DR Joe Okei-Odumakin is said to have traversed courageously where even men fear to tread.
She has over 25 years experience in human rights work in Nigeria, cutting her teeth in activism as the Secretary of Women in Nigeria (WIN) and Chairperson, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (1990 – 1996), all in Kwara State.
Her foray into human rights was during the military era as she was arrested and detained for not less than 17 times at different locations, including Division B Police Station, Police Headquarters and SSS headquarters, Ilorin; SSS headquarters, Maitama Abuja; Panti Police Station Lagos; and Alagbon Close in Lagos.
She was the General Secretary, Campaign for Democracy (CD) and later the president for six years.
She is also the president of Women Arise; spokesperson, Coalition of Civil Society Organizations; president, Centre for Change; and convener, Nigerians Unite Against Terror (NUAT).
In this encounter with Sunday Sun, she speaks on Nigeria at 59 and her fears, as well as her views on the neglect of women in political participation, among other national issues. Excerpt:
What is your take on Nigeria’s 59 years independence anniversary?
Nigeria at 59 is a long walk, but the reality gazing boldly at us in the eye points to the fact that we are still far from the Eldorado of the comity of developed nations. We got our independence on a very solid foundation of development vision and, plan and strategy. But that foundation was struck into an abyss by the adoption of a unitary system of government with the concentration of power at the centre of governance at the Federal seat. Experience they say is the best teacher! We can’t sustain the subsisting presidential system of government. We must endeavour to revert to the regional system of governance that we launched our independence upon. I do not think we are doing well with the system that we are practicing and all is glaring. It is still work in progress, but the system we have chosen does not seem to be helping us, coupled with the leaders and their divisive agenda. I still think that the regional system that we practiced earlier is better for us and with it, you can guarantee genuine development. If you compare Nigeria with the countries that started with us, you will discover we are backward.
Do you think we need restructuring or good leadership?
Good leadership encompasses restructuring. When you talk of restructuring, it depends on the perspective that one addresses it from. However, the agitation of the majority of Nigerian people as recommended in the Report of 2014 National Confab is that we should allow each region to take ownership of their naturally endowed resources while they remit a fraction of their revenue to the federal joint account to be able to cater for other essential services and federation account’s exposures by and large restructuring remains a must.
Do you think the rotation of the presidency will bring stability in the polity?
An in-depth analysis of the peculiarity of our great country’s potentials and challenges indicate that we must run an all-inclusive presidency, taking into cognizance competence, character and moral fiber of our public servants. I do not think the rotational presidency is the answer to Nigeria’s myriads of political problems. The president can come from any part of the country what is important is pro-people governance and the development of the country’s economy. In my candid opinion, we should be more concerned about pro-people services that eradicate poverty, provide jobs and put food on our people’s table.
So looking at the way the country is going do you really have fears?
We used to live as brothers and sisters notwithstanding ethnic diversity. Our houses were without perimeter fencing and the sophisticated security architectures and apparatus that we now commit humongous fence to put in place. We have allowed ethnicity and religion to divide us beyond crux of national unity and cohesion. My fear is that we keep getting divided each passing day, harping on our diversity rather than things that will create bonding. We seem to be deeply divided because we do not play up our commonality, but we emphasize more on our differences and that is not how to build a nation.
Are you satisfied with women participation in politics so far?
The United Nations Affirmative Action on Gender Parity states that the least participation of women in politics should be 35 per cent for gender balance. In 2007, there was about 13 per cent of women in government in comparison with men. In 2019, it has been established that there are less than 10 per cent of women representation in National Assembly membership. Nigeria is a signatory to the African Union Affirmative Action on Gender Parity. However, one is amazed to see that we are not implementing it to the letter.
Looking at developments today what is your take on xenophobic attacks in South Africa?
It is ludicrous and highly demeaning to experience a black man, unleash such terror against his fellow human being in a 21st Century age. The black people from various countries in Africa and especially Nigeria deployed their resources to fight apartheid to a standstill in South Africa. Xenophobic attacks depict that we have lost our sense of humanity as a people. It is a condemnable action and African leaders must rise to this challenge.
How would you score President Muhammadu Buhari-led government performance so far?
He needs to garner more political will that will translate to the development of key sectors of the economy.