Ms. Efosa Uyigue is the Special Adviser (SA) to the Edo state Governor; Godwin Obaseki, on Gender. She speaks to ENE OSANG on gender equality, politics and the alarming rate of youth migration from the state.
You were recently appointed the SA on Gender how are you fairing?
It has not been easy but I am doing my best. When I came on board, I discovered that a major challenge to women’s progress is the fact that that most of them are not educated.
Some are school dropouts for all the wrong reasons and we have to bring up programmes to help them get back to school, particularly those who dropped out because they got pregnant and had babies.
If you are looking for women to give appointment you hardly find one because they are not educated but they are good mobilisers, but if you have to give appointment how do you place them?
The first thing women must do is to get formal education and things will be a lot easier for them and the government as well because women are good at managing resources than men and are needed in governance.
If you empower a woman she would stretch it to the point that it has trickle down benefits and you will be amazed at her success, but if you empower a man you are encouraging him to marry many wives. Women are special and they need every encouragement and empowerment because they contribute a lot to nation building.
Women have lamented non-implementation of the national gender policy, what is the situation in Edo state?
This administration just started and we are trying as much as we can to do what the policy stipulates; to know how many females are occupying positions both at the electoral and appointive levels and we are gathering data as well as advocating for more female representation come the next elections.
Intimidation is one great challenge women face because men always want to harass women out of the way especially in politics but we are helping the women build their confidence.
As a gender advocate, how would you access gender equality in Nigeria?
Gender equality is to have equal opportunities to thrive irrespective of being male or female. The Beijing declaration which Nigeria is signatory to stipulates 35 per cent affirmative action; already that is not equality, yet we have not even achieved the 35 per cent in most if not all areas in Nigeria.
We are supposed to get more because being equal means 50/50 but a situation where men and women are created by God and given birth to the same way and even have more population yet are being denied opportunities, is not fair.
I keep telling women, we are more in number; we are the majority so when it comes to elections for instance our numbers should get more women into decision making positions so they can bring up policies that will better our lives as women.
Unfortunately, we let the men use us as cheerleaders and when they eventually win, they push the women who got them those positions aside and appoint their fellow men.
If women insist on being part of decision making, starting from the homes and ensuring that all children are treated equally, things will be better in the future because it is from the home level that we get it wrong. If we can get the home front right on equality the future will be better for all; male and female.
What is your background and how did you get this position?
I have a first degree in French education and master’s in public administration.
Before I was appointed, Governor Godwin Obaseki asked me to represent his wife at a conference on ending violence against children. It was a federal government programme which went around the states in the country.
When it came to Edo state, represented the governor’s wife and did that for about seven months. So, I would say my performance made him appoint me as his Special Adviser on Gender issues. So, I got the position because he had seen my capability.
So, what were your childhood dreams?
Growing up, I had different dreams and when I was in the university my dream was to be in the ministry of external affairs because I read French but that dream didn’t come to pass, the rest is history.
Do you regret that your dream didn’t come to pass and do you have any other regrets?
No, not at all, in life you work towards your dream and explore other opportunities that you come by. I was even into farming because my family has a mechanised farm, I have not been idle, waiting for only one dream to come through, I worked as I grew and I am thankful for where I am today.
Would you say you a politician and how do think women can overcome hurdles they face?
Yes, I am a politician and I keep emphasising that first we must encourage ourselves as women and not allow ourselves to be intimidated out of the way because this is common in politics. Women must not play role of servants before they can excel, if you want leadership positions, do what it entails. For example, be a card-carrying member of a political party, be an active member of a political party, when you get to a point where you want to aspire for any position, declare your intentions and work towards it especially with publicity and get the people to know you through your work and capability.
If you win the trust of the people by ensuring and assuring them of your strength to deliver on mandate through your past work, you will win elections because that is how the men jostle for positions too.
Women are great mobilisers and have the numbers, the major problem is the lack of support for each other. Let me again site the Sarah Jibrin incident where no woman voted for her; that attitude must change.
Do you see the likelihood of more women winning elective positions in the 2019 elections?
Yes, there is the likelihood of more women winning elective positions. We will continue to do advocacy programmes, sensitisation workshops and explore every strategy within our means to encourage and support female aspirants.
I am hopeful that more women will get into decision making positions come 2019.
There is an increasing rate of Edo state indigenes migrating to foreign countries in search of greener pasture. How is your office addressing this issue as it concerns women?
It is true, the number of migrants from Edo state is high but a lot of them embark on the journey due to lack of adequate information and as a result many of them have serves prison terms. Some have been killed; others have lost their lives from one suffering or the other.
On their return from these countries, they tell us their experiences and we have discovered that most of them paid as much as N2million, while others paid between N700,000 and N500,000 to whoever their sponsors were but ended up being dumped in Libya and other countries.
You can’t say someone who can raise this high amount of money to travel is suffering; if they had channelled that money to business they would have been making profits but no, they want quick riches. A lot of our youths are greedy and don’t have the right information, but the Edo state government is rehabilitating them to give their lives meaning again because most of them are psychologically damaged.
How does the rehabilitation work because some of these returnees still lament not being catered for?
We have put up many programmes, especially on skills acquisition, and some have graduated and I am sure that with their stories, others who want to embark on such trips will have a rethink and hopefully the rate of migration will drop.
The government is not against anyone migrating but it advocates for legal way and also those who want to travel should ensure they have education or skills so they can have something to do when you get there.
There is nothing you will do for some people that will satisfy them. The Edo state government is doing its best to get the over 2000 returnees from Libya back on their feet.
You can’t just bring money and share to them; the government released about N100 million but its tied to agriculture and that is why they are being trained. So, after learning the skills they can start something on their own. That is good enough because giving out cash is not the best.
Some of the returnees claim of lack of enabling environment as their reason for migrating. What is the state government doing to an enabling environment for business?
There is enabling environment in the state for anyone to thrive. There are many Edo people who are doing their best and are doing well.
You heard of a Lady mechanic; she is from Edo state and she is known even internationally. There is another lady environmental engineer, who is a shoe maker and she is doing very well.
Like I said earlier, before I came into government, I was running a family business which is mechanised farming and when you employ some of these youths and women they don’t stay, they don’t want to work, they want quick money.
When they see a man of over 60 driving an SUV, somebody who has paid his dues driving a Phantom, they also want to have a Phantom at the age of 20; forgetting that the 60-year-old has paid his dues.
They are impatient, else tell me why a child of 14 years is running away from home and his parents to go and do abroad? It is because of the kind of movies they watch. You remember, a boy once got under an airplane and took off, what was he looking for?
Again, parents also encourage their children to travel abroad. When we went for a sensitisation outreach to the villages and local government we were talking to them about the dangers of migration and the need for them to be creative and work hard for success instead of risking their lives traveling. The parents were not interested because they said we are only telling them about the bad stories when there are so many good stories also about going abroad.
However, we need to keep talking to them against illegal migration because we can’t stop people from going abroad but we let them know the dangers involved in travelling illegally and we keep urging them to travel after their education or if they have skills that can fetch them good jobs when they are over there as well as to travel through legal means.
These illegal trips are facilitated by agents, what is the government doing to arrest them and put them out of business?
Yes, we have made arrests and some of these agents are serving jail terms but it’s like a syndicate and we are working hard to break into it.
Our great Oba has used his gods, which have not seen the sun for over 800 years, to swear and place a curse on those perpetrating these acts so they can stop.
It is no longer a fight for government alone; everybody is involved. It is not only Edo state indigenes that are involved in trafficking and migration but the number is high from here and that is why everyone is putting hands on deck to ensure this problem is tackled.
When you are not working, how do you relax?
My leisure time now is when I retire to bed for the day because there is much work to be done. When you start something new the only thing you want is to succeed as well as not stopping other activities around you.
I came on board this position not too long ago and I am working hard to ensure I make a difference.
What is your advice to Nigerian women?
I will base my advice on the forthcoming elections, women must not sell their votes for bags of salt or rice. We must build our confidence by speaking out, and also see the need to support fellow women.