Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, a former national vice chairman (North Central) of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), is the National Woman Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President, Council of African Political Parties (CAPP). She speaks with DAPO FALADE on factors affecting women participation in Nigerian politics, declaring that President Muhammadu Buhari stands a good chance to win a second term tenure, the spate of the criticisms trailing his administration and the ruling party notwithstanding.
What led you into politics?
Well, a lot of things, particularly to support and also bring to the fore the rights of women and also to support the development of women. The way then, there was the oppression and suppression of women and the non-participatory attitude of women in national issues. The attitude of women was reflected in the non-accommodating circumstances surrounding the Nigerian politics. I thought that definitely, even though we are technocrats, some of us should lend our voice and expertise to the task of the cause of advancing women participation in politics. We have got enough reasons to bring about inclusion, quality and credible representation of women in politics. I also thought that women need voice and we should bring competent women into politics, rather than allowing incompetent people to rule the world of politics. You know these are the people that will be making rules and regulations for our children and our wives-to-be. I think leading the decent ones, competent ones and the capable ones to take the front seat in politics and encourage the younger ones, through mentorship and otherwise, to come into the political arena will be effective. So, I decided to come into politics to do something to that effect.
Before assuming the position of the APC National Woman Leader, what has been your political experience and what makes you think you are capable of occupying that position?
Well, I have been in the political arena for about 16 years now. I was the Special Adviser, Women Affairs, Youths and Social Development in Gwagwalada Area Council, here in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT for about four years. Besides that, I was the General Manager of our own personal company; that is my parents’ company. I am a Chartered Town Planner by profession and I was also running my own non-governmental organization (NGO), the Global Women and Youths Empowerment Strategy through which I was grooming the younger ones in the arts of tie and dye, fishery and pottery in order to bring them abreast day-to-day living. But then, I did not do things deliberately. Rather, it was a clarion call.
I labeled my first contest in politics as a call to serve. That was in 2007, on the platform of the former All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP). Then, I contested for the FCT II Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Even though it has been a tough one for women in Nigeria, but it is not a bad idea to encourage women to participate actively in politics. Particularly, I decided to be within party politics because I felt that it has been a minus all along if women just leave for their various businesses and they are just favoured by one man to be called to pick a ticket to contest election each time. There is a disconnect between the grass roots and the top. So, there is no mentorship; there is no grooming and there you find that women are just very few participating in electoral contest.
But within the party politics, we decided to encourage women to be card-carrying members of the various political parties. This idea of sensitisation has nothing to do with any particular political party. What is foremost is gender issue. So, we are now saying that we should get more credible women to occupy places and positions within all the political parties available, irrespective of party affiliations. What we want is qualitative and credible representation and gender parity. As things are now, Nigeria is far below average in the area of equal representation in our polity. So, we want to move forward; we want to discourage the ‘Pull Her Down’ (PHD) syndrome within and among women. This has been the critical factor affecting women participation in politics all along. We want issue-based politics.
Within your 16 years of participation in mainstream politics, can you say with all sincerity that you have found fulfilment as a female politician?
First and foremost, I will take you back to the memory lane. After the House of Representatives contest in 2007, I will not be fair if I did not say it here that I was denied my ticket. It was part of the oppression and the violence women have been encountering all along within the political setting. But I did not give up. I also went ahead to contest in the zonal chairman of ANPP during that national chairmanship election of the party. I won the election and I became the national vice chairman of the party, North Central zone. I became the first female to occupy such a position in the entire African Continent. To God be the glory, I realised that if you push further; if you know you are competent and you know your onions and you know you have the capacity, you must not give up. You must have the unrelenting push; you will get there one day and we are not stopping.
After serving as the ANPP national vice chairman, North Central, I went to contest as the National Woman Leader of ANPP. I occupied the position for four years. It was from that position that we fought for the merger and eventual formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I was one of the early people who fought for the formation of APC; in fact, I was the only woman in the merger process that led to the formation of the APC party; I was the only woman in the Constitution Writing Committee of the party. We wrote the constitution of APC; we got the acronym, among some other things. You can imagine the unrelenting and concerted efforts we put in to become, not just a card-carrying member, but also a major stakeholder in the party. Before the candidates emerged, there must be primaries or a convention and the delegate election is not a general election and if you are talking about delegate, it is money-based most of the time. So, if you don’t get more women as delegates, it will continue to be difficult until some of them are favoured to be given one or two tickets here and there until the time when there emerges a woman who is so strong to overwhelmingly win the election. That is why I will still say it will be difficult.
But I will tell you that I will find fulfillment. What do I mean by this? I will find fulfillment in terms of pursuing my passion and desire to see the emancipation and development of the Nigerian women. It is my desire to see a credible representation and inclusion of the Nigerian women; my desire to see women take over the political stage and add credibility and substance to it. It is my desire to see women recognised in the Nigerian politics, if indeed politics have come to stay in the country. I will be fulfilled when I see our women working to nurture our national democracy.
But the argument has been that women, playing up the ‘weaker vessel’ sentiment, have, over the years, deliberately chosen to relegate themselves to the role of entertainers at political events. How do you relate this with your expressed passion and desire?
You are not far from the truth to say that women actually engaged themselves in the PHD syndrome. But that will not stop us from preaching to our women. We have seen countries that have achieved more 60 per cent in the task, as we have it in Rwanda where women have been made to understand and realise their worth. So, Nigeria’s case will not be different, even though the country is much larger with strong women. But we are campaigning, going door-to-door to get our women to understand that we could galvanise and change some of these supporting role we are playing to contesting energy. We are making our women to know that we could contest elections. We have strong women and so why are we using the energy to pull down our fellow women? We are working seriously to get them to understand and all of us are beginning to speak in one voice to an extent; there is an understanding, but it will take time because the population is huge.
There is also the misconception that women are in politics to generally satisfy the s3xual needs of men. How do you hope to change this misconception as part of the effort to ensuring that women play key role in the political development of the country?
Well, we are trying our best, taking to the educative aspect of it; education is key. We have the numerical strength, but ab initio, women cannot be divorced from the celebration, dancing aspects of political events or gatherings and that is why you find women majorly at campaigns playing supportive roles. For most of them, such a political campaign is like a rally, a party; they enjoy more of those stuffs. But women are now rising up to the occasion and doing it well, especially in the legislative arm of government, to say, for example, using the numerical strength and transfer it into power. It is not like the usual dancing and celebration stuff and that is why women are very few. But we are working hard to identify those who have the capacity because it takes a woman that has the capacity and a woman that is competent, a woman that knows her onion, to be able to say, ‘yes, I want to stand for this election and I can stand and contest with men and, definitely, I will win’.
So, we are also looking at the local level because we must start from somewhere. Most of the time, you will discover that the inclusion starts from the top and it has deprived the younger ones of mentorship; they don’t get to contest at the local level because at most local areas, there are traditions and religious beliefs that have impaired women from time immemorial from either contesting or winning elections. They will need permission from their husbands, fathers or their families for virtually everything. So, if the opponent is a man, the next thing is that he will go to the woman’s husband or her family and they will call her to stop her ambition. There are so many factors involved. At the grassroots, we are doing a lot, especially in areas where the strong female voices are completely suppressed. Now, we have women who are local government administrators and chairpersons. This is a pointer to the fact that we are moving somewhere. I know it is not easy and the task is daunting, especially with the PHD syndrome within our midst and ranks.
You also know the ways of women. For example, there are some of our women who will say, ‘the APC National Woman Leader is a young lady. She cannot tell me what to do’. The generational change is yet to get to the skull of many of us and they will look at things like, ‘I am old enough to be the mother of this girl and so she cannot be the national woman leader’. But the position is not about age; it is about capacity and strength; the zeal, the mission and the vision to project and protect the affairs of women. To lead is a bar.
For instance, as the APC National Woman Leader, I went to the Council of African Political Parties. On my first meeting, I said we must do Nigeria proud. Even though sponsored, I contested the chairmanship of the women wing at the conference and I won. After the tenure, I contested the general election and, by the special grace of God, I am the President of the Council of African Political Parties, an organisation with membership of about 47 countries; 46 countries participated in that election, with majority being men, especially from francophone countries.
We also look up to the Nigerian men to rise up to the occasion and assist the women to lead the way. We know that power is not serve A la carte, but the countries that have attained a very high level of women participation in politics could not have attained it without the support of men. We are not saying it should be given to us because we are women. Capacity must be identified; competence should be recognised. The moment this is done, it will click in the women for them to know that the right thing must be done. I think we are going places. We are saying power is not served A la carte. We have competent women in Nigeria and that is my signing off. Women must participate in inter party politics and refused to be used, but stand their ground and exhibit their competence and capacity that they stand election against the men folk.
When you started out, was there any resistance from your husband, children or parents?
Well, having been from the royal family, we are not actually into partisan politics, but then my competence, my believe and the clarion call from the people made many people to come to my husband and father that they wanted me to go into politics. My door-to-door activities and advocacies made the people on the streets to want me to be involved. So, it was encouraging for my husband to say yes. So far, I have been getting his support and the support of the other members of my family. So, I am telling women to get the support of their husbands and parents; if they believe in their capacity and that they will do them proud wherever they go, with all sincerity of purpose, certainly they will succeed.
But can you say that you are fulfilled in APC with regards to your quest for good governance and change?
I did not find myself in APC. Like I said earlier, I was part of the formation of APC. We deliberately formed the opposition to oust the government that we found was not serving Nigerians very well. We wanted good governance and we wanted change.
To answer your question, well, we are working on it and with all sincerity of purpose, we are yet to find fulfillment. But we know that things are better and it could be better. APC did not just emanate from heaven; it has members from other political parties as well.
The APC-led government has come under severe criticism bothering on alleged corruption and crass incompetence. What is your view on this?
With the kind of destructive opposition we currently have in Nigeria, I am not surprised by such criticisms. Such criticisms are symptomatic of a desperate opposition who are doing their utmost to discredit APC in the build up to the 2019 general elections. If I am going to be perfectly honest, some of those peddling such accusations either have very short memory or are just being mischievous because they know the truth. They know the colossal damage done to this country by the previous government because they actively participated in it. They allowed corruption and mediocrity to become institutionalised at every level so much so that it has become difficult to implement the changes that will take Nigeria and Nigerians to the next level.
Not so long ago in this country, stealing of public funds was not regarded as corruption. But, today in Nigeria, the looters are running from pillar to post to safeguard their stolen wealth and secure their freedom from the long arms of the law. Discussions on the anti-corruption fight of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government now dominate the public and private spheres. This is partly responsible for the drop in the recent perception ranking by the Transparency International (TI), but some people don’t realise this. However, it does not detract from the fact that this administration has made giant strides in the fight against corruption. From the fruitful implementation of the TSA, to the increase in conviction in corruption cases, to asset recovery and the whistle blower policy, progress has been made.
It is equally erroneous to indict this government of incompetence because the economic downturn witnessed at the beginning of the APC administration was precipitated by the recklessness of the previous successive governments. But I wouldn’t want to go into that anymore because we have largely overcome that phase and it can only get better from here. We must bear in mind that the measure of progress is not just about how high you have gone, but also about how low you are coming from.
Can you say the president, in the face of the criticisms, has done enough to earn a second term ticket?
Without a shadow of a doubt, he deserves a second term and I am positive Nigerians would give him a second term. In spite of the massive drop in revenue, this government is continually devising means to embark on infrastructural development across the country. The SUKUK Fund is doing wonders on federal roads from the East to the West and from the North to the South. Many key roads in Nigeria that had been neglected for ages are now receiving the much needed attention.
Railway transportation has received a new lease of life in the country after decades of neglect and decay. This administration has improved upon what it met on ground and more milestones will soon be achieved that will eventually make railway the preferred mode of transportation, for most Nigerians.
Additionally, the agricultural sector in Nigeria has been resuscitated by the President Buhari-led government. From the era of paying lip-service to the issue of diversification of the economy this administration has made tangible progress in diversifying our economy especially through agriculture. With sustained efforts in this regard our overdependence on oil will be significantly reduced.
Again, for the first time in ages, we now have over 7000 megawatts of electricity and more progress in the power sector will be achieved before the end of President Buhari’s first term. Meanwhile, when the opposition was in government, they spent humongous resources on power and yet had very little or nothing to show for it. So tell me why wouldn’t the president deserve a second term?
I can assure you that most well-meaning Nigerians would vote for him because there is no better alternative at this point in our national life to steer the affairs of this potentially great country. I am not saying that there is no room for improvement, but I believe that, after learning some valuable lessons in his first term, President Buhari is better poised to meet the yearnings of Nigerians in his second term.
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