By Fred Iwenjora
Rt. Hon. Princess Chinwe Claire Nwaebili studied Accounting at the Delta state University Abraka and became a member of Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN).
While pursuing her academic career, she had also pursued her political advocacy as well as her catering business interests with so much vigor.
People who knew her in those years still call her Mama Put because of her successful catering business which started in small scale and became a huge concern. The business is still involved in huge outside events catering in south eastern and Delta states of Nigeria.
In this chat, the former Speaker of Anambra state House of Assembly and a current student of law who has her eyes on the House of Reps seat for APGA tells her interesting story of rising from obscurity to prominence in a so called man’s world where women battle to get a chance to excel.
She also reveals how she had worked as the Personal Assistant to House of Assembly Speaker only to become Speaker not too long after.
What inspired you to seek positions of leadership?
I think leadership has always been a calling for me. My parents were civil servants. But I know I have always had the interest of the welfare of the people at heart from my childhood days. I have always felt that I could defend and advocate for others.
So my first port was being appointed Supervisory councilor of my Local council. I later served as House of Assembly member and as Speaker of the House. I have also served as Commissioner for Environment and later for Transportation.
When did this calling manifest?
It was during my teenage years that I realized the suffering of grassroots people. At that time, we lived around the Odo Rubber area of Iyiowa Odekpe, Ogbaru LGA. Flooding then was a regular issue and affected drainage systems. The decay of infrastructure stared me in the face. I felt the pain of people first hand as they lost farm proceeds due to lack of good roads to evacuate them to markets. It was difficult to get to Onitsha in those days and I started wishing I could speak for my people to improve their lives.
Did you ever have to learn the ropes before this venture into politics?
My political interests started while I was at the Delta state University Abraka where I studied accounting. I became organizing secretary of the Students Union Government of the school. While as a student, I became PA to Rt Hon. Olisa Imegwu. He later became Speaker of Delta state House of Assembly. It was while working for Hon Imegwu that I learnt the ropes about how to speak for a people and all it takes to be a good representative of the people. I also learnt of the huge responsibility the representative carries with him or her.
What were your first major tasks as a politician?
When it struck me that I was working for a Delta man in Delta state. I asked why I should not go to my home state of Anambra state to put all I have learnt into practice. On my return I joined PDP and was later inducted as a supervisory Councilor for Ogbaru LGA by the government of Chinweoke Mbadiniju. I was assigned to the social welfare and health portfolio.
This position brought me close to far flung and remote islands and camps within the LGA. It made me see grassroots women and how they coped with life. Most rejected vaccination until I preached well to them. My close relationship with these women created for me a formidable women group.
It was after that, that I took a shot at the Anambra state House of Assembly to represent Ogbaru Constituency 11. It was during my second tenure that I was elected Speaker of the House by the special grace of God.
I later served as Commissioner for Environment and later that of Transport. Now I wish to be at the Federal House of Representatives to represent my people who have had no federal voice over the years. I have seen my people without a federal voice for a long time. I want to redress these wrongs. Anytime I want to retrace my successes and challenges in politics, I immediately begin to pay tribute to my late Husband Late Chief Azubuike Nwaebili who gave me total support and encouragement to go on in the first place.
Could you recall your first times in the House?
It was in 2007 that I won election into the Anambra state House of Assembly. I became Chairman House committee on election matters. I was also Deputy chairman to other committees while a member in over nine committees.
It is still on record that I was the first to move a motion in our 2007 House of Assembly. I was just a fresher who worried about the huge mountain of refuse as you enter Ogbaru. I had vowed that if I ever won election into the House, it would be my first motion and I turned out to be the first person to move a motion in that House.
Governor Peter Obi at that time took the mission seriously as I had argued that a huge refuse mountain as a welcome into Anambra is indefensible. Governor Peter Obi acted fast on it and that was the beginning of a smooth ride in the House.
I was encouraged by that and went to work to influence government on need to rehabilitate failing infrastructure like roads both across Anambra and especially in my constituency. Roads were rehabilitated; schools renovations went on even in far remote camps and Islands. I also proposed for the posting of health personnel and teachers with special salary packages to encourage them in the hinter land.
How easy was it to make a motion when you had not done any of those things before then?
I knew it was going to be a learning process so immediately attached myself to veterans in the House especially Hon Ozo Ughamadu who I am indebted to. He was oldest person in that House and was highly respected for his experience. It was from him that I learnt comportment and carriage and how to present and argue for motions that impact on the people.
Speaker of Anambra state House of Assembly…did you ever imagine that you could attain such height?
I never ever imagined that it could happen in my life. I only wanted to be a member of the House and contribute my own quota to uplift my constituency. But God decreed otherwise that I may be the one leading men. It was when I was re-elected for a second term that my fellow House members overwhelmingly voted me Speaker and I was dumbfounded and I remain grateful for their cooperation towards the success of our objectives.
Did leading men in a male dominated environment ever present challenges?
My parents had us two women and five men so I grew up with men so did not feel otherwise when I got to the house dominated by men. I was already born into a male dominated world. We were only 6 women in the House of Assembly while 24 were men. I was lucky that I already understood how to live and work amongst men. I learnt that men are handled with ease and with much care. A man does not need an iron hand to handle. He is already an iron. Only respect and honor to men could help a woman go places in leadership.
This understanding has helped me and continues to help me both in life and at work. You would believe me that men reduce their rascality before women. I doubt that fighting in the House or carrying away of the mace will be possible if a woman was in-charge. Very few men will be comfortable with a woman begging them to stop fighting.
So they will try to minimize such troubles that will bring down their ego. I respected all my colleagues and they reciprocated and supported me wholesomely. However, if there were problems, it was from my fellow women in the House,(hahahahaha).
What do you consider your greatest achievements as Speaker?
People have always cited the synergy between the executive and the legislator as one of my greatest. I feel that way too. I recall that before we came on board, the relationship was very frosty and antagonistic. The Anambra state House was seating in hide outs in Enugu and Asaba and other places. But becoming Speaker stopped all that.
My colleagues said they saw me as a bridge, an insulator and work flowed better. This peace created a good working environment for the government to make progress. If there was smooth relationship between the two arms, progress is engendered. And I must say we made progress.
And the synergy is still being cited I have not stopped thanking God for the opportunity to serve Governors Peter Obi and Chief Willie Obiano and my colleagues during my tenure as speaker. It was their cooperation that saw us through. It is only a good relationship between the Legislature and executive that true dividends of democracy come.
Another area in which I scored some achievement is in the area of roads, bore holes and electricity and indeed other infrastructure in my Ogbaru area. I made sure that government policies across the state for the people did not elude my people who are my first principal constituency. I projected that Ogbaru people had no roads to evacuate the farm produce they were forced to harvest early due to perennial flooding.
The road from Uga junction to Ossomala was marked out and started as government priority. Later the road to Ogwu aniocha and Ogwu Ikpele were started. I expect the member representing the area at the House at this time to continue to push for it. I am no longer a member of the House or Speaker and government is a continuum.
Are there things you wished to accomplish that you did not?
Thanks so much for asking me this because there are many of such plans that did not see the light of the day. If there is a project I miss during my tenure it is the Second Niger Bridge which was projected to start after the President had done the ground breaking ceremonies.
I looked forward to that project because of the positive impact I envisaged upon Ogbaru people. I really wished that project came during my time because there would have been other ancillary ideas to tie around it to benefit my people both young and old. It is the biggest thing that I wished happened in my time. That second Niger bridge landed and passed through Ogbaru LGA and would have sparked off big time social benefits.
Another project which I believed would do Ogbaru people so much good is the Onitsha Wharf of River port. It would have improved the place of Onitsha as a hub of business in West Africa. It would have opened water transportation and opened up Ogbaru for a big maritime business.
If I find myself at the House of Reps, I will push for some of those things to get approval. As Commissioner for Transport in Anambra state, I organized a public hearing on the Onitsha River Port. I am passionate about the project because I believe it would have opened up plenty of benefits for the people.
Do you believe in women Liberation? Do you see yourself as a liberated woman?
Yes I believe in women liberation and I consider myself a liberated woman in the sense of being educated and acquiring skills of survival because the world of today requires women who know what’s going on. Liberated woman can assist the man. My own idea of being liberated is not to be disrespectful and antagonizing to the man or be in competition with him but to be equipped to assist and complement him.
In my case I started a small catering business even before my full time participation in politics. Some of my friends laughed at me and called it mama put but it has really grown into a full scale catering organization now. You see a lot of women sit at home and gossip with no understanding that they should tap from the numerous benefits for skill acquisition. The era of leaving the home entirely for the man alone to carry is gone. Again some women have leadership potentials but because they misunderstand what liberation means and do not get the encouragement of the man, they bungle the opportunities. I think that for any woman to succeed in leadership position in Nigeria as in Africa, she must respect the men.
Liberation is seen by many women as women taking over from the man..do you think same?
I do not think so. Many people have misunderstood the concept of women liberation. Some men also have the fear of being dominated by the woman. I believe that we all were created for different purposes. A woman can never play the biological role of the man and vice versa. God has made it so.
Women in political positions
My mission is to give full time representation, demand and advocate for federal interests for my constituency, improve on the welfare and health situation of women, children and the aged I trust that these will inspire more women to develop their leadership potentials and to seek leadership roles in life and politics so their matters will be well represented. I wish that more women should seek elective posts to be councilors, go to House of Assembly etc. We seem to be few in all of these making it seem like the world is only for men.
You could imagine that of 30 members of Anambra House during my tenure, we were only 6 women. It is not a balanced equation. If you have a House of Assembly without women then there will be regular fights.
The women will be there to bring about a meeting point. Even as family heads, decisions taken without the input of the woman no matter how well endowed may backfire. So, a well trained woman will always be an asset to the family, work place, Nigeria and the world In all I believe that liberating the woman would make the world better.
I want to use this opportunity to beg our men to give women a chance to contribute into our politics.
As a beautiful woman in the midst of men, how do you cope with advances?
(Loud laughter) I must tell you that men do not make advances at me. Most of them have told me that they see me as their fellow man as one of them. They rather are free to tell me about their amorous escapades.
How have you coped with widowhood since the death of your husband?
Aaah life has not been easy for me o. I am a woman. The load for two people has been left for only me to carry. I must tell you that it has not been easy to play the role of mother and father, civil servant and politician all in one. It is God that is the husband of widows. It is the reason I have a widows foundation to support them because I feel their pains first hand. Many of them are not as lucky or as comfortable as I am. I try best to help and support them and celebrate with them during festivities to give them that sense of belonging. If you see a child hawking on the streets with goods not more than N1000, he or she may be a child of a widow who has no other way of fending for the family. I will not stop helping the widows because I am one of them