Briefing on the Domestication of the Convention on the
Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Oby Nwankwo Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW) is the central and most comprehensive human
rights treaty on the elimination of discrimination against women.
Adopted on December 18, 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly,
it is the leading modern instrument on women's rights. It has thus
been described as the definitive international legal instrument
requiring respect for and observance of the human rights of women.
It entered into force as an international treaty on September 3,
1981, after the twentieth country had ratified it in accordance
with the Convention's article 27.
CEDAW is a landmark Convention and the most important normative
instrument that aims to achieve equal rights for women everywhere
in the world. The Nigerian government became a State Party to this
important Convention when it ratified it in 1985 without reservations,
signed the Optional Protocol in 2000 and ratified it in 2004. CEDAW
is an international standard-setting document that establishes the
universality of the principles of equality between men and women
and makes provision for measures to be taken by States Parties to
ensure equality of rights for women throughout the world. It provides
for the adoption at the national level, of legislation prohibiting
discrimination against women.
The underlying motivation of the 30-Article Convention is to draw
special attention to the disadvantages suffered by women over the
years, and to seek specific priority measures to address the imbalances.
Provisions on the Domestication of Treaties in Nigeria are enshrined
in section 12 of the 1999 Constitution. For ease of reference it
is reproduced hereunder.
Section 12 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria,
" (1) No treaty between the Federation and any other country
shall have the force of law except to the extent to which any
such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.
(2) The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation
or any part thereof with respect to matters not included in
the exclusive legislative list for the purpose of implementing
(3) A bill for an Act of the National Assembly passed pursuant
to the provisions of sub-section (2) of this section shall not
be presented to the President for assent, and shall not be enacted
unless it is ratified by a majority of all the Houses of Assembly
in the Federation."
Legislative powers are neatly divided between National and State
assemblies. The Exclusive Legislative List contains a list of items
such as arms, aviation, census, citizenship, implementation of treaties
relating to matters on the exclusive legislative list etc. that
only the National Assembly may legislate on. The Concurrent Legislative
List contains items that both the National and State Assemblies
may legislate on. Matters that do not fall within these two lists
are considered to be within the residual list.
Implementation of treaties affecting matters in the exclusive list
is on the exclusive legislative list. This means that only the National
Assembly is empowered to domesticate treaties on matters on the
exclusive list. This was aptly reflected in section 12 above and
for emphasis, subsection 2 provides that this power of making laws
in respect of implementation of treaties shall also include treaties
dealing with issues not included in the exclusive legislative list.
In other words, a treaty affecting a matter in the exclusive legislative
list will come into force in Nigeria with an enactment of the National
Assembly. If the matter fell within the concurrent or residual list,
the treaty also requires the approval of the majority of the State
Houses of Assembly. Women, children and human rights are not included
in the exclusive and concurrent lists. They therefore fall within
the residual list. It follows therefore from sub-section 3 that
no law passed by the National Assembly with respect to the implementation
of a treaty dealing with women or children will be applicable to
all states of the federation in Nigeria automatically. It will require
approval of at least 23 Houses of Assembly. This is why the Child's
Rights Act recently domesticated by the National Assembly is not
applicable in any other state outside the Federal Capital Territory
and State Houses of Assembly are now being called upon to pass the
law in their various states.
Because CEDAW is a treaty dealing with the rights of women, it
falls within the category of treaties, which must attract "ratification
by a majority of all the Houses of Assembly in the Federation" if
it must become applicable throughout Nigeria.
We can approach the domestication of CEDAW in one of two ways:
The National Assembly will pass it into law and we will approach
the state Houses of Assembly to do the same individually (just
as the Child's Rights Act).
2. The National Assembly will refer the final copy of the bill
to at least 2/3rds of the states Houses of Assembly for ratification
It is our humble wish to adopt procedure no. 1 - that the National
Assembly passes the bill and subsequently we approach the states
to do the same.
The other strategy CIRDDOC has adopted, after consultation with
its allies in the National Assembly, is to avoid re-drafting CEDAW
but to present it the way it is and urge legislators to fulfil their
constitutional responsibility of incorporating it into national
law, Nigeria having ratified it. This same process was adopted in
the domestication of the African Charter which presently forms part
of our national laws. The bill before you, therefore do not need
any input or subtraction. At the most, the corrections required
of the committee are typographical errors which we are willing to
assist you with.
Current Efforts of CIRDDOC Towards the Domestication of
CEDAW: The Civil Resource Development and Documentation
Centre (CIRDDOC) is working closely with the Senate and House of
Representatives Committees on Women, the Federal Ministry of Justice
and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs on the domestication of
CEDAW. A considerable progress has been made in bringing the bill
to the front burner of public discourse. Mr. President in fact,
graciously approved it as an executive bill and presented it to
The bill, being a treaty, does not require second reading before
the Senate. It has therefore been referred to the Senate Committee
on Foreign Affairs for possible corrections. A public hearing is
however, required to satisfy the provision of public participation
in law making. CIRDDOC is willing and ready to assist the Committee
with the organization and mobilization of attendance to the Public
hearing. CIRDDOC with the support of OSIWA also produced two versions
of CEDAW - the full text and an illustrated and simplified version
- and is presently widely disseminating them across the country.
We have copies for the National Assembly. The copies for the Committee
members have been delivered.
At the state level, the state branches of the National Coalition
on Affirmative Action (NCAA), which is being coordinated by CIRDDOC,
are working towards the domestication of CEDAW in at least 23 States
Houses of Assembly, to satisfy the provisions of section 12 of the
Constitution. We are awaiting the passage by the Senate.
Conclusion: Under the nation's obligation under
the CEDAW, a report is required every four years to the UN Committee
on CEDAW regarding the country's activities towards implementing
CEDAW in the country. Two years ago, I was on the NGO delegation
to the UN meeting that considered the Nigerian country report. The
delegation, along with the Government delegation led by the then
Minister of Women Affairs, Obong Rita Akpan, were embarrassed by
the Committee for the failure of Nigeria to domesticate a treaty
that it ratified over 20 years ago. The Minister gave an undertaking
that before the next report, Nigeria would have passed the treaty
into a national law. This report is due again this year and we are
relying on you, the NASS particularly the Committee on Foreign Affairs,
to ensure its passage into law before the term of this NASS expires.