Agnes Oziwere Ojeba-Abiodun is a former member of the Kogi state House of Assembly and a major stakeholder in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she shares her views about women in politics ahead of the state’s governorship election in November.
What is your background and how did you join politics?
I am a full-fledged Ebira woman from Adavi Local Government of Kogi state. My husband is from Ekiti state man.
I was born in Okene to the family of Hon Raphael Ojeba and Mrs Ojeba, both of blessed memory. My father was a community leader, businessman, and politician per excellence.
It was when a vacuum was created as a result of the demise of my elder sister, Hon. Nana Ojeba, that I was called upon to replace her at the House of Assembly. I was overwhelmingly voted during the by-election to fill the vacuum. That was how my political journey started.
However, my father’s personality has really helped me and I thank God that anywhere and wherever I go today, people tell me much about my father’s well lived life and how he did very well for the people around him and his constituency during his active days in politics.
So, politically I learnt a lot from him because he was a man of integrity. You cannot point at any property that belonged to him which was acquired illegally.
I am from a family where humility is entrenched as one of our family values, respect for elders, taking life very easy. We were brought up not to allow anything make us to deviate from the norms, whom you are.
We were trained by a disciplinarian and one of the founding fathers of Roman Catholic Church in Ebiraland, who had taught us that whatever position we find ourselves, we should see it as a privilege and must not let it get into our head.
I enjoy people’s goodwill even in places I didn’t think I would be known because of the many lives my father touched back in the days. This has greatly helped me politically and I intend to maintain the good name of the family.
My decision to venture into partisan politics is to serve our nation, encourage and promote gender equality in Nigeria and build a better body of politics.
Your party the PDP has numerous aspirants jostling for the governorship ticket. Do you see the party arriving at a consensus candidate that can wrestle power from the incumbent?
My party, the PDP has been well-known as a party that manages her affairs well and knows what internal democracy is all about. It has been in existence since the inception of the democratic governance we are having today.
I want to assure you that even if a thousand aspirants are seen displaying their posters and making their intentions known to occupy the Lugard House in November 2019, we are certainly going to come to a round table to pick a consensus and sellable candidate.
We have done that at the national level and it was well managed just recently as you could bear me witness during the last general elections that led to the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as our presidential candidate and we would still do it again at the state level.
Finally, everybody would revert to his or her respective local governments to work assiduously for the victory of whoever emerges as our candidate. Our party is not in crisis and I can assure you, we are working so well to adopt a candidate with premium marketing product.
Do you see a woman being elected governor in the state in November or in the near future?
Kogi state politics is a very unique and different from many states. I foresee a female governor. All I know it is a stage and when the time is ripe, no one can stop it from coming to pass. That is why I am clamouring for the slot of deputy governor to be given to a woman. I have been angling for a woman to be elected as senator and member House of Representatives.
We are looking at such from all flanks, West, East, and Central senatorial districts to happen. Let there be manifestation of these stages and from there, we shall see one amongst us elected one day in a foreseeable future as the governor of the state.
How does your party intend to canvass votes from the women in a bid to unseat the incumbent?
My party has done so much for Kogi women and the difference is crystal clear when you weigh the two major parties in the state.
My party places much priority on women’s welfare and empowerments. We actually do not need rigorous campaign for them to vote the party that have special interest and zeal to liberate them economically and politically.
During our reign in governance, my party did a lot especially in ensuring that women emerged as legislators at the state house of assembly.
There were women commissioners, councillors, council leaders from my central zone. A clear evidence of a party that recognises women and empowers them to excel and inculcate in them that what a man can do, a woman can as well be entrusted with such responsibilities.
So, I think we would not dissipate much energy to convince Kogi women to vote us back to power in Kogi state.
Would you say you have made impact in the lives of people of your constituency particularly the women who aspire to be politicians?
In my zone, the Central Zone, you hardly see women aspiring to political positions. The highest position you could find them is women leader at local government level or best bet political appointment and I wondered if it meant no woman was worthy enough to represent us at the national level?
We have Hajia Halima from Eastern flank and Mrs Abanida from West but Kogi Central has been known to be unlucky to have such as our politics end at the local level.
After my late sister’s emergence and of course my humble self, women have been courageous enough to try their luck in different political parties for one position or the other. This has really encouraged our women, today they feel liberated. We now have women like, Princess Gogo Omolori, Natasha Akpoti, Maryam Ahmed, and several others.
I have had enough experience in politics as I have been in partisan politics for the past 15 years and I have seen it all, the intrigues and power play. I have always tried to take the footsteps of my father, my maternal uncle, Hon. Alhaji Yusuf Amoka, and my sister, who have really mentored me on the art of politicking.
Consequently, having garnered 15 years of political experience, I believe I cannot be tagged a novice politically and I have been a voice too for women active participation in politics doing my best to encourage women to embrace such. I was able to help one or two of such women in the past to become ward councillors, Egge ward in Adavi Local government and Ogori in Ogori-Magongo Local Government.
I have never relented in making frantic efforts in ensuring women are recognised. I also tell them to join a party that will give women a chance, go from ward to ward and local government to local government.
It is also my passion for women and children that led me to establish Sapphire Girl-Child and Women Empowerment. I have a great passion for women especially women from Kogi Central where I hail from. Indeed, women have been politically relegated as their voices are suppressed by their male counterparts.
I have always told them that they could be whoever they want to be without the men. I have tried my best to continue from my elder sister, whom I credit it to as an enigma who started the advocacy of active participation of women in politics. I appreciate God today there are now great women from Central Kogi who have been raising their voices to be heard as well as having the courage to contest for one position and another.
If my party gets its candidate soonest, I will be at the forefront to inform my party to empower more women so as to liberate them economically and politically through vocational skills acquisition that would bring food to their table and as well be a pillar of support to their respective families.
You could imagine, a paltry sum of N10,000 given to a woman with children; what could she possibly do with such to yield profits for her? People should not be too poor to live, where poverty levels would be drastically reduced so they can live with the dignity that they deserve as citizens of this great nation.
It is not fair to see families with incomes less than N10,000 having to send two or more kids to school and pay fees in full; hospital bills in full; pay house rents in full; care for their elderly and other relatives that are less privileged; and so on when they could be trained or equipped with vocational skills for three or six months.
It is sad to see many parents keep more than one job or have both parents and children labouring just to survive hence the quality time we ought to give our kids suffer contributing to all manner of waywardness we see in our children today.
The primary role of government is to take care of its people and not to watch them suffer or live in misery.
If your party makes you a running mate to its governorship candidate what would you do differently to better the lives of citizens?
First, I will be very glad and humbled and I think it is well thought of because I have been in the party and made lots of sacrifices. I have been with the party, elected into the state assembly as a legislator seek re-election, lost out and another party Alliance for Democracy (AD) came to lure me by giving me their ticket but I blatantly refused as I cannot leave my party for another, an ideology I have stuck with even though, the AD’s candidate eventually defeated our party’s candidate.
The people know my strength that is why I was appointed Special Assistant on Assembly Matters, and Senior Special
Assistant on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, by Governor Ibrahim Idris, and Governor Idris Wada.
It is obvious that my consistency and unwavering belief in the party cannot be questioned and I have not been found wanting hob-nobbing, having an unholy affair with another party.
A firm believer in what I stand for through thick and thin I have stood firmly with PDP in the last 15 years, so if considered for such enviable position, I would wholeheartedly accept the offer and it would be a plus to my party and that would give us an edge over APC led government as it would be an unprecedented fate to make a choice of a woman as running mate in the history of governance in Kogi state.
Finally, my circle of friends, both men and women across the length and breadth of the state would also count and make me stand a good chance. It would be a strange idea to pick up a running mate from anywhere who has not been known to have stood by the party during trying times.
What challenges would you say female politicians face given that 2019 general elections didn’t favour most?
Women have no godmothers, but men have godfathers. We are looking at that one person that can boldly stand for women, speak for them, support them and be a voice for them in Kogi Central as this would motivate the women more.
Kogi Central is blessed with industrious women with courageous minds but the way politics is being played is what has served as a deterrent for women to venture into it; such as thuggery.
Do you have your husband’s support in your political career?
My husband is fine with what I do because he knows how deep my passion is to serve people. He is not just a husband but a father and a friend.
I call him a friend because he knows me well, I have not hidden anything from him and he has that 100 per cent trust in me. He has been supportive right from onset even with my Foundation. He believes Kogi state needs me, especially the women and children.
So, how were you able to balance work and home front especially as a mother?
As a mother of five children, it has been herculean but I always made it clear to them and all those I worked with that my family comes first.
A woman is always like five-in-one; we are the home managers, we are always into career, we take care of the children, we take care of our husbands. If we can do that then we can as well manage a nation.
What is your advice for aspiring female politicians?
I urge women to be brave enough to join politics, as being in politics will make some negative attitudes associated with it such as thuggery to reduce drastically.
Women can never encourage violence and brigandry, we should not leave politics in the hands of men because the more we relegate ourselves and allow men dominate, the more there will be continuous increase in violence.
A woman has never been known to see their children and wards killed or maimed through violence and thuggery. I want to enjoin our women to come out enmass to support any woman aspiring to any political.
This is because your fellow women understand your pains as well as your travails and will work out ways to ameliorate them. The men that you are all clamouring for, will first attend to the needs of his wife or wives, families, concubines and other frivolities before they think about you, but when women are given these opportunities of leadership they would place women as priority.
Kogi women as a whole, I enjoin you all to come out and contest for positions. I have not seen one who is aspiring for governorship with seriousness. We can do it as it is already happening in other states. Let us borrow a leaf from Lagos in particular and South-west in general.
If my party could seize this winning edge opportunity to have a choice of a woman as running mate to whoever emerges as our candidate, it would be a great plus and an unprecedented record, a jinx being broken in the political history of Kogi state.
I always tell fellow women not to start if they don’t stand a chance. I also tell them to join a party that will give women a chance and also advise them to always go from ward to ward and local government to local government to make friends. Know your people and don’t make promises you can’t fulfil and most importantly don’t practice money politics for so many reasons.
We are needed just because of the situation of the state and the country at large that need to be salvaged of so many ills. We must accept that women are the most endangered species in politics. So, it is time we women stood up and stop being in the other room and come out. We have the potential and we have what it takes, we need women of unblemished character and untainted image to join politics.
How is your advice to politicians, youths, and electorate as the Kogi election draws near?
To politicians promoting violence, I ask must you destroy the future of our youth. We have intelligent young men and women with future who I advise not to voluntarily abandon their future in pursue of worthless life of violence for some disgruntled politicians. They would send their children/wards to the finest universities in the world and never allow anybody use their children to promote violence.
I urge our youth to liberate themselves today from these shackles of violent bondage and try to chart a new future for themselves in their own interest and that of posterity.
I want to urge them that if any politician or leader asks them to go and maim somebody they should ask him or her to use his own son and see how he will react.
The electorate should look out for parties whose policies would be cantered more on the people’s welfare and this will cut across improved access to medical care, quality education for all, rapid community development such as the PPDP.
Above all, the electorate should vote their conscience and never succumb to vote buying as they are not just jeopardising your futures but that of your children.