Rita Maduagwu is the Speaker, Anambra State House of Assembly. She assumed the speaker-ship position in the 6th assembly in Anambra State under the auspices of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and is the only female speaker among the 36 state speakers in Nigeria. In an interview with Ebun Sessou, she speaks on the challenges confronting women in taking active positions in the political affairs of Nigeria while attributing the major challenge to finance. She also bares her mind on the difficulties women encounter in the process of discharging their leadership duties. Excerpt
Tell us your experience as the speaker of Anambra
It’s been fun although there are some hiccups along the line but with the grace of God, I surmount it. My major focus is to keep on working till I get to my destination when God says I should stop.
How long have you been in politics?
Eight years. And I did not just rise to speaker-ship position. You must be a ranking member in my state for you to be the speaker of the state assembly. This is my second term in the House of Assembly. I vied with my colleagues as the speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, fortunately, the speaker-ship was zoned to my region and I won.
There were no challenges just that in my state, certain positions are zoned. Governorship is zoned to the North, Deputy Governor to the Central and speaker to the South and I came from the South. I contended with some ranking members from the South Senatorial zone. I contended with the men and a woman and I won by the grace of God.
…And since you became speaker?
It has not been easy being the number 3 person in the state. It has been the grace of God. What a man would have done once, you have to go the extra mile before you are appreciated. If it is the men, people do not worry even if they are mediocre. As a woman, you must go the extra mile to get to the position where people would see that you are working. And that is the problem. So, if I want to be appreciated, I have to do the extraordinary and that is why I am still on the speaker-ship seat. I go the extra mile to be the best that I can. And that is how it has been since we started. This is my third year as the speaker.
The issue of more women not actively involved in politics is becoming worrisome, what is the view on this?
It is not easy contesting election. It is easier when it is an appointive position. But, for an elective position, it is very tough. It is even tougher now that things are getting worse in Nigeria. Most of the time, the men would not give you a chance to come out boldly to make your intention known. If you do not have the financial support, you will not be able to venture into politics. Therefore, any woman who decides to go into politics must have the financial backup and that is the only way to influence the society and compete with others. It is the financial backup that makes it easy for the women to survive in politics otherwise, the men will push you aside. Once, you have something that can really help you financially, then you can decide to go into politics. These days, people are comfortable engaging and working with women and making them better persons more than the men. Women perform better than the men in their various constituencies.
Are you suggesting women should lie-low in active politics?
If they have the financial muscle, they are free to come out. Nothing stops you from competing with a man. The truth is that we have more women that vote and that is an advantage but the problem is that most women are not as buoyant as the men. The men spend so much money getting there and if a woman does not have the wherewithal, it will be difficult to get there and that is a problem. It is not as if women cannot contest but the major thing is the financial muscle you need to get there.
Since you assumed speaker-ship position in your state, what has been your driving force?
The 6th Anambra State House of Assembly is the most peaceful, vibrant and proactive state legislatures in the country devoid of confusion and rancour. Issues of impeachment moves, secret plots as well as other anti-democratic tendencies are non-existent in the current state assembly.
It is a business of rules. There are house rules that guide you in whatever you are supposed to do. And if you do the wrong thing, your members are there to say no. The rules guide everybody both the speaker and the members. Every state has house rules and that is what guide the state. And you must be conversant with the house rules.
God has blessed me in that aspect because I started early. My children have grown up. My last son just graduated this year in Scotland and he came out with first class. I am not rearing children and I also have an understanding husband who is always there for me. I have been coping.