One-time contender for the governor’s seat in Cross Rivers State on the platform of Action Democratic Party, ADP, Princess Filia Henshaw Etim, is convinced that women would be more fairly treated in Nigerian politics if they have their own political party.
In this interview, the member of the Governing Board of the National Examinations Council (NECO) speaks to Morenike Taire, Woman Editor, and Ebunoluwa Sessou-John on the need for affirmative action and involvement of women in the restructuring of the country.
What is the philosophy of the political party that you were speculated to be proposing for women?
I am not going to be a founder of the political party. I am only going to be a co-founder of a group of women of like-minds and decide the way forward. The ideology is to have women of like-minds who have all it takes, including background, integrity, knowledge, to set the record straight for Nigeria. Right now, the situation is too bad. As women, we want to fashion out the political party that will give women the opportunity to attempt, contest elections and be voted for so that they can be seen and be heard at all levels of governance.
Are you not asking for too much because there are women in other political parties and they are either in elective and appointive positions?
Presently, the National Assembly has a Senate of 109 members and only five are women. If you are satisfied with that, I am not. Women struggled and worked so hard to support men and, when it comes to reciprocating the gesture, it becomes a problem. Women do not have a voice. We only have woman leadership in the arrangement of a political party that has 16 officers. In politics, it is the number that counts. But, if women are able to establish a political party, women will be educated on the need to understand that their voices must be heard. It is wrong for women to contest elections and have only one vote.
Should it not be people of integrity rather than women of integrity?
We are looking for a political party that gives women the leverage; that is all encompassing with a standard Constitution and content. Imagine 16 officers with only one woman, she does not have a say. There is no way her vote will count. So, if we have a political party that allows women to contest at all levels, then women will be established. Anywhere we cannot have a woman with credibility in such an office, then, we can vote for a credible man who is also eligible.
What is the justification for saying we want women in government?
We are saying that most of the men who have been given the opportunity to take up leadership positions in the country have failed us. We have come to the realization of age. Nigeria at 60, we are mature enough to say to these men who have ruled this country that we are coming in to change the narrative and to give a sense of direction for Nigeria to be alive again.
What would be the role of men in this party?
They are allowed to be part of us. Just like every other political party. What we are saying is that, this party will enable a concession for women to contest any position. For instance, if a woman is contesting for presidency, a man should be her vice president. Men should also come out as deputy governor.
Is there an antecedent for this ideology?
We will always have a starting point. We (Nigeria) are 60 years of age and so, we are mature enough to see a broader way of bringing development and trust into what is going to happen in the new Nigeria we are looking at. Year 2023 is around the corner and if we do not do anything about it now, it will be the same old story. If we have a political party, men will be forced to listen to us. Our women will be properly educated that we are more than men.
If we put all our votes together, it should be able to lift women to the level. We have seen some women who are in elective and appointive positions and they are extremely outstanding. We need a platform that would give more women leverage to be able to showcase their potentials. And I believe that a superior argument should take precedent.
I am not biased. I am not a feminist neither am I saying Nigeria should be ruled by only women. But, if countries like Croatia, Liberia and Sierra Leone can be ruled by women, I do not see why we cannot replicate the same here. The truth is, all the atrocities that have brought Nigeria to what it is have been caused by men.
How possible is it to convince a market woman on this ideology?
If you change the narrative, they will be convinced. Because the modus at which we will operate will sensitize women, educate and expose them on what their rights are. We are not asking them to come and take a cup of rice, we are creating a platform for them to have food on their tables. They will not be begging for food.
Any politician can say the same thing….
That is why we are saddled with the responsibility of changing the narrative. It is not going to be business as usual. The existing style must be scrapped. We need to talk to ourselves on the need to change from the attitude of enslavement and begging to survive. We have to start somewhere. If the country is 60 years old and women have seen through the suffering of a failed nation, I am sure we can make a difference.
Politics is expensive in Nigeria. As a woman, what are your plans for financial backing since men seem to have stronger financial powers?
Men have wives. The wives can convince them to give them the needed finance. If the wives of these rich are able to convince their husbands, they will come to our aid. Do you think the rich men too are comfortable with the situation on the ground? They just felt it is the order of the day and, therefore, they should play along but women are ready to resist it. Women are good managers and we are going to convince our husbands on this ideology. Financiers will come when they believe in your vision.
There are challenges when it comes to women supporting themselves. How do you intend to change the narrative?
The new movement is looking at how to start something. It is never easy to get it right. But, when you start and begin to practice it, they will drop the bandwagon for the common good. The movement that is coming is aware that these things have been existing in the negative way, but if we must forge ahead and get things right, we should be fed with the present situation. We will have a guiding principle for checks and balances.
The nation has been talking about restructuring. How does your plan fit into restructuring Nigeria?
Anybody who refuses to look at restructuring is not doing this country any good. We need to restructure Nigeria. To allow one person to decide for 200 million Nigerians is not the best. We need restructuring so that we will be able to respect integrity and purpose and identify what other people have. It is appalling to allow a nation to be ruled by a particular set of people. The country is breaking because there is no good leadership. Nigeria must restructure otherwise a crisis is looming.
So, how does your party fit into restructuring?
We don’t have a party yet. What I am saying is that women should come together and stop the people that have brought this country down to what it is. They should come with a view to reviewing the situation for the betterment of the country.
Many parties are clamoring for ethnic nations, BIAFRA, Oduduwa…
I also subscribe to ethnic nations. Any nation that wants to operate on its own should not hesitate. If we borrow development like the rest of the world and yet we are primitive in our thinking, we cannot be like the rest of the world and emulate what they are doing. We have not been able to develop ourselves because we refuse to look at how the rest of the world is presenting their cases. We don’t need to kill ourselves to break out or use herdsmen or hire mercenaries against ourselves. We don’t have to use bloodshed because those who saw the war between 1966 and 1970 would not want it to happen again. I don’t want us to go through war because it is painful, expensive and emotional. Let us start the restructuring, then, we will develop and spread. There must be sincerity in whatever we are doing.
As women, how would you demand for your right?
In politics, you don’t ask for anything. You have to take it by the votes of the people. In politics we have to take it by force. We don’t need to beg anybody to give us 30 percent. We will sit on the table with men and re-negotiate how to share the vote and appointments. There will be a Constitution that gives room for equal rights. We are still fighting because we feel the Constitution does not give room for equality. Until we go back and review the Constitution, we will just be casting our bread in the wrong water and planting in a place without fertilizer. I don’t want to spend my money doing things that are not in line with the Constitution. In essence, the Nigerian Constitution today does not favor progress, stability and development.
You have been in politics since 1993 and yet you were pushed out. What was the hope of an aspiring woman then?
If we have a Constitution that gives us the authority and approval to be seen and heard, nobody will do that to you again. The laws will be there. You can challenge such an action in court. Today, people are seeking for redress because they know their rights. At that time, I did not give up nor did I fight or blackmail anybody. A hero is the one who does not die on the battlefield, he lives to fight again. My mission is to make positive change. That I was not given the opportunity to serve yesterday does not mean tomorrow is closed. No woman should say she will not try again because she was not allowed yesterday.