By HENRY UMORU
Mrs. Kemafor Nonyeren Chikwe, from Imo State, is a former Minister of Aviation, a former Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland and the incumbent National Woman Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview, Chikwe bares her mind on her blue print for PDP women, her mobilization of women for the party ahead of 2015 presidential election, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, politics in her home state, among others. Excerpts:
You have been moving around mobilizing women to support PDP. What is the place of women now in the party?
Well, I can tell you that there is a very high momentum for women in the party now, because the new Chairman is giving us unprecedented support. For instance, everywhere we go, I have to go a day ahead to sensitise the state and local government leaders and then supervise what is going on there.
I have his support and then the women are responding because, prior to that, not really that they were dormant, they were active in their own way, but they needed the re-energizing that is going on now and it is generating excitement. Most Nigerian women prefer to be known as PDP women -it is a brand.
Let us talk about the idea to ensure improvement in women participation by conceding additional slot to them in the federal cabinet. How hopeful are you on this?
I am very hopeful that Mr. President will do it. When you watch a president that appointed a coordinating minister for the economy, not just the Minister of Finance who stands to address world leaders on economic matters in our country from among women, then you know that that president appreciates gender issue of this country.
The president understands that women have a lot to contribute in this country and they are prepared to do it. By his appointment of women into sensitive positions, some governors have toed that line, some of the local government chairmen and everybody is highly sensitized on the issue of women.
Quite frankly, there is still a very serious problem but the president is breaking the jinx by the kind of positions he offers to women. You can see that in his cabinet, women occupy almost 35% and, in his utterances he has shown that he has more to do for women. You can look at his developmental pattern in every sector; he is not only developing infrastructure, he is also developing human structure and, when you talk about developing human structure, women stand to do it.
Look at the attention he is giving to them in the business meant for men in agriculture. So, if they are empowered they will be more confident and more visible in the developmental process and I think the president is fully aware of the potentials of women. Women themselves aren’t keeping quiet, they are also putting pressures on government at all levels to be recognized, to be empowered, to participate. Even by your asking me this question, you can see that this consciousness has grown and people are beginning to be appreciated.
So, hopefully, if our strategy go right, women eventually will gain more, because he has started the experiment with 35% and it worked very well. Essentially, in 2015, it is not going to be an experiment anymore, it will be consolidated and, when it is consolidated, more women will be incorporated.
At the state level, you can see that many of the governors are very conscious of the gender issue: women are secretaries to government ,deputy governors, commissioners in very strategic ministries. You have them as judges and so many women who have excelled because of their expertise at the state level. And the local government election in some of the states that I have interacted with, for instance Cross Rivers State, you see where a woman is chairman and a man is vice-chairman of the council and, because of that, the governor and his wife were able to support quite a number of women to become vice -chairmen of councils.
I think some other states did that : Akwa-Ibom and Niger, among other states, did well and, you know, as you empower women, it becomes a natural phenomenon. People are now looking at their competence and not their gender anymore. So, there is a big conscious effort, but we are hoping that in the electoral process in 2015— we know it isn’t easy but we are appealing to Mr. President and the governors to ensure that 35% of elective positions go to women; it is achievable.
What does it take to do an election? The woman has to be on ground; we aren’t talking about bringing alien into the system but women who are on ground—if you support them financially, help them in their campaign and give them logistics, there is no reason they shouldn’t win; there is no reason we wouldn’t get 35% in the National Assembly, state assemblies and down the line.
When it comes to governorship, I don’t think that too many women are contesting, but what we are saying is that our chairman, Adamu Muazu, is going to break the jinx.
We know that with the combination of the chairman and the president, being also gender-friendly, Nigeria is going to produce female governors in 2015. I cannot tell you how many, because, much as we ask for these positions, we are also diplomatic, we are also practical, but we want to break this jinx in 2015. Of course, we have women who are qualified, grounded in politics and we are hoping that the leadership of the party will do everything possible to ensure that women emerge successfully as governors to accelerate our national development .
What is your blueprint for women in PDP? Can you give us an insight into what you want to achieve as the national woman leader?
You know my office, I have a strategic plan, but in politics you don’t really disclose what you want to do. What is important is that we are focusing on empowerment of women; we are partnering with those who have the resources to empower women and we have structured it to ensure that women are actually engaged in commercial activities so that they can earn their income.
We also have a strategy of partnering with the media, because a lot of women don’t get media exposure. We just started a workshop to partner with women in the media to assist. We are also going to have our own team, whereby we will penetrate everywhere. Of course, you know PDP has structures down to the lowest level of mobilization in this country.
So, we are going to use those structures to vempower women. You know the president and the national chairman assisting to ensure that women are thoroughly empowered before the election. So, these are the things we are focusing on now and the opportunities in the different sectors now like the Ministry of Agriculture, the opportunities in the Ministry of Communication for instance, some of our women benefitted from the ICT training at the Ministry of Communication and we sent the e-women, I run a programme, the e-women network, these are younger women from age 18-45 and they mobilise online and I think right now, there must be more than 1 million e-women online.
Ordinarily, women are apolitical but because of the attraction that PDP has to offer and because PDP is a branded party, they see the reason to support the party and they see the reason to support the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, because women seem to trust President Jonathan, because of what he has done so far for women and even his wife.
There is hardly any week the wife doesn’t come up with a programme and she has shown so much compassion for women. So, the strategies we have are quite many, but most importantly we have programmes that will empower women, because if you don’t have anything in your pocket, it will be very difficult to do politics. So, we are ensuring that PDP women are empowered.
Just few weeks ago, your state received some defectors to the party, Senator Chris Anyanwu was one of those who returned to the PDP. What is your reaction to the recent declaration by her that she once defeated you in primary for the PDP senatorial ticket?
First and foremost, I am very happy that they all came back. You know political party is like a cathedral, everybody can come in, provided they have the voting power. Achike Udenwa was governor for eight years, so he must add value to the system. We weren’t happy that they left the party. We thought he shouldn’t have left the party aftermserving as governor and as minister. But it is also good that he realised this and came back to reenergize the party and some other people who came back.
But talking about rivalry with Senator Anyanwu, I really don’t have rivalry with anybody. I contested the Senate position with her, but what is really surprising is that Chris Anyanwu claimed in the newspapers that she defeated me in the primary. I can assure you she didn’t and she couldn’t have . Anyanwu cannot defeat Kema Chikwe in primary in any state. She doesn’t have a structure, I have a structure an enduring one and at least my state knows that. So, how could she defeat me?
There was this story that Abuja said she should be returned and that the Committee that came to Owerri to conduct the primary was there to return her. She had a field day being a serving senator and it wasn’t a hidden fact in the party that the idea was to return at least one serving senator. But I still won the primary. Even the election itself, my husband couldn’t vote for me and I couldn’t vote fornmyself, with the intimidation from the military. The result was doctored and it wasn’t the returning officer who returned the result and the REC refused to announce the result. All of a sudden, they said Abuja put pressure on the REC and the result was announced.
But I went away because I am a politician; I didn’t leave PDP because I knew that it was sabotage against me, but I stayed on in PDP but I won her in primary. That was what happened, but she shouldn’t go on with her claims. It is ridiculous . There are some people who are lucky, Abuja works for them, but I don’t believe in Abuja in an election and anybody who knows me knows that I will always tell them, go and win the grass root, even if you don’t win the main election.
The grass root is with me, any day. If you come to my state, you will know that the people are with me. That’s the truth. She doesn’t have a structure up till now. So, how could she have defeated me? I am happy she came back but this politics for women, you need humility, you need diplomacy. Don’t always think that you will be a privileged candidate. If I were Anyanwu, I would stay in APGA, build it now that the governor has left. So, if she won me, why did she abandon the same platform ? I am happy that she is back in her party but for goodness sake, she must be humble about the so called victory she was awarded.
Even as your office tries to galvanise support for increase in space allotted to women in elective positions, are you worried over issues of alleged financial malfeasance in ministries under women: the aviation sector under then the former minister, Stella Oduah and Petroleum Ministry under Diezani Madueke?
Well, let me tell you: in this country, we always hear about corruption and those that are talking about it are people who arereally involved in that corruption. Allegation is allegation, perception is perception. Nigerians aren’t used to women holding the portfolio that Diezani Madueke has; that’s the truth. She is just a woman, she is just a minister most of the other operators there are men.
So, if there is any problem in the Ministry of Petroleum it isn’t about Diezani. In fact, it is about the men who are around there. And in the case of Stella too, it is the same thing. All the heads of parastatals are men and that is another problem. If we had more women in those ministry, maybe you have less trauma. It is perception; you cannot pronounce somebody guilty until you have tried the person and found him guilty.