By ESTHER ONYEGBULA
Hon. Mrs Elizabeth Ativie is the Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development, Edo State House of Assembly, representing Uhunmwode Constituency. Cutting her political teeth in 1999 when she first contested for the State House of Assembly but had to step down twice for one of the party candidates in 1999 and 2003, Hon. Ativie went back to the drawing board in 2006, contested again in 2007 elections and she won the elections. But she had barely spent 18 months in office before losing her mandate when the tribunal nullified the elections.
In 2011 her resilience paid off when she vied and emerged winner of the elections. Vista Woman had a chat with this woman who is the only woman in the Edo State House of Assembly recently at a conference organised to help women politicians restrategize for 2015 elections. She talked about her experience, challenges, reasons why young women shy away from politics, and other sundry issues. Enjoy!
Did you start with grassroots politics?
I started by contesting election for Edo state house of Assembly in 1999, but I was asked to step down. I accepted because I was just joining. I took up the challenge and I continued working at the grassroots for my people and then I contested again in 2003. Again, my party members asked me to allow the man who I stepped down for to run for his second term, which I also agreed to and continued to work at the grassroots, supporting.
After the man completed his second tenure, I reminded the party that they asked me to step down twice and I obeyed and that it was my turn and they agreed. So the campaigns began, while I vied for Edo state house of assembly, my predecessor vied for national house of assembly. As God would have, I emerged winner.
So why was your tenure terminated with the tribunal verdict?
I was in the state house for about a year and half when the tribunal declared my opponent from a rival party winner and I was asked to go. I felt a bit sad because I knew I won the elections but at that time most of the tribunal was cash and carry and I didn’t have any money then to settle any body. People from my constituency, my friends and family encouraged me to keep faith; which I did.
So how did a die-hard party faithful like you decamp to another party, after all the time and resources you have invested in it?
I continued working, so in 2010 I looked at the scenario; my Party was no longer popular in my state, though I didn’t mind much about that because I knew I will win my elections irrespective of the party I belong to. At that time, the party leaders were at each others throat without thinking of the young politicians, and their children left the party for other parties. Then I thought that if the children of the party leaders in the state could decamp to other parties, why shouldn’t I? Also my people who asked me to represent them asked me to move. So, if I refuse to heed to their request, who would have voted for me? So I had no option but to join a rival Party.
How would you describe the journey of moving from a party where you were well known to another to vie for elective position?
It is a very difficult thing for some one to leave his or her party and go to another party and pick up a ticket there, but I was able to do it because over the years, I had developed myself to be a grassroots politician and with the support of my people, I emerged victorious at the polls. Prior to the elections, some people felt I was a national assembly material and that I should vie for a seat at the national house of assembly, but I said no.
I said no because I wanted to correct what happened the first time. I wanted the world to know that I won the elections because my people actually voted for me in the previous election despite the fact that the tribunal’s verdict was not favourable. In my constituency, I had ten male opponents but my people still voted for me. That was what I wanted to prove and I thank God that my people voted for me en mass and I won the election.
What has the experience been like for you since you became a politician and now that you are a Honourable member of the Edo State of House of Assembly, what are your plans?
They have been years of training, an eye opener; years in which God has made my people to know who I am. This has made them believe in me and I am praying that the petition they have that God should help me accomplish it. My prayer day and night is that God should give me good health, wisdom, and the humility to serve my people and be able to deliver to them the dividends of democracy so that their expectations of me would be achieved. Even when I had no money, they stood by me and voted for me. Reaching out to them positively with the dividends of democracy will amount to having a woman who is equal to the other men who are decision makers in my state.
How did you take the tribunal’s verdict for you?
I have faced a lot of challenges. But I am not distracted because of the experience I have had over the years. I have had the experience of failure and success, so nothing thrills. These experiences help you to grow.
It has been observed that young women often shy away from politics. What do you think is the reason?
We have discovered that some women are scared because of the muddy water of politics. Other reasons why women shy away from politics are domestic related like children and family related issues. But the truth is that you can live a normal life, have your husband, have children and still engage in politics. In fact, that is when your spouse will appreciate you better for your efforts! Men also discourage young women from actively participating in politics. They will come up will all sorts of reasons like, you’ve just had a baby, go take care of the home. But ironically, they themselves are having children and doing politics.
I know a number of women who are married, having children and are into politics. There is a female Honourable who actually told me that she had her baby few weeks before her elections and she still won. I think lack of adequate information or misconception of politics is what is hindering them from actively participating in politics. I am mentoring young women in Edo State to be involved in politics, so that when we older ones retire, they will take over.
In Edo state, do you think women are well represented?
No, we are not well represented; for now, I am the only woman in the state House of Assembly. Since the present governor, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, came on board, it has been quite different because he is a gender sensitive man. He likes women who have something to offer. And if you notice, majority of his special assistants are women. This is why the present government in the state is encouraging the empowerment of women.
How can we effectively mainstream and achieve 35% slot for women in politics?
Statistics has it that we have more women than men, and if all the women are thinking the way I am thinking, first of all we need to encourage the young ones to get involved now and not wait until tomorrow. Secondly, we must begin to put round pegs in round holes. Many of our women who have occupied positions before were either given those positions by their husbands or fathers, or somebody who nominated them.
Hence, immediately they finish that tenure, they are gone; no longer relevant in the system! Politics is not like that! I for instance have always been there because I am the one building the way myself; I didn’t take anybody’s position! We must begin to build. One of the early female senators came from Edo state in the person of Ms. Franca Afegbua! Several senators are still circulating in the system in one position or the other;either as senators, ministers, or head of one parasatals,etc. But where are our women? So, we must be consistent. Politics is a profession like any other profession.
How have you used your position to improve your constituency?
Within the one year and six months I stayed in the house in 2007, the motions I moved on the floor of the house, the resolutions that were taken because of the issues I raised bordering on the disadvantaged position of my people, were so taken that they lead to my being re-elected because my people wanted me to go back to implement all the motions I had raised. My constituency had been backward; no light, no road, not even a general hospital in my local government. Meanwhile, in some local governments, they have two. So when I came, I raised it on the floor of the house and a decision was taken that government should build a general hospital there.