President of the Senate, David Mark, has promised that the Senate will revisit its decision to amend Section 29(4)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which defines the full age of a woman seeking to renounce her citizenship.
The Senate Committee on Constitution Review led by Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, had recommended that sub-section 4b be deleted because it was “discriminatory.” It suggested that a woman of any age, once married, was an adult.
Although Section 29 deals with the right of citizens to renounce their citizenship and subsection 4 defines the age at which a citizen could do so, a religious connotation brought in by Senator Ahmed Yerima swayed Senators’ votes to retain the clause.
The Senate had initially voted to delete it as recommended by the committee, but had to retake its voting after Yerima and a few others protested.
While receiving a Non-Governmental Organisation, Gender and Constitutional Reform Network, in the Senate on Wednesday, Mark admitted that religious sentiment played a role in the final outcome of the voting on the clause.
He however noted that the public misunderstood the Senate in not recognising the fact that its members had actually proposed to delete the sub-section, without any prompting from the public.
Mark assured the visitors that the Senate was prepared to revisit the clause, but pointed out that the public needed to be better educated on the subject.
He said, “I want to appeal to all Nigerians that now that we know that this is not receiving the acceptance of majority of Nigerians and people are getting educated, that there is no religious connotation, there is no reason why we cannot revisit it. The important thing is that if we take a step, which is wrong, we can retrace it.
“I think the problem is not whether we can still revisit Section 29 (4b) or not, that is not the issue; it is whether we can get the number of votes to be able to delete it. With all due respect, the entire Senate is being castigated.
“There was and there is still a big misunderstanding of what the Senate is trying to do. We are on the side of the people. That was why we put it that we should delete it; that is what the people want. We, in fact, were the first to take the step in the direction of deleting it. It didn’t go through because of other tangential issues that were brought to the floor of the Senate that are totally inconsequential and unconnected.
“When we voted at first, we had 85 votes and we were 101 during plenary. Eighty five voted, and about six abstained. There was hardly any dissenting voice. But once it got mixed up with so many other issues, we couldn’t get the 85 anymore. But I think the castigation outside is done out of misunderstanding by the general public.
“But a religious connotation was brought into it, it became a very sensitive issue. You must agree with me that in this country, we try as much as possible not to bring in issues that involve faith to this chamber.
“I think the bottom line is when people get sufficiently educated, we can do a rethink and if the Senate agrees, we can then go back and see whether we can get the required number once more, because that is the solution.