By Daniel Kanu
Dame (Dr) Blessing Nwagba, a consummate grassroots politician, has represented Aba North Constituency twice in the Abia State House of Assembly on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
She later moved to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and became the governorship candidate of the party in the 2019 elections.
The unassuming woman leader spoke with Sunday Sun in an emotion-laden voice, saying that the country needs to be rescued. She also opened up on other critical inational ssues, including the state of the nation, 2023 Southeast presidential plan, and her displeasure on women’s participation in politics,and their hindrances. Excerpt:
Most Nigerians seem to be complaining about the situation of things in the land, for instance, security challenge…?
(Cuts in) It’s a very worrisome issue. As a citizen of this country who was born and raised in this country and have grown and watched development in the land over time, I just keep telling myself that although today I am worried but I am much more worried about younger ones who are going through far more travails and difficulty than we did growing up. There are many things to worry about our country, but that of insecurity is too obvious. Growing up, we moved from East to the West, from the West to the North by road, we travelled most times on a school programme or the other. Sometimes we travelled by rail to Kano from Odogbolu where I went to school. Sometimes we travelled by road to the North, either for NUGA game or Federal Government inter-secondary school sports and things like that. We even travelled outside the country to Ghana, Togo, etc. It was fun growing up, but today you can’t even move from one part of the country to the other, so that is so difficult, that is so much to bother with. The state of insecurity around the country is almost unbearable both for adults, for children, for everybody. You can no longer travel and be sure and confident that you will get to your destination. Even right now the cost of travelling by air has become so high, so expensive, so I don’t know how Nigerians can manage, to continue to live, to sustain ourselves. I don’t know how our children can manage to marry themselves. You go to school and when you are out, jobs are very scarce. Of course, all this situation will impact negatively on them. The jobs are not there, there is unemployment, the factories are closed up, and businesses are shot down and worsen by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is gloom everywhere. So these are some of the things that bother me. Insecurity bothers me. Of course, the economy bothers me too because there is no production arising from insecurity, there is not good employment arising from insecurity. There is the economic melt-down arising from COVID and a number of other factors which are very obvious. The unemployment among our youths is disturbing and what do you want them to do? Somebody graduates stays for over five years without employment, he doesn’t even have a skill. These are some of the glaring issues that need to be tackled with seriousness.
There is this blame game between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as the APC says part of the problem is a backlog of what it inherited from the previous PDP bad governance…?
(Cuts in) I don’t want to be involved in such a blame game, but for me, it is a matter of leadership. Leadership, it doesn’t matter the political party. All the parties do is blame the other, all they do is speak ill of the other to get them out of office and when they really get there you will not see any difference. I don’t want to discuss parties now, I am discussing governance because if we have good governance, whether it is PDP or APC, they will realise the need to give ourselves the necessary infrastructure, call it democracy dividends. We will not have to travel outside this country for medical tourism; we will know that the basic things of life like security, health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, economy, power, etc will receive good attention. So, it is not about government, it is about leadership. Whoever is in power should realise that leadership is service. Do it for the entire country. I was reading something the other day and the analysis was about how much development occurred in the ‘60s, during Sir Michael Okpara and his colleagues like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, etc, were in governance? What did we have then? It was agriculture, our oil was not producing much then, and we were not selling much of oil, but yet we had the groundnut pyramid in the North, Palm produce in the East, Cocoa in the West and there was no region that was not productive, hence the healthy competition that existed. We built the universities, provided a lot of infrastructure. Look at the way Aba was developed, built when Chief Sam Mbakwe was the governor. It was not about oil then; it was about our productivity, it was about looking in-wards, it was about making the best out of what was in your own area, as well as the human development. Today, everybody is looking at the oil and when it comes they just share it and that is the end of it. It was about the leadership at that point in time. It was about getting the right type of leadership that cares for the people they are leading, it is about selfless leadership.
Most analysts are of the view that the country needs to be restructured as nothing good will come out of it the way it is presently structured. Do you share this view?
What is the definition of restructuring? I asked this because it has too many definitions and people are talking from where it suits them, from their own perspectives. There appears not to be consensus on what people mean by restructuring. Are you talking about the balkanization of the country: the East go their way, the West go their way, the North go their way? Are you talking about the restructuring of the offices, ensuring there is justice, equity in the distribution of wealth? That is restructuring. If you have proper and good leadership and there is equity in the distribution of wealth, there is equity in the distribution of power, the issue of the North wants to go their way, the East wants to go their way, the West wants to go their way etc, will not even be there. So, that is the way of restructuring and for me, that is the restructuring we should be thinking about. How do you see or ensure that there is equity in the distribution of wealth? How do you see that there is equity in the distribution of power? How do you see that justice plays out in governance? For me, that’s my definition of restructuring. That is what will bring peace because once you feel that you are a defeated person, once you feel that you are marginalized, once you feel as in the Biafra war that you lost and you are denied your due etc, your roads not constructed, your people not getting the right positions/appointments in government etc, you will lose hope in that government and it will result to agitations. Peace is not the absence of war. There may not be war yet there is war. It may not be the physical war with gunshots yet there is war.
Some have predicted that if things continue this way in the country, there may not be 2023 elections?
As I said earlier, it’s worrisome and there is the need to tread with caution. I know INEC has managed to conduct a few elections (re-run elections) in spite of the insecurity, but that is not a general election, like that of Edo State. The one we just had in Abia was a re-run election and it was so in some other states, but those re-runs did not involve the entire state. But then with the level of insecurity we have now, I am just scared of how a general election can be conducted. With the level of insecurity virtually all over the country now, how are politicians going to manage the election? How are they going to manage their campaign with the youths now in possession of heavy weapons? Shall there really be a conclusive election that will give you the best government, that government that will be the choice of the majority of voters? I am just scared and worried about that.
As a politician from the Southeast zone, do you think it is feasible for the region to produce the next Nigeria President in 2023?
I had said it before and I still maintain that no bloc can do it alone. You must be able to reach out across the bridge. You must be able to reach out to the North, West, the central part of Nigeria, all zones, you need collaboration. We need alliances with other regions. We need the South-south particularly, those ones are even afraid of us, they are our brother, but they are still skeptical, so you have to allay their fears and build confidence in them, build alliances, spread our hands across bridges. If we do all that we are supposed to do, we will go a long way and there will be hope.
How would you assess governance in your state, Abia?
Every government has its own programme, every government has a roadmap, every government has a manifesto, I want to believe that what you see on the ground is it in line with the manifestoes of the government? So it not about what I think, it is about what the majority of the people think. Government is an ongoing process, it is a continuum. I think it is better to do the assessment when the government’s tenure ends.
Let’s end the interview with your satisfaction or otherwise of women’s participation in politics?
I am not satisfied rather dissatisfied, all over the country, particularly in Abia. This is because the percentage of elected women in Nigeria is nothing to write home about, it is not up to 4.7 per cent and you can imagine what that means. Imagine the women population, over 50 per cent, and a country that leaves out more than this per cent in governance, in public service, in contribution to development is already failing. Women are not empowered; they are in governance for the sake of the country, for the sake of the society. You are not recognizing them not because they are not qualified, not because they are not physically capable, just because you think they are women. That is the problem, that is the one that beats my imagination. People just look down on you, oh she is a woman, even when they know that that woman can make things happen for good. So with that perception, a woman still has a long way to go, to thrive, it’s a big challenge to overcome to actually achieve anything meaning full in society. What women go through in politics, the kind of resistance they face, the kind of storm they had to weather just because they are women can discourage even the strong-hearted. That is different from the fact that they are contesting for an election, you already have a block you have to jump over. Men don’t have that kind of obstacle. It’s a big challenge to get people to reconcile the fact that as a woman you can also deliver, to gain acceptability, cultural problem, societal problem, even family problems. There are few families like mine that will say, okay, we trust her, we support her etc, that is why I managed to get to where I am now because I had all the support from my family.