Ibijoke Faborode: Advancing Inclusion of Women in Politics

Ibijoke Faborode: Advancing Inclusion of Women in Politics

In its bid to address the under-representation of women, by democratising politics for women across Africa, ElectHER,  a party agnostic and non-governmental organisation has shown commitment to increasing women’s political inclusion across Africa. They do this through behavioural change communications, community building, capacity development, and increased access to social, human, technological and financial capital. Meanwhile, they recently launched Agender35, through which it is supporting forward-thinking Nigerian women to run for office and win elections in 2023. Putting their money where their mouth is, they recently unveiled eight aspirants vying for state and federal legislative seats in the 2023 general election across political parties. Founder/Chief Executive Officer of the organisation,  Ibijoke Faborode, in this interview with MARY NNAH, explains how their modus operandi 

What is the Agender35 initiative all about and how are you going about positioning women with this concept to win the forthcoming elections?

Agender35 is a non-partisan disruptive political campaign by ElectHer aimed at directly mobilising human, social and financial resources for forward-thinking female candidates. Our immediate objective is to build an influential female voting bloc ahead of the Nigerian 2023 general election.

We are taking a bold, concise and solution-based approach to ensure that we can get more women elected and the way we are doing that is by creating an ecosystem and increasing assess to resources. Resources are not only about finance because sometimes people tend to limit themselves by saying they want to finance. Resources can be social, intellectual, or technical, they can be anything. The goal is that we should look inward.  They are so many women that are elevated in the private sector, how can we draw them in? Just as I was sitting there one of the executive directors said he is interested in the women. About three or four people came and said they need to fund-raise within their community. We are sure that this will make a difference because most times when women run, they run alone. They need an ecosystem. An ecosystem is where there are people of like minds, and resources, where you can go to vent. Being a woman in Nigeria is not easy and politics is murky water. Society by design is masculine so we need to see more women change that and that is what we are trying to do. 

What background are you coming from considering what you are doing right now?

I think the background of being a Nigerian, is the experience of my childhood. I’ve also gone outside the country, schooled; grew up in a university community and for me, it is that when you leave the country, you see what a functional system is. You understand the gap and you ask why we can’t get it right. We have people with intellectual capacity.  I moved back from Paris and I didn’t tell my parents when I made that decision and they were very mad at me. I know what I want, I want to leave an impact and purpose. I’ve worked with international media, I used to work for the British government; trade and investment advisory so I’ve always had my career span through government relations, communication and advertising. It’s the space I know.  I’ve done election monitoring. I think those pockets of opportunities also define who I am today. At some point in 2019, I started asking myself what I want to do. I want women in government and I remember a politician promised to fund me. I was doing a lot of high-level government things so I could have gone into government but left for me I would get tired because I don’t like simple things. 

What is your view about elections in Nigeria?
We need more people that are conscious. A lot of people let things fly by because of their level of apathy. Look at ENDSARS, a lot of more educated and conscious people were asking questions, you can’t buy them over. If they want to do something they will. The less privileged are in survival mode and they are easily compromised. I try not to make it a good versus bad situation. People are victims of circumstances in which they find themselves. This country is tough. If you make one million Naira, it’s very tough, before you know the money has finished.

We monitored the Osun state election. You will have people voting even with technology and all that, you have some of the party agents there. They know if you move your thumb forward you’ve voted for someone, if you move it down you haven’t.  There are so many things but in that we are also seeing a conscious shift. We are seeing a larger percentage of people registering. We have seen the introduction of a couple of technologies in the Osun state election and we are hoping that we can replicate that. I protect myself in Nigeria is that I look for the silver lining and try to work with it. If you are not careful you will become part of the people that complain yet there is no change. I keep that little ray of hope. Home is home. I have been out of the country but it never felt like home. I don’t have a choice. 

Now, tell us what exactly inspired Agender35.

It was inspired by the national gender policy for 35 percent of women. That is our agenda. It was just coining something around it. The word 35 draws curiosity; is it just 35 women? What is the agenda? We wanted something that people can easily adopt, we wanted something relatable. I would say it has been a really good name in terms of promoting the agenda. It is just building something around 35 percent of women minimum in government. 

Is there room for more women to be adopted?

There is but it involves resources. I love to manage expectations. Number one I’m not the government, I’m a private individual. We are going to be three in December.  I’m very proud of the work we have done and there is still so much work to do. There is something called smart working. In politics, you have to be pragmatic. I speak with a lot of men in the space, the space is still designed in a patriarchal way and most of them are like sentimental women; come to the table with something… It’s about purpose and value, you have to make sure no stakeholders is seeing you as a liability. 

You are supporting a lot of women. How are you tackling financing?

Money can never be enough. What we are doing is that we are crowdfunding them. These videos are going on our platform and you can tap the action button and donate. Everything we are doing is going directly to the candidate. We are testing out the first model. We also have an art event, a wearable art collection and then the revenue, we name each piece after the candidate and the revenue goes to the candidate. We are looking for alternatives, we are not waiting for the world to be equal. We have people that have promised us funds. People like talking things up but for me I’m a very pragmatic person. If something is not working I look for another solution. In the main time, what can we do? What we are trying to do is to generate revenue through different forms, creativity, crowdfunding, leveraging technology, however, we can. We don’t have all the answers but one step at a time because that little seed you are sowing is going to transform a lot of things in the future. 

How do you handle the issue of party since the women come from different parties?

There is more that brings us together than divides us. I am a very bold person, I don’t mince my words. I’m not begging for anything, I’ve come with my resources to partner with you. You cannot dictate to me, I am not a politician, I’m an enabler, a catalyst. You can’t tell me what I will do because I’m not taking your money. I am trying to create an ecosystem of support and resources and that is why tech is good. With tech, you can mobilise, if you understand tech you can raise money. For me it is looking for alternative means to make people understand that ecosystem is good, the network is good but also you can find solutions. We are all very lucrative in Nigeria and finance can be a trap, partisan politics can be a trap but I like baby steps. Let one success story tell another. We have different candidates, I told them I am not a politician, I am not a political party, we always put that disclaimer. You don’t pay my bills to start with so you have no right to tell me what to do. We will sit at the table as equals and we will negotiate power for women. We want women to be appointed to office in the new dispensation. The journey has started, even though I don’t understand the scope and the magnitude of what we are doing but I’m very happy with these eight women will teach us and we will learn from them.

You are not a politician and you are not partisan, so what exactly is your driving force to start supporting women in politics? 

I believe in good standards of living. I believe in hard work but I also know how to enjoy life and that is my motivation. I like the finer things in life and I tell people that I’m not apologetic because I work hard. For me to be able to afford living there has to be social-economic buoyancy across the board. You can not blow the other man with the tower, one day you will have to come down and face the people. So when you build transformational wealth and distribute wealth, it is good for everyone. That’s the way I see it. I don’t want to be rich, I want to be wealthy, I want to impact people. I have value, I come from a background of strong principles and a value system. My father used to be a vice chancellor; my mom used to be a university lecturer, and I grew up in a university community. I’m a country girl, so no matter what, I’m very guarded by my principles. I believe in impact, and adding value and those are the things that drive me. I take every day one at a time. I get pragmatic, if it’s not working, I look for another way. I am a solution-oriented person. 

So, do you think women can give us the society that we so desire?

Inclusion is something. When you have a populace and you have five percent deciding for others or you have 95 percent of men deciding for the society, it can’t be inclusive. Economic wealth is grounded in equity, where different factions of society must come together to make decisions. I don’t come into a room because I am a woman, when I enter a room, my presence will speak for me, my intelligence will show forth, and I will act and deliver. Let’s ensure that when we are creating policies, everybody is a part of that process. The reason why Nigeria is the way it is is that we are being short-sighted. What I would have been doing if there were no men was that I would be electing. Right now we have a problem because women who are over half of the population are not getting elected and we are having issues. We are having issues with our children, maternal mortality rate, basic healthcare, education, economy, financial inclusion. These things are gendered.  It is not sentimental at all. We must understand that it is not a man versus woman conversation. It is a conversation about exclusion and how to bridge that gap, and I am doing this from the gender lens to see what we can do.

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a county girl, I grew up in a university community, Ife precisely. I was born in Osun. My first degree was from OAU, then I lived in Paris for about five years and got my second degree. I studied project management with a focus on development. I am currently doing my second masters at the London School of Economics in social business and entrepreneurship. I worked with the British government on trade and investment advisory. I will say that a fusion of my work in media, development, in the private sector has helped me to be a tri-sector leader. I can look at problems and solutions from different angles. I think that is a value that I bring in as an employer, as a citizen, and as a sister. 

What can you tell us about your Dad?

I always say my dad, Professor Micheal Oladimeji Fagborode, is one of the few good people left in Nigeria. My dad is a servant.  He is one of the best Vice chancellors OAU ever had. We never went on strike.  They used to call him short man, very disciplined. The funny thing is that I troubled my parents as a kid because I wanted to see the world. Now I have a good relationship with my parents grounded in respect. When we sit at the table we are talking about politics, I see my dad smile sometimes because he thinks ‘this girl that gave me so much trouble.’ There was something about conformity while growing up, you were a quarters girl, and I just wanted to see the world. I was very exposed. At some time I wanted to quit school and travel the world. I thought that school was not giving me value. But the truth is that I  would not retake my journey to where I am today. I am all about my identity, I always tell people I want to be able to take a glass of wine and talk about politics. I don’t want to apologies for who I am so I don’t try to please people. I am very focused on my self-awareness as a person because in this work I do if I’m not self-aware, I would try to please too many people. I don’t try to please people. I try to be open, and fair, I follow the very basic principles of life and I leave every other thing. It doesn’t mean I am perfect but for me, I think that background I have, my father is also a hard worker, he has served this nation. He is a reformist. He is someone’s that I know that if politics were given to technocrats, he can lead. Go ask about him in OAU. They are rooms I have entered and when people find out I am his daughter, they say he is a good man and it makes me happy because he cannot give in wealth he gives in character. That is the principle that I come from so that has shaped who I am. People are like you are so excited about your work, it’s because I don’t think about money. I grew up not thinking about money, not because I was less privileged.  Money can be an object, I think about solutions and value and I know the money will come. That is how I grew up. 

Let’s talk about marriage

I think it’s important to talk about that. I don’t shy away from that, I’m single. This work I do takes a lot. I’m not opposed to marriage but I’m not a people pleaser. I believe in the institution of marriage. My parent has been married for years. I love love. It’s a beautiful thing. I want to be married to my partner. I’m a strong woman, I know what I come with, not every man… I’m very pragmatic and a lot of things and I understand who I am and what I will not compromise.  It took me a long time to work on myself. It comes from mistakes, and heartbreaks and now I know what I will not do and compromise. I Will compromise my value and happiness. I know I am meant to transform the world so I can’t marry a man that can’t understand that. We must build together and be partners. My job is not to kneel and serve you water, it will never happen, I am to be your partner. I will be your support system and vice versa. I will not demand happiness from you because it is a very unrealistic thing. I cannot depend on others for my happiness. I believe in the value and that is how I see everything. I believe in the institution of marriage but I don’t make it feel like I’m missing something. It will happen when it will happen.  Right now I am enjoying my life and I love it. I love to live a very good life and to look good. I love life.

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