‘Women have remained very pivotal and critical to the development of Nigeria’
Senator (Dr.) Akon Etim Eyakenyi is the current Senator Representing Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District at the National Assembly. Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Basic and Secondary Education, she was Former Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development. In this interview with AYOYINKA JEGEDE, she spoke on Nigeria at 61, with focus on the impact of women in the nation’s development so far.
Nigeria recently celebrated its 61st Independence Anniversary, what’s your take on the role of women in sustaining our independence so far?
Women generally have remained very pivotal and critical to the development of Nigeria right from the Pre-colonial, the Colonial, and Post-colonial era. Nigerian history cannot be concluded without the contributions made by some women in the traditional, the religious, socio-economic and even in political spheres; women play a very important role in the Nigerian history.
Contributions of women majorly in the area of politics from the Pre-colonial era cannot be overemphasized, with the role of women like Queen Amina, Madam Efunroye Tinubu, Margret Ekpo, Madam Udoma in Ikot Abasi, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and others. These women fought for the right of women when they were not treated well. We have women’s tax revolt in Abeokuta, which Professor Soyinka called ‘The great Upheaval’. This occurred in 1947-1948, when African societies were still trying to recover from the hardships imposed by the interwar depression and the Second World War.
We have women at the forefront of nationalist politics in the1940s and 1950s. Women fought against land deprivation to own lands and properties, women stood up in those Pre-colonial era before the independence, after that in the Post-colonial era between 1974 and 1978. We had women that stood out to protest in Onisha; Onisha women protested against discrimination until the leader of that era listened to them.
In 1960-1965, we had outstanding women also that were elected to the House of Assembly like Madam Janet, who was elected to represent the women in the constituent Assembly in 1976; that was how women contributed, after that era General Babangida, when he came on board and gave the women open door to also come into governance after he created the office of the First Lady for the very first time in 1985. And then through the wife then, we had Better Life For Rural Women that really brought women to the open, unlike pushing the women inside. Women started coming out during Mariam Babangisa’s reign and then from there, we started having women participate in elective positions. Since then, even though the number we have is insignificant, but it started that time up till today.
In politics, we have women forming the greater number of voters, but when it is time for elective position, it is always difficult to have women come up to equate that figure. What is responsible for that?
The reason is not farfetched; first the volatile nature of politics of elections in Nigeria usually scares women. When the men, youths and boys will come out with harassment, women that are peaceful and calm in nature will not want to get into the field; they’ll withdraw quietly. The second reason is the economic power; it’s very rare that you’ll see women who are economically strong like the male counterpart, because if you talk of good contracts, it always goes to the men.
Nigerian politics is more of money politics and so, it affects the women; that’s why we have been fighting today in the legislative arms for amendment in the constitution to give women opportunities. A lot of other African countries have done a lot to have a slot for women representation, even if it is hundred women that will come out to vie for that particular position, fine. The battle is still going on and we have not succeeded yet. We pray that God will help us to come through with the bill amendment.
The few women we have in positions of authority have done very well. We have Ngozi Iwealla, late Dr. Dora Akinyuli… they all did excellently well. We have women that have been ministers; we did excellently well. I was once a Minister; in the fourteen months I severed, I know the positive record I left. The few women that are both in appointive and elective positions have done and are still doing extremely well. I appeal to Nigerians to allow women the opportunity and privilege to serve in whatever capacity they deem fit.
All in search for peace amidst insecurity, bad governance and myriads of problems the country is passing through, will you subscribe to a female presidency in Nigeria?
Of course yes, because women are naturally peacemaker, they are builders. Women accommodate, even if there is a way you won’t be able to accommodate, there is a way that women handle issues positively, because we are specially gifted and naturally endowed by God. At any level, we have women that can be president, governors, deputy governors… we can climb to any top position. Things will be well if you put women in leadership.
For example, as a serving Senator representing the good people of Eket Senatorial District, there has been a relative peace since I came on board across the 12 local councils under my senatorial district; it takes the heart of a mother to be able to coordinate and carry everybody along.
In your opinion, what are the major threats to Nigeria’s independence?
Insecurity is a major problem facing our independence that is to say if we are truly independent. Other challenges facing us have to do with governance; if you don’t have good governance, there is no way the country can run well. Unemployment facing the youths, which pushes them to do things they are not supposed to do, is worrisome. The economy of the nation is what we should look into. Again as, Nigerians, we are not mentally mature to be proud of our own; if we want to do anything, we look for the foreign ones instead of made in Nigeria products. If you don’t promote your own, how do you want your country to be stabilised and independent? If we can encourage our own products, we will have a better country. We should just ensure we do good finishing to encourage people to use it; this will help us to bring back the image of Nigeria.
Some of us, if we don’t have foreigners heading the school, we don’t value it all; these things must stop. Economically and politically, we must strive to mature and then take care of the governance. We must urgently address insecurity challenges in the country; all hands must be on deck and we must fight insecurity to a still. If these issues are properly addressed and handled, Nigeria would be a better place for us.
With the level of insecurity in the country, what has been the role of women in ensuring a peaceful Nigeria?
To curb these vices in our society, women are always out; we are always on our toes, shouting and praying against kidnappings, banditry, insecurity and other vices in this country. We campaign against it, we had peaceful demonstrations; we embark of advocacy to talk against Gender Base Violence (GBVs) and bad governance.
We teach our girl child and youths how to behave and how to watch themselves in the society. We appeal to culprit, those who perpetrate such act, to stop.
In your opinion, do you think men are giving women chances in this country?
The answer will be Yes and No. They have not, because there are some areas in Nigeria where they still feel women should be inside; where they believe women shouldn’t come out. But that is wrong, because what a man can do, a woman can also do; that same God that created a man, also created the woman. So, for those men, I would want to plead with them to give women a chance.
For example, in the Senate where I am, out of 109 seats, women are only eight, which is not even up to five per cent, because the men are always there, coming out with their strength and violence. I want to encourage men to give women a chance and the opportunity to also come out.
What are the institutions that we need to strengthen to actualise the dreams of our founding fathers?
All Institutions need to be strengthened in Nigeria; we must rightly fix the educational sector, because education is the bedrock of any nation. We must fix our industries, by so doing, you will create employment opportunities and the economy of the area will be positively affected. We need to also strengthen our health sector; medical tourism should be discouraged in totality, because we have best brains medically in Nigeria, what they lack is the equipment to work with.
We need to strengthen the power sector, because without power, you will not succeed running industries on generators and burning diesel or fuel. Also, for our Small and Medium businesses to scale up, we must have quality and affordable power supply. We must also fix Nigerian road; we need our rails back.
Everybody is talking about 2023, what’s your advice to women?
Women in politics should come together and love themselves. Another major problem that women face is that we don’t love ourselves; if a woman stands out to run for a particular office and a man stands out, you’ll see women going to support the man than their fellow woman.
If we love ourselves as women and we come out to support our own, we would make it, because we have the number.
Unity is very essential among women; we don’t have the economic power, but if we come together, we can support one another and we’ll make it. In 2023, I want to encourage women to strongly take part in politics at whatever levy from top to bottom. We should drop the issues of envy and jealousy amongst ourselves. Also, women who find themselves in position of authority should turn things around positively and leave positive footprint that other women will leverage on; this will make women preferable in leadership positions.
Women in authority should look for other women to bring up; don’t see yourself as the only star. Mentor other women to come, let’s support younger generations below us, because for crying out loud, we will not be there forever. Today, I’m a Senator; by 2023, I may not be a senator. So, who takes after me? As women in politics, we must encourage other women to also come in.
I believe that if I do what is right using the office that God gave to me, through the mandate of the people, if another woman comes out, the men might support her, believing that there will be peace and development when women are in power. For women generally, we need love; we need to bind ourselves together and be a support to one another. By 2023, by God’s Grace, I want to see female President and female governors emerge in this country.
What’s your advice to leaders and followers?
I am saying this to our leaders, including myself, that we should ensure that we join hands together to do what is right at the right time. We should ensure that Nigeria is one; we must stop discrimination. We should ensure that what belongs to the people is shared equally. If we do that, Nigerians will unite.
To the followers, let us try to present our need in a peaceful way; we should embrace dialogue and Nigeria will survive.
What’s your take on the issue of agitations for self-governance by some groups in Nigeria?
It is the sharing of what is in Nigeria that is causing this division. If we are fair, just and there is equitable distribution of resources, as well as positions to show sense of belonging, division won’t come.
Restructuring is what Nigerians are crying for; if Nigeria is restructured, there will be peace. If Nigeria is restructured and things are done in a correct way, all the agitations for separation and secession won’t be there. I wouldn’t wish the country to break; my heart desire is that Nigeria should remain one. But let things be done the right way; let there be integrity on the part of those in authority. Let corruption stop; if you have money to develop a particular project, let it be done, let the project go to the area it is meant for.