Despite being oil-producing, my people are suffering, says Atibere
… Ilaje, Irele, Ese-Odo, Okitipupa have been without electricity for 15 years
Sikemi Atibere, a councillor in Ugbo Ward 1, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State spoke with ENIOLA DANIEL on challenges facing her people and why more women should join politics.
You come from an oil-producing local government, are you happy with the level of development in your area?
There is definitely nothing to write about that, because we are not enjoying anything. Can you believe that Ilaje Local Government made Ondo State part of the oil-producing states in Nigeria, and for 15 years, we do not have electricity in Okitipupa, Irele and Ese Odo local councils? Can you imagine how life can be without power supply to all these communities? Can you imagine how the economy of all these communities has been badly affected and people impoverished? Can you imagine the agony university students in Okitipupa go through every day and other students? My people don’t have access to good water. There is water everywhere but none to drink because you can’t drink from the river or sea without it being processed. Sea incursion has taken almost 40 per cent of the communities in Ilaje local council. All we get is promises that they are working on restoring power, working hard to ensure that the sea does not claim the whole communities, but we’ve not been seeing anything to show that they are working. No development in my area. It pains me every day to see what my people go through every day despite abundant resources in the area.
What have you done for your constituents since coming on board?
I really haven’t done as much as I thought I could accomplish within two years because the economy has affected a lot of things. But in my own little way, I have been paying school fees for some students and assisting some people. Sometimes, I organise school competitions in my ward and the best students get scholarships from me. That is what I’ve been doing. And some businesswomen in my ward have been getting my support. I have been assisting people in my little way before I joined politics so, it’s a continuation of what I love doing. I hope to do more.
Will you encourage more women to go into politics?
Yes. We can’t leave everything for men alone. During the campaign period, you will see them coming to campaign and mobilise women, but at the end of the day, when it comes to sharing positions, they don’t want to consider females. So, women, I am using this medium to advise you to go into politics and contribute your quota to nation-building. The Nigerian government is a signatory to 35 per cent affirmative action but women should form a pressure group to compel state governors and council chairmen to respect that agreement.
Besides, it is obvious that the number of women with PVCs is higher than men and we must use our numerical strength to our political advantage. If women had and are still playing prominent roles in British politics and another developed world, why not in Nigeria. I am looking forward to a day a woman will govern one of the states in Nigeria but we need more women in politics to actualise our dreams and agenda.
What motivated you to join politics?
I worked at the Labour Party (LP) secretariat in 2009 during the first term of Governor Olusegun Mimiko in Ondo and it was there I developed an interest in politics. So, I thought of my people in riverine areas, their challenges, and the way they lived. I thought I would be of help to alleviate their suffering if I joined politics. I left the job and went back to school in Ile-Ife, where I earned my National Diploma (ND) in Computer Science and a Higher National Diploma (HND), which I completed in 2014 and did my compulsory NYSC between 2015/2016. After school, I joined politics.
I started with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and later joined the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since then I’ve been a party faithful, supporting my party and people in every area that I think I can.
You can’t even get 50 per cent of what you thought they were getting. It has been very difficult. But as it is, I am just trying my best to make sure I do the needful.
Being a female politician, are there particular challenges you have faced?
I have had to bend backwards to accept some things from men because it is like you are operating in their world. I have developed a thick skin, and become more focused and facing the reason I was elected. Let’s consider, how many women are elected and hold meetings at that level compared to the number of men that dominate such space.
I am in politics today because of my people, to assist them, to make sure I speak for them. I fight for their rights and that has been what I’ve been doing. I’ve learnt a lot about politics and how to play the game. There are things you won’t want to do as a lady but once you are into politics, you just have to do it. For example, I’m the type of person who doesn’t joke with her sleep, but now, people I am representing can call me on phone at night and I will have to pick.
Political leaders can call for a meeting in the night around 2:00 a.m. and I will have to be there. So I’ve learnt a lot about politics and I’m still learning.
Why do politicians call for meetings at such an ungodly hour and how do you cope?
At times, we hold meetings thrice a day, especially, during periods of the election. Meetings are usually held at night to avoid the prying eyes of the area boys. I have attended several of those meetings and I am getting used to it.
When did you become a councilor?
I was elected in 2020 and I just marked my second year in office on August 24.
Many Nigerians view APC as being responsible for the bad economy and not a promise-keeping political party, do you agree?
I don’t think my party is the problem. The COVID-19 pandemic affected a lot of countries not only Nigeria, it affected governance. But the APC government has done a lot to turn things around in Nigeria, be it in the area of economy, security, infrastructural development and human capital development, but I admit it could be better. However, Nigeria is a work in progress. My governor, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, has been trying his best to make life comfortable and meaningful for our people in Ondo State.