Ms. Yemi Adamolekun is the Executive Director of Enough is Enough Nigeria, a non – partisan coalition of individuals and organisations committed to building a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through active citizenship. In this concluding part of her interview, she spoke to Assistant Editor, CHINWE MADUAGWU, about cultural biases against women and how they can galvanize their numerical strength to make impact in the political scene.
TNE: How in your views have women fared in the political space?
Not very well. For instance, in the National Assembly, I think the numbers have declined over the years. But I think part of it is also tied to what we were talking about of what goes on in the political space. For instance, who is participating, what support structures are available for women to participate? The parties have national women’s leaders, but as a friend of mine says, if they could put a man as national women’s leader, they would. Once they’ve appointed women’s leaders, the quota for women has been filled. Everything else from financial secretary, treasurer etc are filled by men. I’m not a member of any political party but I’m always curious as to what kind of conversations women are having themselves within their parties.
An interesting book that I read which shines a bit of light on this issue is Aisha Osori ‘Love doesn’t win elections.’ In that book she speaks about the fact that women themselves hamper their cause because the tokenism is almost accepted. So once you have one woman, they’ve tried and everybody is okay with that. You can only change that by having more women join political parties and positioning themselves for political offices.
There’s a school of thought that says women should vote for women just because they are women but I don’t believe in that. I believe women should come fully ready to play the role. For example, when we host debates we tend to get a lot of backlash for not having women included and our criteria are very simple; we do a poll, who do citizens want to see debate and we look around for a campaign office, who has posters, who has done rallies and it doesn’t have to be mega. Even the things we say women are very good at, networking and family, even if all you are doing as a woman is going around the small meetings with one camera man to capture it to show that you meet with market women, teacher, town meetings. And these things don’t have to cost so much money. It’s not until you have taken over a hall and closed the road. Communities always meet, find out where they meet and show up at their meetings. That way you have not paid for a hall. That’s all we ask of aspirants. Some level of seriousness and women are not exempted. If a woman has done these and now says ‘give me an opportunity to speak on TV, we have no problem with that but to do it just because you’re a woman, no.
TNE: You said something about more women getting into politics and positioning themselves for elective offices. Do you support the clamour for affirmative action? Should parties reserve some specific number of offices or positions for women as a way of encouraging them?
I think that to fast-track that balance, yes. For countries that have been able to increase to the number of women participation, they had to do that. Rwanda easily comes to mind. It forces the parties to do that. It’s no longer a question of whether you like my face or not, but they have to.
So as a party you have to go and find women that you like and the truth of the matter is that it’s not that we don’t have the women, we have them. Therefore, the capacity is there and the number is also there
So I think to fast track that, it won’t be a bad idea.
TNE: Why do you think men don’t want women in politics?
Quite a number of studies have shown that it’s not just in politics but as executives. Women generally do things better. Women are more equitable, more considerate. Basically, the track records, with research, shows that women serve and lead better. Now, that being the case, I think you can project to say that women take more space and they are doing better, over the years the role of men will continue to shrink and shrink and shrink and they don’t want that. In Nigeria, not just Nigeria but I’ll speak for Nigeria, cultural issues also play into it so there is a male-female dichotomy worldwide which is why even in the US they are still talking about women in the same positions as men being paid less. That also affects the way women speak, the way women make cases for themselves. A man would say I deserve a hundred thousand dollars but a woman is not as assertive in asking for our just course. We don’t have the same negotiating skills as men because we are not designed that way, or we are not socialised that way. If you are socialised that way people will say that you are forward, too aggressive, any woman that speaks up is associated with a negative word but if it were to be a man the story would be that he is confident, very knowledgeable but if it’s a woman it’ll be that she is aggressive, her “I too know is too much.” Because of that women tend to shy away a bit from speaking up. Even though there are many issues women face worldwide, in Nigeria culture also plays a role so from the north to the south, the roles of women as equals to men is an on-going battle. Placing that in the context of politics that has been dominated by men for so long it’s almost as if we can’t become equal, even if you look at the dynamics from the governorship level, the governor is male, the Deputy is female everybody is okay.
TNE: This government has had three years to rule, how do you rate them, what have they done well, what have they not done well?
I think when they came into office they promised to focus on the economy, corruption and security. At the surface the three things that they came out to work on they haven’t done well on any of them. On security, I go from perception which they say is cognitive reality, I won’t list the things they have done but certainly they have been doing things, they have moved people from one place to the other but in people’s lives it hasn’t translated to anything, people are being killed and slaughtered. It takes the presidency forever to respond to certain issues, no clear action being seen. For instance, someone dies in Benue and you tell the Inspector-General of police to go there, he doesn’t go there, you know he doesn’t go there, in fact, you acknowledge he doesn’t go there but nothing happens. So the perception of action in actually dealing with things, you say Boko Haram has be decimated meanwhile, in the past one month there has been reports of them coming back and taking over communities, you have the issue of herdsmen literally wiping out communities from Benue to Plateau and so you have all of that, so for people’s day-to-day lives you can’t tell me you’re working on security even though you might be. Tied to that is also the issue of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), lots of reports have been made about aid being sent to them being siphoned and people in IDP camps being raped and abused but I haven’t seen any report that says that this person has been held accountable or either removed from office or something has happened to ensure people at IDP camps are safe.
Secondly, corruption, as they say, “a lot of movement no action.” There is a lot of activity but at the heart of it, there’s no sense that we are winning this battle, the fight against corruption. We have the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, I’ll just use this as my example, who says that he doesn’t care if Kemi Adeosun did NYSC or not, that she is too valuable to the country. All that says is that ‘you can be corrupt but if you have a purpose we can overlook it.’ For me, if that’s the message from corruption then there’s a problem. Yes, you can see a lot of things that they put in place, the Administration of Criminal justice Act and all of that, but at the heart of it all, the pieces are not quite forming a puzzle that makes sense.
And the last thing, the economy; again, I choose to focus on perception. There are a lot things the administration say they have done from agriculture to building roads to increased access to social welfare programmes, but if you ask the average person if his quality of life has improved they’ll say no. The gaps that I see is that between what they are doing or not doing or and the public’s perception is that they have consistently had a communication problem. The people that speak on behalf of this government don’t do them any good at all. They are disdainful and they are disrespectful of Nigerians, they are insultive of Nigerians. They are very callous, if I want to use that word. People are being slaughtered in communities and they are like, ‘but I issued a press statement, why are you making noise?’That’s where I choose to focus on. I don’t have the facts off the top of my head but there are things they have done but the perception of those three things that they came into office to solve is very different from what it should be three years on. I guess particularly around corruption because that was president Buhari’s strongest suit coming in. As we joke in the CSO space, if president Buhari had come in in May and, for example, he removed fuel subsidy, or did really drastic things, he would have gotten away with it, just because he carried that aura of no nonsense, I’m here to work for Nigeria and the benefit of Nigerians. If he had approached it that way then a lot of Nigerians would have given him that leeway, but rather than that he spent six months appointing ministers. That’s another thing which is not one of the three things, the competence of the team that he has put together to work; I’ve not really seen the team as up and doing as we like to say.
TNE: A few weeks to the Osun state governorship election, the Federal Government took its ‘trader moni’ programme to Osun state, what’s your take on that?
The project is one thing, but for me the starting point is very political, it would be a non-starter if the incumbent in Osun was not APC. Then people would be like ‘it’s okay, that’s very interesting, APC government starting such a thing in a PDP state. But Osun wasn’t just an APC state, but one that had an election, it was strategic. The truth of the matter is; would I blame them, no. Would trader moni have gone to Osun eventually, yes? Would it pay me as an administration to get it to Osun then, yes? So why would I not do it.
TNE: Could it not be seen as vote buying?
You could say that. Looking at it from the getting ‘what I can collect today from the politicians’ point of view you could say that. It’s the same way someone calculated the Abacha loot that was returned which they plan to share, by the time the person calculated it, they came to about 22 million people so he said ‘okay we are buying 22 million votes.’
TNE: What would it take to establish good governance in the country?
Honestly I think it would take a citizenery that realises that their quality of life depends on having elected officials that care, that not only know what they’re doing, but they actually care about citizens. If I understand that how my Governor or senator or House of Rep member or local government chairman behaves affects the quality of schools my children go to, how much I pay for that school, the quality of hospitals I have access to, how much I pay or if I pay at all, knowing that I have access to drugs, knowing that if I want to start a business I don’t need to know somebody who knows somebody but that the entirety of my life I’m able to achieve my aspirations in Nigeria without going to Ghana or Canada, but in Nigeria I can actually have dreams of what I want to do and they can come through but the ability for that to happen is tied to having people in elected office who know what they’re doing, who care.
That should then get me to care because ultimately, until citizens care about the quality of people who are in office they will continue to do what they do because there’s no penalty for it. The parallel I always draw is like hiring staff; you hire a staff who doesn’t show up for work on Monday, on Tuesday by 2p.m they pick up their bag and go and they don’t give a reason for not showing up or ask for permission either, they do this day in day out, week in week out and without giving any cogent reason for their actions, yet at the end of the month you pay them complete salary. There’s no query, there’s no deduction, nothing. So if I’m that person, what is my incentive to do something different then? If an employer allows it with one person the next person in the office will start and if nothing happens the whole office will break down. That’s what has happened in Nigeria. Nigeria has become dysfunctional because the people who are meant to work are not working or partially working but their salaries are complete, everybody is enjoying and that’s what Nigerian politicians do.
Until citizens realize that their elected officials cannot be doing that, or even that they are elected to work for them and their not working means no good government schools, no good hospitals, no good roads, no power, things will not change. I’m a product of a Federal Government College but I cannot send my child there now and it’s not because I don’t want to but because it’ll be wickedness to my child because even the level of education I got, she cannot get, it’s not possible for her to get it. There’s a generation that this dysfunction is all they know, this dysfunction is their reality so telling them that things can work better, they’ll just be like ‘where, how.’
The work to actually educate citizens is huge and it’s not in the political agenda. I remember in the 2011 elections when a lot of the politicians started coming on social media they couldn’t handle it because they were used to unidirectional conversations, when we speak on TV nobody is answering us, when we talk on the radio, unless it’s a call in programme, and I’ll have prepared my mind, but if I say anything on the radio nobody answers. But on social media as you’re saying it fifty people are answering you and they’re not answering you nicely, they’re abusing you and your whole family. Quite a lot of them withdrew, they couldn’t handle it, they say all these small children are so disrespectful. Ruben Abati called us children of anger. Nigeria has access to so much wealth within and outside the country, as dysfunctional as Nigeria is, you still see people doing good things both within and outside the country.
TNE: Will we ever get it done?
It’s a long journey and for me what’s exciting is seeing the increased conversation from 2011 when EiE started. One of the things we’ve started talking about is what we call the office of the citizen. We say the office of the citizen is the highest office in the land. The office of the President is the highest political office but the office of the citizen is the highest office total. Our goal is to push citizens to understand the kind of power they have in that office, to occupy the office, demand better, ask questions. I tell people that I do because I believe I deserve better. I deserve not to drive on bad roads, I deserve not to plan my day around when Ikeja discos is bringing electricity or do I have diesel. I have to be thinking about private schools, putting money aside for school fees, then health. I tell people, no matter how much money you have, if you have an accident on Lagos/Ibadan express way when there is gridlock, maybe when three of our religious bodies are having programmes, your money is irrelevant because even if they’re bringing a helicopter to pick you up where will they land? How will they get you? The dynamics are too many. So from even a very selfish point of view, can we not even just care enough, the value of human life in all the suffering has come so low. We see ourselves suffering and we move on, if someone dies we bury them, cry and we move on.
Part of it is also this thing about no penalties. Someone dies in a hospital, private or government, you know it was negligence and nobody needs to tell you, but we don’t do anything, they will tell you ‘shabi, the person has died so if you shout from now till next year will the person come back? Thank God for life, bury the person and move on.’ Recently, we worked on the case of a woman whose three year old son died from negligence. She had buried the child and moved on but she said she was walking around her house one day and her foot hit the boy’s shoe and her brain just sparked. She said to herself that they can’t kill my son and get away with it. It took us one year, but eventually, they suspended that doctor’s medical license, but in that one year, the police called to beg, the doctor called to beg, family members told her ‘your boy has died leave it alone, go and born another one,’ but she said no. You can imagine how many of that happens in this country everyday. So the people who are killing people nobody sends them to jail, you don’t pay any fine. When politicians treat us badly we don’t do or say anything, we collect the rice or noodles and we leave them.