Women and the Law in Nigeria: A Reappraisal

By Ekhator, Eghosa Osa | Journal of International Women's Studies, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Women and the Law in Nigeria: A Reappraisal


Ekhator, Eghosa Osa, Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

Nigeria is a federal state with a population of about 150 million. Women make up more than half of the population. Nigeria's legal system is pluralist. It is made of up of English common law, customary law, Islamic (Sharia) law and statutory law. Customary law is prevalent in the southern part whilst Islamic law is widely made recourse to in many of the states in the northern part.

The Nigerian society is inherently patriarchal. This is due to the influence of the various religions and customs in many parts of Nigeria. Here, women are seen as the 'weaker sex' and discriminatory practices by the State and society (especially by men) are condoned. Thus, it has been argued that "the traditions and culture of every society determine the values and behavioural patterns of the people and society ... a culture that attributes superiority to one sex over the other exposes the sex that is considered to be inferior to various forms of discrimination" (Ngwankwe, 2002:143; Alemika, 2010).

Furthermore, Ibidapo-Obe (2005:262) contends that "human rights is flavoured by the culture within which it is to be invoked ... the perception of human rights is conditioned, in space and time, by a combination of historical, political, economic, social, cultural and religious factors."

Discrimination against women is endemic and was also highly prevalent in ancient societies such as Rome, Athens and Africa amongst others (Oputa, 1989). Unfortunately, in some areas in Nigeria (even until present times), in some cultures women and children are regarded and treated as chattel or property (Akande, 1993). Thus, women are said to be among the vulnerable groups subjected to discrimination in Nigeria (Olubor, 2009).

Discrimination against Women in Nigeria

Generally, many laws discriminate against women in Nigeria. Some of these laws include some aspects of customary law practices, the Labour Act, Sharia law and some constitutional provisions amongst others.

Labour Issues

Under 55(1) of the Labour Act herein a woman cannot be employed on night work in a public or any agricultural undertaking (with the exception in Section 55(7) of women nurses and women in management positions who are not engaged in manual labour section). Under Section 56(1) of the Labour Act women are prevented from engaging in any underground work in any mine. Furthermore, women are denied the opportunity of being accompanied by their spouses to their place of employment or posting in the service (Ashiru, 2010). This provision is not applicable to men.

By virtue of Section 34(1) of the Labour Act, men who are employed in the public service in Nigeria are permitted to be accompanied to their place "by such members of his family (not exceeding two wives and such of his children as are under the age of sixteen years) as he wishes to take with him". Also there are some civil service rules in Nigeria that also accentuate discrimination of women. For example, Rule 03303 of both Kano and Kaduna States' Civil Service Rules provides that "Any woman civil servant, married or unmarried who is about to undertake a course of training of not more than six months duration shall be called upon to enter into an agreement to refund the whole or part of the cost of the course in the event of her course being interrupted on ground of pregnancy" (Imasogie, 2010:15).

Discrimination against Women in the Police Force and Other Similar Para-Military Services in Nigeria

By virtue of Section 127 of the Police Act, married women are prevented from seeking enlistment in the Nigerian Police Force. Under section 127, when an unmarried police woman is pregnant, she would be discharged from the police force. She can only be re-instated on the approval of the inspector general of police.

Under Regulation 124 of the Police Act, a woman police officer who is interested in getting married must initially apply in writing to the commissioner of police for approval (Imasogie, 2010). …

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