By Josfyn Uba
Ibijoke Faborode is the co-founder of ElectHer, a political advancement organization with an objective bridging inequality gaps in African democracy, and get more women into elective positions in Nigeria.
Faborode has interacted with different governments, people and corporations in Africa. She told Daily Sun in this interview that gender inequality in political representation is one of the factors militating against the growth and development of Nigeria, in particular.
What motivated you to establish ElectHer?
ElectHer is not just an organization; it is an institution and a movement. My moment of awakening was my years in Paris where I worked in a functional system: health care, welfare and labour laws that were very favourable.
The system was so functional that I got very comfortable. The system shows how a democracy should function. The French are very revolutionary and have the most organized movement in the world. You wake up one morning and the entire transport system is shut down. Everyone is so involved in nation building.
I used to work with Africa Report and I saw Africa and I imagined the Africa that I wanted. I saw Africa from the eyes of a Westerner but also as someone that travelled through Africa, meeting people, understanding the culture, the perspective, different stakeholders, from decision makers to the citizens. Across Africa, I started observing who was working, who was not working and the kind of policies that led to progressive elections.
I monitored elections across the continent. When I decided to leave Paris, everyone thought I was crazy. I had a paying job and whenever I came to Nigeria, it was as an expatriate. My decision to move was because I witnessed many things, I had spoken to many leaders, policy makers, private sector and I knew what I wanted to do. In 2019, I monitored elections and asked: where are the women?
Women are not winning. I started studying the American system, alternative financing, alternative governance, the Emily’s List, the GoFundMe, how are they changing and backing women
They have been able to shape American politics and get women into office. What can I do to raise the next generation of female politicians in Nigeria? What if I can build a structure? What if I can bring in my convening power to mobilize resources for people? Why don’t I originate this deal of getting women into office and then build a structure?
That was how ElectHer came about.
What are the inequalities that still exist in the Nigerian society that hinder women from reaching their full potential?
You grow up in a family system where you are told you can’t do this, where they are raising women (and not raising men) and we are seeing that today in society. They raise women to be this and that. They create this delusional idea of happiness.
It is like a roadmap for you: grow up, go to school, when you are 18, 19, you start having a boyfriend; at 21, 22, you start preparing yourself so that a man can like you because you should be married . Essentially, that family system is the first limiting factor.
The next one is the basic education system, the things they put in your head. All those things as well as religious institutions also affect you. Nigeria is one of the most religious countries on earth. Whatever your imam or pastor tells you, you do that. Imagine when a woman is in a society where your family tells you, you have to be like a woman and act like a woman, what does that even mean?
And then, the school tells you, you can’t do this because you are a girl. You can’t be a class captain because you are a girl. You have to be assistant class captain. It’s just now that people are getting liberated.
And then, you now get to the church, they tell you to act like a girl. Mentally, you would be conditioned to think that as a lady, you are a second-class citizen. Submission means slavery. These are some of the things that are limiting women.
What are the ways you think Africa can take a leap forward towards meaningful growth and development?
Firstly, it is about focusing on Africa for Africa because we have the population, wealth, resources and human capital, so why are we relying on aid? Our government is lazy.
Two, people keep talking about the brain-drain in Africa. Yes, people are leaving, but what are we doing with those people? The diaspora population remit over 14 billion dollars annually. What is government doing with that data today? How are we engaging the diaspora population? And they are a very peculiar population and exposed. They have experienced structure. Investors are more confident in them. Why is government not working with them?
Thirdly, if we don’t solve inequality problems, we can’t go anywhere. If a polity is not reflective of its people – men, women, boys and girls, nothing will happen because we will keep having deficiencies and gaps in policy formulation and law making. These are three critical things. All other things fit into this: economic empowerment, poverty alleviation, private sector development, trade and development.
For young Nigerians who are looking forward to a better future, what are your hints for a fulfilling career?
The first thing is unlearning. I was speaking to a young girl who moved to the US about four years ago. She wanted to start something and got in touch with me through Instagram. She said she had to unlearn. That young girl is 19; what she’s doing, it took her to get out of here to be in her consciousness. She said perhaps if she had proper mentorship, if she was aware, if someone had told her she could dream, she would have thought to develop certain solutions.
Young people have to be curious enough. If you are not curious, you are not going to get anything done.
Technology is changing the world and youths of this generation have got access. You can learn, you can nurture, expand and reach out to the world with just a tap of the finger. If you can’t leverage on technology and this new media, then you are joking because that is your access to the rest of the world in terms of mobilizing social, human and financial capital.
Talking about ElectHer, how do you plan to translate your plans into actions?
ElectHer has a Four E approach: Engage, Encourage, Equip and Enable.
On the Engage platform, we talked about challenging stereotypes, behavioral change communication, citizen sensitization, bringing the issues closer to the people. We want to ensure that we are the center of talk leadership when it comes to women’s political participation and leadership.
We have our webinar series, where we are bringing different thought leaders. We have started “When She Leads Soon” to tackle underreporting and misrepresentation of women in elective and appointive office. Women who have ran before are telling their stories and are inspiring the next generation.
If you don’t run, you can’t win, so we need to mobilize women to run. We created the “Decide to Run” platform. Women need community support. When they run and lose election, they can come back to a community of sisters that will back them and say “you’re not alone.”
A lot of women in 2019 lost because they ran alone. The infrastructure backs male candidates.
Under Equip, we’re talking about ElectHer academy which will be handy for imparting knowledge, bridging that knowledge gap.
There are three things we are designing at the moment: the online learning management system, a facilitated training with experts and the ElectHer Lawmakers’ Program. Without policy, nothing will happen.
Everything we are talking about today is as a result of poor policy so we need women at lawmaking offices. Right now, we only have 0.1% across parliament, the lowest in Africa. When I speak with female lawmakers, they tell you when you propose a bill, it’s always dead on arrival because the men are like, “sit down, you women have come again” and then they trivialize your bill.
Women need access to human, social and financial capital.
We are going to mobilize with our partners to fund the campaign of women. Our goal is just bridging the inequality gap and promoting greater representation in the polity of Nigeria. It is not a war of gender. There is a gap right now that we must bridge. We don’t just want women. We want competent women. When we get them into office, we start making a case for what has changed and what they are doing differently. That is our journey right now. We are sure that we will deliver candidates in 2023.
What big insights can you give aspiring entrepreneurs on how to successfully start a successful business in Nigeria and grow it into a big brand?
I have worked in the corporate sector for a long while and have also guided a lot of businesses. I have worked on Trade and Investment on the advisory board of an investment company. Nigeria is a very dynamic, with high risk, high reward market. An entrepreneur can’t be risk-shy. But also, you have to define your market, understand your consumers, identify your consumers, aggregate them—formally or informally—but do not design a product when you have not done your situation analysis and when you have not identified your end users. You must understand the pattern because consumers are the end of everything. You should speak with them, do your baseline surveys and understand the solution you are trying to tackle. You must understand the market you are going into.
When you are creating your business, you need to have a vision and create systems and structures in place. Money will come but that should not be your motivation for starting the business in the first place. Young people need to put in the work to understand the workspace. Nigeria has the highest number of SMEs, most of them from women but a lot of them close up after some years because it is just only reactional.