ONE passion that Senator Liyel Imoke, the Cross River State governor and his dear wife, Obioma, have in the past seven and a half years been doggedly committed to is the enhancement of the political and economic status of women in the state.
By Emmanuel Unah
This is seen essentially through the implementation to the 35 percent Affirmative Action, a practice whereby a sizeable percentage of the elective and appointive positions in the state are reserved for women to enable them contribute their quota to the socio-political advancement of the state.
Through this noble practice, qualified and suitable women in the state have since the assumption of the Imoke administration been accorded a fair share by being handed a reasonable number of juicy positions even in the face of stiff opposition from some men who see the Affirmative Action as a way of depriving men of their “sweat and political largesse.”
As it was in 2011
During the general elections in 2011, the governor, against all odds ensured that three women were elected into the House of Representatives. These are Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo (Odukpani), Dr Rose Oko (Ogoja/ Yala Federal Constituency) and Uduak Akiba (Calabar Municipal). This is alongside the appointment of 14 women as permanent secretaries to head ministries and parastatals in the state, a number that exceeds that of the men who are just 12.
These women did very well in terms of attracting federal projects to the state and also reaching out to their constituents through skills acquisition training, financial assistance, educational scholarship, employment opportunities, housing loan scheme, etc.
It is the performance of these amazons of the state, especially those representing the state in Abuja that encouraged Mrs Imoke to prevail on her husband to ensure that a large number of women are elected as council chairmen, councillors and supervisory councillors. Eventually, four women got elected as helmsmen in four of the 18 local government councils in the state, 14 became vice chairmen of councils, 58 were elected as councillors while 27 became supervisory councillors.
Cross River, a role model in Affirmative Action
This purposeful enhancement of the status of women, the first of its kind in the state and across the country gave the state a pride of place and centre of reference when ever women issues are mentioned in the country. The state got accolades and awards and the image of the governor and his wife soared with several other states seeking to take a cue from Cross River State seen as a model.
Is the table turning?
However, the recently concluded primaries of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, seems to have turned the table against the noble recognition accorded to women in past elections. Virtually all the women, who contested the primaries for the party’s ticket lost or through some backhand method were ruefully shoved out of the race.
For instance, among the 25 House of Assembly candidates of the party, only one lady, Mrs Regina Anyogho got the ticket of the party to contest for the Yala 1 State Constituency seat and Dr Rose Oko who was elevated from the House of Representatives post to the Senate following the vacation of the position by Professor Ben Ayade, the Senator representing the Northern Senatorial District to become the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state.
Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, the high flying Amazon representing Odukpani/Calabar Municipality in the House of Representatives, whose efforts have been described as excellent by the governor, lost her ticket to Ntufam Etta Mbora, while Nollywood Actress, Kate Henshaw lost to Rt Hon Essien Ayi in the contest for the Akpabuyo/Bakassi/Calabar South seat in the House of Representatives.
In this seeming relegation of women or affirmative action to the background, what has bemused political watchers in the state the most is the refusal to recognise and reward the noble effort of one of the aspirants, Mrs Blessing Egbara, a respectable businesswoman in her bold effort to secure the ticket of the party to contest the Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency post in the House of Representatives.
During the zonal caucus screening of aspirants, the 21-member panel set up by the party to screen aspirants for the Etung/Obubra post in the National Assembly, Egbara came third among the 14 aspirants that took part in the race. She was behind Barrister Innocent Chima and Mike Etaba.
When that panel report was set aside another exercise conducted which involved voting at Jorany Hotel in Calabar she again came fourth after the name of Barrister Fabian Okpa was brought in to occupy the third position.
With ongoing squabbling and wrangling occasioned by petitions and verbal accusations the leading male politicians in the constituency, many members of the constituency believe the ideal thing would be to bring in this Amazon to give the state a female voice in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. Haven put up this spirited effort, it is only fair that women should be encouraged by being supported to actualize their dreams to serve the people.
“Governor Imoke has always believed and demonstrated that the women should be given an opportunity to hold political office but with what is happening it seems that some forces do not want him to give women recognition this time around otherwise, how come Blessing who has fought so hard cannot be given the PDP ticket considering the fact that among all the women who contested for the tickets, she was the most determined and consistent?” Anaghe Mercy, a female PDP stalwart in Obubra, said.
Except the female voices are heard and heard soon, there is a seeming relapse to the era of the past where women could only support but not play any important role in the political affairs of the state.