By Dickson Okafor
Recently, the Bring Back Our Girls Group (BBOG) led by former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili reminded the world that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has failed to rescue the Chibok school girls who were abducted from the school in Borno State, in the Northeast after one year in office. In this interview, Honourable Nnena Ukeje representing Bende Federal Constituency of Abia State commended the group for reminding the world that the girls are still held by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. The Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee disagree with the insinuation that Oby Ezekwesili is indirectly looking for political appointment and using the struggle to attract attention of the government.
Two years after the Chibok school girls were abducted, they are yet to be rescued even though APC promised during its campaign that if voted into power, they would rescue the girls within few months; isn’t that failure on the part of government?
This is the difference between being in opposition and being in the ruling party. When you are in opposition, sometimes you think you have all the answers. Governance is a totally different kettle of fish. The former ruling party, the PDP had a clearer understanding of what issues were with regards to rescuing the Chibok school girls. A lot of people attested to the fact that the PDP did not swing into action immediately the girls were abducted even though sometimes, it is too painful to remember, yet we cannot get our mind off it. Let’s get it right; insurgency mode of warfare is totally new to Nigerians. It is something that never happened in the country before. Abduction of girls was something that have not happened here rather, we hear of such cases in Rwanda or Congo but we never imagined it would happen in Nigeria. So, there was a lot of scepticism as to whether or not this thing happened. Of course, it took the United States, the United Nations and a lot of countries to come up with a resolution and highlighted that in this kind of warfare, that sex is a weapon of modern day warfare. And because this warfare is not conventional, they will take one conventional means and the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration swung into action. Don’t forget that there was concern over the girls? They were being used as human shield. So, to reach the people (Boko Haram) who had abducted them was to endanger the girls. Let us not forget also that at that time up till today, the Sambisa forest is vast and only recently that the military tried to enter the place. We really need to understand the circumstance of the girls, hence the last administration could not acquire arms because there was an indirect embargo by the international community not to sale arms to Nigeria. So, we had a military that was not properly armed or motivated as they ought to. Thank God today under President Buhari, the military is now equipped and that is why they are winning the war against Boko Haram. Unfortunately, the ruling party which then was the opposition party made Chibok girls a campaign issue but they have realised that it was not as they thought and could not have given time line to end insurgency. It is difficult especially when you have a mobile enemy who engages you in an unconventional way. But have this government failed? No, because it is too early to say so, hence the rescue of Chibok girls is a struggle that is in progress. Let me state that the Chibok girls represent the number of women that have been abducted. It is a reminder of 54 boys who were murdered in their hostel at Burun Yadi.
Many are of the view that Dr. Oby Ezekwesili is using the Bring Back Our Girls group to seek political appointment, what is your take?
Much as I want to speak further but I can’t because I don’t know what they do outside of what I see. I know they have gone to Villa to see President Muhammadu Buhari. I watched it on the television at resumption of this administration. Unfortunately, they could not have access to the President recently when they tried to see Buhari for whatever the reasons maybe, I don’t know. For the fact that they give up their time constantly and ensuring that we don’t forget these girls, is great sacrifice even though their numbers are dwindling. So, this group of people who are committed, rather than criticise what they do, I rather congratulate them and continue to encourage them to continue to do it. I think they are doing enough to keep hope alive that these girls will be rescued. On whether Oby is using the crusade to press for Federal appointment, to that I disagree because she was one time Minister of Education. Also, Oby Ezekwesili has held several appointments. The group is mounting pressure on government to bring back our girls because they are mothers and fathers. I said during the debate at the floor of the House that in spite of how lofty your cause is, if your cause centred on murder, then you have lost the moral justification to call it a cause. I made it clear that rape is not a man’s way to fight a war, murdering defenceless women and children is not a way of fighting war. Therefore, instead of critics, let us join hands with Ezekwesili and others to pressure for the release of our children from Boko Haram enclave.
You are among the few lawmakers who returned to the National Assembly, what would you say is your selling-point?
I come from a constituency of very vibrant people who place premium on honesty and I think that is what it is. The people of Bende Federal Constituency have come to realise that I serve them. I operate an open door policy and I am one of the lawmakers that have her telephone number on the internet. So, I am reachable. I also think that they have come to trust that their interest is of utmost importance to me. So, I believe that is my selling-point.
How did you feel when the Gender Equality Bill could not fly in the Senate?
To me, the Gender Equality Bill is in progress. You remember during the last Women’s Day, we had said that by the year 2030, that is 16 years, we will actualise it because we know that it is not a one-stop thing. We knew that there was no cookie-cutter to gender equality; we knew that there is no magic bullet to gender equality. We knew that it is going to take awhile for us to get the bill signed into law. Don’t forget that this is something that contradict some religious and cultural beliefs. Some tribe and people felt threatened and suspicious. If it is going to be a time for us to constantly beat at the doors and eventually get the bill passed, so be it. Was I disappointed? Yes. But I’m optimistic that gender equality bill will be passed. I think we are throwing a lot to the Senate to swallow because the bill should be looked at as equality bill and take away issues that are very contentious but create an environment for women to thrive. We must take a look at 50 percent of Nigerians who are women that are excluded from development and letting the men know how far we would go if we include that. So, I am confident the bill will be passed probably not today or tomorrow but in 16 years; I am sure it will be passed.
Did women receive fair share in the allocation of positions in the 8th Assembly?
No, we came 40 to 4 per cent in the National Assembly. Obviously, instead of the number getting better, it is getting worse. In spite of all the laws that were passed in the 7th Assembly, in spite of the enlightenment programmes and engagements we brought toward the last election, we still found out that rather than the number getting better, the numbers got worse. We always console ourselves that of the 14 per cent, we got 90 in leadership positions with 90 per cent of them either Chairman or Deputy Chairman of committees. But if you look at the four per cent of women as committee heads now, it is a small number. Of course, we didn’t get our fair share considering that 51 per cent of the national population are women, hence I did not think we got our fair numbers. What is very disappointing is the fact that rather than improving, we are retrogressing. But I know that with the added impetus that the decimal outing of women has brought to the table, I am sure we are going to do a lot more things differently. I know that gender policy will help because this administration is willing to inherit the national gender policy. To me, that is the meeting point between continuity and change. I’m happy that gender knew no party line and with a piece of legislation, I am sure the women will get their fair share in allocation of positions. Let Us not forget that there is a census coming up soon and I know most countries that have reserved certain constituencies for women. So, we are hoping that after the census that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will come up with Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa model that gives women affirmative action