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Domestication of CEDAW

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 (CIRDDOC) Nigeria

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, 1999 provides:

  • " (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 a treaty.

  • (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:

  1. 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. 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 before enactment.

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 Senate.

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.


The coalition was birthed after an International conference organized by the Civil Resource Development and Documentation Center (CIRDDOC) NIG and the Coalition of Eastern NGOs (CENGOS) at the National Assembly in 2003, which had...

The National Coalition on Affirmative Action ( NCAA) is made up of 150 NGOs working towards the entrenchment of Affirmative Action polices in the Constitution of Nigeria.


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