By Funmi Ajumobi
Mrs. Kemi Nelson is among the most prominent female politicians in Lagos State. In this interview, the Women’s Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in South-West, says loyalty to the cause of political parties is one of the things a good politician needs to rise through the ranks.
As a former Commissioner for Women Affairs in Lagos State and Women’s Leader of the APC South – West, how have you used those positions to encourage women to come into politics?
The most important thing is enlightenment. I ensure that every opportunity I have is used to encourage women to come into politics, and actively participate in it.
I guide them through the nitty-gritty of politics; firstly, I educate women on the need to register as members of the party. Secondly, I always tell them to pay attention to party structures from the ward exco to the LG exco, and the state exco among others.
It is important to understand and pay attention to party structure because if you want to contest for any office, you would require the support of the people at the helm of affairs as they will be delegates at the Congresses. And if you don’t have them on your side, there is no way you can win any election.
What usually happens is that when women indicate interest in politics, they join and they then relax, this neglecting the most essential exercise in politics; which is GRASSROOT NETWORKING!
So, when it is time for election, they come out and say, ‘We want to be this or that’. Politics is not like that. There has to be some ground work and preparedness before you can now say ‘I want this position or that position’. You have to belong to the party in all sense, contribute to the growth and development of the party and be added value to your community, those are some of the ways you can express or display the leadership qualities in you. The aforementioned are traits some requirements of a good politician. Unfortunately, most of the time, people see politics as all – comers affair.
As the Women’s Leader, I use every opportunity to disabuse the minds of women on the negative perspectives people have on politics. I always tell women that the negative thinking is a gimmick invented by men to push us women back.
Take for example; some people believe that your going into politics, turns you into a liar. Just as you can say in the private sector, that there are liars among the good ones, so it is in politics.
There is nothing dirty about politics. It is all about personal decision on how you choose to play your politics. You can choose to be a person of integrity and purpose or otherwise. Politics is all about personal integrity and choice. Let me add that women are more actively involved in politics now than ever before, this is very gratifying as it shows success in our pursuit for women’s involvement and relevance in politics.
‘God fatherism’ in politics, does it still exist?
Well, I don’t know what people mean by ‘god fatherism’.
For instance, there are leaders in LGAs and these are the people that will identify the talents in the community. Naturally, if they discover that you have leadership traits, and you are useful to your community; they would recommend and put you forward to represent them. That does not mean ‘god fatherism’. Also of great importance in politics is loyalty in totality, loyalty and commitment to the party’s manifesto. So, if people see being loyal to a cause or a party as ‘god-fatherism’, then I don’t buy the idea.
Again, your coming into politics, you have to relate with people. These people have been there before you and you need them to identify with and lift you up.
What do you have to say on gender budgeting for women’s development?
I don’t think that there is anything as gender budgeting or gender allocation for women in Nigeria, not to talk of the South – West. Well, I pray we get to that stage because if it is encouraged, it will reduce complaints from women that they don’t have funds to run for elective offices.
Funding for election is not the money you give away to individuals for stomach infrastructure. But, essentially money for campaign logistics for example hire buses, publicity etc.
In other words, there is no way you won’t need money to run an election. So, if there is something as gender budgeting that definitely will cushion the effects of ‘we don’t have funds to run our campaigns’. Gender budget for women’s development would be nice! Men have advantage over us women as their support system is usually strong, all a man does is write his friends, family and colleagues to support him, and of course they are ever so willing to do so. It is not so with women as even fellow Women will rather give their cheques to men than women.
Of course, I won’t say you should issue your cheque to a woman that is unprepared or ill-equipped. To support any politician be male or female you must ensure that the person possess the ability and wherewithal for the position or office he/she is aspiring to. I advocate that deserving women be given priority and support.
There was a woman candidate who contested for the presidency in the last election. Why did she not get adequate support especially from women?
Well, I met her in two fora where she presented her case. And she’s got what it takes in terms of education and exposure. But, politically, she didn’t seem grounded. This is what I said earlier. You just don’t just come out to say you want to be President of Nigeria. You must have a structure behind you. If you don’t have a structure, then there is no head way for you even if you put all your money into politics. But, I give it to her, I admire her courage.
What could have been the way out and how can women participate better in politics?
The party you belong to plays an important role in politics. So, when you want to play politics, you have to look at all the parties. If, for instance, you join a party that is not popular in the area you are contesting and you want to win an election, it wouldn’t work that way. Like the woman professor who wanted to be President of Nigeria on the platform of KOWA, she had all it takes. Her person, her integrity and education, I give it to her… But, where is KOWA in the scheme of things in Nigeria? I even told her that she could come to our party if she so wished. You don’t just join politics; you have to look at all the options. You look at all your options and see where your interest will be best served.
What are those significant things you have achieved as the Women’s Leader?
In the past, the office of the Women’s Leader was just a mere office, no recognition nor relevancy was accorded to it. I however have been able to give it a face and a voice. That being Women’s Leader places you as a leader of women irrespective of who is there and your voice must be heard in the party. At the national level, women are better recognized now.
Is there still a chance for upcoming women in politics? What does it take to register in a party as a woman?
Why not? All you have to do is to ask people who already are in the party and apprise them of your interest. Seek out the party ward in your community and get affiliated. The registration process is very easy. Just note you have to start at the ward level.
As Women’s Leader in your ground, do you have anything on ground to mark the 2017 International Women’s Day?
Don’t forget that we have an effective government in place and it is the responsibility of government to do that with our (women) support. Definitely, government has put something together. In fact, Lagos State government is having a three – day programme for women that is anchored by the Ministry of Women Affairs. So, it is government that has that role to mark the celebration since it is a global event.
Challenges of being a Women’s Leader
I feel we should take the notion of being women away from our consciousness and stop thinking that politics is a male affair! Because, if we continue to think that way, women will remain relegated to the position of second class citizens! If you are in politics, it does not matter which gender you are, all you need do is to prepare yourself for leadership and ensure your knowledge base wide. You must have integrity, maturity and cerebral capability to vie for any position you aspire for.
As a woman, don’t ever allow the thoughts that you are a lesser being thrive. NEVER! When you are with men, prove yourself! You will be shocked that men would promote you and give you all the respect you deserve. Of course, there are challenges. Just like my National Leader would say, you have to go for it if you want it.
What is your legacy you want to leave behind as a woman leader?
I am a politician and I enjoy what I am doing as my life is that of service. I see my post as an opportunity to serve people and to develop the world. My aim in life is to use my position to groom and nurture future leaders.