‘Every zone must have one of six National Assembly positions’
Congratulations on your re-election for the fourth time. How has it been representing your people in the past 12 years?
I will say it has been quite encouraging. I will not say challenging, because everything one does comes with its challenges.
Whenever I look back and see how my representation has touched lives, it makes me happy. For me that is a success story because I know people’s lives have been touched by my representation and it is an exciting experience.
With the realisation that your people repose a lot of confidence on you, what do you look forward to in the 9th Assembly?
When you represent someone, it means a person is sitting somewhere while another represents the interest of the one seated somewhere. Three hundred and sixty of us in the legislature are all representatives from different constituencies.
For me, the National Assembly should be a place where, even if we cannot say that 360 constituencies are represented, at least 90 per cent of the constituencies will say their interests are well catered for by their representatives.
To bring it down to the understanding of Nigerians, I would like Nigerians to know our rules in the House. I want them to understand that there is much difference between the executive and the legislature and that once a representative is chosen they have the right to task them on what they have been doing on their behalf.
If a person says I choose to make laws about my people even if you are not in the executive, the budget of the Federal Republic of Nigeria passes through the National Assembly.
The people deserve to know our contributions to the budget presented by the executive. Are those budgets the true reflection of what the people need? If we can track that from the National Assembly, Nigerians would build more confidence in the House.
Generally, anytime you come around you find people with placards around the gate of the National Assembly. What it simply means is that the protesters are saying, ‘these are our representatives, the people we can talk to.’ And so you cannot isolate yourself from the people.
I would like the National Assembly to be a place where, without having to protest in the premises, our constituencies would be able to tell us what the issues are with them in our different constituencies and that would form part of our discussions on the floor of the House.
Once we do this, the lack of confidence and misconceptions would have been corrected and that is why on every December 28, I hold town hall meetings and other activities, where I meet with chairmen and secretaries of the towns and I tell them what I have done, the projects I have been able to attract and which projects have not been approved or that the executive has not implemented.
I also inquire from them the things they need most, which has not been captured in the plan. I believe if other representatives take similar routes, it would go a long way in building the people’s confidence, because I have not seen my people complaining that I am not representing them well.
If this is replicated in 360 constituencies, that confidence would return. There are a lot of misconceptions. You will see where I said we needed to improve communication with the general public.
I would also like us at the National Assembly to set legislative agenda that would be people-oriented to consolidate on the ones we already have, which for me is going to engender evaluation and monitoring with timelines and what they are intended to achieve.
Even so, the executive submits the budgets, they have timelines and targets; so, for us, we should do the same. From the parliament, we should have our timelines, goals and targets.
With a fewer number of women from the last election, do you think your election as speaker would serve to bridge that gap?
Of course, if you have a woman Speaker, the women would feel at home. It means no woman would be scared to come up to see the Speaker. At the moment, women are scared of the Speaker because he is a man.
Most married women would not want their husbands to say, ‘why are you going to see the Speaker?’Apart from this gender issue, when I am elected as Speaker of House of Representatives, the gap that is so wide now would be bridged, because as a woman I know what I have passed through to get to where I am.
If I am elected Speaker, I would endeavour to see that women who are coming up do not pass through the same situation. I would leverage on that and bridge the gap. It would provide support and also help to bring up more women to the parliament, executive positions and from the grassroots.
What do you feel needs to be corrected in the executive versus legislature relationship?
One, from take-off there should be trust. When there is no trust, you are starting with suspicion. The executive should allow the National Assembly choose their leaders. Independence of the three arms of government is a statutory function. In saying that, every member of the parliament knows that they emerged from one political party or the other.
So, those parliamentarians should be able to advise their parties and tell them that this is how it works and the party should be able to listen.
It is a relationship which should be free of the boss/servant pattern, but it is a relationship built on cordiality, fairness and credible discussions.
The narrative should be in plain language and the language should be that all of us as representatives of the people, all of us that are in our parties as watchdogs for our parties, holding trust for our parties should know that after the election, Nigeria becomes the primary focus.
Individuals should bury their individual differences and bring up only those things that unite us, which is Nigeria. Once the executive, the party, the parliament and the judiciary know that it is all about Nigeria, nobody would be talking about religion, selfish motives and nobody will be saying it has to be me or nobody else.
Once we have Nigeria first and think about what will unite Nigeria, irrespective of how many votes were cast in one’s favour, because if you check the records, you will notice that those that did well during the 2015 election did not do well in 2019.
Some of those who won in 2015 did not make up to 40 per cent in 2019. That confirms that politics evolves and things change. Narratives are changing; people are also changing and people are able to prioritise what they want from any particular individual.
Once we remove individual differences and then bring communality in focus, the issue of having political rancour on legislative, executive relationship because of lack of trust would disappear.
For instance, when we were campaigning, we campaigned based on things that unite us and not things that divide us. I campaigned in Abia State for APC; I campaigned for Buhari. I did not campaign for an Igbo president. Of course, we had someone from the Southeast as vice presidential candidate, but I did not campaign for him, because he was not in my party.
I believe in one Nigeria and I believe that Buhari has a blueprint that he has to complete. He is a man, who came and said ‘I was not going to start my own projects, let me continue with and finish the ongoing projects.’
For me that is my president for the next tenure, because if you bring a president who says I cancel or write-off every project that the previous administration started, then you have a problem.
This man said, ‘do not cancel any project, continue, release money, complete.’ That is Nigeria. If a southerner was president and did some projects and a northerner says complete, then the southerner should know that maybe their son did not do anything for them, because it is what their son did that the northerner is completing.
If we focus on the Nigerian agenda and unity, there would not be any distrust and suspicion that would prevent people from living in harmony or share things based on the federal character, because the drafters of the constitution made it clear that there must be consideration of the federal character principle in everything we do, including political positions, ministers and employment in offices.
That makes the federal character principle germane in the economy.
With the issue of alleged marginalisation of the Southeast geo-political zone where you come from, do you think your election, as Speaker of the House would douse the sundry agitations in the region?
Of course, it would douse the agitation because what it simply means is that you are part of Nigeria.
As I speak, we have elected the president, the vice-president, then we have to talk about the Senate President and the Speaker. I believe that if we have a Speaker from the Southeast region, they would see that they are part of Nigeria and it would douse all claims of marginalisation.
For me, once you win an election, you are representing everybody. As you know, before the (Aminu) Tambuwal issue, if PDP did not make the mistake in zoning, the zoning of offices would have been well taken care of, because usually what we have are the six major geo-political zones and six major offices. We have the president, the vice president, the senate president and deputy senate president, the speaker and deputy speaker. Every zone must have one of these.
In the past four years, the refrain was that Southeast did not vote APC. As an APC member-elect, do you think your election for the fourth time is a reflection of the calibre of candidates the party throws up or did you emerge through federal might?
No, there was no federal might in my election. It depends on the calibre of candidates that a political party throws up, but you will notice that most times when they see a person that is doing well, they decide against the person; they will just bring a new person that may not be a politician or know how to campaign. The person may not even be accessible to people.
The person may have a godfather, but do not have people. The person may be well known and may have money but that is not what the people want. People want somebody who they can access and reach, someone who has empathy, who would see them cry and cry with them, who would see them rejoice and rejoice with them.
Voters do not want a person that would be alienated or bossing them around. The quality of candidates that a political party throws up is the major reason. It is part of the reasons why a person would change party and still win in the new party.
With fewer women in the emerging legislature, how would you build understanding between the men and the women?
I came in 2007 during the Sixth Assembly; we had more women. I was in constitution review committee and there was this proposal by Justice Uwais Committee on political participation for women, that some percentage should be reserved for women in political parties.
So when we went to Calabar, we were lobbying with some honourable members. We spoke with our colleagues and they agreed with us that in political party formation, women should be given some slots and during the lobbying time, they agreed with us but when we came to committee proper, when they put the matter to vote, only a few of us said aye, even the people who campaigned with us said nay. They said we should go and read the constitution very well, that there should be no discrimination, that before they went in for the debate, somebody raised the notion that if 30 per cent is allocated to the female gender, it would be discriminatory against a particular gender.
Having said that and in 2011, the number we had then dropped. In 2015, it dropped further. Some people are saying 10 and others 13 but we do not have as much as 14 women. This current assembly, we have 22 but as we speak; half of the women did not come back.
I think we got it wrong when we started pushing for men to reserve some slots for us. I am a woman and have been here for three terms and would enter the fourth term. Men are not our enemies; they are human beings. I think the women should have a different approach. If you are a woman and able to live with a man as husband and have men as children you should know how to relate with them.
I do not think there is anything different in politics that you cannot handle. It is simply about using a different approach. They have refused to give us and so since it is not something that you give, women should come forward and push.
If I am Speaker, I am going to mentor younger women. The secret is having God, being responsible and working hard more than the men. I have a 3-point agenda for the women. Pray and trust God, work hard and change your strategy.
One time president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo came and gave us many ministers which of course translated to the number of women that were elected in parliament in 2007, but after that what is happening now?
In conclusion, there is nobody that gets any mark or trophy without working hard. You must change your strategy and work 10 times harder than the men.
I think we got it wrong when we started pushing for men to reserve some slots for us. I am a woman and have been here for three terms and would enter the fourth term. Men are not our enemies; they are human beings. I think the women should have a different approach. If you are a woman and are able to live with a man as husband and have men as children you should know how to relate with them and win them to your side.
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