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Etteh: I’ve paid great price for Nigerian women

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Etteh: I’ve paid great price for Nigerian women

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh, made history in 2007, when she became the first female legislator to preside over the lower chamber of the National Assembly. However, barely six months in office, her tenure was short-lived as she soon ran into a controversy over the N628m proposed to be used for the renovation of her official quarters. She was forced to resign but later, the same legislative chamber exonerated her from every complicity in a scandal that became known as Ettehgate. 10 years after the event, the frontline politician, in this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI and PHILIP NYAM, recalls the powerplay and how some people doubted her studentship after she travelled abroad to study law, among other issues. Excerpts…

 

 

…I bear no grudge against anybody

 

Since you left the House of Representatives in 2011, not much has been herad about you. What have you been doing?

To be honest with you, those 12 years were a little bit rough; and anybody that really wants to belong to the legislative arm of government and work will know what I am talking about. So I decided to stay back for about a year to reflect and freshen up and seek the face of God on what to do next. All along, I have been interested in studying law, and since I had applied and got admission, which I deferred, I decided to go for it. So, by 2012 I had to travel to England to see if I could actualise my dream and I am sure you are all aware of it because some of my inquisitive brothers went as far as calling the school to find out if I was actually in the school or not.

The school sent me a mail that some people were bothering to find out whether I was in the school or not, but I told the school that the mail was not for me because that is not my name. But the school said all the indices showed that I was the one. And I don’t know how they were able to even get my registration number.

One day I was just reading Nigerian newspapers online and I saw a story where they mention my school and even put my registration number. I said if they do this, it means, they will even want to know my result; I was a little bit baffled.

This incidence gave me the impetus to really work extra mile because I discovered that I was not the only one reading the course; anyone can fail but certainly not me, people ar

e interested in the outcome of my study. And my husband used to tell me, ‘know that it is not only you but over 180 million watching you,’ so I cannot afford to disappoint the family, He said nobody forced me to go back to school.

You are the first and only female Speaker of the House of Representatives; and indeed the only woman to have ever presided over a chamber of the National Assembly. How were you able to achieve this?

To God be the glory. To preside over the House or any chamber of the legislative house, everybody knows that there are some salient issues you must be abreast of. When I got to the National Assembly in 1999, to the glory of God, under the Alliance for Democracy (AD), I became the first female principal officer.

That gave me an opportunity and the determination that if God can take me to this position, there is no position He cannot raise me to. So, that encouraged me to work extra hard at the National Assembly.

So, when I joined the ruling PDP, there was an opportunity for someone to be elected as the Deputy Majority Whip of the House, which was zoned to the South-West and South-East. I think we were about four or five people who were interested in the position and our leaders said we should go for shadow elections.

Along the line, two people stepped down for me and I was left with two opponents. I was fully prepared because I like elective positions; and all the members were fully ready. Even for the position of the minority whip for AD, I was being propped up by some of the members who had been legislators before.

If I tell you the genesis it is so funny. On the day of the election, I was not ready but the men kept coming to my room insisting that I must contest. They said they know that as a woman, I have the mileage. I told them to give me time to think about it and it was a rainy day and I slept off.

They came knocking on the door that I should come out. I was looking for a way to ward them off, but they kept pestering and I said God, if it is your will let it be done in my life. They left me and went to the venue and when I got there, electioneering had started and they were all for me; and that was my first time of meeting with even most of my colleagues from the the South-West.

The election of leader was conducted first and then they came to position of the minority whip, we were eight and I looked at it and I said God take control. To the glory of God after the elections, the gap between I and the person next to me was 18 votes, and that was how I emerged. I give glory to God and I am ever grateful to the AD for that opportunity, I think I served to the best of my ability.

How was the experience, migrating from the minority whip to the position of speaker?

No, I did not just migrate, you missed a link. The link is that when I joined the PDP I became the Majority Deputy Whip of the House, which doubled as the leader of the South-West caucus. I believe that was another platform where I led the people well and they were all for me, that was 2003.

How did you become the speaker? That is another aspect. By virtue of PDP’s zoning arrangement or procedure of choosing their leaders; I understand they zoned the position of Speaker and National Chairman of the party to the South-East and South-West. So, it was now for the east and west leaders to decide on which to pick.

I don’t know how they arrived at finally zoning the speaker to South-West. But like I told you before, I was the Minority Whip for the AD and then became the Majority Deputy Whip and South-West caucus leader; and again Chairman of Female Parliamentarians in Nigerians. So, naturally, if there was anyone qualified to hold the position of the Speaker, I was eminently qualified.

Your tenure was short-lived. What really happened?

 

That is one aspect I don’t always want to talk about it at all because it is not palatable. But let me tell you that as a Christian, there is nothing that happens to a human being that does not have the hand of the Almighty God. I believe strongly that if God wanted it to be longer than that, nobody would have changed it. But if I now start telling stories, it will look as if I want to justify myself. I want to leave everything to God because; the God who placed me there has been fighting for me and has not stopped fighting for me. I got there by His will and when it pleased Him that I should leave, I left; so whatever transpired has a hand of God and that was why I could not complete my tenure. So, whatever way people look at it, they are free to judge.

But at the valedictory session of the 6th Assembly, they tried to re-write the story by clearing and vindicating you of any wrong doing.You were exonerated. How did you feel when that took place?

To be honest with you, the number of calls that I received that day were more than the ones I got when I became the speaker. That is to tell you that Nigerians knew what happened. When it happened people came up with different insinuations but it was much later that I started seeing what actually transpired.

All I need to say, whatever the allegations, it is between me and my God; and the way I perceived it, God wanted it to happen that way. May be the history would not have been completed if I being a female had not stepped into that position because people see it as an exclusive preserve of men. And look at my sister (Hon. MulikatAkande-Adeola) that wanted to come in, what they did to her! Are they going to say that she too was not qualified? But I am not too surprised because it is happening all over the world. It looks to me as if people are generally not prepared for women leaders. I believe they are just wasting their time because the best people to handle leadership positions are women and I keep praying to God that one day, Nigeria will get there.

The Bible says touch not my anointed and do my anointed no harm. And when you toy with God, He shows you. When I see women who have risen to the pinnacle of their careers in this country, I keep praying for them because I know that I have paid the price for every woman to excel in this country. The way they wanted me to start talking about what happened would have pitched me against a lot of people. And if I had done that, I would have blocked the way for other women coming behind me. They said, ‘she cannot be trusted’ but I chose to pay the price for our women to excel. I am happy that after I became first female speaker, several women have scored first in different walks of life in this country. We have had a first women chief justice of Nigeria; we have had first woman president of the Court of Appeal, just name them. But once they see a lady, they believe that she doesn’t have the capacity. Look at what is happening to the current Head of Service. I have been following all ladies in high places and I wish them the best of luck.

No woman has been elected governor,senate president, vice president or president in this country. What are your future plans?

Will you give a shot at the Osun gubernatorial seat come 2018 or are you planning to contest for senate in 2019 or what?

I do not like taking such decisions myself. I allow God to decide for me. He knows the right position for each of us. If He says Patricia Etteh move, then I will move but if He did not say I should move and I did so, it may not augur well for me. The second aspect, except our people change their orientation because if I had presided over the House of Representatives, Osun State governorship should not be an issue. But the issue is that Osun is a predominantly Yoruba state and culturally they don’t reckon with women, which we have tried to change.

For example, I heard very lately that the Kabiyesis said they will not take the staff of office from a woman; and I went and asked some of our Kabiyesis. I said, if you people said you don’t want to take staff of office from a woman, why did you people asked that I should be left alone when they were fighting me as speaker? I said I was baffled. Are you saying women are not ripe enough to rule?

But I know ultimately that God is not a man that can lie; one day, sooner than later a lady will become the governor of one or two states. Secondly, do not foreclose the fact that a woman will rule this country one day and when it happens you will surely see the difference. Unfortunately, in my case, not many people knew what actually happened. Some would say, oh she stole our money; she renovated her personal house for N628 million, meanwhile I was still living in my personal house. Honestly, when I reflect on all that happened, I just but continue to pray for this country and ask God to forgive those responsible. Even when people say derogatory things about me, I do not respond because I know that I have God behind me. So, it is better for me to keep my head because I want Nigerians to know that my head is not something anybody can use to break coconut. As for my exoneration, I asked for it. I know I was wrongly accused and would not leave the chambers of the House without demanding my rights. I told them if something was actually missing they should tell me but if nothing untoward happened, my name should be cleared before I leave or else posterity will judge all of them. That was how they searched their books and found nothing and were compelled to clear me. That was exactly what happened at the valedictory session.

What has been your relationship with your successor, Hon. Dimeji Bankole and those who played principal roles in your removal from office?

Very cordial. Extremely cordial. I bear no grudge against anybody because it’s not good that I will profess Christianity without practicing forgiveness which is a major doctrine of Christianity. It is very painful when you think about certain issues but if you don’t let go those issues, they will continue to haunt you. The Bible says: ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive others.’ It means that if you don’t forgive others of their shortcomings of whatever, anything you ask for under that atmosphere, solution cannot come your way. Therefore, I am not begrudging anybody. Dimeji Bankole who took over from me is not my enemy because that seat is meant for one person at a time. Like I said, if I had to leave the place, definitely somebody has to step into the position. I was so happy that he was the one chosen to replace me because Dimeji Bankole is one of those that I trained from the South-West. So, if he took over from me, I accepted it with all pleasure. But at the initial stage, you know he had to fight for the seat and when you have 360 members with divergent views, you cannot rule out bickering and all sorts of things. You know some may have told him that; ‘Mrs Etteh is this and that, she doesn’t wish you well’. So at that initial stage, he withdrew from me but towards the latter part of the session, he came to me and we embraced each other and as far as I am concerned, it’s a forgotten issue. The issue of my removal was not even about Dimeji Bankole at all. They just gave the seat to him; it could have been given to someone else. The real issue was that there were just some people who believed that Etteh should not be there and I didn’t want to fight anybody. I didn’t know many of the people except that we all met at the National Assembly.

What is your true political affiliation now? Is it true that you are no longer in the Peoples Democratic Party?

Well, I have moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and do not owe anybody any explanation for that because I believe that party politics is like friendship. If I believe that your ways tally with mine, then we become friends but if I know that what you are doing does not augur well with me and I don’t want to offend you, all I need to do is to step back a bit. Let me tell you, I have one thing: If I know that I love somebody and he is doing something that I don’t like and I don’t want to offend him, I will kneel down and pray to God saying, Please Father, I don’t even want to meet this person on the way not to talk of crossing his or her path. I don’t want anything that will make us to quarrel. God has always been granting me that prayer. I just believe that PDP was not there when I believed that it should be there. Yes I finished my tenure as a member of the House of Representatives, I went away to do other things, but by any stretch of imagination they cannot change history. Nobody can change the history that I was the number four citizen of this nation. Nobody can say that I was never the Speaker of the House of Representatives; but you cannot continue to begrudge everybody. If God says that we are going to flow together, we flow together but if God says otherwise, no one can change it. I came back from abroad and saw the way things were going and so many factors can be responsible for one’s movement from one party to the other. In my own case, my own state and all the people have all gone into APC. This is a party willing to accept you, extending a hand of friendship and this another party carrying good and stick and calling dogs to come and eat. So that was how I left PDP. I left not because I am annoyed with anybody or begrudging anybody or any political party.

What is you view on the just concluded national convention of the PDP, your former party?

Well what happened last Saturday at the convention of the PDP… Well, I was wide awake when the convention was on live television. As a politician, you must know what is going on around you whether it is in your party or other parties. So, I watched the proceedings on television until I saw that what was going on was no longer interesting and I had to go to church early the following morning, I decided to go to sleep. I was in the church till about 4.00pm on Sunday and I don’t take my phone to church because I want to concentrate. The Bible says: ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God, what is God’s.’ When I came back, had my lunch and went to have my rest. However, when I switched on my phone I discovered that a lot of people had been calling me and messages were pouring into my phone. So, I was wondering what could be happening in the country. Is anything happening in Nigeria? You know, once something is happening, you will see people calling and sending messages all over the place. So, I decided to open the messages and the first one I read said: ‘Ma, have you crossed to PDP?’ The question did not make sense to me. Then somebody called to tell me that they listened to the acceptance speech of the new National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus and that he mentioned my name. By that I did not even know that it was Secondus that finally got the mandate. Initially, I thought may be somebody wrote the speech for him and added my name. But in politics, you don’t leave anything to chance; you don’t leave fire on the roof. It is not about Secondus; it’s not about PDP; but it’s about letting people know where I belong and where I stand. If I am standing with PDP, I should stand upright and I will say my mind. Now that I am in APC, people must know that I am in APC and there should not be any misgivings. Every other name mentioned in the speech are all in PDP except me. So if I keep quiet and I don’t talk, then APC will start thinking that I have returned to PDP. Already, some people from my state were insinuating that some of us who joined them from PDP are still eyeing PDP. So it will be very wrong of me to see such things happen and keep quiet. Why is it that it was when they wanted to use my name that they remembered that there was one Mrs Etteh somewhere? If I were a man, they would have been coming to me and we would have been flowing together in agenda, but because I am a woman and I need to respect myself, there is little that I can do. I cannot be seen moving anyhow; I need to respect myself. If I am called upon to attend a meeting, for Christ’s same, I will be there but I cannot just be everywhere. When there is a mistake, concerning my person, I think I have every right to correct it. I know the National Chairman (Secondus) very well, I knew him when I was in PDP. I know that personally, he is a nice man and if PDP says that is the man they want, what is my headache about it? But all I’m saying is that I am no longer in PDP. So, I expected him to apologise for mentioning my name in their gathering.

Don’t you think mentioning your name and prominent people was merely beckoning on you to return?

I won’t lie to you that they have not approached me. They came but there is an adage in Yoruba that says: What you are not going to eat, you don’t even smell it. You don’t want to perceive its aroma. They invited me and they also said they wanted to even come to my house in the village. I told them that I was busy and I was really busy. The date they said they wanted to come, I was engaged in a committee that was seeking reconciliation of members of our party in Kogi State. I mean APC members who were having problems with their governor in that state. Secondly, I am no longer interested in PDP.

Why do I have to honour their invitation? If you start honouring such invitations, along the line they may change and begin to ask you something that may change your mind. But again, don’t get me wrong because the people that are in PDP are the same people that are in APC. People have the freewill to move to any party , but something must provoke you to move. For now, nothing is provoking me because I am comfortable where I am.

The truth is that if I want to return to PDP, the party will be willing to have me but the issue is that where I am today, I am more than comfortable. I can say that today I am in APC and the APC is working for me because we are able to put our heads together to chart a new course for this country.

What would I say that I am running up and down for? But I believe that if my name is mentioned I have every right to correct the wrong impression and let everyone knows where I stand. In any case, since I’ve been on sabbatical leave, why are they just remembering me? But in law, people interprete issue in the way it suits them. Some people are already saying I was planning to go back to the PDP whereas others are saying that even if I wanted to go, PDP should not take me back. They should leave me alone. They cannot interprete my movement or intentions for me. If tomorrow, per-adventure, if there is something wrong, there is a way of sitting together with party leaders to reason together and correct the issues. It is where you cannot correct issues that they become problems. Any decision you take at that point, nobody will blame you for it. So for now, I just think that even in future, if any party doesn’t do well, we will not hide it because the essence of being a leader is to be able to say the truth. It’s to be able to make sure that you care for the interest of Nigerians and not an individual. You don’t join a party because of an individual. You join politics to be able to be relevant and useful to your community and Nigeria.

Still on the PDP Convention, there have been insinuations that the South-West was cheated. Do you agree?

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to make any comment on that issue. The reason being that I’m not with them and I don’t know how they started this journey. It will be very wrong of me to sit in judgement over the matter. However, in the political climate of this country, let me say it loud and clear that there is no way you can marginalise the South-West because we are talking about elections; we are talking about votes which a region can deliver. By the time you take North- West out of Nigeria, the next place is South West. So if you now believe that the South-West does not deserve anything, you need to think twice. Yes, I said I don’t want to dabble into it but if what I heard is correct, they said that this particular slot, National Chairman, was zoned to the South-West, meaning that no other zone should go and fight for it. They (South-West) should fight internally and bring out their own candidate. So I don’t want to judge; I don’t want to dabble into it, but I believe that if they reached that decision and the position belonged to the South West and they later went to involve other zones, then there must be a reason for that, that is clear to them and not me. I don’t know anything; I’m not in PDP.

During the last senatorial rerun in Osun State, the PDP defeated your party and some analysts believe that PDP could take over the state in the next governorship election. What do you think?

Let me give you an analysis of what happened in the rerun. The senatorial district you are talking about is where I come from and I think that I am in a proper place to say something about it. There were a lot of indices responsible for APC losing that seat to PDP. A major reason is the numerical strength of the district. Just like we earlier mentioned, the strengths of the North-West and South-West, North-East, South- South, South-East and North-Central differ. The same thing is applicable in Osun State, particularly Osun West Senatorial District where the late Senator Isiaka Adeleke came from. If you are talking about the strength of each local government in Osun West Senatorial District, you will realise that Ede where our Senator emerged from has a high population you cannot ignore. Again, don’t also forget what happened that the late Sen. Isiaka Adeleke was once a governor in that state. Definitely, whether he did it rightly or didn’t do well, he must have had his own clout and many of his people may have just voted in support of his brother out of respect for his demise. So if you marry these two factors, you can see that they were sufficient to sway the votes in favour of the PDP. But let say it clearly that it was not an issue of the PDP and APC. It was about a protest vote in support of the candidate’s late brother; it was about the total vote- Omo wani ( he is our son). Finally, the issue of APC and PDP is a different factor. As at the time the Senator discovered that he cannot get the APC ticket, if he had gone to any other political party at that time, honestly speaking, he would have won. Therefore, it is not about the race between PDP and the APC. You can’t judge it that way and it is not over until God says it is over. The governorship election in Osun State comes up on September 22, 2018. God spearing our lives, we will all be there and you never can tell, anybody can spring surprises but I know that APC is on the ground in the state.

How do you see the recent defection of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, from the PDP to APC?

Well, to me I am not blaming Atiku Abubakar for moving to the PDP. He is a politician to the core and he knows what is good for him. He is matured enough politically. Secondly, if he feels like this is the party that can take him to his Promised Land, then nobody should fault him. Let him try; he was there before and he still believes he has some people there who can give him the support to win. He believes he can give the APC a run for its money. So, please nobody should judge anybody. If he thinks defecting to the PDP is the best way to go about it, the choice is entirely his. He cannot choose for me, I cannot choose for him because I believe that everybody knows what is good for him at a particular time. Even if you are choosing for people, I don’t think that Atiku is somebody anybody can choose for; he knows what he wants. For him to take that decision, he must have been thinking and consulting with his followers over a period of time because it is not a decision you take overnight. So, I don’t think anybody should judge him for moving.

If you are opportune to go back to public office, what would you do differently?

Well, let me put it this way that the issues that I did not know then are now known to me clearly. You have to know your friends. You know who your friends are when you go through the thick and thin of life. And now that I am a lawyer, I think I know my rights better now. Outside that, I believe that I tried my best for that short period of being the Speaker. I thought I could correct so many things that needed to be corrected and I was all out to do that while the tenure lasted. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to do what I was planning. I thought I could wait until I get to the cruising altitude and now look at issues such as appropriating money for Ministry of Works, Health and other critical sectors and they will not utilise the funds. I was looking forward to putting on my jeans one day and just call the Minister of Works and said I am going to inspect that project today, let’s meet there. Come and give me an account of the money that was appropriated. But I am 100 per cent sure that they had seen the handwriting on the wall, that they will not be able to control this lady. You know it is very difficult to control a lady once she knows what she is doing is right. Contrary to the opinion in some quarters, ladies are capable of delivering results when they have the opportunity to serve. But it appears, some people just sat down and said; ‘we need to get rid of her’. I knew it was a coalition of forces, not only within the House of Representatives, but outside of it. They said that it was because she was removed from an exalted position, that is why she has been out of circulation. No. I don’t like to be idle at any time. I don’t want to move frivolously. I move when I need to move; I do what I am supposed to do and I do my things diligently. So if I have any other opportunity to serve the public, I will just be myself as always.

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