The place of women in today’s world has transcended from just being in the kitchen to being the forerunners in the various sectors of operations in the world – more and more women are paving the way for young girls to become leaders in their communities. We hear daily of accomplishments of African women – both in the public and private sectors and how they influence others to positions of influence and responsibility. In the political space, the women are still few, and in leadership, there are poorly represented. The few who are daring the odds and making the mark should therefore be appreciated and celebrated to spur the younger generations and other professionals to follow suit. They are inspiring young girls to believe in themselves and know that they too can be involved in politics and also aspire for leadership positions.
In this enthralling interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, we feature a crop of younger female politicians doing great in the Nigerian political space across states. We share their political experience and challenges.
Joan Oluwafunmilola was born in 1983. Funmi was educated at Corona School Gbagada Lagos before proceeding to Federal Government Girls College Sagamu. Thereafter, she attended the University of Ibadan and obtained a degree in Economics in March 2005.
After her one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with the Cross River State Government, she obtained a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos with a specialty in Strategic Management. With over 15 years of working experience, she has held several roles in telecommunication, public service, and NGO.
Funmi is a Certified Social Entrepreneur with certification in Social Sector Management from the Enterprise Development Center (EDC) of the Lagos Business School (LBS), through a scholarship from the African-American Institute and Coca-Cola foundation. In addition, she has completed several courses and programs on Human Resources, Tax Administration, Project Management, and Public Policy amongst others.
She is an associate member of the Institute of Directors, Nigeria (IoD) as well as an associate member of Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WIMBIZ).
Funmi’s Excellent Leadership, Communication, Collaboration, and Organizational skills have over the years sharpened her ability to identify, analyze and proffer strategic transformational change slated later for the year. Recently, she was chosen to participate in the African Civic Engagement Academy supported by the Government of the United States of America in partnership with the University of Georgia.
She is unapologetically a lover of politics and passionate about good governance which made her get involved in politics at an early age. Funmi is currently the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Lagos State on State Lotteries and one of the few young women to watch out for in the Nigerian Political Space.
Since your foray into politics, have you at any time, felt disadvantaged or treated unfairly because of your sex? Have you at any time faced any form of chauvinism in the Journey?
Fortunately, I was privileged to have an encouraging foundation in my journey. I was groomed and mentored by leaders who believed in my capabilities and my vision rather than sidelining me because of my gender. They created every opportunity for me to fulfill my potential. This served as an encouragement for me and motivated me to get to where I am today.
Stella Erhuvwuoghene Okotete is a graduate of Benson Idahosa University, Benin City, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Diplomacy. She also holds a Diploma in Law from the Rivers State College of Arts and Sciences with an ongoing Master’s degree in Public Administration, Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. Before her appointment as Special Adviser (SA) MDGs in Delta State, she had a brief stint in politics, having served as an elected Councilor in Ughelli-North Local Government Area. Okotete is currently the Executive Director, Business Development of the Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) as appointed by His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2017. She is the current National Women Representative of the APC Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC). Stella also initiated the “APC Women Lobby Group” to lobby for constitutional reforms to incorporate professional female bodies in the party, clamor for the eradication of violence against women in politics, and encapsulate women’s inclusion in governance. Stella in her quest to engender broad-based women’s visibility and inclusivity in governance, business, and politics. She is a firm supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Core Buharist and the founder of Buhari Media Advocate (BMA), an online Crack Team that campaigned for the President’s re-election and daily showcase the activities of His Excellency’s Administration.
Venturing into politics is not for the faint-hearted because of its murky waters. What gave you the courage to take this step and what challenges did you face?
Venturing into politics is not for the fainthearted, yes! But what gives me the courage is that our country Nigeria and the good people of Nigeria deserve better than what was been offered them about 17 to 18 years ago when I ventured into politics as a young politician in Delta State. I ran for councillorship which I won and I served my people as a councilor. Under my stewardship I was able to provide my community with clean borehole water, I was able to renovate health care facilities as well as give them some dividend of democracy and some empowerment starter packs to encourage women in business and also young people who had skills that needed to be supported. So, the challenges I faced was more of acceptability, because starting politics at the grassroot was not so easy—a lot of the local people required me to speak my local dialect which I could not at the time. There is a lot of insincerity in the game, but I can tell you and am speaking to those who really want to go into politics and be change-makers, you can choose to be different. Like it or leave it, people are watching you and when you are different, doing the right thing when you speak for the people and is selfless in service, people will recognize you, and then you will get promoted. I started as a councilor, I became a Special Assistant, Special Adviser, I became an executive director of the bank and God graciously made me the woman leader of the Ruling party at the age of 36. It shows that diligence, selfless service, and sincerity of purpose are the driving that every female politician should have.
Betta C Edu
Betta Edu is currently the Commissioner for Health of Cross River State where she has revolutionized the health care system through innovation, purposeful leadership, and integrity. Her unique leadership qualities saw her emerge as the Chairman of the Nigeria Health Commissioners Forum from 2020 to date. In this capacity, she has reformed the organization, giving it a legal status, and formally affiliated with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. She organized the first-ever health summit by the Forum which facilitated strategic engagement of the health commissioners with development partners, private sector, academia, and the civil society to bridge the information gap that existed between them, review progress towards UHC, identify opportunities for improvement and foster strategic partnerships to serve Nigerians better through policy actions and optimization of investments.
Before her appointment as Commissioner for Health, she served as the Director-General/CEO of CRSPHCDA where she established the Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency (CRSPHCDA) in 2016 and successfully created at least one functional primary healthcare centre (PHC) in every ward in Cross River state (built 60 new PHCs and revitalized 200). In line with her UHC policy agenda, she established the Cross River State Health Insurance Scheme which has over 60,000 enrollees accessing quality healthcare and fully protected from financial risk. She established partnerships with local and international development partners and mobilized over USD10 million into the state health system to support strategic investments in resilient systems for sustainable health (RSSH) and quality healthcare service coverage. She has revolutionized the primary healthcare system in the state through policies and programs that promoted innovation, quality of care, and efficiency.
What advice will you give to encourage women to partake more in politics and what is your take on the recent setback of what NASS did and their attempt damage control?
Every single woman has got potential. Every single woman can make a difference we just have to know our strengths and capitalize on our them. The advice that I will give to women is that we should all come out and participate in politics. We have the numbers, we have the creativity, the energy and the patience to mold and really improve whatever we put our hands on. I know in recent times, we have had issues with our demands at the National Assembly led by Her Excellency Aisha Buhari and other women supported her very strongly. We believe if we can get more women into the legislative arm of Government, we should be able to get whatever we want as an amendment of the constitution that would be more favourable for women. It is not really a setback as it looks, it’s just a push, a stronger push to get women all over the country to unite with one voice to make a difference which will contribute to the development and improve things for our nation.
Erhiatake Ibori – Suenu
Ergiatake ibori – Suenu was born in1980. In 2005 she graduated from a university in the United Kingdom with a degree in Business Studies with Information Systems. She also has a certificate as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), a Certificate from LSE in Advanced leadership and a Certificate from Møller Institute at Churchill College University of Cambridge for Advanced Leadership Programme. She is the Chairman House Committee Finance and Appropriation and a Member representing Ethiope West in the House of Assembly. In December 2011, Erhiatake along with her organization, created The S.H.I. Mobile Free Clinics. They trained doctors in the UK to become Mobile General Practioner (MGP’s). The Clinic has been on the road three times since its inception in 2011. Assisting the primary healthcare in Ethiope West local government area, this scheme has helped thousands of people around the area. She set up skill acquisition centers to train victims of flood disasters in different vocations and she also delivered health care services to the victims and distributed relief materials as well.
Q: Venturing into politics is not for the faint hearted because of its murky waters. What gave you the courage to take this step and what challenges did you face?
A: I won’t say courage… more like what inspired or guided me into politics??? It’s a very long story, but I will try to simplify it. A good man saw something I couldn’t see in myself…HE Sen. Dr Okowa inspired me to serve my people. I love my people and I love working for them and doing what a lot of people believe is “impossible”. I started an NGO while working for His Excellency in 2011, STARLITE HOPES INITIATIVE (SHI). We provide free healthcare around Delta State from one community to another community delivering free healthcare to our people. At that time, I was His Excellency’s Legislative assistant at the National Assembly. All I wanted to do was to serve my people by finding an innovative way to provide healthcare at zero cost to them, from lab to Medication. He saw the potential in me and he knew that through politics, I could be more productive and supportive to the growth of my people and the development of my community and Delta state at large. Politics have offered me the perfect platform to support and listen to the needs of my people. In a nutshell, I got elected and became the property of my people, (Ethiope west constituency). I still remain Faithful to that course and I will continue to stay on that path. We opened our 1st clinic on the 14th April 2012. I am grateful to Almighty God as we are 10 years old next month, April 2022. Am inspired every time I hear a baby has been delivered at our SHI free clinic in Ugbenu, Oghara Ethiope West. I am always inspired every time I see the growth and progress we are making in reaching out to so many at the Jesse clinic also in Oghara Ethiope West. What we are doing in the communities give me a lot of inspiration and encouragements and judging by how we have grown from 2015 as a people. Together!!!
Being me, Because people expectations of me are very high, not just because am a woman, but because am also from a political family. Being a woman in the game means extra work. You have to shout so you are heard. You have to work extra hours and 3 times as hard to prove your competence just as capable as a woman. But my challenges make me stronger and better!!! I can’t allow it control me, rather I control it and make it a blessing by finishing stronger and making sure am heard, not by speaking or shouting but by my hard work and my foot prints.
Hadiza Bala Usman
She initiated the campaign for the rescue of the Chibok girls #bringbackOurGirls which turned into a global movement advocating for the rescue of the 276 girls abducted from Chibok secondary school. For that campaign, she was recognized amongst Financial Times Most Influential Women 2014, CNN most inspiring women 2014, and Ebony 100 Most Influential Black Women 2014.
She contested for House of Representatives in Musawa Matazu federal constituency, Katsina state in 2011 under CPC. She was Secretary for the CPC renewal Committee on whose recommendation CPC merged with other political parties to form APC. She was Admin Secretary to the 2015 Presidential Campaign Council where Muhammadu Buhari was elected as Nigeria’s President. She was a Member of the 2015 Presidential inauguration Committee representing the APC incoming Government. She was Secretary of the APC 2018 National convention Committee that conducted the primary election in which President Buhari emerged as APC Presidential flag bearer. She was Director Contact and Mobilisation of the 2019 Presidential Campaign Council.
She is the only woman that has been Secretary of a National Convention Committee and also the only woman that has been Director contact and mobilization of a Presidential campaign since the beginning of our democracy in 1999.
She was the first female to be appointed Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kaduna State in 2015 and was the first female to occupy that role in the 19 Northern States.
She was the first female to be appointed Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority in 2016.
Aisha Augie is an internationally celebrated Creative Artist, Photographer, Filmmaker, and Communications Specialist from Nigeria. She is multifaceted with relevant experience as an entrepreneur, working with multiple industries in the private sector; before delving into Public Service. She is a bridge-builder between these sectors and engages in policy formulation and development initiatives that support job creation, youth and women empowerment across Africa.
Most recently, Aisha serves as a Special Adviser on Digital Communications to the Nigerian Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning. Prior, she was the Senior Special Assistant on New Media to the Governor of Kebbi State where she coordinated statewide publicity and reputation management for the Government. The popularity of her work in communicating policies to the grassroots, led her to run for a seat at the Argungu/Augie Federal Constituency, House of Representatives primaries in Kebbi State under the APC, making her the first female ever to try.
Q: Since your foray into politics, have you at anytime, felt disadvantaged or treated unfairly because of your sex? Have you at anytime faced any form of chauvinism?
A: To be honest, it is both a yes and no. Yes, because there are some contexts within the political space where as a woman, my voice is low in the room and not considered or ignored. It can be quite disheartening. No, because I must also say that there are many instances that my contributions have received the best support and created value, just because I am a woman. I have learnt to show them (that as women, we CAN) and not fight them. My contributions have earned me unexpected respect from some men that I didn’t expect. As my principal and mentor, the Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning, Mrs Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed would say “Sometimes we are the pioneers in the room and we must remember that we are seen as representatives of all women. We may have to work twice as hard but we are making it easier for the women that will come after us”.
A bilingual graduate of University of Lagos, Akoka-Lagos State, Ifeyinwa earned a Bachelor of Law Degree before being called to the Nigerian Bar. While studying at the University of Lagos, she also studied French at Alliance Franҫaise, Yaba, Lagos. With an extremely robust portfolio in the private sector, with a lot of cohesion and encouragement she was co-opted to join politics in her home state Anambra. She faced several hurdles in her initial aspiration to run for the seat of the Federal Constituency where she hails from being that she was female and her opponents were all male. Notwithstanding, she is an active member of PDP and has currently joined the race to declare her interest to run again for the House of Representatives in the 2023 general elections. She is a Member of The Institute of Directors (IOD), The International Bar Association (IBA), The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), The Nigerian Police Force (NPF), International Association of Chiefs of Police (USA) IACP, Alliance Franҫaise Lagos-Nigeria (AFL).
Q: Venturing into politics is not for the faint hearted because of its murky waters. What gave you the courage to take this step and what challenges did you face?
A: If you don’t Dare – You will never Win. This has been my inspiration. It’s been a hectic venture. Women in politics always somehow hold the shorter end of the carrot but with painstaking articulation and maintaining a high degree of decorum, l was able to pull through the thick clouds. Unfortunately when the argument is lost, most quarters usually resort to SLANDER. It is assumed that Women should retire from work at a certain time, whereas excuses are always made for the Men who keep late nights from one meeting to another Networking and Politicing. Unfortunately, we women are our worst ENEMIES. The older ones do not encourage the younger female politicians. Personally, we miss the Likes of Iyom Chief Mrs Josephine Anenih. A mother in Israel. An Articulate Mentor, A Non-Divisive Leader, A World Class Entrepreneur who ventured, sojourned and retired meritoriously from Politics. Her words of Encouragement and gingering you onto greater heights has helped so many young aspiring Politicians like us. She would always tell us – Change the NARRATIVE – Politicians are not all the same as Diapers – Full of shit you can also be minty, fresh scented, and breathe life on everyone you come across.
Morale – Choose to be as Fresh as Mint Leaves and not a Diaper!