral interview was accorded importance. It cut across the sex, age, occupation and education background of the informants, from different communities that constitute Afikpo; although much more attention was concentrated on those people who were most likely to recall and recount events very vividly. Beside oral source, government diaries were used. These supplied undoubted information on various programs and policies formulated to foster the rights of women in Afikpo.

For the secondary sources, information was accessed from degree projects and theses. These were, indeed, possible by the research carried out in Ebonyi State University Library and the state library. Also textbooks and publications were consulted, though none had emphasis on Afikpo in this regard, nevertheless they were proven relevant for linkage or review.

For the purpose of this study, interdisciplinary approach was used. Thus it reconciled different disciplines such as history law, political science, social studies and anthropology. It also adopted thematic method in combination with analytical and descriptive techniques.

1.7 Organization of Study

The work is divided into five distinct chapters. Chapter one deals with the general introduction of the topic of the research: background information, research problem, purpose and scope of the study, methodology as well as review of related literature. Chapter two undertakes to conceptualize the development of rights as in the constitution and the historical perceptive of women in Afikpo. Chapter three examines the interpretations of these rights in the Nigerian constitutions and how they affect Afikpo women. Chapter four discusses various applicable principles of these rights, the limitations, widowhood perception, girl child perception, and women organizations as well as their impacts in Afikpo. Chapter five summarizes the discussion and attempts a conclusion along with recommendation.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Summary

From the foregoing, the findings are obvious. To start with, it can be seen that the constitutions of Nigeria provided for the check-list of the fundamental human rights, including that women, but the wordings of the provisions have made the enforcement a mirage. The constitutions failed to destroy the seeming patriarchal tradition of our society like Afikpo. No wonder it is said that the cultural and religious beliefs were not only embedded in the societal perception almost as norms, but also they prevailed over these constitutional rights. As to the questions of who should be blamed for women inferior perception of their, rights thus defined in the statement of the problem, it can be seen that both the men and the women are sensitize and indorcrinated in shush that each knew what was expected them. Here, it was expedient that the women must play second fiddle roles, particularly, taking care of the domestic sphere while men take care of the public sphere.

Indeed, based on the superior theses being expounded in favour of men as consequent upon social values attached to gender roles in Afikpo, it can easily be said that men, no doubt, lid under the cloak of culture to subjugate women’s constitutional rights. Thus despite several international instruments on women which Nigeria was and still is signatory to, the treaties of these instruments were not domesticated in Afikpo; and despite being almost half of the population, Afikpo women have not affected the age-long inferior status the society bestowed on them. Politically, they were underrepresented; economically, they were disempowered, especially with unequal access to credit facilitate and increased burden of poverty; and socially, they were discriminated upon in the sharing of societal responsibilities. Although the need to restructure the declining situation of Afikpo women informed the move to form women’s groups and networks, which seemed to spearhead the agitations for the improvement of women’s rights in Afikpo.

Besides, it can be seen that the rights of the all-men and women alike-constitute human rights. In view of this, Afikpo women had not only formed different groups but also adopted different strategies to bring home their plights. In other words, they are concerned with the need to fervent such abuses which range from poor work condition, battering, forced child marriages, high and scandalizing maternal mortality rate, genital mutilation, exclusion in politics, non implementation of statutory policies that promote women’s rights, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of women, trafficking in girl child, and so on. also in response to address these abuses, the government of Ebonyi State has moved to establish family court, which would try various forms of violence against women, and create other welfare schemes for under privileged women.

Finally, this study revealed that inferior status of Afikpo women as well as their rights could not necessarily be attributed to the norms of the society but to the misgivings, which already existed among women. Some of them (the women) seemed to take advantage of their token position to suppress their fellow women. This sometimes, aggravated structural violence and some inhuman treatments, especially against the widows.

5.2 Conclusion

In the light of the growing argument between the men and the women as to who should be blamed for women victimization thus stated in the problem, both sides share the blame. Indeed, as explained in chapter two and three Afikpo is a patriarch society where the rights of women go with ingrained prejudices. This has made the domestication of the notion of equality as entrenched in the constitution very difficult. Also in this case, men who are sensitized to see themselves as superior to women use their positions to manipulate women. No wonder in the findings of the interview, 70% of the interviewees affirmed that men hide under cloak of the culture to subjugate women.

On the other hand, Afikpo women are indoctrinated into accepting their gender roles as a fait accompli. In other words, they not only see themselves as appendage to the men, but also they are sensitized to know what is expected of them in the family. They believe it is true to some extent that what a man can do, the woman can equally do, but it is not expedient that women should insist on doing everything that man does at the expense of nature’s assigned honorific roles of wifehood and motherhood. Also, as explained in chapter four, politically women are used to contend with women political opponents, and they reserve the power to monitor the observance of widowhood rites according to the customs of Afikpo. To them (i.e., Afikpo women), the culture takes precedence over their rights as provided in the constitutions of Nigeria.

Although, rights, as defined in chapter two, are the privileges without which no woman can seek to be herself at best. They were acknowledged in the constitutions of Nigeria only to the extent that they did not impinge upon societal values and norms. Invariably, the constitutions of Nigeria allow for those customary practices that regulate the activities of women. As a result, in Afikpo, a woman ceases legally to be a person upon her marriage since her rights are subsumed under her husband’s. She does not only abandon her maiden name but also comes under the martial authority of the husband. Thus the husband both legally and culturally determines the economic activity, religion, clothing and language of the woman. He mediates in the relationship between the culture and the woman with constitutional backing. However, no wonder, it is said that the barrier to women’s development in different spheres of life is rooted in the cultural and religious beliefs of the patriarch society like Afikpo.

5.3 Recommendations

The structure Afikpo society should reflect a partnership between matriarchy and patriarchy, rather than a domination of one by the other. This can reduce the extent of sexist practice or gender discrimination and bring about more equitable distribution of resources. In other words, it can enhance the utilization of the creative contributions of women, who constituted about half of the population of Afikpo, in the quest for sustainable development.

There should be comprehensive review of the constitution to further the promotion and protection of Afikpo women’s rights and so as to provide them with the have the legal framework for the enhancement of the status and welfare of women in Afikpo. Here it will need to touch on the specificity of women’s rights in terms of being free from harmful tradition practices, which included widowhood rites, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other which have constituted a continuing threat to the lives of women in Afikpo.

There should be affirmative action to ensure the advancement of women in Afikpo. This will entail incorporating the principle of equality of men and woman, thus eliminating every form of discrimination against Afikpo women by person, organization and enterprises, and making the law accessible, irrespective of wealth and gender. Even physical or metal disable women should be provided with the conducive environment to live free

Afikpo woman should believe in the dignity of womanhood, especially in the exercise of her rights. This will entail subjecting herself to naturally imposed limitation in order to continue to fulfill her God given roles and functions, which the man cannot perform. This includes giving birth to children, giving suck to the children and providing motherly care to the children. This will dispel the notion that women, even in Afikpo, want to hide under the guise of women’s rights to replace natural birth system with artificial reproduction. Also it will help to correct the uncontrollable state of many children.

Afikpo women and men should be educated or enlightened. This will raise the consciousness of the women and equip them with the tools for wisely repudiating the negative overbearing tendencies of the men.

The enabling environment should be created to enable Afikpo women to aspire to any height without reneging on the sacred duties of wifehood and motherhood. Here Afikpo women should actively participate in politics and government.

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