Akande-Adeola: Women as Her Constituency

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Ahead of her book launch (A Woman in Parliament) on November 11, former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives and Founder of the Jokodolu Foundation, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola shares some views with Abimbola Akosile on her development initiatives and political sojourn. Excerpts:

Affirmative Action
I am a proponent of affirmative action simply because it promotes a shared sense of ownership over our country. It also creates room for a rich diversity of opinions and contributions towards nation building. Affirmative action is anchored on the principles of partnership and inclusiveness, which are critical to the progress of a heterogeneous context like ours.

Nigeria has lost out by not promoting affirmative action in a more institutionalised manner. It should cut across all tiers of government both in appointive and elective positions. It should also be implemented within political party structures. Our country was very visible during the Beijing conference and also ratified the UN CEDAW. Unfortunately we are lagging behind in terms of implementing these policy commitments.

Travails and Triumphs
The contest for speakership was one of the toughest times for me because I got to experience the more unpleasant dimensions of human nature. The period when there were mass defections within the House from the PDP was also another low moment. I feel that jumping from one political party to the other says something about a person’s character and the need to improve as well as strengthen the ideological lure of partisan politics.

The Sunday when the House convened to discuss the Federal Government’s decision to remove fuel subsidy was another tough day. I stood up to explain why I thought this was something we needed to do and also to urge dialogue between the Executive and the NLC. I was shouted down and verbally insulted because people felt I was Mr. President’s stooge. I even received death threats and abusive text messages because of this.
I consider my being able to become House Leader a triumph. So was the opportunity to empower quite a number of people in my constituency through business start-up support, skills training, providing access to employment, and also the award of over 100 tertiary level scholarships to young women and men.

Women Empowerment
I see women as my primary constituency. While I was a legislator, I set up the South West women’s forum which was structured to empower women to engage in the democratic process through a series of skills development support initiatives. This group still remains active. Many of them have been encouraged to contest at Local Government level. Over 100 widows have been able to establish and sustain micro businesses because of the credit window which I provided. I also negotiated for 20 per cent of leadership positions at Local Government Level to be reserved for qualified women.

In 2014 I collaborated with NGOs and other key stakeholders to organise a national Women’s conference on women’s political participation. Some of the recommendations from that meeting were adopted in the policy space.
It is important that the voices of rural women are part of policy conversations and decision making at all levels. They need to be consulted so that even where they do not occupy some of these public offices, their perspectives inform government action. We also need to promote the principle of affirmative action at the level of Local Governments to create room for more of them to be involved as leaders at different levels.

MDGs and SDGs
I’m not sure we performed that well as a country with the MDGs. This may have something to do with the sheer size of our country and the monumental challenges which we currently face. I am impressed to note that the SGDs apart from having a stand-alone requirement on gender, also has gender related requirements for each of the goals. This is an improvement from the MDGs. Now we need to look at the situation of women and girls across sectors, which is a good thing.

Balancing Obligations
This is quite a challenge for most women in politics. In my case, I relied heavily on the support of my family to help out with the children when I was unavailable. Also, my children were all grown up by the time I took on more responsibilities as House Leader. I thank God that they are very grounded, disciplined children and so, did not give me extra headache when my time was almost totally consumed with the demands of public life. Anyone who signs up for public life needs to count the cost, especially where one is very passionate about this type of work.

Gender Equality
The most significant gender specific achievement of the House during my tenure was the passage of the Violence against Persons Prohibition Act. Also, Speaker Tambuwal accepted to include more women as members of the constitutional review committee which was a plus. There were also a number of male colleagues who were always ready to champion the cause of women’s advancement. However I feel we could have done a whole lot more and that there is room for improved action in this area.

Hobbies and Pastimes
I love to travel and I really like to relax at home. I enjoy a cozy home environment and I like watching T.V. Charitable work for me is a hobby and I also really enjoy doing it. I like attending parties too.

Book Overview
In the past some activists have documented my experiences as a contestant vying to become a member of the National Assembly. What has not been documented however is the experience I had while trying to become speaker, and also my experiences as Nigeria’s first female National Leader of the House. I feel there are lessons to be learnt from all of this especially for other women in leadership or even the younger generation who will dare to aspire to leadership. Actually, there are lessons there for the men as well. I discussed my legislative agenda, gave an account of what I did with the responsibility bestowed on me by my constituency and also talk a bit about my childhood.

Better Legislature
I recognise that our democracy is still a work in progress. There are some very decent people in the Legislature but there is room for improvement. We need to consider raising the bar in terms of minimum entry requirements in the Legislature from secondary to university education, to improve the quality of debates and provide space to harness the best of ideas for moving our country forward. Above all, members of the House across party lines need to try as much as possible to find consensus around national issues. Irrespective of party affiliation, legislators need to coalesce more often around national interests rather than around party lines.