By Juliet Umeh
D r. Ajoritsedere Awosika, MFR, mni, is a Nigerian businesswoman who is the the chairman of Access Bank Plc. Prior to this appointment, she was Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministries of Internal Affiars, Science & Technology and Power at different periods. She is an alumnus of the University of Bradford where she holds a Doctorate in Pharmaceutical Technology. In this interview, she speaks on the need for women to do better in politics considering their capacity and population.
What can you say about Women in politics in Nigeria, do you think they are doing well?
If I follow the theme for the Vanguard International Women’s Day, Walk the Talk, and then follow the theme for the 2022 International Women’s Day: Break the Bias, I would say we have done a bit, at least women are there. Women are in the Senate, they are in the House of Representatives, they are in party politics itself as Women leaders represented in every party and then, women are holding a lot of appointments as federal ministers, commissioners and a few deputy governors are women, so that bias has been broken to a certain percentage and have proven themselves. The question is, are we doing well enough? No, we could do better considering the population of women that have the capacity to do this.
What do you think is limiting our chances of doing better?
I think the political terrain in Nigeria is still growing in itself, the structure and systems are weak and it is not completely merit-based yet so when it becomes merit-based, it will be easy for women to just fit in but the struggle that is attached to the weak structure and system, makes it difficult for women to adapt to those structures and some of the practices that are involved currently. So I think those things are what discourage women because the obstacles are so high and to surmount them, one needs a lot of finances which women do not have, and those are the issues.
What more do you think can be put in place to boost the morale of women?
To continue to push; if you want to do politics, go out there and try, break the bias against the struggles. We have a struggle to put in merit beyond money. So one of the things that could be done is to support the women leaders already in the parties so that they can be strong enough to have a voice within the party because you need a platform to be able to run for a political office.
The challenge is that women are left alone to do things on their own and it should not be so, we should put all our strength behind the women leaders so that the parties will know they cannot ignore women.
Let us try and strengthen the women leaders in the various parties and give them a voice; let us also communicate better, promote merit in women to have ability and capacity to change certain dimensions in our economy, education, health among others. Having this constructive approach to putting out your first eleven, capacities and competencies for the available positions like the men do and so we too should do the same and I am sure we will get a lot of men to support women as well.
Does the government have a role to play in bringing women to limelight in politics?
It depends on what you mean by ‘government’; if you mean the legislative arm of government, I will say, yes, because the legislative arm of government can promote women in the rule of law in such a way that it is not giving complete advantage to anybody but to be able to have equity. Equity is important in building up a nation; you need all your best hands on the platform to be able to get the best for the nation so it is not really about womanhood, but about bringing out your best to be able to get the nation to grow. We need to have equity and it is something that comes with justice that brings peace, and peace brings progress so it is a sequential approach to let equity be primary in the hearts of everyone whether the legislative, judiciary or executive arm of government; with equity, you go far in being able to get a developed nation.
We recently witnessed how the demands of women were shut down at the Senate. What do you think about that?
I have to be very honest that I do not know what work we did behind the scene; politics is mostly behind the scene, you need to get your agreements behind the scene, and we needed to have our arguments and talks with the legislators behind the scene to ensure that when we come out, it will be a ‘yea yea’ issue. We came out, they shut it down, that was not good enough, that was ‘disrespect’ but we need to know the details of it for I do not know. I am actually on the lookout for someone to tell me what went on behind the scene, what was agreed, and why that shut down happened.
What advice do you have for Nigerian women?
As I earlier said, support the women in the party platforms, make them strong, give them a voice and then support them at state and local government levels but most importantly, carry women along in all the wards of the federation which means we have work to do. In every political ward, there is a woman leader, that woman leader represents the socio-economic development of that ward; imagine if we begin to make impact with those women, bring those 9,556 women into focus and begin to educate them if they are illiterates, support them if they are weak, and begin to give them the right perspective to grow, for knowledge is power; we give them knowledge and they have the power and begin to grasp it from the ward level and they become very strong at local government level, state level then, the national level will be strong as well.
In this part of the world, culture still poses a barrier and in most cases, it hits hard on women both in and out of the home. How can this be addressed with regard to men?
It is a mindset to me, our culture is very good in whatever part of the country thankfully, I have worked in every part of the nation and I have not seen a bad culture, I know that the only culture that in some areas, women have a channel of speaking because they have a voice, even the women that make so much noise that are supposed to be civilized, are not as strong as those women.
Women in the rural areas have a way of communicating what they want and they get it when they communicate it. When I was in charge of immunisation, I went round the country and I used the women in the political wards, particularly in areas I sense rejection and they in turn talk to their men and get what they want.
We should continue to use that strength; women have positive strength and this strength exists within the culture, that is why we are called ’mothers in the house’ and we fix the house. The woman also pays the piper and dictates the tune so we should be able to use wisdom, which is the principal thing, and we should go about what we do with wisdom, respectability and honour.