BY JOSEPHINE AGBONKHESE
Former Minister for Women Affairs and ex-Women Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mrs. Josephine Iyom Anenih needs no introduction. In a recent encounter with Feminista in Lagos, she fielded questions ranging from her political career to the plight of women in Nigerian politics. Above all, the grandmother who says she’s currently having a ‘well-deserved rest’ declared she isn’t giving up on politics despite the setbacks suffered.
What’s your assessment of Nigerian women in the 2015 general elections?
You know the election is part of a process that started long ago with aspirations, primaries and then the election proper, whose second lap we had yesterday. At the stage of aspiring, there were so many women. These women went through primaries but were cut down by their political parties. So, a lot of them could not scale through, especially in the bigger parties.
In the less known parties, you find more women though. Cumulatively, only a little over 1,000 female candidates were eventually able to face the election proper. And as I said, most of these women came from the less known parties, making it hard for them to succeed.
But why is it hard for women to break through in terms of elective positions?
Such has been the situation even though we’ve been working very hard and have been loyal to our various political parties. It hurts and is quite disappointing that when it comes to elective offices, women are sidelined either by zoning, high-levies or whatever. And of course, because politics has been so monetized, even intra-party elections (primaries) cost so much in terms of convincing delegates to vote to one. So, it’s a question of who pays higher and not about competence.
Aside being an ex-minister, you’ve tested the murky waters of politics in Anambra State for example where you aspired repeatedly but couldn’t win your party ticket; any lesson learnt?
Yes, I’ve aspired several times like you know in Anambra State. In 2007, I aspired to go to the House of Representatives. Also, I wanted to be Zonal Vice-Chairman for PDP South-East. In 2013, I ran for governorship but couldn’t get the party ticket.
Looking back now, what do you think you should have done better?
There was nothing I didn’t do best. As a founding member of my party and pioneer national women leader who worked as a party administrator for over eight years- contributing financially and otherwise, and also a member of the Board of Trustees of my party, what else would I have needed to get an automatic ticket? That’s all I needed. But because the system has been basterdised, monitized to the extent that nobody cares about your commitment, capacity or contribution anymore but your purse, we’re depriving ourselves unknowingly of quality representation. So, you can be a drug merchant, make money, come to the party and buy your nomination. This country cannot continue like that.
…and would you say this irresponsible act by political parties is why progress is slow for Nigeria?
Of course development will surely be hampered when we keep getting people who are not committed to service occupying key positions; they will only be interested in enriching their pockets from where they spent so much to buy their party ticket. We can all see the impact of this on our society and economy.
Can this trend ever change?
It will but it will require young people for that change to really happen. That’s why I keep talking about attitudinal change because people now see politics as the fastest way to become billionaires. Only a few see political office as a place to serve.
In other climes, you find that to be a Senator or Parliamentarian is not a full-time job but a part-time job. You’re paid sitting allowance but must have your own profession going. But here in Nigeria, it is a full-time job!
Beside, our parliamentarians are the most highly paid in the world. That’s why you see people are ready to do anything to get there because they know it is the surest way of becoming billionaires for life even though they have nothing to contribute positively.
What do you look forward to after these unsuccessful political aspirations; or have you given up?
Well, as long as there is life, there is hope. Besides, I think I’m too young to give up. I haven’t even started.
…and what keeps you busy these days?
That’s my point. Politics should not be a full time job. I do a lot of things and professionally, I’m a lawyer. I’m a human rights activist to start with and I have a functional non-governmental organisation. The truth is, my hands are full. What motivated me when I wanted to go to the House of Representatives was the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women- CEDAW bill, which I wanted to seriously push.
What do you miss about not being in government?
Being in government, for me, was huge responsibility. It was a lot of hardwork and I don’t think anybody misses hardwork when relieved of it. I think I’m enjoying a well-deserved rest. Back then, every day, I would wake up wishing I had 48-hours to a day. I was practically working 24-hours non-stop without rest and yet, it wasn’t enough. I’m actually enjoying my rest for now.