Ambassador Kema Chikwe is a former Minister of Aviation and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)woman leader. She is also a member of the party’s National Working Committee, NWC. In this interview with TAIWO AMODU in Abuja, she hails President Goodluck Jonathan for giving sensitive cabinet positions to women in his administration and expresses the hope that the ruling party will produce female governors at the next general elections. Excerpts:
You have been moving around mobilizing women to support PDP. What is the place of women now in the party?
Well, I can tell you that there is a very high momentum for women in the party now, because the new chairman is giving us unprecedented support. For instance, everywhere we go, I have to go a day ahead to mobilize the state and local government leaders and then supervise what is going on there.
I have his support and then the women are responding because prior to that, not really that they were dormant, they were active in their own way but they needed the re-energizing that is going on now and it is generating excitement. You know of course, most Nigerian women prefer to be known as PDP women-it is a brand and that’s what is going on now.
Let us talk about the idea to ensure improvement in women participation by conceding additional slot to them in the federal cabinet. How hopeful are you on this?
I am very hopeful that Mr. President will do it. You know, when you watch a president that appointed a coordinating minister, not just the Minister of Finance who stands to address world leaders on economic matters in our country, then you know that that president appreciates the gender issue of this country. The president understands that women have a lot to contribute in this country and they are prepared to do it. By his appointment of women into sensitive positions, you can see it and you also know that some of the governors have toed that line, some of the local government chairmen and everybody is highly sensitized on the issue of women.
But quite frankly, there is still very serious problem but the president is breaking the jinx by the kind of position he offers to women. You can see that in his cabinet, women occupy almost 35 per cent and in his utterances he has shown that he has more to do for women. You can look at his developmental pattern in every sector of development; he is not only developing infrastructure, he is also developing human structure and when you talk about developing human structure, the women stand to do it.
Look at the attention he is giving to them in the kind of business meant for men, in agriculture. So, if they are empowered, they will be more confident and more visible in the developmental process and I think the president is fully aware of the potentials of women. Women themselves aren’t keeping quiet, they are also putting pressures on government at all levels to be recognized, to be empowered, to participate. Even by your asking me this question, you can see that this consciousness has grown and people are beginning to be appreciated. So, hopefully, if our strategy goes right, the women eventually will gain more, because he has started the experiment with 35 per cent and it worked very well. Essentially in 2015, it is no longer going to be an experiment, it will be consolidated and when it is consolidated, more women will be incorporated.
At the state level, you can see that many of the governors are very conscious of the gender issue: women are secretary to government, deputy governors, commissioners in very strategic ministries; you have them as judges and so many women who have excelled because of their expertise at the state level. And the local government election in some of the states that I have interacted with, for instance in Cross River State, you see where a woman is chairman and a man is vice chairman of the council and because of that the governor and his wife were able to support quite a number of women to become vice chairmen of councils.
I think some other states did that; Akwa-Ibom did very well and Niger State and different states did that and you know as you empower women, it becomes a natural phenomenon. People are now looking at their competence and not their gender anymore. So, there is a big conscious effort, but we are hoping that in the electoral process in 2015, we know it isn’t easy but we are appealing to Mr. president and the governors to ensure that 35 per cent of elective positions go to women and that’s very important, it is very achievable.
If a woman is supported, what does it take to do an election, but again the woman has to be on ground; we aren’t talking about bringing alien into the system but women who are on ground, if you support them financially, help them in their campaign and give them the necessary logistic, there is no reason they shouldn’t win, and if this is done, there is no reason we wouldn’t get 35 per cent in the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly and down the line.
When it comes to governorship, I don’t think that too many women are contesting, but what we are saying is that this our chairman, Adamu Mu’azu is going to break the jinx. We know that the combination of the chairman and the president, being also gender friendly, Nigeria is going to produce female governors in 2015. I cannot tell you how many, because you see, much as we ask for these positions, we are also diplomatic, we are also practical, but we want to break this jinx in 2015. Of course, we have women who are qualified, grounded in politics and we are hoping that the leadership of the party will do everything possible to ensure that women emerge successfully in 2015 to accelerate our national development.
What is your blueprint for women in PDP? Can you give us an insight into what you want to achieve as national woman leader?
You know my office, I have a strategic plan, but in politics you don’t really disclose what you want to do. What is important is that we are focusing on empowerment of women; we are partnering those who have the resources to empower women and we have structured it to ensure that women are actually engaged in commercial activities so that they can earn their income.
We also have a strategy of partnering the media, because a lot of them, women don’t get the media exposure, we just started a workshop to partner women in the media to assist them. We are also going to have our own team, whereby we will penetrate the areas we need to penetrate. Of course, you know PDP has structures to the lowest level of mobilization in this country.
So, we are going to use those structures to actually empower women. You know the president and the national chairman assisting to ensure that women are thoroughly empowered before the election. So, these are the things we are focusing on now and the opportunities in the different sectors now like the Ministry of Agriculture, the opportunities in the Ministry of Communication, for instance, some of our women benefitted from the ICT training at the Ministry of Communication and we sent the e-women, I run a programme, the e-women Network; these are younger women from age 18 to 45 and they mobilise online and I think right now, there must be more than 1 million e-women online. Ordinarily, women are apolitical but because of the attraction that PDP has to offer and because PDP is a branded party, they see the reason to support the party and they see the reason to support the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because women seem to trust President Jonathan, because of what he has done so far for women and even his wife.
There is hardly any week the wife doesn’t come up with a programme and she has shown so much compassion for women. So, the strategies we have are quite many, but most importantly we have programmes that will empower women, because if you don’t have anything in your pocket, it will be very difficult to do politics. So, we are ensuring that PDP women are empowered.
But there is this perception that women hardly give support to their fellow women in politics. What do you have to say on this?
Let me be honest with you. Women actually support women. The only cases you see them resent their fellow women are cases when women come from the blues and having an easy platform to get what others have been labouring for. So, nobody wants to work hard and then somebody comes through short cut to get it. So, women actually support women. When you see women that are locking heads, it is because a man is creating the problem for them, because he wants them to quarrel, so that if they do, they will lose it and the man will take it. No man is happy to surrender a position to a woman. So, the external factors actually cause the problem between women, but women really want to be liberated, so they support themselves. So, it depends on the woman.
If a woman doesn’t reach out to other women, you don’t mobilize them, you don’t care about them, you are very proud, you think they are too low for you to talk to, forgetting that politics is a leveller, then when you come up you see the ones that will resent you. So, the idea is that women appreciate women. It isn’t true that they don’t support themselves. They do. Again, women are very, very alert.
Even if a man is contesting, they must make sure that that man is qualified for them to support him. Similarly, women don’t want to put up a woman just for the sake of it. They want to put up a woman that they will be proud of; who they believe can stand the test of integrity and can operate on the same level with other people in that position. So, that’s the issue but I think we are getting conscious of that and more qualified women are getting into politics.
Even as your office tries to galvanise support for increase in space allotted to women in elective positions, are you worried over issues of alleged financial malfeasance in ministries under women: the aviation sector under the former minister, Stella Oduah and Petroleum Ministry under Diezani Alison-Madueke?
Well, let me tell you, in this country, we always hear about corruption and those that are talking about it are people who are really involved in that corruption. Allegation is allegation, perception is perception. Nigerians aren’t used to women holding the portfolio that Diezani Alison-Madueke has; that’s the truth. She is just a woman, she is just a minister, most of the other operators there are men. So, if there is any problem in the Ministry of Petroleum, it isn’t about Diezani. In fact, it is about the men who are around there. And in the case of Stella too, it is the same thing. All the heads of parastatals are men and that is another problem. If we had more women in those ministries, maybe you have less trauma. It is perception; you cannot pronounce somebody guilty until you have tried the person and found him guilty.
Just few weeks ago, your state received some defectors to the party. Christy Anyanwu was one of those who returned to the PDP. What is your reaction to the recent declaration by her that she once defeated you in primary for the PDP senatorial ticket?
First and foremost, I am very happy that they all came back. You know political party is like a cathedral, everybody can come in, provided they have the voting power. Achike Udenwa was governor for eight years, so he must add value to the system. We weren’t happy that he left the party. We thought he shouldn’t have left the party after serving as governor and as minister. But it is also good that he realized this and came back to re-energize the party and some other people who came back.
But talking about rivalry with Senator Anyanwu, I really don’t have rivalry with anybody. I contested the Senate position with her, but what is really surprising is that Chris Anyanwu claimed in the newspapers that she defeated me in the primary. I can assure you she didn’t and she couldn’t have. Anyanwu cannot defeat Kema Chikwe in primary in any state. She doesn’t have a structure, I have a structure, an enduring one and at least my state knows that. So, how could she defeat me?
There was this story that Abuja said she should be returned and that the committee that came to Owerri to conduct the primary was there to return her. She had a field day being a serving senator and it wasn’t a hidden fact in the party that the idea was to return at least one serving senator. But I still won the primary. Even the election itself, my husband couldn’t vote for me and I couldn’t vote for myself, with the intimidation from the military. The result was doctored and it wasn’t the returning officer who returned the result and the REC refused to announce the result. All of a sudden, they said Abuja put pressure on the REC and the result was announced.
But I went away because I am a politician; I didn’t leave PDP because I knew that it was sabotage against me, I stayed on in PDP but I defeated her in primary. That was what happened, but she shouldn’t go on with her claims. It is ridiculous. There are some people who are lucky, Abuja works for them, but I don’t believe in Abuja in an election and anybody who knows me knows that I will always tell them, go and win the grassroots, even if you don’t win the main election.
The grassroots is with me, any day. If you come to my state, you will know that the people are with me. That’s the truth. She doesn’t have a structure up till now. So, how could she have defeated me?
I am happy she came back but this politics for women, you need humility, you need diplomacy. Don’t always think that you will be a privileged candidate. If I were Anyanwu, I would stay in APGA, build it now that the governor has left. So, if she defeated me, why did she abandon the same platform? I am happy that she is back in her party but for goodness sake, she must be humble about the so-called victory she was awarded.
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