By Josfyn Uba
For Abosede George-Ogan who has 17 years working in organizations and in capacities that channeled resources towards strategic improvement of the human society, organisations, the right word to describe what she does might be passion, Ogan who she draws her strength from a few things, says although, some people might think that passion is a cliché but she thinks that is the reason she wants to be President at that level of leadership, you have the opportunity to change most people’s lives at once through public policy and so that passion to change lives is what has driven my entire body of work and has continued to drive it.
Former Director, Strategy, Funding and Stakeholder Management at the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), George-Ogan is on a mission to increase women’s political representation in Nigeria. She cofounded, ElectHER, an end‐to-end women’s political advancement initiative.
She outlines how ElectHer is addressing the under-representation of women in elective offices in Nigeria in this interview with Daily Sun
17 years of work experience across non-profit, private, what are the major lessons you learnt about achieving workplace goals and career?
When I was starting in my career, it was intentional to work across sectors. I started my career in international Development which is like non-profit and one of the things that you get from non- profit especially an international organization is technical capacity. A lot that I learned in terms of how to do development work, I learnt in Action Aid which was my first job. I worked there for four years and started to realize that we were dependent on donor funding and it always seemed like we were doing pilot projects, we get donor funding, we want to solve a problem in-country and we do it in three states, and it just didn’t feel like we were moving.
Then I had an opportunity to work in Bank PHB’s Corporate Social Responsibility Unit. That was how I started doing development work within the private sector. What I learnt there was that when you do development work especially within the private sector you have multiple stakeholders, including shareholders, even your staff, and your community.
What insight can you give about the employment challenge in society and how the younger generation can prepare ahead for that?
First of all, we know that unemployment is Africa’s number one socio-economic challenge, on the continent, and that goes with, we have a young population, our economies are not accelerating at a rate where jobs are being created for the number of people who are in the working population age. What are the challenges? There are myriads of challenges. There is the educational system. That’s one piece. The second piece is around skills itself. The final piece is if I say I don’t want to seek employment but I want to create jobs by building my business, then the question becomes do you know and understand business?
Unfortunately what we have today in Nigeria is emergency entrepreneurship. A lot of people cannot find jobs, they look around them and see somebody that looks like they’re seemingly doing well and go and copy. That’s not how business is built.
Across the spectrum of challenges, we have different solutions. Technology creates a more level playing field even though there is still a digital divide in terms of access. In Nigeria today, we can find stories of people who came out of Ajegunle and were going to business centres around their area long enough to learn coding and now on the other side, maybe earning euros, do- ing remote work. There’s a story everywhere and what young people need to do is to get the right skills. When I say right skills, it doesn’t mean that everybody has to become a software developer or website designer; it means that whatever you find to do, you have to do it in a relevant way.
Tell us about ElectHER?
On November 18, 2017, I had just had my twins and I got six months maternity leave and I was reflecting and it dawned on me that I was old enough to be president of Nigeria. It dawned on me that, look if I’m a woman, if there is somebody else like me who’s interested and aspiring for elective office, there is nowhere for her to go. Where does she go? Where does she start? What does she do? What’s that first step? Is there a network, platform, a support group?
It just dropped in my spirit that even if I have to give up on this dream, make sure that the girls coming forward never have to give up on this dream and now I would say it was the beginning of what has now become ElectHER.
If I take a step back to 2017 when there was no ElectHER, there was no place to go but today if you are a woman aspiring, you can just come somewhere where you find like minds, where they’re having that conversation, where they’re equipping you, where they’re supporting you.
ElectHER is an end-to-end women political advancement initiative. At the highest, we’ve had three per cent women representation in Nigeria. That means at the highest we’ve had only 71 women hold office out of 1,532 elective office positions in this country. There is a challenge and that is even though women make up 49.3% of the population of the country and a little over the 47% of the registered voters so we’re doing well when it comes to being registered voters, we represent almost half of the population but the political system is not representative of the system.
How would you rate the performance of women in general in the elective space?
First of all, we celebrate them for getting there. I think they’ve done well because who is measuring how the men have done? I think the entire country is our best evaluation. How’s the country doing? How’s the economy doing? What sort of policies have we put in place and that’s why we need more women. Because until we have more women, then things like infant mortality, maternal mortality, child brides, we can’t put the right policies to prevent some of these things and those are the human development indicators that show whether we are moving forward as a people or we’re still backwards.
Access to Education, free education, things like period poverty, can a girl go to school, does she have access to personal hygiene? When women are in law-making positions, they can push for some of these things so the point I’m making is, the women who’d been there have done well. There’s, un- fortunately, nothing to track specifically which is another thing that ElectHER will do through our accountability system. The women we support to get into office, we will also have a platform where we can track, how many bills have you pushed, how many went through and all of that so that when she wants to run again, there’s no need to be confused, we can bring out her ‘report card’ this is what she did, this is what the constituency benefitted and this is why you should vote for her again.
Though that is not available today, the women who are there I cannot imagine what they’re dealing with. In the Senate, we only have 7 women out of 109 so you have 102 men versus 7 women. If you bring something the men don’t like, you’ve lost, the bill won’t fly. So, you and I can sit here and imagine what those women go through. Yes, they made it in but how easy is it in there to make the difference they desire which is why we need a critical mass of women to get in there to be able to do the work. I would say that we should celebrate them, we would support them but we must also encourage them to at least move the middle so that as more women come, we’re seeing progress and that progress we’d see in the laws that we make, in the general policies that we push forth which will eventually translate to how the country develops or not.
What does Nigeria stand to gain with women in elective position?
Several types of research have been done about this. The question about what do we stand to benefit when we have more women in positions of power and decision making and all of the evidence point to the fact that women have a more redistributive agenda so when a woman is in a position of power, she doesn’t only benefit herself or her family, she thinks about the greater good which is really what public service is all about, she is deliberate about having policies that benefit the greater good whether it’s in education, law, healthcare, providing economic opportunities.
It is often said women are their own worst enemies when it comes to voting to elective positions.
That’s nonsense. I think that’s an old narrative that they made us buy. And we’re not interested in that conversation. We will not be part of the people that pushed that narrative. What’s important is to make people important as with all new things. If all you have seen is male leadership, you’re used to it so female leadership is something new so with every change management, the question is how do we adapt to change but you must give people adapt to change and I think that’s the work we need to do. It is making people understand why we must vote women and I think ElectHER has started to do that work. Where people are more inclined to understand why we need more women. We need men as allies–– the power is currently with men. So, it is not only women that need to support women; men need to support women, men need to mentor women because they have the power. They need to give it up as well, they have to be champions, so let’s leave that, when it’s time to vote, we need men and women, registered voters to vote.
Why it is in their interest to get serious to having more women in elective positions.
I remember when we were going to start this work and we spoke to women who had run before and there was this woman who was badly dealt with and left the country, she said if you’re able to convince women that their destiny and that of their children is directly linked to them getting to office, then you’d have done a good job and what she means by that is, like we just said, are we happy with the state of the country? If we’re not happy and we know what these issues are: inequality (meaning that people don’t have access to the same resources, a few people have, a few don’t), corruption (What does corruption do? It reduces the available resources for us to be able to do more public good), illiteracy, lack of jobs. These are the things that are at stake. Our future is at stake and honestly, we know we are not there yet but we need to let women know that naturally, our lives are at stake and the lives of our children.