*Canvasses Special Status for Lagos
Mrs. Toke Benson-Awoyika, is the Assistant Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Lagos State. She is also an aspirant for the House of Representatives to represent Ikeja Federal Constituency seeking to replace the current occupant of the seat, Mr. Abiodun Falake.
In this interview, lawyer cum politician, who hails from the famous Benson family, bares her mind on her ambition and why she is the best for the job in this interview. Excerpts:
By Dapo Akinrefon
You are contesting to represent Ikeja at the House of Representatives, why Ikeja?
I have resided in Ikeja for over a decade now. I came back into the country from the US in 2006 and I have lived in Ikeja ever since, until about a year ago. I play my politics in Ikeja, I do my business in Ikeja. And most important of all, Ikeja is the capital of Lagos State. I would want to represent the capital of Lagos State. It’s strategic, very strategic.
Why do you want to represent the capital, what’s your interest?
There are some anomalies right now going on in Lagos and there are some issues that need to be brought on the front burner in Lagos. I believe that Ikeja should be the one spearheading those issues, so, fortunately, I have lived in Ikeja, I play my politics in Ikeja, and there is no other place better than Ikeja to represent.
What would those issues be?
Those issues border on Lagos being the commercial capital of Nigeria. It’s the most populous state in Nigeria whether you want to compare it to Kano or not. Personally, I believe Lagos represents the diversity of Nigeria and should actually have about 60 local government areas directly from federal instead of the 20 local government areas, that we then had to create other 37 administrative areas. The reason for the 37 LCDAs in the first place, is to break down governance, to make sure governance gets to the people and which other way but to have it federally recognised by our constitution?
Right now, Lagos is being short-changed in my opinion because Lagos only collects revenue for 20 local government areas. I will put the issue of the local governments aside, I’ll go on to the revenue. About 65 per cent of the VAT collected in the federation comes from Lagos. Do we get it back? I might begin to sound like my South-South brothers and sisters on resource control. Why isn’t Lagos getting a special percentage of that VAT? Those are the issues on the front burner that we need to address right now. I would also be interested in the issue of the girl-child.
There are indications that the current occupier of the seat, Abiodun Faleke is interested in going for a third term, how prepared are you to confront him?
To me, the seat in Ikeja is vacant. We have an incumbent who has been in Kogi since 2016, who personally I do not think is representing Ikeja right now because Kogi is Central Nigeria, Lagos is South-West Nigeria. There is no way you can be partisan or political in Kogi at the same time in Lagos. So if the incumbent has moved to Kogi since 2016, it means Lagos has lacked representation in the last three and half years. I think such anomalies are issues that actually need to also be dealt with in our constitution, in our laws. We had the NBA conference a few weeks ago and the issues of that came up, how a person can move from one part of Nigeria even though we want Nigeria to be one, I mean diversity of culture, diversity of ethnicity, it is immoral, it is illogical, it is absurd for you to have a candidate in Ikeja in 2015, in Kogi in 2016 and then in Ikeja in 2018. So our laws need to be reviewed to deal with such anomalies. So right now, there is no occupant of that seat for Ikeja at the House of Reps. That’s my opinion.
Do you believe in the issue of special status for Lagos State? If so, how do you intend to deal with it?
I do believe in special status for Lagos. Those are part of the things I said I put in my letter of intent. Lagos, like I said, is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. When Lagos coughs, Nigeria catches a cold. Lagos is too ethnically diverse. The issue of special status could also be brought into the issue of resource control that I talked about. We need to have a convergence of ideas on how to promote Lagos as a special entity within Nigeria. You know we used to be the Protectorate of Lagos, but we are no longer the Protectorate of Lagos. But we still cannot take that federality out of Lagos, because if I ask everybody here, we are probably all from different states, different ethnic backgrounds.
So, obviously, for Lagos to be recognised as a special state, revenue comes into play. I tell friends and colleagues when we get into arguments that look, the resources and the infrastructure in Lagos State is overstretched. Lagos is probably the most indebted state in the whole of Nigeria. The infrastructure is dilapidating; the major roads are constantly being overhauled because of the movement of goods and services. I will take the issue of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway; for as long as I can remember, we’ve always had an issue with that road because everything that comes into Nigeria comes in through Apapa and it moves to the rest of Nigeria. So why are we being neglected? I don’t think it is illogical addressing the issue of Lagos as a special entity within the entity of Nigeria.
Do you think the laws on sexual abuse are adequate, because sexual abuse and molestation against the girl-child seem to be on the rise?
I won’t say it’s on the rise. I would say because of social media, we are getting more aware of things that are happening within and around us. It has always been around us. I wouldn’t want to address the issue of marital age in the North where they say according to Islam, they can marry at age 13. To me, my 13-year-old is a baby. I would hate to see a man touch my 13-year-old. So the laws are actually there, but then, we have to go to law enforcement.
So, how then do we begin to address such issues? We need a reorientation of our law enforcement. Women would go in there, women are actually ashamed to say I have been abused, I have been inappropriately touched, talk less of the children. The mothers don’t even want the world to know that somebody has touched their children in a wrong way. So it has to do with our psyche as a people, our religious beliefs. We mix religion, culture and our laws, and there is supposed to be a separation between the state, and religion. In Nigeria, it’s all so inter-fused that we can’t separate those things. So first of all, law enforcement, Lagos is doing a whole lot addressing such issues. Lagos has trauma centers, they even have rape kits I’m aware of, so when a woman is abused or a child is abused, the first thing to do is to make sure you get a rape kit asserting that the child or woman has been inappropriately touched, then prosecution follows. So it’s law enforcement. It’s not that the laws don’t exist, the laws are there, it’s enforcing the laws like so many of our other laws. Traffic laws in Lagos are violated daily. So it’s not the laws, the laws are there, it is enforcement that is needed.
Looking at Nigeria’s political space today, it will be very difficult meeting the 30 per cent women affirmation. You are venturing into that, how do you intend to encourage other women to meet up with that challenge and how are you also prepared because politics here is dominated by men, do you think you have the capacity to displace these people you want to contest with?
You know because I’m a lawyer by training, when it comes to capacity, I think it shouldn’t be an issue for me to discuss, because we are all gentlemen at the bar and I have been trained to believe that whatever you can do, I’m superior to you.
Fortunately, there was a conference of female political aspirants in Abuja last week which I attended; it was organised by the office of the First Lady in collaboration with some NGOs. We were privileged to have the President as a special guest of honour and the party chairman, I think the chairmen of political parties were there; the chairman of my party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was also there. The President has affirmed that 30 per cent would be given to women. The First Lady was actually asking for 50 per cent but the President said let us start with the 30 per cent. Comrade Oshiomhole said something which I hold tight. It was a lengthy quote, but I’d just take the last one where he said, ‘ignore a woman, lose an election, ignore a woman, lose a nation.’ And he said charity begins at home. In his home state, they don’t joke with him. They have women as local government chairmen, they have women as party chairmen and they have women commissioners.
Women are more passionate about a lot of issues and at the end of the day, you find out that women actually overperform in their areas of expertise. Fortunately, in the judiciary in Lagos, we have mostly female judges so Lagos is faring well in that, but in the executive, I think we only have about four commissioners, including Women Affairs, even though in places like Adamawa State, a man is the Commissioner for Women Affairs and the First Lady gave an example, I think, of Kano State, where the committee on Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation,WAPA is filled with men, so how then do they begin to address issues that would relate to women or what women really need? To me, it’s about capacity, not about the gender anymore. We’ve moved past the issue of gender. It’s now about capacity.