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Politics Nigerian lawmakers reject bill seeking paternity leave for men – here is why

The bill, Provisions for Optional Paternity Leave to all Married Male Employees in Private and Public Service; and for Related Matters (HB. 1191), was sponsored by Hon. Edward Pwajok.

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Nigerian lawmakers last week rejected the bill looking to make paternity leave an available option for all married male employees in private and public service.

The bill, Provisions for Optional Paternity Leave to all Married Male Employees in Private and Public Service; and for Related Matters (HB. 1191), was sponsored by Hon. Edward Pwajok, a member of the House of Representatives from Jos South/East, Plateau State.

Hon. Pwajok, in his submission, said: “No better person can support a newly born baby than the father which will make the child more emotionally stable if the father stays close.”

“This will not be peculiar to Nigeria alone, it’s done globally,” Pwajok added.

What the Optional Paternity Leave is all about

- The bill was meant to give an optional two-week or more (depending on the decision of the of House) paternity leave to ensure that mother and child get adequate care from the father.

- The presence of the father to play a very significant role if the mother or the child had health challenges.

- The bill would allow the father to support the mother and take care of the child during that early stages post-childbirth.

However, this bill was rejected by the floor.

What the Female lawmakers said

A female lawmaker, Hon. Rita Orji, wondered why Nigerian men would need a paternity leave when they have nothing to recover from.

Hon. Orji, while contributing to the debate, added that many men are negligent in their duties as husbands as they often do not know when their wife’s expected delivery date is, and that some are even nowhere to be found while their wives are in labour.

She also said that some men take to their heels when their wives deliver multiple babies and asked if these were the same sort of men who ought to now be rewarded with paternity leave.

But her colleague, Hon. Betty Apiafi (Rivers State) who stood on the defence said an amendment to the Labour Act may be a better alternative since that already specifies maternity leave for women and all that would need to be done is to amend it to cover men too.

Other Nigerian lawmakers arguments

Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta said that the bill is long overdue but raised concerns about the prevalence of polygamy and modalities which would need to be put in place to ensure that such situations do not enable abuse of the law. He also suggested stepping down the bill and amending the Labour Act instead.

Hon. Kingsley Chinda spoke against the bill, saying that men and women do not go through the same thing and the idea is not worth considering at this stage.

He argued that the concept is alien to the Nigerian society and that the better option would also be to amend the labour law.

Prof. Mojeed Alabi, Osun State, also opposed the bill on grounds of the negative effect on productivity. He said that a major problem in Nigeria is the presence of too many holidays and that in addition to lazy youths, we would also be breeding lazy husbands if the bill is passed into law.

Hon. Henry Okon Archibong, Akwa Ibom, cited Biblical guidelines on gender roles; he said men are to provide for their families and the idea of paternity leave goes against that. He concluded by saying that Hon. Pwajok was comparing Nigeria to the United States and other Western countries, forgetting that our circumstances are different.

The lawmakers rejected the bill in a voice note put forward by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.

This is not the first time Nigerian lawmaker would be kicking against progressive ideas and policies citing cultural and traditional differences.

In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that criminalise same-sex relationships and up to 14 years imprisonment for same-sex "amorous relationships" and membership of gay rights groups. He reneged on it one year after leaving office, saying Nigeria may revisit the law.