‘No Nigerian political party shows clemency to women in politics’
Hon. Maryam Bagel served as the lone female member of the 8th Bauchi State House of Assembly. In this interview with RAUF OYEWOLE, the lawmaker speaks on the incessant rifts between the executive and legislative arms of government, as well as challenges facing female lawmakers in the country. Excerpts:
From your experience, what do you think is behind the incessant rifts between state governors and the legislative arms of government?
The major problem is the misunderstanding of functions between the executive and legislative arms of government. Both are independent and highly related, and none can do without the other. The independence given to each of them is to ensure transparency and accountability of the entire government and that is what differentiates democratic government from the military system of government, but the major cause of the rift is when each one thinks it has the power to manipulate or control the other. Another thing is the misunderstanding of limitations of each other and also, ego problem; that is how I see it.
How did you survive as the only female lawmaker in the 8th Bauchi State House of Assembly?
It was like a rollercoaster experience because I had a wonderful time in the house. I had a lot of disappointments as well. As the only female lawmaker, most of my colleagues see me as their sister –protecting me from a lot of things. But in other ways, some of them saw me as being an in a place I shouldn’t belong, while some of them saw me as someone they can put somewhere and control like their daughters and dictate what to do or what shouldn’t be done. They refused to see a woman as a lawmaker; they refused to see me as a woman who was equally elected as them. They chose to see me as their daughters and their wives they can push around. And that is why I call it a bittersweet experience.
Can you share the disappointments?
The disappointments aren’t peculiar to this part of the world alone; they happen even in the developed world. Starting from the position (house committee) I was given to head was a stereotyped post. Because I’m a woman, they decided where to put me and where I shouldn’t be. My colleagues refused to consider my experience and competence whereby men without equal qualifications were given appointment and big positions to hold.
For instance, I was given the Committee on Women Affairs, because I’m a woman. I told them as men who have wives and daughters at home, they should know what these women want and behaved indifferently. I’m a qualified and certified national accountant, but I was not made to head the accounting committee, not even a member. I have experience in project management and education, but they couldn’t give me any of these. Then when I asked them, they said I was the only woman; all that was the stereotype. And when a committee of 11 members was set up, as the only woman nobody thought of including me. Those were the experiences I had that were not good.
How do you feel that no woman is in the current 9th assembly?
I’m disappointed. I think our people are being more structured at the moment. The political atmosphere of 2019 general elections made it very difficult for women to even contest not to talk of holding electives positions because most of the political parties did not hold a primary election. This is very difficult if you don’t have resources and energy to contest under an unpopular party because you need a lot of enlightenment and sensitisation for people to know which party you belong to. So, as a woman, you need the support of these popular political parties to emerge. There is this popular political party that did not conduct primary but when they were writing a list of their candidates they forgot to include a woman. Actually, I was disappointed because we have been taken far back.
What factors would you say define politics in Bauchi State?
This is a kind of pregnant question. As we say, there are so many factors that define the politics of Bauchi State, but I can say with time these factors are changing.
Before now, there was this factor of where you come from; there is who you are, but now people are considering what you can achieve and there are other factors I cannot say specifically but as a politician, we have to dig deep to determine what the people actually want through reading their psychological perception. What are the questions people are asking at the markets and places of worship about their needs? These are the things you package and work on.
In your estimation, has Bauchi State attained the deserved level of development?
Bauchi hasn’t attained the level of development it ought to. It is so disappointing because if you look at it from the beginning of democratic dispensation, we started with very good footing. The first governor we had was up and doing and we were classified as one of the best states in terms of infrastructure development, but the subsequent administrations didn’t follow up on this. This hindered the development of the state.
Until now that we have this government that is so much interested in anything about infrastructure – water, agriculture and other development projects. This will go a long way. If you go to our neighbouring (Gombe) state that was carved out of Bauchi, when you come back you will shed tears because their leaders have the state at heart because they build on what the previous governments have done. That is how it should be because the government should be a continuum.
Did the challenges you faced during your tenure in the Assembly scare you away from further participation in politics?
Actually, once you become a politician I don’t think you will want to leave politics. To me politics is not about making money or name; it is about opportunities and impact you make on people and the entire society. Politics is about opportunities your people can get. As an elective officer, you have an opportunity to make laws that guide the lives and the development of society. Even though I didn’t run for an office, but I remain in politics and also give my contributions to governments at state and federal levels. Wherever I find myself I can’t help but be a politician.
In 2018, you contested the by-election under SDP to fill a vacant seat in Bauchi South Senatorial District after the death of late Senator Ali Wakili. What challenges did you face?
There were so many experiences. First, why I contested was about a notion that women cannot be elected in any position even as a senator. This is not true; there is no law that restrains women from contesting elections–whether Islam or Christianity, no law. I actually contested to make people understand that it is not true and women can be anything they want. I contested with the intention of winning that election and I did all that I could, though the experience was very good to me. I have learned so many things that will help me and my supporters.
What do you think Nigeria should do to encourage more women’s participation in policy-making and elective positions?
Nigeria should adopt some of the policies of other countries that encourage women in politics. I know some African nations have started grooming women into the policymaking of their countries.
In some countries, women and youth are being sent to the legislative arm of government on an internship on policy and law. Last time I participated in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) presentation, some of them testified that women are trained for the appointed and elective positions and these are the ways a number of women in politics can be increased in those nations. Until men particularly politicians begin to see women as their sisters and daughters and not their wives and girlfriends because you know that not all men love to see their wives become somebody. So, seeing these women in elective or appointed positions is a kind of threat to them. So, anything that is progressive about women they step their toes on it. Believe me, no man will want to see his daughter in such a disadvantaged position. Until men begin to see every opportunity to women as an opportunity to their daughters and sisters I think we have a long way to go.
Between the two major political parties in the country, which one do you think gives a better chance for women’s participation in politics?
I don’t think there is any as far as I’m concerned. I was elected under the All Progressives Congress (APC) and I’m still a member of that party, but when APC was an opposition party, there was this fair playing ground for everybody to participate. I remember I joined the party late – about two months to the primary election. There was too much pressure because I was the only woman who won the primary election. So, the party in my local government came to state office in an attempt to change my candidature, saying that fielding a woman for the post would consume the party in Dass LGA. But the leadership replied to them that it would be shameful for us to replace her. And that was fair playing ground.
Suddenly, this party became the national ruling party and in four years after it behaves completely different. There was no primary election that was conducted in Bauchi State. At least the state assembly which I know and participate, the problem started with congress; no congress was held. There was so much complaint and we headed to court; we started seeing the signal from there because no primary election was conducted in Bauchi State. And when they were writing the list of candidates, they forgot to include the name of one woman, because all these were like an appointment. This is why said I don’t think there is any political party that is fair to women. When they are in opposition they open doors for everybody because they need you to get there, but when they emerge, they become something else.
The Senate has come out with a directive mandating the Governor Godwin Obaseki to reissue a new proclamation for the fresh inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly. How do you feel about it? Is the Senate right?
It is wrong and illegal. They know the conditions that mandate a governor to issue a proclamation and that incident that happened is not part of the conditions to make a governor to issue another proclamation. It is stated there. If there is going to be another proclamation in terms of any prolonged insecurity in the existence of a government within a specified period of four years – that is why proclamation can be made again to extend the house. That issue making another proclamation is illegal and everybody knows that because it is going to be a great shame if what we are suspecting is happening to satisfy someone; it is a breach of trust. This is exactly what happened during the inauguration of the 9th Bauchi State House of Assembly.
The same thing happened during the 8th National Assembly. Did they dissolve the National Assembly or ask the president to reissue another proclamation? Did the 8th National Assembly not exist? Are they telling us that those laws that were passed during the 8th National Assembly were invalid and void? These are similar things that happened and why is it that no proclamation was asked from the President to be reissued at that particular time? Why now? Is it because of the problem that the world knows is between the governor (Obaseki) and chairman of the party (Adams Oshiomhole)? Are they doing these to satisfy somebody? They are also doing the same thing in Bauchi because the governor is from the opposition party.
Are you satisfied with the number of women minister-designates?
The number has increased beyond what we had during the first four years. There is always no satisfaction to say you have enough. So, the number has increased and we are grateful. One day, we will get there.