Binta Bello is the Deputy Minority Whip in the House of Representatives and the only female in the line-up of principal officers of the eighth assembly. She represents Kaltungo/Shongom federal constituency of Gombe State. Damilola Oyedele writes on the experiences and motivations of the amazon in the men’s turf
Though, pleasant and soft-spoken, Hon. Binta Bello does not cut the picture of a timid woman. She can hold her own against anybody in a debate. But she does not see politics as do-or-die affair. Politics to her is about service to humanity. Long before she joined politics she was already known for her philanthropic activities in her Shongom Local Government Area of Gombe State. In fact, it was her philanthropy that motivated her entry into politics.
“While growing up, I always wanted to do something for my community. And so when I started working with a Chinese company in Maiduguri, I decided to renovate some blocks in the secondary school I attended. But my father discouraged me and suggested I build one new block of classrooms and a staff room. After building it, I also equipped it with furniture,” Bello says.
The school principal, however, insisted the state Ministry of Education must be informed before the building is handed over to the school authorities. Bello did not envisage this would be a big deal, as she felt the ministry would be elated by her gesture.
“I wrote to the commissioner, no response for several months. Apparently, they were suspicious, that maybe I was in the opposition party and did that to draw attention to what the government did not do,” she narrates. “Finally, I had to tell the governor’s wife, who was actually my friend, what was going on, because I didn’t want the building to start rotting.”
Bello continues, “His wife said the governor (Danjuma Goje) had been asking to see me, that he had heard a lot of talk about me from politicians, about how I was well known in my community for my donations. When I met him and we talked, I decided I wanted to join politics, his party, the PDP. We did that at a public event, where I donated motorcycles to party chairmen and youth leaders in the community, and sewing machines to women leaders.”
She never joined the party for the sake of getting a government appointment. After she had helped the governor to mobilise votes to win elections for his second term, she initially turned down the offer of an appointment as Commissioner for Women Affairs. Bello was, however, prevailed on by her husband and family.
After her stint as commissioner from 2007 to 2010, she was advised to contest as a member of the House of Representatives. That was the beginning of her journey to the federal legislature.
But why didn’t she join the somewhat mass exodus to the All Progressives Congress just before and immediately after the last general election, even when her political mentor did?
She says, “I come from a difficult area, and they believe in the PDP. My people assured me they would give me the votes for a second term, unless I had a particular reason for wanting to leave the party. So I stayed in the PDP and was re-elected by my constituency .”
Bello is one of the eight federal lawmakers elected on the platform of the PDP from the North-east.
Her relationship with now Senator Danjuma Goje, who has since defected to APC, however, remains cordial.
As a female politician from the North, Bello does not buy into the stereotypical mind-set that female politicians are loose women, even if they are married or come from political families. She believes the stereotype is changing gradually with advocacy and ability of the women in positions of authority to distinguish themselves and stay away from scandals.
Perhaps, it was Bello’s exposure and upbringing that influenced her attitude to politics. She was born in Delta State to a military father and started her education in Ondo State. Her family moved around the country often before returning to Gombe following her father’s retirement from the Nigerian Army.
Her simply advice for women who want to go into politics is to endear themselves to the people they seek to represent and not just show up when elections are close.
“This does not mean having billions of naira, but about providing service, showing care and relating with them at the grassroots,” Bello says. “A woman who wants to contest in 2019 should make it known now and start working towards it.”