Adaora Onyechere is a television/radio presenter, motivational speaker. She co-anchored Kakaaki, a daily talk show on AIT till 2018, after which she resigned to aspire to represent her people at the Imo state House of Assembly on the platform of Action Alliance (AA). In this interview with ENE OSANG, she stated why she joined the 2019 political race, her experiences and career path.
Your experience as a candidate for Imo House of Assembly
I must say that every woman who dared to run for the 2019 elections is a champion even those who didn’t scale through primaries are champions because it was toughest election for women. Imo state is a clear call; it was dynamic because we saw a battle of ego amongst political parties though I ran under a small party or so to say: that is the Action Alliance (AA).
I was the only female candidate and only candidate at that before we had the amalgamation a faction of the APC that produced a candidate Uche Ogwumba as the gubernatorial candidate and throughout the period towards the main campaign we went from being a minority party to a majority party in the state.
What helped to enhance that was that I was able to build structures for the party from the rural level by enlisting 2, 000 women as members of the party which contributed to some of my votes, now as we went into the campaign we saw that internal party democracy was also key, and looking at a house that now has two political parties as a perfect alliance you would also understand that there were intrigues coming from different angles.
However, lobbying was key and also being able to understand the dynamics of interest of every aspirant and candidate.
At the time of election, the figures showed that AA for House of Assembly candidate was winning and everybody was calling to congratulate me and there was already a declaration of Adaora Onyechere to have emerged, but towards the collation time, we all took a break and next thing APGA was declared.
Do you feel discouraged on your ‘stolen mandate’?
Absolutely not, no hope has been lost, but I don’t think it was stolen, I feel I was robbed. Why I am saying this is that the essence of my going into politics is to help, how I can help with development of my people and I am still going to do that. I think the presence within the people at the local level is a driving force for me and I still work hard to make sure that the mandate is restored and for the supporters I will stay hopeful, I will like them to know we still have work to do and we will do it together.
How did you feel when another candidate was declared winner?
This tells you about the institution, the system and the political parties being prepared for events like this; who are the culprits, who are the defaulters? It is us the citizens because we are first able to negotiate the wrong before it happened and that’s why I think that issues like this should be paramount at the political parties’ level for women.
If we are going to get it right political parties’ executives’ administration should include women. Women should lobby more for women, take a stand for women, support each other and learn financial literacy for them to have funds for election.
Don’t you think running on a small party’s platform was the major reason you lost?
No, in my constituency at that time, AA was the majority party because we had the most number of House of Assembly members in the state assembly. Once the party moved from APC over to AA, all the members from APC, the majority of them, became AA members; so we were the party to beat in the state.
The reason I scaled through I won’t say that now because we are at the tribunal, but they saw the threat and the only way they could surmount this was with financial muscle and so there was a lot of monetisation of the process and the person who did not campaign was waiting with his money till the day of collation.
What is the implication of such actions?
I think it resigns the system of the people to vote-buying and so people do not trust the system; the institutions for election they don’t care who wins, they collect money for their votes and it becomes a transaction. I would want a total review of the electoral laws, a reform of the institution of INEC and the process of profiling those who eventually make it to the collation centres either as agents, and returning officers or electoral officers because what we see is that the men who have the money are able to buy their way through the system. The men who are also godfathers are able to muscle and manipulate the will of the woman who has capacity; so it is a bottom to top approach whereby the institution, the system and also the citizens needs a total mental overhaul.
If you had won, what were the changes you would have brought to your community?
I had two bills already waiting; one of such bill was a bill for social welfare and domestication, another is a bill for media intentions for women especially those going into office.
I believe and understand that there is misogyny in the system, a lot of women want to be part of it, but there is stereotype and so there is a lacking principal of inclusion of women at the grassroots. For me, it is grassroots first because if we can bond from bottom to top what we can deliver is the fact that more women will be included, more voices will be heard and then the role play will slowly begin to change.
In my constituency, we have one of the worst cases of statistics for baby factory and it hurts me that even looking at that every woman, youths came out to vote for me because we made them see the video tapes of these incidences and people were in tears, women ripped their clothes and expressed anger at the system. I remember one woman who said, ‘it is better I sell my vote instead of this to happen to me.’
I am frightened that the constituency I met 30-35 years ago when I was a child is the same constituency I am seeing today: no electricity, poor road networks, no sewage systems in schools, no libraries, etc, and I am asking, at what point can leadership really be truthful to itself and say enough is enough? Even if we don’t have enough women can we begin by taking those who have capacity and mainstream them into the state administration; hence, when they are able to win election they already have experience that guides mainstreaming those efforts at the grassroots.
What is your expectation of the tribunal, election cases tend to linger on till tenures almost are elapse?
Fortunately, the tribunal can only last for 180 days and that is the decision of the new reform. Again, we are also looking at the complexity of funding for women at the tribunal. I know women who have great cases and they don’t know that they have a chance to go to the tribunal and I think there should be legislative literacy, the judiciary should do something about that, partners, stakeholders should train women to understand their rights, their legal opportunities particularly at the state level for them to understand that there is a right of law for them to raise cases when the feel they have been marginalised or their mandates stolen from them.
Women organisations, the legislature and the judiciary should look at galvanising around women who have the chances and capacity to go beyond and win their mandate back and support them.
What’s the way forward, or are you going back to your media job?
I think that community journalism is about everyday life and you don’t need a platform to sell a story, you need the willingness to be the ambassador for the change you seek. I have started training other people, I have started consulting and, in fact, I am a member of certain levels of transition committees across the country and I have also set up a network called Women Enabling Women Everywhere (WEWE).
It is a network that looks at women who are marginalised within the media sector towards, within and after election. The network seeks to work with development partners to see how we can train more women to report stories about women because there is the scandalisation of women during elections; so I believe that our media should be taken from the television and radio sets to everyday life.