In this interview with Jovitta Iorshase, the former Chairman of Agatu Local Government Area, Mrs Owakoyi speaks on a wide range of issues. She said though women have made progress politically, a lot needs to be done.
What motivated you into politics?
My people from Agatu Local Government; one of them, is the current chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Hon. John Ngbede and a brother who was a member of the Benue State House of Assembly, the late Zakari Musa were the people that really brought me into politics. They felt politics was good for women and my background as an Agatu person; there were not too many female politicians so they encouraged me since they had followed my history. Out of trust I decided to venture into politics and I have no regrets at all.
As far as am concerned I had not achieved much but one thing that I consider as my achievement was my tour around all the 23 LGAs in Benue state because of politics. This makes me a true Benue citizen. There is no local government in the state that I don’t have one or two friends. To me that was an achievement because in politics, human beings are the raw materials, so once you have one or two people it is an achievement.
Also, as a chairman, I managed a lot of crises. Agatu Local Government Area is one that is crisis-prone by its positioning, being by the river side, bad roads and multiple entrances anybody could just creep in and cause trouble. Agatu people are traditional fishermen and farmers. In those days, communities used to own fish ponds and they were valuable to them but along the line communities started selling those fish ponds to individuals. So individual owners and community owners of fish ponds began to clash and because of this, we started having crises over fish ponds leading most times to destruction of communities and loss of lives. So as the executive chairman, I had a lot of communal clashes to resolve. By God’s grace and with the support of the state government, we were able to calm those communal clashes. Through SEMA we were able to put those communities back in their homes by assisting them with food stuffs, building materials and all of that. I consider that as an achievement because if you are running a government with security issues you cannot go anywhere.
You served Agatu Local Government as a chairman, what were your challenges and projects?
Traditionally, men don’t want women to rule over them and that is a derivation from Genesis 3:16 when God cursed Eve. He said: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you”. But if you are a good student of the Bible, you will discover that the Bible talks about the first Adam and the second Adam. The second Adam came who is Christ, to redeem the whole of humanity from the curse of the law. However, men are yet to agree that because of the coming of Christ, women now should operate side by side with them, which was God’s original intention for man, when He created Eve for Adam as a help mate. Christ has reversed the curse.
When you have men not wanting women to rule over them, it becomes a challenge that you cannot use force to overcome, only negotiations and diplomacy between the woman ruling and men that are ruled, to agree on a common purpose. Sometimes a man disregards you simply because you are a woman but once you are able to make them understand that you have not come to lord over them but to help as a partner in progress, some eventually become wonderful supporters. These were some of my challenges as chairman but mine were not so stressful since it was men that brought me into politics.”
As a local government chairman, I carried out some projects too. I can remember the popular Onogwu Bridge; we were able to do that. The local government secretariat was roofed during my administration; an edifice that can accommodate both the legislators and executives. Also, repairs and maintenance of the Agatu road was done based on direct labour.
What is your assessment of women participation in Benue politics?
I want to commend the successive administrations in Benue state right from inception in 1999, because I see a progression in female participation in politics. In 1999, Benue stood tall because it was able to produce the first female speaker in West Africa and that is quite a lot historically. We had two female members in Benue State House of Assembly; Hon Mrs Margaret Icheen (Speaker of the House) and the late Hon. Mrs. Maria Aikulola (a prominent member). Then we progressed to four female members in the Assembly; Hon. Mrs. Charity Adoku, Hon. Mrs. Dewua, the late Hon. Mrs. Maria Aikulola and there was a fourth person. Although we had few female legislators in the Benue State House of Assembly, it is something that we should commend ourselves because it is not same in other states.
The figure of female members in the BNHA has dropped again to two but we have had more female leaders in the local government legislative councils as elected female councilors and supervisory councilors.
Also I was the only woman among the 22 elected chairmen during my tenure but subsequently they became two women from Gwer West and Okpoku Local Government Areas. Now we have seven (7) elected council chairmen under this administration of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom (which is great). We also have many female deputy chairmen.
I am still hoping that one day; we will produce a female Attorney General. I want to thank the wife of the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Mrs Eunice Ortom who has been bearing the cross for women. Our Head of Service, Mrs Veronica Onyeke and the female commissioners give a boost to the women in this administration. Also the fact that both APC and PDP give free forms to women and the desire and higher turnout of women for position is commendable. So on a general note, the participation is okay though we hope to have 15 female members in the Assembly someday
Do you think we have achieved the 30% affirmative action of the Beijing declaration?
It is working; we have female presidents globally now. The Chancellor of Germany Angela Mackel stands out. She has been elected five times into office since 2005, followed by Yasinda Adam, president of New Zealand. These women did very well in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in their countries because they have effective health care systems put in place by them. These women among others are doing well globally.
In Nigeria too, during President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime, women were given key ministerial positions for finance, aviation and petroleum. There are a good number of female legislators in the National Assembly; nine in the Senate and about twelve in the House of Representatives. I want to plead with the Benue political class to allow us taste the senate too.
I also commend Anambra State for having two female senators in the National Assembly out of three senatorial districts. They have delivered up to 70%. I wish Benue men will do same for us as we are willing to support them, though I personally do not desire to contest.
Are you satisfied with women involvement in politics?
Yes I am satisfied but more can be done. Benue has not even produced a female deputy governor. So wherever the governorship is going, the deputy should be a woman and I am crying out loud and pleading as advocate for the Governorship seat to move to Zone C this time. Someone who is mature and experienced in governance from that axis should be given the opportunity. I am talking about someone with self-control over finances and is informed on the dynamics of the international economy and the Nigerian system. Many women are qualified for these opportunities but everything depends on the zoning system.
I also got the chairmanship of Agatu because it was zoned to my place and I always campaign for people to do two terms in office either by transition or election. I am sure this would enable a lot to do better. I say this based on my personal experience. My tenure ended when I was just understanding the council and how to run it. If I had more than one term, I would have been more productive. All political appointees should be given two terms in office, just like the gubernatorial and Presidential positions. The constitution can stipulate same for all the other positions. With this, people will understand the system more and perform better since governance is a learning process.
Even as a political scientist, what I learned in class was different from the practical aspect of politics in the field. In class you were taught to describe, explain and predict political conductions but in reality you face a lot of limiting factors. I charge Benue men to encourage their wives to go into politics.