Chief (Mrs.) Ann Frances Okereafor Nosike, a psychologist by profession, is the founder of Gender Support for Women Emancipation and Empowerment. In this interview with STEVE UZOECHI, she discusses the way forward for the Nigerian women and other sundry issues
So, when did you join politics?
I joined politics when I got married in the late 1980s and I left Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Jos Plateau State and was posted to Kings College, Lagos. It was there I noticed that children of the rich are the ones mostly indulged in all dangerous vices like use of hard drugs. You know Kings College was top-flight college where future leaders were expected to be moulded. As a Guidance and counselling staff, I noticed that parents, especially mothers were the ones spoiling their children. They would sneak in money to their children and the children use the money to buy drugs and hemps. They bribe teachers to give their kids undeserved pass marks in school.
From Kings College, I was transferred to the National Educational Technological Centre, Kaduna. That was when we had the Better Life program by the then First Lady, Dr. (Mrs.) Maryam Babangida. At an event, I presented a paper on the falling standard of education at the Women Development Center and Hajia Leila Dogonyaro was impressed and picked an interest in me and ‘conscripted’ me into women advocacy. She was the national president of the National Council for Women Society (NCWS) at that time.
Later, she wanted me to work with her in areas of women development in Nigeria. She later introduced me to Hajia Gambo Sawaba. I can boldly say that through Hajia Dogonyaro, a lot of northern women were taken out of the streets to schools. I don’t think there was the level of Almajiri we have today, then because she had a secondary school where she took the girls to. From there, they progressed to universities, polytechnics or into nursing profession.
As young as I was then, she trusted me wholly and could send me to Dodan Barracks to meet with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. At times, I was sent to meet with the First Lady, Mrs. Babangida. At that time, the NCWS and the office of the First Lady were working together. The state chapters were working with the wives of the state governors while the LGA chapters worked with the wives of the local government chairmen. That was why there was great progress at the time nationwide on women empowerment and development. That was the time they were getting set to move from Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock, Abuja. Then, NCWS was planning to move to Abuja too. The NCWS president, Hajia Dogonyaro got a land in Abuja and sent me to Abuja to get the necessary documents. So, that massive piece of land where we have the national secretariat of NCWS at Area 11 today, we built it.
I will like to remind you that Maryam Babangida started the Women Commission and Miriam Abacha upgraded it to Ministry of Women Affairs. It was then that Miriam Abacha built the Women and Children Hospital which is today known as the National Hospital, Abuja. Obasanjo changed it to National Hospital.
Were you lecturing and politicking at the same time?
No, that was not possible. When democracy returned to Nigeria with its attendant politics, it was announced that anyone who wanted to get involved in politics should resign. So, I resigned from the Federal Ministry of Education and joined politics. I was told to come down to Imo, my home state to contest for a position. I chose to run for the House of Representatives but during the campaign, I was told to step down for Emeka Ihedioha. That was in 2003. I was told to take the position of commissioner but I rejected the offer because I preferred to attract things from Abuja. That was how I learnt politics.
I came out to run again after four years, this time for the House of Assembly seat in 2007 to represent Aboh Mbaise constituency and it was given to the highest bidder after so much violence had marred the initial primary election. In 2011, I came out for Imo East Senatorial seat. I contested the primaries with Senator Chris Anyanwu and Mrs Kema Chikwe. Eventually, I withdrew from the race.
I also contested to be the national woman leader of the PDP, but lost to Kema Chikwe under circumstances I found funny and unhealthy for our body politics. When we got to Abuja, I had the support of everyone except Emeka Ihedioha, who decided that Kema Chikwe should go. I approached Senator Hope Uzodimma who tried to stop the plot against me but was warned to steer clear by Ihedioha.
The PDP women actually protested on my behalf at the Eagles Square. There was a walk-out by some people including Atiku Abubakar, Bukola Saraki, and others. That was how my journey to APC started. That was how PDP collapsed.
Your assessment of Governor Hope Uzodimma so far?
In my candid opinion, the governor has started quite well and looking at some of the challenges he is faced with and things he has done so far, I will say he is on the right track. If you recall, Ihedioha made appointments and first of all settled the sons of the rich people like the former governor Ikedi Ohakim and former minister Kema Chikwe. But, Governor Uzodimma spread his appointments to his loyalists and people with the capacity to deliver. He is not given to so much noise but action. That’s why you can see many road projects going on across the state. Look at what he has done in preventing the spread of Coronavirus. Look at the sanity he has brought to the civil service and how much he is saving from fishing out ghost workers. So, he is doing well.
What’s your view on women development in the South East?
I will like to first tell you that I am the founder of Gender Support for Women Emancipation and Empowerment and I am also the president of South East Women in Nigeria and Diaspora. I must tell you that our women are not faring well particularly in Imo State here. There is hunger in rural villages. Sometimes, I wonder how they cope. I want to use this opportunity to complain that rural women in Imo State are yet to receive the palliative given to them by the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari. I have not seen anything given to the women of Imo State. The governor’s wife, the Commissioner for Women Affairs and the Special Adviser on Women Mobilisation have not done much for the women of the state. The First Lady gave some palliatives to alleviate poverty among the women and there is need for the materials to get to the women folks who they were meant for. They should work with the NCWS in the state to improve the lot of the women. I am calling on the governor to look into it because the women are suffering and children are dying of hunger. The widows are suffering. We are having more and more widows every day. We must protect our women because if the woman is healthy, the state will be healthy, and if the women are hungry, the state will be hungry. I’m saying this with my experience in Better Life and Family Support Programme.
So, whenever the federal government initiates anything for the poor masses, those at the state level should ensure that the people get it irrespective of party affiliation. For instance, in Abuja, this palliative that the First Lady gave to Nigerian women was given to every poor woman without minding their political, religious and tribal affiliation. Our women are determined and focused. So, any little assistance given to them, will go a long way in helping in their farms and businesses.
That is why when I heard about the destruction of farmlands and crops in Mbaise by Fulani herdsmen, I was heartbroken because I know what these women go through to make ends meet. In one of my family lands, I saw how the cows uprooted cassava roots that we’re due for harvest and destroyed them. Also, the freshly planted ones were eaten up by the Fulani cattle. It was heart-rending. If you realise that a bowl of garri is between N1000 and N1,200, you will understand the pains most of these women pass through. The activities of the herdsmen weigh heavily on the women and every other person in the rural communities in terms of food security. That is why I am calling on the wife of the Imo State governor, the Commissioner for Women Affairs and all those charged with looking after the women in Imo State to do their best and reach out to the women in rural communities.
Who is a First Lady?
There is only one ‘First Lady’ in a country and that is the wife of the President of the country.
The First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari had also made it clear that the Federal Republic of Nigeria has only one First Lady. The wives of state governors should stop addressing themselves as first ladies because they are not and this is very important.
The embarrassment we face in Abuja most times when we have international conferences like we had some time ago and wives of the governors were addressing themselves as ‘First Ladies’. In one of such occasions, some foreigners asked, ‘how many countries do you have in Nigeria?’ This was because there were too many ‘First Ladies’ at the conference, all from Nigeria. We had to clarify that we have just one First Lady in Nigeria. I want to use this opportunity to call on wives of Nigerian governors to stop embarrassing the country by answering First Ladies. The media should also help out and stop giving the wives of the governors the undeserved title of First Lady.
Way forward for Nigerian women?
I think the way forward for us is for women to be hardworking, respect their womanhood. Don’t denigrate politics by sleeping around in the name of attending political meetings. Let the society respect you for who you are. When you sleep around in the name of politics or business, you can never be respected by those men because they instantly know what you are worth.
I am an advocate of an educated and enlightened woman. Such women should be given leadership opportunities to lead. This is why issues of Nigerian women are moving well at the federal level because the First Lady, Aisha Buhari and the Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen are enlightened, exposed and educated. The two women are working hand in hand. That is exactly what I want to be happening in the states especially in South-East. Their Commissioners for Women Affairs, Special Advisers for Women Affairs and mobilization should team up with the wives of the governor to get the best deals for our women. They should eschew tribalism, religion and political sentiments and ensure the women are empowered especially in the rural communities. Most of these women only need N20,000 to support their businesses and farms. When you empower a woman processing garri for instance, she will do even better. The appointees of the government should go into the villages, reach out to the poor rural women and bring authentic feedback to the governor for necessary action.