2019 election ’ll be about candidates, not parties – Abiodun Essiet

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Abiodun Essiet is a gender advocate and the women leader of Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF); foremost support organisation for female politicians. She is also a public health consultant and researcher. In this interview with ENE OSANG she speaks on her passion for politics and why she is running for councillorship in the FCT.

What is your background and how did you get involved in community development?

I am a passionate community leader with seven-year experience in project management, community development and leadership. I am involved in identifying development gaps in the society and ways of bridging the gaps.

As a participant of Canvassity Pan African Youth Democracy Program 2018, I am working on a six-month project in my community on public service efficiency by engaging elected representatives to become more accountable, efficient and to deliver impactful governance to citizens.

I hold a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree, Registered Nurse, Registered mid- wife and Registered Public Health Nursing certificate and Masters in Public Health.

I also hold a diploma degree in Development Leadership and Certificate in Community Development Leadership by Women, Conflict and peace building, Action Research for a Citizens led Change from Coady International Institute, Nova Scrotia, Canada.

I am currently the national director for women, gender and development affairs of Africa Youth Union Commission, the head of state for Nigeria in Model ECOWAS Summit 2018, Accra Ghana.

I am the executive director of Abiodun Essiet Initiative for Girls, a Non-Governmental Organisations that deals with youth and women empowerment, board member and health consultant For Strong Enough Girls Empowerment Initiative and a volunteer for Baobab for Women Human Rights.

What inspired you to join politics?
I am actively engaged in public service, volunteerism and mentoring. I started “35% Inclusion Movements”, a grassroots movement aimed at reaching 35% inclusion of women in decision making positions towards 2019 Nigeria general election. I created a social media network known as the Young Africa Women leaders Network to Mentor young women across Africa on politics and leadership development. I also use this platform to share my political journal as an aspirant for the next general election in Nigeria.

I belong to the following professional Organisations: Alumni of Coady International Institute, Canada; International Association of Professional Writers & Editors; Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research; Health education and Promotion Graduate of University of Ibadan; Nigeria Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria and Reviewer for BMC International Journal on Reproductive health.

You have declared intention to run for office in the forthcoming election, what are your chances?

I have 75 per cent chance of winning the primaries in my party and 80 per cent chance of winning the election based on some fact: my political party is known to be one of the major parties and well known to the people at the grassroots in my ward and they have been winning the councillorship for years. People usually say anyone that is selected by my party ends up being the councillor.

Since the time I declared my interest to run for office, I have received positive response from stakeholders in my ward and also in my party.

Members of the community are aware about my empowerment program for women and girls even before showing any interest in running for office and are ready to support not only because am a woman but because of my capacity and my community development programs.

I believe that 2019 election will be more about the candidate and not really the political party. So, whether you are female or male, what people want is results because they are tired of leaders giving excuses for not performing, they are demanding for change, innovation, inclusion and development.

Women for Women movement was recently launched in a bid to shore up number of women in elective and appointive positions in 2019, do you think the group can add value to women aspirants like you?

Women for Women is a project committed to mobilise Nigeria women into a movement/pressure group and get them to speak up on women and girls related issues.

The Women for Women movement consists of men and women from different political and non-political interests who believe that if we want to see more women participate in changing the circumstances of our country, we need to get involved by voting and being voted for, as well as raising our voices on issues that affect us.

It seeks to address all issues facing women in Nigeria Politically, socially, economically and culturally by calling the attention of our legislators to some of the issues and demand for action.

Women for Women also functions as a coalition of various women groups/Organisations, which is evidence by the numbers of women groups (local, states and federal level) that turned up for the march.

Part of the focus of the rally was about the charter of demand with the objectives of presenting the highlight of the charter to women, adoption of the charter of demand and the presentation of the charter to the stakeholders.
The charter raised some points that will add value to women aspirant like: bridging existing gap between the young and older women in politics, social and political equity, separate quota of inclusion for young women in 35% affirmative action and implementation of affirmative action that 10 per cent should be reserved for young women

So, you are confident the syndrome of women not supporting each other will not affect you?

I am a positive thinker and I strive to be successful in whatever I do. As the scriptures says in Psalm 1 vs 3 “whatever I do shall prosper,” this verse of the Bible boosts my confident of winning and also the fact that Political leadership is my destiny.

As the first female ever to show interest in running for any position in my ward since 1995, my moves are already breaking the glass ceilings.

My community development program, which has been on going before I made up my mind to run for office, is one of my moves/strategy in winning because it makes me closer to the people at the grassroots and also helps me to understand the challenges people in my community are facing.

Other moves include forming alliance with other political aspirant in my party who can influence the result of the primaries.

Running for a political position in FCT brings to life issues of indigene and non-indigenes, which am leveraging on positively to help me win by getting the support of people from my tribe and my husband’s tribe.
At the moment, my goal is to win the primaries and one of my strategy is paying the executive of my party regular visit in their houses to share my plans for the community, get their support and also to carry them along in my community development programs.

Yes, I have the support of other women and the support a young female aspirant needs to win election is financial support, mentorship, support system for family needs and care, capacity building among others

What are you really bringing to the table?

What am bringing to the table is my years of experience in community development work, my knowledge on leadership and governance. Am also bringing in my innovative plans in solving some of the problem we are facing in the community and in Nigeria.

My approach to community development is through Asset Based Community led Development (ABCD) which focuses on using the asset of the community to develop the community. I plan to promote citizen’s engagement in governance by pushing for policies that promote participatory budgeting and transparency. lastly am bringing in my passion in bridging the gap between the rich and poor and my commitment to selfless service.

Do you think women have learnt from past mistakes and are we likely to see more women representation in 2019?

A lot has changed in the political terrain due to increased awareness among the citizens on their role in promoting good governance and their hunger for the dividend of democracy in Nigeria.

The citizens are eager to collect their Permanent Voters Card PVC and to cast their vote in the next general elections 2019.

Everyone, including women, have learnt from their past mistakes and are ready to engage positively, which has led to the increase in numbers of political parties, numbers of men and women who have declared their intentions to run for office and lastly the profile of the people who are running for political positions.

There is hope for more women representation in 2019, at least am sure of mine but there is need to advocate for the passage and domestication of bills/policies that make provision for equal representation of women in decision making platform like the Gender and Equal Right Opportunity Bill, National Gender Policies, Not Too Young To Run Bill, Beijing Platform for Action 1995 and African Charter on Democracy, Election and Governance (ACDEG)

On what platform are you running and are encountering any challenge?

I am running under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and regarding challenges, on a general note, my challenges are similar to the challenges of any young woman running for office and could be summarised to include time management, which prevents most young women from taking part in politics and participating in governance, most of us want to build our career and families at this stage of life, it is considered that one of the fundamental roles of women is to procreate to perpetuate the family lineage. Most often, these roles take precedence over all other aspect related to women’s contribution to the advancement of the society. Women are expected to undertake the bulk of domestic and child-care work, often in addition to paid work outside the home.

Younger married women like me in particular are likely to experience time poverty, given that they are often responsible not just for looking after their own children and husbands but also members of their husband extended family. Lack of control over if, or when to have children also makes it difficult for women to plan their participation in leadership contest/elections.

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