‘We are witnessing quiet revolution on political scene’
Juliet Ibekaku, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate, says it is time for women to stand up and be counted. The pioneer staff member of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), an active member of the civil society and deputy governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu State, told KODILINYE OBIAGWU in Enugu that her objective “is to be an example for other women, who would want to join politics,” as her plans are beyond the February elections.
WHAT her participation as a deputy governorship candidate means to the womenfolk and herself
MOST importantly for me, I think this is the first time in Enugu State that the political class is looking beyond the male folks to pick a woman as a running mate.
It is exciting because potentially, this could lead to a situation where a woman could be governor.
For women, it opens a new vista of possibilities; it raises hopes and reassures them that they could have a voice in the Government House.
On her qualification, more than any other woman, to be in the race
Certainly, there are a lot of qualified women; some very experienced in politics. But I reckon that my background in development projects prepared me adequately for this.
I have worked extensively on development projects, both locally and internationally — on anti-corruption programmes; building up governance structures across the world; working closely with the United Nations on drugs and crimes, and closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
I have also worked with the British Department for International Development as an anti-corruption manager.
My contribution within the development sector is essentially built up on how to develop government structures that work for the Nigerian people.
My background cuts across governance, security, law enforcement and criminal justice. With this background, I believe that we, in APC, have a lot to offer the people of Enugu.
Exactly what the APC offers the people of Enugu
We are critically interested in four areas of concern. They range from education, the health systems, agriculture and water.
We want to build an enduring education system, making sure the young people can get quality education that is comparable with any system anywhere in the world.
There are local communities without clinics or the presence of any doctor and we believe it is critical. We cannot think of having a strong system without a thriving health sector where the health of the people is secured.
We are looking at agriculture as an alternative source of revenue instead of relying on federal allocation. One way of doing this is to build up the infrastructure in the sector and enhance the agro-based industries.
Water offers a major challenge. Most people in Enugu don’t have access to water. The taps are always dry and people rely of water hawkers. The question is: What have successive governments have been doing on this matter?
The development of infrastructure is tied to industrial development because we cannot talk of industrial development without a strong power base, and good road network, for example.
Infrastructural development has to happen for us to have that boost in agricultural development, which will reduce poverty and create jobs.
Her plans for the womenfolk
I AM deeply involved in women rights, and working with women is something I have done almost all my life. I want to promote women and their capability to participate in political, social and economic agendas.
I am concerned at those women issues such as economic empowerment, where they can have access to credit facilities and those without skills will be trained at skills acquisition centres.
We have to think out schemes on how to empower women economically because, when you build their economic power base, you empower them to go into politics.
I believe that women who are able should get into politics. I also believe that without a solid economic base, we can’t talk about politics.
Politics today involves a lot of resources. A woman is more likely to participate better in politics and I encourage them to, by creating those economic bases and letting them know that with these, they can go out there and stand on their own.
We have been able to empower and train young women by providing leadership training to them because we know that when you are trained as a leader, you are able to go out there and participate in politics.
On the seeming singing and dancing role of women at campaigns
The men sing and dance too; it is not really all about singing and dancing for the womenfolk. The women I work with are not there just to sing; it is wrong to deploy them as just an appendage to the political process.
At every level of the APC structure, there is an effort to ensure the greater participation of women in the process of decision-making.
For example, in most APC states, like Lagos, Osun and Ogun, the governors have women as running mates or deputies.
The kind of demand her first time outing on this level of politics exert on her
It is my first time I am running a campaign on the platform of a political party as a deputy governorship candidate.
I have run for election as a students’ union leader, a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and in different fora.
In comparison, I think it is a different process in terms of how we negotiate and share political power, at the state or federal levels. It is different from the way you share it when you are talking about associations.
Here, we are talking of how to ensure that everybody in Enugu is represented. What I see is defining those power dynamics and making sure every interest is catered for.
Tracing much of what the womenfolk have got to the Affirmative Action (AA), which they have religiously latched on
Affirmative Action became necessary given that over time, men have always been in control to the detriment of the women, especially when you talk of control in terms of resources.
In order to create at least 35 per cent level-playing field, it became necessary to enact that principle. Without AA, it would not have been possible in Nigeria to get the number of women we have today in government.
But still, some parties do not find it necessary to have women at the highest level of governance.
For example, except for Taraba State, where Senator Aisha Jumai Alhassan, representing Taraba North, is the governorship candidate of the APC, there is no other state where a woman is the governorship candidate. Why should that be so?
The AA has become a way of discouraging the men from taking everything. It has created an opportunity for women but it doesn’t mean that women should just sit down and wait for the AA to be invoked before they can get positions.
It also means that before you can give that position to the woman, it has to be a woman who has the right mix of capabilities to manage that position.
We are looking for women with such credentials and who are able to take those positions and make a difference in the lives of other women.
What she will do differently in her work with women if the APC is elected
WORKING in government will create more opportunities for me to extend my reach. Whichever party wins in Enugu, the womenfolk will be looking forward to having a deal better than ever before.
They are hoping that the woman that eventually comes in as deputy will have their interests at heart, look out for them and probably do more for them.
The difference, for me, is that because I already have established a framework for engagement for women, I am looking forward to reaching out to every woman, youth, as everyone is looking up to me as a woman who has done this before and who could translate that into a government framework and development policies.
In case the APC does not win
When you fight a good fight and lose, you don’t feel any different, because you know you have put in your best. And you look forward to another time. There will be no regrets.
On a particular thing(s) she has seen in campaigns that struck her
The level of poverty is worrisome. If we don’t see a change in the administration of this country at all levels, Nigeria might be facing a revolution.
We are already a failed state by some definitions, but there are some parameters that are showing that we are almost failed.
The level of poverty is disturbing and the capability of those who are impoverished to begin to take the laws into their hands is very disturbing.
Some people come to rallies because they expect they will be given as little as N500 or N1,000, and you wonder if people are interested in changing government or just collecting the handouts.
I am bothered about the implication of this situation. It is obvious that those waiting for the handouts see election as a time to get something back from the government that has denied them so much.
Assessment of strength of the APC going into the election at both federal and state levels
The impact of the APC has gone beyond the expectations of the ruling party. It is a quiet revolution and all of us are waiting to see what will happen after the February elections.
What we have now is a strong party that can stand toe to toe with the ruling party. If the APC wins, it would mean that it has become as strong as the PDP.
I believe that Nigerians are looking forward to the change in government because of the shortcomings of the ruling party in the last 16 years.
I think it is a good thing for Nigeria because the political process has become more competitive. We need the sort of competition between the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States.
Nigeria needs to have a competitive democratic process in a way that we can have enduring institutions and lasting development.
Chances of the APC in Enugu
We want to see a transparent electoral process in terms of knowing that INEC has created a level-playing field for all parties.
The contest is not between the PDP and the APC; there are 18 parties in this race.
If the APC is giving the ruling party at the centre a good fight, it means that it has that capacity in the states to replicate the fight.