By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo was the Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia with concurrent accreditation to Djibouti until 2010 when she stepped away from the diplomatic circuit to seek election into the House of Representatives. Her effort in 2011 was about her third attempt before she was finally selected by a major political party for elective office.
Before entering the political fray and then the diplomatic circuit, Toyo was a leading light in the country’s civil society movement with a long standing reputation in gender advocacy. In 1994, she founded the Gender and Development Action (GADA) to fight social justice especially from the gender viewpoint. She was in 2003 selected as the chairperson of the Commonwealth Peoples Forum in Abuja.
A leading expert in governance issues, she has been on the board of the Commonwealth Foundation; Participation and Development Relations Advisory Group of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Britain and the Forum International de Montreal (FIM) in Canada.
She was elected into the House of Representatives in 2011 and represents Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency of Cross River State.
Mrs. Toyo was a guest at the August 9 commemoration of the International Day of the Youths organized in Abuja by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP Democratic Governance for Development, DGD project. On that occasion, she spoke on issues concerning the initial passivity of civil society groups to politics, the challenges against women in the political arena and the difficulties in effecting the needed changes in the National Assembly. Excerpts:
PASSIVITY of modern day youths
In all the three elections I have done, I haven’t seen one civil society person one day, stand up for me. I speak as a person, who has been in the civil society movement for over 30 years, one day, no civil society organization has spoken on behalf of me. The best they have done has been to analyse my problems.
But the point is that parties have the ways they are organized, they have their structures, they are based on a structure of hierarchies, we start from the national we have the zonal where you have zonal systems, then we have the states and then the local governments, and after that the wards at the very bottom of the parties.
Those are nurtured structures. If you want to change that situation, you have to come in there and change it.
If we do not have a dominant counter force in the system, the system will continue to support its own, it will continue to define itself in the way it is defined. The beneficiaries of the system will continue to benefit from the system.
How Civil Society missed out in 1999
I was delighted when some of us in civil society admitted today that we missed the mark in 1998. We stood up against military rule, we said that we didn’t want military rule but when it came to 1998 and led by people like Beko Ransome-Kuti, we all said that we are not joining politics that the groups that were leading it were corrupt, were this, were that, and that we were too good for them and we stood aside and looked at them and OBJ just came collected the whole thing and went away.
And then when we started observing that what OBJ was about to do was bad for us, the system had already began to shape itself.
I am not asking everybody to come and join politics, I am not that naïve, I am saying that where there is a critical mass, there cannot be change. There cannot be change without a critical mass.
Why I cannot change the National Assembly
I am a member of the National Assembly inclined to make changes happen in the National Assembly but I will not succeed, I know it, I regret it, I sympathise with myself that I will not succeed. Why? Because I do not form a critical mass.
I will remain an obedient participant without necessarily doing what they are doing. That is the reality. In politics you have to belong somewhere and that is why you have to stand on the platform of the party, you don’t (stand) outside of it and you have to represent it somehow.
Agenda of the country
Does that necessarily mean that because I am in the (Peoples Democratic Party) PDP or someone is in the (Action Congress of Nigeria) ACN and that we don’t have the interest of the country at heart? Definitely not. We only are agents in trying to bring about that agenda that represents the agenda of the country.
If you think that you want to be part of it as far as the constitution of this country is concerned and the laws of this country are concerned, you can only come into that space through effective selective politics.
In many countries today where democracies have been well developed, whether you are in the political party or not, you define yourself in terms of affiliations to certain political leanings.
There is nothing like neutrality. You are an independent only to belong to the conservatives or to the democrats on the day of election.
Look at the (African National Congress) ANC in South Africa, these are political parties that deliver on the quality of leadership that they have.
I think that the point has been made that for these institutions to become better organized, even for you who are not interested in competitive politics, come there and stoke the fire inside there and make that space less comfortable for the old order. We have seen a bit of it happening in Edo State. Let us see what the new order will be in Edo State.
Practical steps for women entering politics
When we lost it in 1999, the women’s group, I have been a key member of WIN (Women In Nigeria) over the last 20 years, we sat down, we tried to change the constitution to bring in Affirmative Action and whether they like it or not, we will continue to try until we get Affirmative Action into the constitution.
We tried that, it did not work. We then decided to organize ourselves as women. We recruited ourselves, a few of us, but it was Mrs. Josephine Anenih that said, ‘you people want me as your women leader to go and deliver 20 erp cent, but where are the women? Nkoyo, you are sitting down here and every day you are castigating me ‘
And that was how some of us volunteered to go and try. And we were smacked a lot of times, but we stayed in there and continued to run.
It is true that you will need resources, but I think that before you need resources, you will need to be dogged, you need to be ready to remain where you are until you get what you want.