Delectable and articulate former Manager, Miss Nigeria Beauty Pageant, Hon. Adewunmi Onanuga is the member representing Ikenne/Shagamu/Remo North federal constituency in the House of Representatives in the 9th assembly. She is also the Chairman, House Committee on Women Affairs and Social Development. In an interview with select journalists, she spoke about her passion for helping women and the aged in Nigeria through legislation. She also shared her experiences on how women can navigate the murky waters of politics. Shola Oyeyipo
Surely, you have had experiences, would you say politics is a new turf for you?
I have been doing politics now for 16 years, so I would not say it is a new turf for me, but with regards to everything I have ever done, yes, it is new turf for me. But I have been in it a few years, it is part and parcel of me now. I have been in the race for this House of Representatives since 2015. In 2015, I was asked to step down for another party person and as a party person, I did step down. I found myself here through hard work.
If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing?
I will probably be running a homeless kitchen feeding people. That is what I will do. Off the street, really.
The number of women in the National Assembly has been on the decline. The 35 per cent affirmation failed woefully, so what is your opinion?
I think it is one of those things that we ladies are talking about because I think the 35 percent affirmation is just not enough. Nobody is asserting any pressure on it – even when the women push for it the men try to knock it down!
I say may be we are not lobbying well enough, maybe we need to assert ourselves some more, maybe we need to intensify our efforts in lobbying and see that it even goes beyond politics. It is not just affirmation in politics, maybe in appointments or in elective positions, what about civil service and public service appointments and elevation for women. So, we are going to look into a broader perspective of the affirmation and then widen our net.
Why did you go for a Gbajabiamila candidacy?
When I came in here, the person that reached out to me was Hon. Speaker, Gbajabiamila, the others sent in their profiles and their brochures and all the things they wanted to do. When I read through the Speaker’s profile and the fact that he spoke with me, he took me to a place where I want Nigeria to be generally and a place where I expected the House of Representatives to be in order to be able to work properly in regard to legislation, with regards to how he would take care of old legislators and that for me, he showed compassion. I felt this is someone who had the brain, who had the compassion and who showed he has the capacity to carry a lot of people along. That was why I worked for him.
Politics in Nigeria seems to be a hard turf for women. It is not easy for Nigerian women to play politics because of the money, the violence and other things involved. How has it been for you playing politics?
I want to believe what helped me more was the fact that I am a peoples’ person and for you to be able to appeal to your constituent you have to be a peoples’ person, you have to be someone in the grassroots. I don’t live away from my constituency; I live in my constituency.
I have people who come to me sincerely, dishonestly; they come and they tell me all the stuff that want. They spin me stuffs. When we investigate we find out some are just yearn. I let them know you came, you just gave a yearn but because you came – but you don’t have to lie about it and then I will try and meet them at that point I know that you came to tell a fib here but you came to say that because you don’t know how I would respond. So, in this instance, take this and sort yourself out, but we would try and see how we would put you in a system where you will be able to work for yourself and you won’t have to go to someone to beg for anything.
So, on a daily basis they go around, they come back and they see I am there. It is not like I am 50 miles away and you would have to call me before they see me. I am right in their faces.
So, for most women that want to play politics, it is not knowing people at the top that will help you, you need to let your people know you, you need to be able to buy the truths, the lies and the blackmail; everything and still stay firm. And let them see you are here. This person is not going anywhere.
You might has well just go with the flow. So, you need to be a grass root person first of all and then you need to work hard and let the people who are able to make the decision know that you are on ground – that if they refuse to understand how much your people love you, electoral success might me an issue.
So, you will be a party person, be a peoples’ person and you have to be on ground. You can’t be a runaway politician.
What do you consider as the major challenges confronting women in politics in Nigeria?
For me, it would be cash. It is not like you need to break the bank but if you need to be in peoples’ faces all the time – you don’t need to have a deep pocket; you just need to be sincere with whatever you have with you.
Sometimes some people come to me and say “I have not eaten for the past three days,” and you will see that this person has not eaten for three days and you have only N5000 in your wallet and you open your bag and say “come, this is all I have, I didn’t you were coming. This is my wallet and you put everything on the table. How much do you need to survive today and then what do you think we can do to get you off ‘I can’t afford this,’ what can you do on your own to get you to stand on your feet?” And you guys work out a plan together but that money you have in your wallet you are able to share it with that person.
The person will say, this person can help my life. The person will take that straw, cling to it, feed him or herself that day and come back to tell you I have a passion for doing this or that but I need somebody to help me. If you help me, I promise I will help other people. That is what you need!
To do that, it takes sincerity and it also takes knowing the places to go to help other people. You don’t necessarily need to take all the money from your pocket. Talk to NGOs that are willing to assist other people and you let the people know that you can access these things if you can do certain things.
So, the problem that women have really and truly in politics is finances.
What are your legislative interests?
The aged, the women and the youth, but principally is the aged. I need a law that will make it priority for the aged to have a place to recreate – just chill out – just have fun. You know? They have served their time, whether with government or the companies they have worked with or even their children; some people have never worked a day in their lives, all they did was just to find a way to sustain their children to go to school. Now they are too old to do anything, even for themselves and they have no were to turn to.
Unfortunately for some people, those children that they laboured over are dead. Nobody is out there looking after them – to get a meal a day is a problem, let alone having clothes to wear. So, when I say recreation facilities for the aged – at least they can leave their homes on a daily basis, get to the centre, eat a meal – may be not breakfast, maybe not dinner but at least lunch, even if it is an apple or a cup of tea they have for dinner and they go to bed, at least they would have food in their tummy. It doesn’t have to be a place where they stay – I am not saying old peoples’ home, even though I will agitate for that as well, but at least, let’s start a recreation centre first so that on a daily basis they can come there and eat. Let’s have a homeless kitchen that anyone who is not able to feed themselves can go in there and have a meal a day.
There needs to be a legislation towards that, especially for the aged people, so that at least somebody is looking after them. All the people we are agile today will grow old and if we don’t put something in place, I am afraid all the old people in this country would have problems. Some will even die before their time. Some people live up to 100 in other countries because they have people who care for them. We should care for our aged people like that in this country.
Do you really have any agenda for your constituency?
My state is a state of learned people because we have a lot of firsts. There are a lot of educated people from Ogun State. And as much as we have that, we have some people who are also not as learned. Probably they were not opportune to have access to education. One of the agenda for my state would be adult literacy.
Because I don’t want to go out and repeat a lot of stuffs, it is taking me this time to study past legislations raised on the floor, maybe they got to second or third reading, even those that have been passed, I am researching into things that are my desire. I want to know why they failed and if they didn’t fail, why are we not implementing it?
You managed the Miss Nigeria Beauty Pageant, what is your perspective about people dressing half naked?
When I was Pageant Manager, Miss Nigeria, all the pageant that I did were no bikini. No swim suit pageants, because I don’t believe you will have to wear bikini to show how beautiful you are. The first year I was going to do it, I had a lot of antagonism, even from the office. And I said, if I am the Pageant Manager then we are not going to have bikini and we are not going to have swim suit pageant.
Instead of that segment we had on casuals – they had on shorts and T-shirts because we are looking for the intellect of whoever the contestant is. Women are not cows. They are not out to be displayed for you to see what God has endowed them with.
When Miss Nigeria started in 1957, they were only doing it with pictures, and I said why should we have bikini and swim suit sections. So, for me, Miss Nigeria, when I was there had nothing to do with bikini and swim suits and I think its high time that we have to go back to that time.