Friday, 30 June 2017

#GirlChildEducation: IRREGULARITIES WITHIN THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION AND THEIR EFFECTS ON GIRL-CHILD EDUCATION




By: Bitto Karen K. (BUF Volunteer)

Daily I watched my brothers wake up, rush to the stream to take their baths, gather their books in bamboo bags, eat the breakfast mama and I prepared and go to the far way kingdom called school, which was believed to only be for male children. I always wondered what lay beyond the great stretch of asphalt separating our village from the only school within a 25mile radius. I once ventured across this great divide to the faraway kingdom and sat outside one of the windows, listening to a man wearing big glasses and carrying a giant book and a cane in his hands talk about something called “Matter”. There were very few girls in school and from my perch, I could only see one girl; the village head masters’ daughter. Papa caught me by the window and came all the way from the village with his koboko to flog me back to my senses, repeating as he beat me that my place was in the kitchen, on the farm and “in the other room” and one day I’ll be married off for more goats than I can imagine and a keg of local wine.

I recall that day like it was yesterday; mama had woken me up earlier than usual, talking about how I will learn to love the man and I will give him many children… I was very confused. She boiled water and gave me to bath with, after which she brought out a new dashiki wrapper from her room and gave me to tie. She plaited my kinky black hair into neat cornrows and applied shiny powder on my face and color to my eyelids and mouth. She kept on repeating; “you will make him happy, like I’ve made your father happy”. When she was done, she looked at me and said “my daughter, it is time to take your place”. Exiting the room, she told me to remain in my hut until she came back.

I waited in my hut for what seemed like days, singing songs we sang in the village square during a full moon. Finally mama returned, she looked very sad and was quite edgy. She told me to gather my things quickly and gave me one of her old wrappers to put them in. I gathered my few possessions; a couple of wrappers mama and aunty Basira had given me, one big wooden comb, my “missila”, a small mirror and the necklace grandmother gave to me before she died. I followed mama out of my hut, into the slight drizzle and to the main hut, I saw a big car in front of the main hut, I thought maybe the local inspector had come again on his routine checks, but why would mama ask me to pack my things if he were the one?. Papa sat in his bamboo chair as usual, with his chewing stick in his mouth, talking to an older man I did not know. I greeted the man and he looked at me like a hawk looks at its prey, I was terrified; he was not the village inspector. He had a giant keg of palm wine with him, six goats were tethered outside; four of which were pregnant and the other two had kids with them.

They talked for a while, while mama sat with me in the corner, humming gently and rubbing my head. Papa called me to stand in front of the man, I stood up with shaky legs and walked to where he was. I was then made to kneel down in front of him and Papa said the words that sealed my destiny; “Fasilat, this is your husband”. I felt the tears hot and running down my cheeks before I knew I was crying. Papa wasn’t moved by my tears, he just continued chewing his stick while the man continued analyzing me like some commodity for display. Finally I was told to get up and get my belongings. I walked back to where mama was sitting, I could see that she had been crying too. She hugged me tightly and whispered “my daughter, one day you will be happy again”. Papa snatched me from mama’s grip and pushed me towards the door where the man was waiting with a salacious smile on his face. I looked back one last time at mama, before stepping into the pouring rain with the man.

Fasilat’s story is no different from that of many girls within Nigeria today; forced into marriage, kept out of school, treated like lesser beings in relation to their male counterparts. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, has created a host of provisions in relation to education, but are these provisions justiciable and if they are, have they taken into cognizance the peculiarities of the girl-child or they are just blanket promises cum provisions? This paper attempts answering the salient issues raised for determination above.

The educational objectives of the Federal Government are expressly provided for and contained in Section 18(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, which states that;
(1)“Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels”.  The phrase; “at all levels” here, can not only be interpreted to mean educational levels (Primary-Tertiary) but from a literary view, can be seen to refer to gender levels too (i.e) male and female, hence making girl-child education one of the fundamental objectives of the government.
Still dwelling on Section 18, paragraphs 2 and 3, expressly state that;
 (2) Government shall promote science and technology. (3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education…”
 
Evidently the phrase “as and when practicable” in S18(3) above is a question of time ergo it is not specific. Furthermore, the word “free” in S18(3)(a) is open to interpretation as it is not subjected to further clarification such that whether or not it includes; free uniforms, exercise books, transportation to and fro school or only covers tuition, we would never know hence enshrouding it in some form of mystery. In the same vein, the word “compulsory” in S18(3)(a) can hardly be effected seeing Section 18 in its entirety falls under chapter II of the constitution which is unenforceable(c.f) Section6(6)(c).

From this brief analysis of Section 18 of the supreme law of the nation, it is without much equivocation eminent that the promise for free and equal education to the general populace especially female children is nothing but a mere gratuitous unenforceable promise. Sugar coated lies if I may say.
Moving on to Section 42 of the Constitution which provides for the right to freedom from discrimination either on the grounds of ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political education, it is trite to note that a situation where governments are not willing to pursue gender based employment policies is discriminatory against the girl child and girl-child education, hence an infringement on her constitutional right. But this again is just a mere match stick against the burning inferno of discrimination against the female child, who is looked at from birth as a weaker sex in relation to her male counterparts.

To cap it all up when it comes to provisions within the Constitution in relation to girl-child education, it is sacrosanct to note that the draftsmen of the Constitution did not take into cognizance the peculiarities of the girl-child from which she suffers a lot. Few amongst such peculiarities include the fact that the girl child is more prone to sex-trafficking, child marriage and/or forced marriage. Her daily chores such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water for the family etc. also make her highly susceptible to varying forms of abuse, within and outside her immediate geographical location.
The Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) is not specific on girl-child education as pointed out earlier. Educational objectives contained in Section 18 are encompassed by so great a cloud of justiciability controversies. Chapter II dealing with Fundamental Objectives in its entirety in fact is as good as a waste of constitutional paper space, seeing it is unenforceable, by virtue of the existence of Section 6(6)(c).

This is a major setback for the girl-child who has a right to education. This state of “unjusticiability” has led to the celebrated case of; THE REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS AND ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT(SERAP) V THE FEDERAL REOUBLIC OF NIGERIA AND UNIVERSAL BASIC EDUCATION COMMISSIO;, wherein the plaintiff; a human rights NGO registered under the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (ECCJ), alleged the violation of various rights guaranteed by Articles 1,2,17,21 and 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. The defendant filed a preliminary objection that the Courts jurisdiction is limited to provisions of Article 9 of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol and alleged the Compulsory and Basic Education Act of 2004 and the Child Rights Act 2003 are municipal laws of Nigeria and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Court and that the educational objectives of the Federal Republic f Nigeria, enshrined in Section 18 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not justiciable, hence the plaintiff has no locus standi to initiate this action.
Legal issues raised for determination are:- Whether the Court has jurisdiction to adjudicate on the application filed by the plaintiff, whether the right to education is justiciable and can be litigated before the court and whether the plaintiff lacks locus standi to initiate and maintain this action. The court held that Article 9(4) of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol grants the Court subject-matter jurisdiction over human rights violation by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The right to education recognized under Article 17 of the African Charter is justiciable and independent of the right to education under the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The Court therefore held that notwithstanding the fact that the right to education is not justiciable under the 1999 Constitution; the Court can enforce the right to education as provided for under Article 17 of the African Charter. The Court further held that the plaintiff has locus standi to initiate and maintain this suit.

What is clear in this argument is that even though educational objective as contained in the 1999 Constitution is not justiciable, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice has jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiff’s suit which comes under Article 9(4) of the 2005 Supplementary Protocol that grants the Court subject-matter jurisdiction over human rights violation by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. More so, Nigeria is a member of ECOWAS as well as a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ECCJ held that children have a right to education in Nigeria and that the right to education is justiciable; however the Nigerian government refused to implement this decision. The Constitution also has not taken cognizance of the peculiarities of girl-child education. Despite the provision of right to freedom from discrimination in Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), there is disparity between the number of boys and girls accessing education. Governments are not willing to pursue gender balanced employment policies which is discriminatory against girl-child education. Therefore discrimination is still in practice in contrast to Section 17(3)(a) of the Constitution that all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment. While sub-paragraph (f) protects children, young persons and the aged against all sorts of exploitation the girl-child has long been neglected and engaged in home activities such as cooking, washing utensils and fetching water and firewood.

CONCLUSION: As glorious and as praise worthy as the provisions within the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) may appear, without specific amendments being made to certain sections and provisions, the educational sector will continue to wallow in the bog of lack of fruition and productivity, thus affecting the girl-child who by all means and with all available resources should be protected and educated for a better future and national development in general.










REFERENCES
1- The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended
2- Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/12/07.

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