“We must leverage our numerical advantage in creative ways; one of which is to make voting for any male governorship candidate dependent on his running mate being a woman”
Senator Florence Ita-Giwa was elected into the upper legislative chamber in the Fourth Republic on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP). She is popularly called Mama Bakassi because of her passion for the underprivileged in Bakassi.
She has also served as Special Adviser to two presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. Recently, she carried her ‘No woman, no vote,’ campaign to Lagos State.She spoke to Sunday Sun on women in politics, her moves for her campaign and other issues.
Let us know your experience in politics as a woman, did you get support from your fellow women
When I first entered into politics, women were a novelty and men had no qualms trying to intimidate me, but I soldiered on and even gave as good as I got, matching them fire-for-fire. All this happened while women were either indifferent or downright hostile towards me. I am glad to say that all that has changed now and women are a formidable part of my support structure.
Recently, you held a campaign, ‘No woman, no vote’, why did you think this is compulsory?
The meaning of ‘no woman, no vote’ is that we encourage women to vote more for the men who carry women along in their political moves no matter what political party they represent. If a governor picks a woman as his deputy, then we encourage more women to vote for such governor, not minding the political party. If there is anywhere a woman emerges as a senatorial candidate or House of Assembly candidate, we want more women in politics in Nigerian no matter what party she represents, I encourage women to vote en masse for such females. We should support ourselves in elections. I want those who have won the primary elections now as governors to take Nigerian women as their deputies. Can we have more Nigerian women emerging as parliamentary candidates?
Nigeria is 58, what significant role have Nigerian women played in the development of the nation
Women have been pivotal to the development of Nigeria, right from the days of the independence movement up till today, with their role in critical areas of governance. Women like Margaret Ekpo, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and my late mother, Beatrice Bassey, were very active in the nationalist movements of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Gambo Sawaba, Franca Afegbua and a handful of women held the torch for Nigerian women in their time. Then, there are women like myself who are still actively engaged in nation building. I am so glad that more women are seeing the need to make their voices heard. To put it mildly, the Nigerian economy will collapse if women withdraw their participation. I hope you are aware that the rural economy of Nigeria is almost exclusively driven by women? They are the ones who process cassava into garri, grill and process the fish, market the vegetables and so on. It will amount to silliness to discount women’s contribution to the national economy. Even in the larger economy, women like Folorunso Alakija, Uju Ifejika are blazing the trail in oil and gas and maritime services. In banking, we have Mrs Iroche and many others. Even in governance, women like Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have made a mark in advancing the Nigerian economy. I honestly believe that given more opportunities, Nigerian women can transform Nigeria’s economy radically
Women generally are on the sidelines in politics and positions, what is your take on that?
Psychological intimidation is a large part of politics. Women have to understand this and overcome the penchant of men in politics who frequently resort to psychological intimidation. The Nigerian woman is, for the most part, strong and courageous. However, we need to overcome our disdain for politics and get engaged. Women must also emulate men who always give support to their contemporaries in politics. Until recently, women were more often than not indifferent to other women in politics and, sometimes, even hostile. Now, this trend is changing and women are supporting each other more. Another factor women must be aware of is the importance of financial power in politics; women must work hard to gather the required financial muscle to stay relevant in politics.
What is the challenge facing women that we have not gone beyond Speaker of the House of Representatives?
This is a chicken and egg kind of situation. If the people were more engaged and active, the political class would not have the audacity to squander Nigeria’s resources on one hand. On the other hand, it is only a responsible political class that can embolden the populace. I think it is time for the populace to be more discerning about the quality of people it allows to rise within the political class. At the same time, responsible elements within the political class must rise to the occasion and checkmate the unscriptural amongst them.
So, what should be the new narrative for women, especially now that the country is preparing for another election?
Until women prioritize contesting for elective offices, our fortunes will continue to be dependent on the whims of men in government. Ordinarily, our numerical advantage ought to work for us, but we appear to be unwilling to exploit it. In the U.S., a record number of women are billed to participate in the mid-term congressional elections. I believe women in Nigeria should be primed to participate in the 2019 general elections.
How can we translate our numerical superiority to our advantage such that we can have more elective positions in order to be at the core of party decisions, especially as it affects us as women?
We must leverage on our numerical advantage in creative ways; one of which is to make voting for any male governorship candidate dependent on his running mate being a woman – in effect, a no-woman, no-vote campaign. Women must also make it a point to financially and morally support any woman seeking elective office. This has worked for men and will certainly work for women also. When I entered into politics, it was women who surprisingly called me names, but all that has changed. Now, women are much more supportive, but I believe we can make the support total by putting our money where our mouth is.
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What is your take for having a female governor in Nigeria?
Nigeria is over-ripe for a female governor and even had one when Peter Obi was “impeached” if you recall. Taraba State nearly had a female governor in the 2015 election cycle. In my case, I am no longer interested in elective office, but I am available to put my weight behind any woman who desires to run for governor in any state.
With all the horse-trading going on, will there ever be merit in our democracy?
Politics and horse-trading are synonymous; so horse-trading will always be part of our politics for a long time to come. However, merit also has found a place in Nigerian politics. If you notice, some critical areas of governance have been reserved for technocrats. All that is needed is a right balance of political horse-trading and meritocracy.
Nigerian politics is reputed to be very dirty, do you agree?
No matter how dirty politics may be, not participating will guarantee it will get even dirtier. Decent people must not shy away from politics. We all must roll up our sleeves and do the needful, politically for the benefit of unborn generations.
We have issues of fake documents, certificates by office holders in the past, but recently, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, resigned on allegation that she presented a fake NYSC discharge certificate. How do you look at her action?
Kemi Adeosun chose the path of honour and I am proud of her. Like some people with similar issues, she could have gone to court to get an injunction preventing any action being taken against her, but she chose not to. I have no doubt that she is a victim of circumstance and wish her all the best in her future endeavours. Without sounding immodest, I believe women are diagnosed to be more dignified than men. Naturally, women like to uphold and protect their integrity, so automatically they hold themselves to a higher standard than men who are less scrupulous.
What advice would you give to women who want to go into politics, but don’t know their onions?
My advice to women desirous of a career in politics is first, to get first class education, overcome their phobia for politics, realise that it is a game where intimidation is the order of the day. Men have become experts at playing the intimidation card. Believe me, if it was real, I wouldn’t be around now. It’s simply a myth. I also advise women to also concentrate on building a life of financial security. I cannot overemphasize the need to be financially independent when coming into politics for the first time.