Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, president, Women Arise, and Centre for Change, has remained a die-hard activist over the years. Her expedition into human rights struggles dates back to the days of the military dictatorship in Nigeria as she has been arrested and detained for close to 20 times at different locations, including the Panti Police Station and Alagbon Close in Lagos, Division B Police station, Police Headquarters, and SSS Headquarters, Ilorin, SSS Headquarters, Maitama, Abuja,among others.
Odumakin, who has traversed courageously where even the men may fear to tread, in this encounter with Sunday Sun speaks on preparation for COVID-19 epidemic, why she has not joined politics, President Buhari’s corruption battle and how more women can be encouraged to join politics, among other national issues. Excerpt:
Are you satisfied with the government measures so far, both at the federal and state levels, over the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think the Lagos State government is trying, with all the efforts and the measures they have put in place so far. I think LASG is actually stepping up to match up and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic. Schools are already closed, civil servants on level one -12 have been instructed to stay at home, major markets shut down, the transport sector has been asked not to overload their vehicles, hospitals within the state are combat-ready and there is close monitoring of the situation. However, I think they can do more in terms of compliance in the restriction of movements and social distancing also a close of private companies that have large staff is expected.
Do you think the Boko Haram insurgents should be offered amnesty like the Niger Delta as being proposed by the government?
I totally disagree with such an offer. How can terrorists be offered amnesty? Who does that? What is their agitation? They do not have any clear and reasonable demand. They just want to terrorize other people and claim supremacy. The agitation of the Niger Delta is clear and well-articulated. The Federal Government should just step up and ensure they curtail them and get an end to the insurgence menace. I am the convener of Nigerians Unite Against Terror (NUAT), and we are horrified at the recent bill on the floor of National Assembly where a proposition was made for the establishment of an agency that would see to the rehabilitation, de-radicalisation, and integration of repentant insurgents in the country, with our collective patrimony. The Senate has begun deliberations on the bill which has been read for the first time on the floor of the red chamber which is being sponsored by Senator Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe East senatorial district. At NUAT, we strongly feel that the bill offers further concessions to Boko Haram militants who are still terrorizing the country which would further embolden terrorism. I believe that terror is a crime against humanity that must be met with punitive measures in an ideal society rather than with kid gloves. There is the need for those in government to remember that they were elected to make the country safe and for me and our position in NUAT is that rehabilitating dissidents who have killed thousands of Nigerians means recycling terror. I think there is an urgent need that as a people, we must rise up in unison against such broad day assault against our sense of humanity. There is an insinuation that terrorism in the entire Northeast was raised and promoted by some politicians. This is sad. What started as recruitment and indoctrination of young minds against the value system of the western world has now snowballed into killing innocent civilians and uniformed men, irrespective of creed and religion. The only alternative is that we must all rise in unison as a people of conscience and condemn this cruel act and assault on our collective value for life. We must resist it and ensure it does not thrive in our society.
Do you think that the creation of a regional security outfit like the Amotekun will lead to the disintegration of the country?
No. The creation of Amotekun cannot lead to the disintegration of Nigeria. With the failure of the Federal Government of Nigeria to secure the lives and property of citizens across the country, the states do not have another option, they cannot just fold their hands and allow bandits to destroy, steal and kill their innocent citizens. Each region of the country should be able to come together and tackle their security challenges through proactive strategies. I think that is what the Southwest region has done by creating Amotekun. Just as we have economic integrations within the regions, I do not think anything is wrong with having a regional security outfit.
Different political regions are strategising for the 2023 presidency. Are you worried if power remains in the North or do you support rotation to another political zone?
I am not worried about power remaining in the North or going anywhere else. What I am worried about is the sincerity of purpose. The purpose of government has been defeated and there is this lack of political will to ensure the welfare and security of the people are given priority attention. I think we should look at the report of the last National Conference under former President Goodluck in 2014 and implement the recommendations. That report has a solution to our myriad problems and I think it is the way forward for Nigeria.
What do you think should be done to encourage more women into politics?
The implementation of the National Gender Policy, the implementation of 35 per cent affirmative action and the practice of internal democracy by the major political parties will create a better opportunity for women participation in politics. Most countries, even in Africa have reserved certain percentages as regards positions for them to fill, we must respect affirmative action to encourage the women. There is so much violence as well as monetisation of politics in Nigeria and this will continue to discourage the women from joining politics.
Considering your pedigree in activism, do you consider joining politics anytime soon?
It is not an option I ever considered. I am not that way inclined.
Are you satisfied with the corruption fight of the President Mohammadu Buhari-led government?
Well, the PMB- led government is trying in their fight against corruption, but I really think they can do better. The government needs to be more sincere about this fight, they need to ensure that there is no sacred cow, that it is not selective and targeted at opponents while ensuring the rule of law prevail at all times.