Ummah Getso, a political activist, courageous mobiliser and vice presidential candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) in the 2019 presidential election, is an engaging personality with deep love for the country despite all shortcomings of the leaders.
She took Sunday Sun into memory lane on the political road she has travelled, mistakes made, and worry about Nigeria, as well as women participation in politics, constitution amendment controversy, the way forward, among other crucial issues. Excerpt:
Nigeria on October 1, celebrated 60 years of independence, how would you assess the journey so far?
The truth if it must be told is that we are not where we should be given our potentials that abound. Have you observed that we are always talking about the good old days? Any new government that enters we wish it was a former one. Does that send any signal to you? So, we cannot just say that we are progressing the way we should as a nation, but that does not mean we should not celebrate Nigeria at 60 because Nigeria is truly a wonderful country and I always use to give hope to our younger generation that we can build this nation and that we should not lose hope. Look Nigeria is one of the best places you can find yourself as a citizen because we have a lot of privileges that we seem to be abusing despite the failures of leadership. We have had the problem of not having good leaders, visionary statesmen with the great vision we have seen in other clime transforming their countries, but despite that, if you are intelligent, creative, and hardworking the individual will definitely survive. I am really proud to be a Nigerian citizen and I always urge the younger ones to keep hope alive not minding the leaders, they should do their best to make Nigeria a better place. We shouldn’t think of Nigeria as a place to only get opportunities and make oneself rich, no, we should think of our own future and the future of our own children. Yes, we have not gone far or done well as we should, but there is a privilege here, a potential buried here that when we are focused and dare we shall overcome.
Nigerians always refer to the past as the good old days, so where did we get it wrong?
The way I am seeing Nigeria in our journey so far, of course, you will blame the leadership, but the fault is not only from the people that are in power, the masses too have to share in the blame because we have our own problem too. Take, for instance, in the case of voting: if you are voting for somebody and the person did nothing or did not perform well, that same person will come to you again and you still vote for the person. You have every right as a citizen to ask or question the person on what he has done when he was voted the other time, but we will not confront them. You see most Nigerians praising people that are in power because they are giving them handouts, chicken change, and all that. Of course, the leaders have their own fault, but the masses have a role to play, we have a right to resist them, we have a right to recall those bad representatives from office either they are in the state House of Assembly, House of Representatives, or in the Senate. We cannot be sitting in the beer parlour and be insulting or castigating them and after that when we see them we start worshipping them again. We need to organise ourselves, tell them that what they are giving us that we deserve more. If the masses will raise their voice to tell our leaders that they are not giving us enough and we don’t bulge, we remain consistent we will triumph with time. If we resist their wrongdoings, battle the person out of office another person going there tomorrow will definitely be afraid of such treatment and things will begin to change. Of course, nothing good comes so easy so we as citizens must be ready to play our role well. We the masses have a good role to play, we have to know our right, we should know that we deserve more. We should not relent in putting pressure on bad leadership and insist they do the right thing expected from them.
A school of thought believes that the intervention of the military was the point of departure, where we got it wrong…?
(Cuts in) It is not the intervention of the military alone, but it is more as a result of bringing the military back into the system. We have made them very strong that they are still in control. We had President Obasanjo as a democratic president after being a military ruler. Now, we are having President Buhari, another military general, so we are still circulating the same people. Nigerians to me seem to have a kind of problem, not believing in people that have the capacity, we only believe in people that have been there before, but we need to broaden our thinking. We have to know that there are a lot of people out there, kids in the bloc that need to be given the opportunity to express what they have. We are simply limiting our brain to a group of people; Nigerians have this thinking that it is this kind of people that only have the capability. Although we are not praying for military rule again, but if the truth must be told there are military rules that performed better even when we deride them. Take, for instance, the Abacha regime, despite the condemnation he took the country to a level despite the sanctions, and things were far better than it is today.
What is it that worries you that prompted you to come forward in 2019 where you emerged a vice presidential candidate of a political party?
There is always something about this country that I get up and sleep with: whenever I see or think about Nigeria I see a country with a lot of opportunities everywhere, but the citizens are being too reluctant. The major aspect is when I see youths not getting themselves involved in politics. If the youths are shying away from politics, saying they cannot do the wahala of politics, who then is going to do it for us? My greatest worry is when I see the youths not getting themselves involved in leadership activities. This is because we have to come out and earn it. It is our birthright and we don’t allow ourselves to be pushed out. We must resist any attempt to edge us out. It blows my mind when I hear some people say: afterall I am making my money, why should I worry myself about Nigeria, let me just enjoy my money. Many of our citizens are feeling or have this mindset that it is not their responsibility to come and join hands to make this country a better place. You see a lot of people without voters card, even our professionals: medical doctors, lawyers, engineers etc; they don’t have voters cards because they feel that their vote will not make any impact, no, that is not the way to go, that is a bad approach to the situation. If at all they are busy making noise that the country is not working, okay, why not come and contribute your own quota. There is a saying that those who do not vote in elections elect bad officials. So, if you don’t vote to change the situation why then complain? Some people behave as if they are not part of the country, but are very good on top of their voices condemning, talking about problems, but they are not part of the solution.
The election that took place in Edo state recently was hailed by most Nigerians. What were the things you discovered that made it credible to that acceptable level?
I think there was no undue interference from the quarters that used to do the manipulations. The people made their choice and the governor was re-elected, but what excites me more is the defeat of godfatherism. But the other aspect is that, this entire victory of Obaseki what is he going to show the people? Is he going to or willing to bring a difference? Is he willing to do something different that he has not done before? Is he going to work like Governor Zulum (Borno State) to be on the side of the people? As the winner, what I expect Governor Obaseki to do now is that since he has broken that jinx let him now go the extra mile to bring a dramatic change in the development of the state, let there be a true and genuine change there so that others can emulate him. After defeating godfatherism and he goes back to business as usual the victory will lose its meaning and relevance. Let him know that, yes the people voted for him, they love him and they deserve to get more from him.
Some critics say the constitution as it is today is part of the problem bedeviling the nation. Do you share this view?
I still think we need to have another look at our constitution and I do not think the National Assembly has the capacity to give us what we need. I think we need a national conference and not allow the National Assembly tamper with the constitution. What we need is a true federation, we need restructuring, we need that national conference and from there we pick the way forward. Nigeria is a place a lot of truth, a lot of feelings have been buried, so we need to tell ourselves the whole truth, tackle it the best way possible, and standing out as a true federation.
How do you feel when you hear some people say that Nigeria is not yet ripe for a woman president?
Most people say what they say out of ignorance. Being a man or a woman is not what makes a leader. People should not vote for a woman because she is a woman or vote for a man because he is a man, what we need is capacity, competence, etc. If people see that this is somebody that has the capability, somebody who is standing tall on competence Nigeria should go for such a person irrespective of the gender. We should choose leaders based on merit, that is the way to go. It’s time we start supporting people who may not have the financial muscles, but who have the capacity; we should back them and start encouraging them to show up in political positions. It is not about a man or being a woman, no, it is about capability, competence, confidence, integrity, merit etc. We are all humans and God created us as one, so we should be given equal right to do what we can do as good citizens. We must be partners in our development agenda. Nigerians should know that leadership should be based on merit and not on gender or region. Some journalists ask me which region will I support to produce the presidency and I tell them that what matters most is merit for the job, competence, and capacity of those lining up for the position.
So far, are you satisfied with women’s participation in politics?
Of course, I am not satisfied. I have always encouraged women to come out and do it because we also have a right. But the problem is that we see the challenges they are facing: violence, finance, etc but that should not be enough reason to deter us. The men are making money and we can too. The richest woman in Africa is Nigerian. We have a lot of opportunities, but they should remove fear and come and explore, they should come out and stand side by side with the men and show them what we have. We need to stand side by side to see that we achieve our own dream. We just need to bring out women that have the capacity, empower them, and put them in the race. I know that we will have a good result after that because women are natural leaders, we have a lot inside, so we should believe in ourselves, support one another then we will fly.
If your party had won the presidential election in 2019 and you were the vice president, what would have been your priority attention?
My major policy priority would have been heathcare. Healthcare is something that every citizen deserves to have, but if you look at our health care system it’s very poor and from the local government up to the Federal Government level you cannot point to one hospital that the people can close their eye and go in with full confidence of getting quality medication at a cheap rate, none. And we continue to say, health is wealth, so we need to put it in practice. Another sector is education. We should make education at least from primary to secondary school free. Every child must go to school so that after that secondary school level they can be literate enough to fall back on something. Look at the Almajiri issue in the North , it should not be so because when you give them the education they will impact positively on their society. The third one is agriculture. With the way God has blessed us here, we have a lot of opportunities. Nigeria can feed the entire Africa and more. We have no business being poor or the people being hungry. These are priority sectors for me while also ensuring that no sector is left behind or ignored. You also look at the power sector because with electricity a lot of other things will fall in line.