Jan 6, 2020

The ‘Realities’ Of Women Rights In Nigeria: An Expose | Chinonyerem Sandra Ini-Ememobong and Emaediong Akpan

1.0 Introduction

            It would appear that since time immemorial, the rights of women in Nigeria have been subjected to the wishes and aspirations of their male counterpart. The legal framework for women’s rights in Nigeria is based on the Constitution primarily, other local laws and international treaties relating to women ratified by the country.[i] Women in Nigeria constitute more than two - thirds of the country’s 70% adult non literate population. Despite the fact that women also constitute about 49% of the total population, they are discriminated against in all spheres of their lives.
[ii] The marginalisation of Nigerian women is much more pronounced in the native laws and custom which constitutes a major aspect of the sources of Nigerian law.[iii]

            Women have been subjected to various forms of violence ranging from rape, battering, tracking and even murder. Although the degree diers from society to society, the occurrence has profound and destructive consequences including psychological, physical, emotional and social disorders. The fact that domestic violence prevails across all strata of the Nigerian society is no longer debatable. Despite the spirited eorts made by the world bodies such as the United Nations (e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights) and Nigeria’s constitutions to eliminate discrimination and violence against women, and promote the idea of freedom, equality and justice, the Nigerian woman is often violated on several fronts. Getting justice for a woman who is abused at the family level is most times dicult and wrongly treated by the law, leaving the victim dejected, rejected and dehumanized. There is no specic or direct national law that protects the right of women against violence in Nigeria.[iv] Even where laws exists, they are inadequate or limited in scope by virtue of the undue burden placed on the victims to discharge the burden of proof. Most of the times some of these laws are couched in provisions that are gender biased and sometimes the women victims are not even aware of the existence of the laws. [v]

            Women are not entitled to tax deductions, even if they are the bread winners of the family.[vi] For example, a married woman who seeks relief for expenditure on children or other dependants must show documentary evidence that the father is not responsible for their upkeep or that she incurs substantial expenses independent of him. However, men are not subjected to this requirement.[vii] As noted earlier, the assumption is that men are the bread winners of the family. But in practice, this has been proved to be false.[viii] Meanwhile, the fact is that single mothers are normally taxed without considering their dependants.  In other words, they are often taxed as if they were childless.

            Another discriminatory provision of the law that impedes the protection of women’s right as regards nationality is section 26 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which makes it impossible for a Nigerian woman to pass on her Nigerian nationality to her children that were gotten by a foreigner. Again, her husband cannot become Nigerian by virtue of the marriage. In another respect, Nigeria is a federating unit, and by this arrangement, matters of legislative powers could either fall under exclusive or concurrent lists.[ix] Any item not listed in the exclusive or concurrent lists is considered as residual matters.[x] In this respect, issue of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and customary law are outside the exclusive list.[xi] What this means is that each federating states of the federation can legislate on that matter, and by extension, there would always be conflicting laws by each of the federating states in that regard, depending on the local circumstances of each of the federating states.

            Domestic violence has been given a prime place under the Penal Code section 55 which allows as permitted in some customary rules and traditions, husbands to inflict physical punishment on their wives. Marital rape is also encourages as the husband cannot be said to commit an offence of rape on his wife.[xii]This is irrespective of any resistance made by the wife or the extent of the use of force employed by the husband.

            Another social problem facing women is the issue of male chauvinism in most of our local systems. This is seen in the attitude of most of our judges and indeed in protecting women from rape by their husbands. In fact, the Nigerian Penal Code provides that a man is not able to rape or indecently assault his wife. This was the common law stance as stated in the case of R v. Steel[xiii] their mutual matrimonial consent and contract, the wife had given up herself in this kind … to her husband from which she cannot retreat.”. On the strength of the foregoing, a wife is duty bound to submit herself at all times whenever her husband requested her for sex. This is immaterial of her mood, health or bodily conditions at that time. This is however absurd and strange because a marriage contract is supposed to be deeply rooted on mutual understanding and reciprocal rights of the couple, not a one sided affair. In fact, it does not tally with good reasoning and common sense. Thus, Lord Denning,[xiv] in discussing the rights and duties of spouses under a marriage contract, also shared this view. He said, to decide by agreement, by give and take, and by imposition of the will of one over the other. Each is entitled to an equal voice in the ordering of the affairs which are their common concern. Neither has a casting vote.

            Early and forced marriage are still prevalent in Nigeria and indeed some parts of Africa, early marriage comes in the form of child betrothal, this involves marrying out a girl child immediately after she is delivered.[xv] While forced marriage on the other hand is simply marrying out a girl against her wish, it could also be referred to as induced marriage. In some cases the girls are withdrawn from school or even denied access to education. There are cases in which parents have forced their grown daughters into marriages against their wishes either due to cultural, social, economic or political reasons.

            Another challenge facing women in Nigeria is the issue of Female genital mutilation which is executed with blunt and non-sterile instruments in very unhygienic circumstances.[xvi] The mystical reasons behind the harmful practice are that it prevents promiscuity in women, it controls female sexuality and to preserve the virginity of young girls until marriage. However, studies have shown that there is no truth in these myths, but rather a gross violation of women’s human rights to dignity of persons as contained in section 34 of the 1999 constitution.[xvii]


          The growth of any nation lies in the strength of its women. Are its women allowed to exist like equals with men or they subjected to forms of discrimination that put them in shackles?  The last decade saw Nigeria as a country lagging behind in its achievement of the SDGS. If real progress is to be achieved there has to be a paradigm shift and a conscious effort to place the Nigerian woman in her prime place to fully achieve her full potentials. The problems facing women must be addressed with legislations tailored to specifically address these issues.

[i] The World Bank in a 2009 estimate records the Nigerian population to be 154, 728, 892 3 Dr C.O. Isiramen, Humanism
[ii] F O Dada, ‘The Justiceability and Enforceability of Women’s Rights in Nigeria’ (2014) 14(5) Global Journal of Human-Social Science: E Economics.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] J E Chukwuma, ‘Eliminating Domestic Violence (Lagos: Mbeyi & Associate. (2005).
J N Ezeilo, A Cry for Justice: The Truth About Sexual Violence Against Women in Nigeria  (Enugu: Forth Dimension Publications. (2003).
[v] H I Bazza, ‘Domestic Violence and Women's Rights in Nigeria’ (2010) 4 (2) Societies Without Borders pp.175-192.
[vi] In some parts of the country, especially in Northern Nigeria, where the Islamic law is in operation, a girl could be given out for marriage at an age that is less than 18 years.           
R Muftau, An Appraisal of the Legal Rights of Women in Nigeria’ (2016) 52 Journal of Law, Policy and Globalization                                                                                                                                          
[vii] The Communique of the Joint Tax Board, issued on 21st day of April, (1998).
[viii] T Akumadu, ‘Patterns of Abuse of Women’s Rights in Employment and Police Custody in Nigeria’ (1995) Civil Liberties Organization p. 3.
[ix] While the former falls under purview of the National Assembly, the former is under the States Assemblies.
[x] From this, the states may legislate on residual matters. From this stand point of view, the Child Rights Act of 2003 is only applicable to the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja). To this extent, different age definition may apply on who a child is, and by extension the legal definition of a woman.
[xi] Item 61, part 1, Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. See also section 4 (2) and (7) of the same Constitution.
[xii] Hale, IPC, 269, quoted in Smith and Hogan, Criminal Law, (1983). 
[xiii] (1977) CLS 270 
[xiv] Dunn v Dunn (1948) 2 ALL ER 282.
[xv] M T Shija, ‘Domestic violence and its impact on women’s rights’ (2004) Paper presented at a consultative Forum of stakeholders to discuss the Domestic Violence Draft Bill in Benue State – Nigeria.
[xvi]  H I Bazza, ‘Domestic Violence and Women's Rights in Nigeria’ (2010) 4 (2) Societies Without Borders pp.175-192.
[xvii] O Nwankwo, Female Genital Mutilation (IRDOC Publication Education series No. 15 Enugu. Fourth Dimension Pub. Co. Ltd. (2002).