By Emmanuel Uzor
Mrs. Uche Ekwunife is the member representing Anaocha/Dunukofia/Njikoka federal constituency in the House of Representatives and the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Environment. In this interview, she x-rays her experience as a banker, mother and politician.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I was born in Onitsha 42 years, where I grew up too. I am from Igboukwu in Aguata Local Government Area, married to Nri in Anaocha local government area all in Anambra state. After my primary and post primary school education, I went to Oko Polytechnic and I have my Masters degree from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Then I worked in the bank before I joined politics. I am a mother with children.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was very tough. My father died early, so my mother brought us up; we are nine girls and you know what it means to bring up nine girls. In my family, I am second to the last born and I have a lot of big sisters, so I went through tutelage. My mother taught us to be very hard working, so working hard became my motto and I also continued to pray because if you know what you want, you will also know what you want to actualize in life and pursue that with prayers.
Which of your parents do you think you took after?
I think I took after both of them; my father is late, he worked hard, and he was a very generous man, who contributed immensely to the development of our community and local government and even those outside our local government. When he was alive, he was adjudged the richest man in the area; he helped people, built homes for so many people. My mother was a disciplinarian. As a teacher, she worked hard to train her children when she lost her husband as a young widow who strove to train her children to university level. So I think to a large extent, I took after both of them: perseverance, fear of God and most of all, having impact in the lives of people around me.
When and why did you join politics?
Well, I actually joined politics in 1999. I graduated in 1993, served in 1994, got married, and I had my first child in 1994 and you know how banking was in those days. Once you are in the bank, it will take you two years to seek for maternity leave. When I had my first child, it took me two years to go for second child because before those two years, I got a job in another bank, and so I had to stay another two years before I started having another child. Then, my husband was also working; both of us will go to work together to serve the family. In the process of serving in the bank, I later realized that most of the time bankers work without creating impact in the lives of others. Somehow I started enjoying politics, talking politics and saw it as an avenue to expand my service especially to my people. Then I resigned in 2006, joined politics the same year, and in 2007, to the glory of God, I won. The rest is history.
What do you believe in?
I believe in destiny a lot. I believe that what God has made must be, though you may need to work hard, so, I believe so much in God’s design.
What is your position on the issue of gender inequality or women liberation?
My position about women liberation is that women are the people that should liberate themselves, even if you put it in the constitution; we must not constitutionalize everything; laws are made and when we make laws, we make laws that will be easy to implement, if you make laws that are not implementable, it is baseless. When we talk about 35 percent affirmative action, the question is: is it obtainable in other countries? Nigeria is a peculiar country; Nigeria is a country that has a lot of traditions and norms guiding parts of the country. While we are screaming and shouting 35 percent, there are certain people with norms guiding them, who may not want it but at the same, we will have it legislated upon, there are certain sections of the constitution that we must amend to actualize such. You can’t stop any person from vying for any position even when you have kept the rule. I believe strongly that before we put it in the constitution, we must get all the political parties to put it in their respective party guidelines; we will also go to the extent of enacting it in the Electoral Act and amend the section of the Constitution that will be in contradiction with the new law; this way it will be easier when we want to make the law. But at the same time, it comes to the issues of population and numbers of voters who go to the polling units, women are more.
If women decide to have a female president of this great nation, they will achieve it; if women decide to be in all elective positions, they will get it because they are more in number when it comes to voting. So, I strongly believe women need to be enlightened through enlightenment campaigns and advocacy and also make them embrace themselves, love themselves and acknowledge each other. When we begin to do that, we can change the society; it is not by law. We can even achieve it without enacting a law; it is all about women believing each other and coming out. We have brilliant, intelligent and hardworking women who can make things happen. I believe that men now ready to support their wives and daughters to go and try their luck and explore their opportunities. I know that some women are scared because of blackmail that is associated with elections, a lot of destruction, thuggery and such other things, but that should not deter you; you can’t just leave it, we must have to be there and play our role to change the much we can. That is for the people who understand the game, so, for me, it is okay, we have a lot to do and offer.
What is your greatest asset?
As an individual, you know yourself. I have a mirror in my house and I know I am not beautiful. When it comes to fashion like what I am wearing now, the cloth is about N1000, so I am not so conscious of expensive clothing and all that; so for me, it is not about fashion but I believe as a woman, I work hard and I put passion in anything I do. I show empathy because the essence of leadership is to make people around you happy; the essence of leadership is to render service to the people the way they will appreciate; the essence of leadership is to ensure that you meet people at the point of their needs. I think to a large extent, I try as much as I can to leave a good footprint anywhere I go; I think empathy and passion are my greatest assets. And I work hard and support it with prayer.
As a female lawmaker, what has your experience been like?
It has been very interesting in the sense that we are in the midst of men who are professionals in their respective fields and I feel happy working with them. In the House of Representatives, there is nothing like man or woman, everybody is considered to be a man. It is a house of equality, it is a house of equal opportunity; it is left for you to showcase what you have. If you have a good message to send, your colleagues will support you irrespective of your gender and if you don’t have a good message, they will shout you down irrespective of your gender. In the House, nobody bothers about your gender. I feel free; I don’t even know I am a woman when it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives. So, I do my best irrespective of gender and it has been very interesting. The most important thing is to give my people excellent representation to the best of my ability.
What have been your achievements in the House of Representatives?
A lot. When it comes to the issue of projects, I strongly believe that a monitoring agency is very important and it must be independent of the core ministries. We have abandoned projects all over the nation in all the ministries. So if we have a project monitoring agency which would be a different ministry, reporting to the presidency, they will track all the developmental projects from all the ministries and give the President professional advice and be able to report the progress of the projects on weekly basis. With that, all ministries will sit up. A situation where somebody is the one executing the project, he is the person that is monitoring it and also the person that reports on it, it will not work. I have done the bill – once we have this in place, it will work. Local government joint account, which is a very key issue in Nigeria, it is very surprising that governors are trying to shoot it down. Local government is the nearest government to the people; if we get local governments working, it will be good for us. If we give local governments financial and political autonomy, I tell you we will change this nation. If development starts from the local government, it will get to the state and then to the nation in general; where local government is not working, it is retarding growth in terms of human and even infrastructural development. So, I was the first person that moved the motion from the floor and we are hoping that it works. The last public hearing we did, it was the first agenda but surprisingly, the governors are trying to shoot it down. Every position is moving, you are in this position today, tomorrow you will not be there again, so what we owe the people is to give them the kind of legislation that stands the test of time, legislation that can put food on their table, the kind of legislation that can move this country forward. If we continue to personalize offices, this country can’t move forward, so we must see ourselves as people who are occupying positions that we will leave some day. I think it should be the most important thing in the constitution amendment if we truly want to amend the constitution, giving the local government financial and political autonomy; ensuring that INEC conducts local government elections and not a situation whereby somebody doesn’t like your face and no matter how competent you are, the person will not allow you become local government chairman. Entrench democracy in the local government and I tell you things will move forward.
What are your challenges as a female legislator in a House dominated by men?
The challenges we face are if you are unlucky to have a wicked male opponent especially when you have an opponent that does not have good moral upbringing, there is nothing such an opponent will not do forgetting that he has a mother, sister and wife like what happened to me in my last election. When you have such opponent, what will you do? Will that deter you? No, it will not deter me, so these are some of the reasons why some women don’t like to participate. It scares them but the more scared the more we leave the field for them, so the challenges are there. Then financial challenges are also there, most of the women don’t have financial capacity to face election. Election is very expensive, especially in Anambra state, no matter how good you are, no matter how good your message is, the money must be there to win election. Then your family, you have children, you can’t leave them to wallow in the society. That is why they said that the best time for a woman to go into politics is at the age of 50 and above. Most of us that started it early, and we are old in it, are getting older than our age. Challenges are there but then, you have to soldier on.
How do you combine politics with family life?
I am a mother. If you see my kids you will be very proud of me. It is about managing your time, when I was in the bank I would leave in the morning and come back in the evening. There are housewives that don’t know where their children are or where their husbands are – it is all about time management and I am very happy that I married a loving and caring man, that is why it is always good to marry somebody you love and somebody that loves you and somebody that is almost at the same age bracket with you; when you marry an old man, by the time you carry him from one hospital to another, you will be tired. You have to marry somebody that two of you will look like brother and sister in the house, and am also happy I married somebody who is almost at the same age bracket with me, who is very enlightened and educated and my kids are doing well in school. I take very good care of my family and that is why I don’t play politics to my home. Many people will say to me, ‘we have not seen your husband and I will respond, my husband is not a politician. Have you ever asked a male politician where his wife is or is it because we are women? So my husband will leave his business and be going with me to show that I have a husband? Have you ever seen a male politician going up and down with his wife? So you want him to leave his business and join me just to show that I have a husband because I am a woman. You know one interesting thing happened to me when I started politics newly. A woman said we should go to a pastor’s place, the pastor started saying, “I remove the spirit of barrenness in you. I looked at the woman and said does it mean that your children are not yours? The pastor said he was referring to me and I quickly said, God forbid, I have children, then the pastor said, they told me you don’t have children and I said because they have not seen them, my children are not politicians, they are in school and they are doing very well in their respective endeavors, do I need to bring them here because I am a politician? So, these are the issues and the challenges are so many, we have to throw all these away and forge ahead with sincerity of purpose.
What time do you have for leisure?
I am having great time. Anywhere I am, I create time for leisure; I don’t have any particular time for leisure; I am not a programmed person that I have afternoon for work and evening for leisure, no, if I go to work and If I see time for leisure I do it. So it is not like I am have a particular time for it. No, I am not a formal person when it comes to creating time for leisure.
What is your next political ambition?
I have always wanted to govern Anambra state. I contested before and it is unfortunate that I didn’t win but my passion to be the governor of this state is total. I am such a person that is controlled by what I feel for my people. I want to run for the governorship of this great state so that I will bring the much-needed development to this state as well render selfless service to my people. I am a unique woman.