By Dirisu Yakubu
Tari Oberia Oliver is passionate about a society that works for all. Her passion for public service recently pushed her into the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari as she obtained the expression of interest and nomination forms to vie for the 2023 Presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The only female aspirant among 16 men, Oliver, in this exclusive interview with Vanguard, says her Presidency will right the wrongs of the past and reposition Nigeria to take advantage of her rich material and human resources.
What informed your decision to join partisan politics?
I was very young when Chief Moshood Kolawale Olawale Abiola died and I remembered that I cried so much because it was like it was my own dad that had passed on. I followed the election and as a child, I was fond of reading newspapers, following news and all of that so we were all hoping that Abiola was going to assume office as the president.
But when that thing happened, I just felt like I wanted to become the President and I was less than 10 years old at the time.
I got into university at 16, and when I turned 18, I joined a political party. PDP was in power in Edo State and we were doing aluta alongside politics and all of that. We were into aluta politics, Student Union Government, SUG, politics and all of that.
My dad is from Delta State but I am from Bayelsa because I followed my mum’s end, my mum is a Bayelsan.
After school, I attempted to run for councillorship but they said no, ‘you are just coming in, you can’t do that; you need to support someone else.’ So, I supported someone else and that was in 2003.
Usually when you are just starting, it is like almost every election period, you go back into mobilisation and all of that. We were the ones doing the grassroots work for the party.
But I discovered that wherever I found myself, I was always going to PDP- from Edo to Delta back to Rivers, and Lagos. It has been like that.
Why are you starting with Presidency instead of lower positions?
In 2015, I tried to contest for a seat in the Lagos State House of Assembly, it didn’t work. I tried again in 2019 and I got the ticket; so I ran for the State House of Assembly, Ibeju-Lekki constituency 1. I ran in that election because my foundation is into maternal health and girl child education . It is basically focused on women and children.
I discovered that the rate at which women were dying in the process of giving birth was really very high, and you know, the statistics is really very scary. It is about 58,000 women every year and I just felt like I needed to do something.
The issues were that they were giving birth using traditional birth practices. Some were even giving birth to children in churches and this is not medically okay and that is so because within that my constituency, we did not have a maternal and health hospital for children and mothers.
They had to go to either Lagos Island hospital where you have the mother and child or the general hospital in Epe. Both ways, the roads were bad and if there was an emergency, before these women will get to any of those centres, there’s already a casualty.
So, I started advocating that I wanted to build a hospital but I couldn’t access funds, I couldn’t get donors for it and I thought about it. So, I said if I am able to get elected, I can use my position to lobby for a hospital to be situated in my constituency.
And I went about campaigning and because the women knew this was what I was already into and the school projects and all of that, they supported me but the election was declared inconclusive. We had to go for a re-run and at the end of the day, I lost it.
But during the period of the campaign, my opponent was telling me that he understood what I was advocating for.
The good news is that right now, they have built the hospital in Ibeji-Lekki constituency. It is located very close to Abraham Adesanya which is also accessible to those within Ibeji-Lekki and Etiosa local government area.
Women have been neglected for a very long time and a society that neglects women does not really progress and you can see that in Nigeria.
I am trying to amplify the voices of women who are not very represented in key areas of government. Our issues are not given priority but I know that we can do more that what are doing at the moment.
I can amplify the voices of those that are vulnerable in the society and one way or the other we would be able to achieve what we want through the right government in place.
How prepared are you for the PDP male-dominated primary election?
Well, I have been a member of PDP for 19 years and the issues that are driving me are issues related to maternal health, right of the girl child and education.
Do not forget that majority of the delegates that will vote are masses. They are from our local communities and the security challenge, which we have in our hands now affect them the more.
My policy to resolve issues in this country is based on my set agenda which is security, electricity and technology.
These are the issues I am taking to the delegates. They should understand that Nigerians need a good government, an all inclusive government that will give them power to represent themselves and to empower them to defend themselves. I do not believe that money will play a major role in the 2023 election.
Leaders of the party from your own zone, the South, think it will be equitable and fair for the party to zone the Presidential ticket to the South. What is your take on this?
I think the party should zone at this point based on gender. It’s been 61 years of men presiding over the affairs of our nation. It won’t be out of place if the party decides to give the ticket to a woman and luckily, I am the only female in the race. You can imagine what will happen if the entire men support me.
Beyond giving free nomination forms to women, how do you think the PDP should encourage women like you to embrace partisan politics?
The party itself cannot at this point be associating but I believe that they can help us with the media. They can purposely or intentionally through the office of the woman leader, assign some budgetary allocation for women media so that women politicians across the nation can have a lot of visibility.
It is not also out of place if the party support us financially because they know that it is difficult for women to mop up funds as a lot of people probably do not believe we will scale through. It is easier for a man contesting to mop up funds than a woman contesting.
Women generally seem to be operating at a disadvantaged position particularly in politics. If you become the President of Nigeria today, what exactly will you do for Nigerian women?
First of all, I am going to make the health care of the Nigerian woman a priority because if you are not well, you would not be able to do any other thing. I am going to amplify what I have been yearning for- free health care for women and children. Every child from age 0 – 5 years will get free quality care. We will bring infant mortality rate to 0 per cent.
Apart from healthcare, we will see how we will give special incentives to women-owned businesses and this can only be available or possible by the deployment of data because when we deplore technology we would be able to have exact data.
Right now, a lot is happening, they will tell you that they have give women businesses loans but most times it doesn’t really get to the women at the grassroots.
We are going to run a transparent system where we will use technology to achieve results to ensure that women at the grassroots benefit from whatever intervention the government is going to be rolling out through the local government centres.
Your co-aspirants have been holding consultative meetings with various organs of the party ahead of the primaries. Why haven’t you toed this line as well?
I have been doing that but the whole issue is that I have not had access to the media as the men. So if the media will help amplify my voice, I will be very happy. Women do not have enough resources to go everywhere with the media. I have met with the National Working Committee, NWC and a chieftain of the party and former governor of Ondo state, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
Do you believe that the country is not ripe yet to have a female President?
Well, I believe that if they allow me deploy the sort of security, ideas, network and policy that I want to bring to the table a lot will change in this country. State governments will provide electricity for their people.
It is a wrong notion that women can’t preside over this beloved country well. I ask you: what have the men who had the opportunity done? Is it not their leadership we are lamenting today?
What is your take on the clamour for the restructuring of the Nigerian state?
Let me explain to the grassroots man what restructuring is. Restructuring means that the man living in a community somewhere in Gwarzo will be able to be part of the security solution in Gwarzo community and defend himself.
Restructuring means that the state will be able to set up policies that will enable them generate power, not necessarily by themselves but probably get investors to generate power and make light available to the people.
We can see that we have less than 5,000megawatts for a country of over 200 million people. But there are countries that are just about six million persons that are generating over 50,000megawatts.
So right now, under this system of government nobody is benefiting. The elites are not benefiting, the masses are not benefiting. I say this with utmost confidence because if you claim to be benefiting from this system, are you able to drive your car around? Are you able to go anywhere you want to without security? Are you able to live a normal life? We can all see that the system right now is not working for anyone.
I know the word itself ‘restructuring’ has been hijacked but I am telling people that I am proposing a United States of Nigeria (USN) where everybody will be united across board. What should matter is state of residence as against state of origin. Nigerians should understand that we are one Nigeria.