International Women’s Day: Women Want More Seats in Parliaments

International Women’s Day: Women Want More Seats in Parliaments

Female politicians in Nigeria are firing their best shots in discharging their responsibilities at all levels of governance. All they crave are more opportunities to participate in governance. Today, March 8, is the International Women’s Day. A day set aside to celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and to critically

Female politicians in Nigeria are firing their best shots in discharging their responsibilities at all levels of governance. All they crave are more opportunities to participate in governance. Today, March 8, is the International Women’s Day. A day set aside to celebrate the progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and to critically reflect on those accomplishments and strive for a greater momentum towards gender equality worldwide.

This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias” but several obstacles in the form of discrimination are on the way for the Nigerian women. These have made breaking the ceiling a little more difficult and conscripted women positions in the political landscape. Just last week, Nigerian womenfolk suffered another major setback when five gender sensitive proposals (Bills) towards amendment of the Nigerian constitution were rejected by the bicameral National Assembly.

Despite all odds, however, some women who have been given opportunities to participate in political leadership keep proving their mettle and are excelling. Today, in commemoration of the International Women’s Day, we present an interview with two women parliamentarians: : Hon (Dr) Itam Abang who represents Boki 1 State Constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly and Honourable (Mrs) Lilian Nwachukwu who represents Ohaozara East State Constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly.

This interview is an excerpt from a documentary Women in Politics being put together by the International Press Centre which facilitated a workshop on Capacity Building How to Use the Media for the women shortly before the 2019 elections.

It was conducted by IPC Executive Director, Lanre Arogundade: Omolola Arogundade; Deola Olanrewaju; Ayo Ayoade; Sanmi Falobi; David Adeleke and Consultants Edmond Enaibe; Mr Adeola Soetan and Mr Austin.

We are having this for two or three reason. The first is that I thought that we should be having regular engagements with female candidates that the International Press Centre engaged by way of the capacity building workshop before the election and especially those of you that got elected in that process across the country, about twelve of you were elected, eight for the first time. It is good for us to share experiences, to know how you are faring.

Secondly, we are having this zoom session because we want to produce special documentary around the issues of female participation where again, we want to project your voices in terms of how the capacity building training you received from the International Press Centre, as part of the European Union support to democratic governance project in Nigeria, enabled you to win the support of your constituents, the contribution that all that capacity building helped you.

But again, we are looking at 2023, there would be fresh elections we felt that with your experience you will be able to encourage other women to run for political offices to encourage voters, the electorates, Nigerians to support female candidate based on what you believe that you can offer. This zoom session is part of the process towards the production of that documentary. Apart from this zoom, it is possible that we may still reach out to you if we feel it is still necessary. That is why we are having this.

Iwill lead the discussion but my other colleagues are also here including our consultant who are working on the documentary, Mr Soetan, Mr Sanmi whom you are familiar with are all here with us. I would kick start the process.

– Lanre Arogundade, Executive Director IPC

The Interview
This is the first question to both of you, maybe Hon Itam Abang will start by answering; looking back to before your elections when we had that capacity building programme with you people, if you could recollect, to what extent would you say that the training helped your campaign and invariably helped to get you elected as a member of your respective houses of assembly. In terms of impact, what impact, what role did that training play in your campaign?

Hon Itam Abang
Yeah, thank you. The impact of that training was phenomenal because one, it gave me insight into how to approach my constituents, how to interface with them, interact with them which before now you didn’t actually know how to go about it, how to put your message across but with that training it helped us know how to put messages across and why it was important that women are elected into offices to be able to be part of decision making, to be able to bring the dividends of democracy to be marked down the village.

How about you Hon Lilian Nwachukwu? What impact did that capacity building have on your campaign and helped you to get elected?

Hon Lilian Nwachukwu
That campaign was a key factor. It contributed a lot. This is my first time. The first thing it gave me was confidence; it gave me a very strong confidence. I was able to understand what it takes that I am capable. It gave me the confidence that ignited that spirit that enabled me to succeed. Initially when it started it was like a joke but after the training, I got to know that this is a serious business. I had to take it seriously. I learnt from that training that politics is local and I must have to go down to the grassroots to get what I want if I really needed to succeed. I learnt how to go down to meet the appropriate persons that helped my success.

Let me welcome Honourable Maureen who was part of our capacity building workshop in Abuja. Thank you for joining this special zoom session where we are trying to reflect on what we have been able to achieve so far and what we can do better.
Thanks for your answer to the first question Hon Abang and Hon Nwachukwu. My next question really is having been elected can you tell us the committees that you are either heading or you are members of in your respective Houses of Assembly and apart from those committees, because it’s going to be three years now that you have been there, and we are looking at 2023 elections in another year, what will you say has been your major contribution as female members of your respective Houses of Assembly.

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
I have been chairman house committee on education, even in my first tenure I was chairman house committee on education and being chairman on house committee on education, saw me going through the various local governments. Looking at school then environment in which our children study and how they study, the quality of teachers, and the quality of what they are doing, and it gave me opportunity also to be able to get to schools and teachers to communities where they weren’t teachers, and enough teachers in schools. As chairman house committee I had also sponsored bills with the help of being there. That’s what I have been able to do as chairman house committee on education.

Is that the only committee you are a member of?
Hon. Dr. Itam Abang

No, I am a member of over six committees; the women affairs, the Works committee, the Health committee, Agriculture committee, and others, six or seven committees in all.

Can you tell us one or two maybe either bills or other policies that have come from the House of Assembly in Cross Rivers State that promote the issues of women and people living with disabilities which you have contributed to?

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
There is a bill on violence. The VAG bill; I contributed to that and others. In the education aspect, I was particular about the private schools because they kept mushrooming and I didn’t think that that was what our children needed. I had to come out with a bill to regulate that.

To regulate private schools?

Hon. Dr. Itam Abang

And how is that helping the young children?

Hon. Dr. Itam Abang
There are no more mushroom schools, or the degree of mushroom schools had been brought under control because by the time we come to you, you will need to show us your approval to operate. Before now people were operating in their garages. You have parks that became school. By the time we came out with that bill of course all those things were scrapped, and the proper thing was done.

Hon Dr. Lilian Nwachukwu
There was no such report. The water sector is doing very well, and the chairman has had all the backings needed by law to work. I was also a member of the committee on health, infrastructure, works and then women affairs. Under the committee of infrastructure, we have ensured on a regular basis that we monitor the works being done by the state government, we made sure we followed up to make sure that whatever is being done is done properly and very well. Then on the area of health, we’ve followed up several cases of VAG, the vag law and we have a lot of issues from that vag law. We have followed up a lot of cases, genital mutilated cases especially the rural areas. We have taken some to court which I personally followed up and ensured that justice prevaiedl. In the area of women affairs also, in my capacity as a member because I’m not the chairman of committee on women affairs, I supported very well through her excellency the wife of the Governor of Ebonyi State to make sure that several of the women especially the widows were taken care of especially those ones, that are not very well placed than throw them in different forms, have this very terrible culture that tries to supress widows. We have a lot of cases where we followed up. Her Excellency at times delegate us to follow up and assist helping those women who we also have been doing. Currently in January this year, committees where shuffled and am now heading the committee on lands.

Committee on lands, that’s a big one, maybe with that one you will be able to help widows and others to get land. That’s remarkable really. I think from what we’ve heard from you it is clear that you are not just ordinary members, you are heading important committees and you are making a lot of impact but then, I don’t know how many women we have in your respective Houses of Assembly? We’ll like to know how many are there and looking at 2023 what is your own projection? Because yesterday when we discussed with some of your colleagues, one of them said in her state in Ekiti state her target is by 2023 they will increase from two to six. The next question and I’m sure we have a few questions left. From your own experience, would you then say that if more women are elected it will make a difference in the lives of our people? You have been there, you have talked about the committees and so on, are you saying that this is a strong reason why many more women should join you to accomplish some of these tasks because I know we still have a lot of challenges. Can we have your response to that?

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
My Assembly has five women, but we had five but unfortunately, we just lost one and if you know Cross River State is a gender friendly State, and if you look at the committee both of us have headed, myself and my colleague in Ebonyi, you’ll see that those are very powerful committees that are not just headed by just anyone. For them to trust a woman to head that committee; it means that you know your onions and that you are an asset in the House of Assembly and because where I come from the state is gender friendly, I hope that we should be able to increase to maybe between six and eight. So that’s what I’m praying for. If we can get eight to ten, I will be very grateful. I will be happy if I can see ten women in a house in a twenty-five-man house.

To realise that aim you said you will be happy if you can have more than eight in the House. What will you be telling other females who are in politics and are aspirants who hope to become candidates?

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
I have continually told women who are interested in politics that politics is a game for serious minded people, is not something that is just given to you, you must prove your mettle; show the men that yes you are here. Nobody will remember you if you don’t show your face. You will show your face and our people are very enlightened when once they know you are able to deliver, they will send you there. I’m a two-time member. That’s what I tell them. Its hard work, its dedication, it’s standing up for what you believe in, is you conviction, not just trying to impress anybody, you are just doing your work. And they respect that.

How about the challenges you have faced, what will you tell them? What challenges should they expect?

Hon Dr. Lilian Nwachukwu
The challenges I have faced if I can write those challenges any other person can. I tell women you don’t sit in the state house capital because you have a few friends, and you want to do politics. Every politics is local. We need to go down there. In fact, I had a problem during my service tenure, my ticket was taken over and given to a male after primaries. Yes, and by the grace of God I also know where to go to, I got my ticket back. And when I got to the village during elections, because the people knew, they will say look you will go and fail in Calabar, for here you will win here, and so by six am the people who were in the polling unit were old men and women, very old men, and women. Why did they do that? When you get home, you go them you are not too big. Go and sit down and say mama, where is that your plantain roast for me now let us eat. It doesn’t take much. To get around those old people is goodwill, you cultivate it but good will plays an important part, they need to see you, you need to be visible.

Hon Nwachukwu let’s hear from you, what will be your own projection in your state? How many women do you have in your House of Assembly now? How many do you want to see in 2023? And what message will you be telling other potential female candidates; they will first be aspirants but by the time they become candidates based on your experience, what should they expect and how should they prepare themselves to ensure that they get elected?

Hon Lilian Nwachukwu
In Ebonyi currently we have three women out of twenty-four and I personally feel this is still very poor. We need more women. I don’t mind if we have up to ten because women are more participative. Just like my senior colleague said before, whenever you see a woman in leadership you will always notice that they are more democratic, they are more collaborative than our male counterparts even in the House you will notice that women’s leadership is always different. Women are mothers, they already had this training from marriages, they already know how to manage their homes, so when they come out in leadership, you see clearly that they are outstanding in what they do. A woman carries everybody along more than the male and they are very effective, they are principled, they know how to do it and when to do it and get it right. So that’s why I want more women, I would have said up to fifteen, but we can start with ten then increase afterwards.

But in terms of challenges, what words of encouragement would you have for them because you know it’s tough; isn’t it? What should they expect and how should they prepare themselves? Hon Abang gave a lot of advice, they should have confidence, they should go to grassroots. What will you be adding to these in terms of advice?

Hon Lilian Nwachukwu
I totally agree with her, she got it right. Politics is local, go down, start from somewhere. Secondly, make yourself very approachable, very accessible. Be very approachable, be very accessible. It’s not when you come out people begin to look at you as someone that is tough. When they see you that you are extremely very tough, nobody wants to identify even though they might pretend they like you but when they find out you are very tough, nobody wants to work with you but, they will be thinking that when you get in there you might no longer be what you were as at that time you were considered a candidate. With these it’s okay if you want to come out for any political position to prepare yourself and your mind that you are coming out to serve the people not yourself, your family.

We have two consultants working with us. Like I said, we expect that we use part of these and some other interactions. We want to do a special documentary that will come out of this. Let me know anyone of you that wants to come in at this stage to monopolize the discussions before we round up, let’s have your own involvement. Does anybody want to ask any question or comments? Mr Enaibe do you have any question for the two of them

Edmond Enaibe
Let me first say good afternoon to the honourable ladies, it’s being very informative listening to your experiences and then more so, because of your ability to be able to make the difference with the opportunity that your election has provided. I just want to ask apart from Hon Itam’s experience, of being able to go and reclaim her mandate from the man, is there any other experience you will say in terms of molestation or being taken for granted that because of your gender people feel that you might not be able to work, that you have been able to disprove. Am asking this with specific reference to Nwachukwu and of course maybe Itam will also be able to share another such experience.

Hon Lilian Nwachukwu
Let me start from the first time I declared my intention. It wasn’t very easy at all. The first time I was just the only lady out of nine men and then the men were determined to ensure that I never came up. They held a meeting even before the primaries. The day we came out for the primaries, I defeated the nine of them. They went back, they protested, saying “no it is not possible that a woman will defeat all of us”. The governor said,“okay let there be another election”. We went for another election which he mandated from commissioners to come and do for us. Unfortunately for them, I defeated them again. They said “no it cannot happen”. A third primary was also scheduled. This was before the main primaries, but the governor said every constituency should at least come up with their best two that he didn’t want a lot of problems. The third time we had to go to government house. We got there I also won again.

One of the problems they had was they never believed a woman can come up, do well and represent them. They were saying “how can a woman be our leader? No, it can’t happen. She can’t be our leader; a man is supposed to be there” Unfortunately three times I won all of them. Even some of the men who were arguing that I cannot go there, voted for me indirectly, voted for me behind the scenes because it was indirect primaries. So finally, there was so much protest, there were so many petitions and at a point it was so embarrassing that none of them could accept that I defeated them. Finally, the last party primaries were held, I also defeated all of them again. I think one of the greatest challenges I noticed then was that the men never wanted any woman. They felt it’s a slight for a woman to come and begin to lead the men. They attacked me in several ways; some of them said I had gone to sleep with the governor, so many baseless allegations.

Thank you. It’s a story of triumph. I can see Hon Abang smiling. You were the one whose ticket was taken; maybe Mr Edmond didn’t get that aspect. He was also asking apart from that, were there other forms of harassment that you can attribute to your gender and how did you surmount the obstacle?

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
For me it wasn’t gender per say. You know am running from my husband’s local government. I represent my husband’s constituency. I was not originally from there. But luckily for me, my constituency has some very enlightened men and women and they said, “look you are giving us children and the rest so what the heck are we talking about, let her go” The problems I had weren’t just gender, I had same problems the male will have which has to do with maybe violence. But when I came in, I said, “look I’m a woman I don’t know how to fight, I’m a mother I would not give my sons gun and gloves to kill people, so please vote for your mother so there would be peace” and I want it on record that despite the ordeals, Boki ward had remained a very peaceful constituency, very peaceful. No demonstrations, no violence. I am one of the very few members who travel home without police escort. I don’t need a police escort and then my colleagues would say” why don’t you carry police escort?” I told them the day I need to enter Boki, I have soft politics because by the time they see my car, when I get home my house is filled. I enjoy the love and support of people therefore I do not need police. Like I said, it’s a local thing. I go home; park my car and get into the village to visit one house after the other. The problems I encountered are the same problems any man will encounter.

Thank you very much. I’m sure we will soon end this session, but Mr Soetan has been raising his hand. I don’t know whether you still have any question, any comment?

Adeola Soetan
I just want to know, if there is any conscious effort by the Hon to domesticate affirmative action which is global. Have you been able to go round to domesticate actions that will be the guide and the basis of more women politicians?

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
We are working towards that. We hope that by the time our tenure ends, we should be able to have that law.

That will hold up the affirmative action in your state. How about Hon Nwachukwu; do we have similar efforts?

Hon Dr. Lilian Nwachukwu
I think similarly, currently there is a bill already on course to create more seats for women and we are hopeful it’s going to pass. By the end of this month, we should be expecting the good news that more seats have been created, more constituencies for women both in the National Assembly and State Assemblies.

That will be good and one other thing I want to say is that some of these things you are doing maybe any bill you are moving, or you are supporting, or you are sponsoring, always let us know so that we can also help you put these things in the media space as those kinds of efforts you are supporting. Two of the reasons why we are doing this zoom session apart from the documentary that we will extract stories from these for our online news portal, the Nigerian Democratic Report because we believe more women will be elected. We will need to showcase what those few that are there now have been able to achieve and what they are doing.

I say congratulations to both of you. We are so impressed. I wish we have had this session before now to showcase and we are proud that it’s not just that you are there as women, you are making a difference. As we go along to work with the documentary, our consultant will still reach you or even ourselves. Please if they do, give them necessary support and access so that we can have a real bumper story to tell as far as your accomplishments are concerned and as we also look towards 2023. So, I thank you very much for your time and I wish you a pleasant evening and best of luck and hopeful that by 2023, you will be back if you are not going up to maybe house of Reps or Senate or Governorship. We wish you all the best. Thank you very much for your time.

Hon Dr Itam Abang
I will send the list of bills have sponsored.

We need copies of those bills and the stages they are.

Hon Dr. Itam Abang
By next week I will send them to you. .

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