As the Woman Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, Chief (Mrs.) Kemi Nelson has a lot of work to do. Her work schedule revolves around organizing the women of the party at all times and she also ensures that the party is well co-ordinated anytime occasion demands such as during the just concluded general elections in the country, when she was saddled with a lot of responsibilities to ensure victory for the party at all levels.’
The amiable seasoned politician, who has paid her dues in the state as a political icon, was our guest recently and she spoke extensively in an exclusive interview with Oladipupo Awojobi on issues bothering on her participation in our nascent democracy and why she thinks women should be given a chance in the nation’s political development.
We would like you to tell us about your journey into politics
I have always been someone that looks for opportunity to serve the people. I came into politics, when former president Ibrahim Babangida called on politicians to start their job and I joined the National Republican Convention (NRC) in Lagos here, I was a candidate for a senatorial seat in Lagos then, but I lost. I believe that what makes you a politician is the ability to rise even when you fall. I did not leave the party and I continued and I served the party in many committees and I was even the chairman for the presidential electoral primaries for NRC. I garnered a lot of experience along the line. When the election of Chief MKO Abiola was annulled, I joined another party and unfortunately the late Gen. Sanni Abacha died, it was at that point that I decided that I was not going to join any party that is not on ground in my state. Later, joined Afenifere Group, and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), and we worked for the party and when we won the governorship election I was made a made a commissioner under the then governor Biola Ahmed Tinubu.
Do you think gender is still strong factor in Nigerian politics?
Of course, it is but I must say that it is getting better and if you see what is happening in the northern part of the country, women are becoming interested in politics such that they are appointed as commissioners and all that and even in the South West, more women are joining politics, which is very good for us, we still have our challenges because the men still have ego, but we still have our way. The men too arel considerate because they have mothers, wives and daughters. We still have problems, but not as bad as it was.
You are working in the midst of so many men; do you face any challenges as a woman?
Of course, men would respect you for what you are and you don’t have to cringe. I believe that women who cringe in politics are those who do not have anything to offer. That does not mean you have to be rude to people, but let them know you have what it takes.
How do you manage the large number of women in the party?
At this level, you must be able to work with women, if you cannot work with them, you would have problems. You would work with the middle women, work with the grassroots. I thank God because He has given me the ability to work with women, they do get on my nerves, but you must be conscious at all times, you don’t scare them, I handle a lot of issues with women, but God has given me the wisdom to deal with them.
…I hope this does not affect your family in any way?
Not at all, it all depends on time management. When you enjoy what you are doing, no time is lost. I am lucky, I have an understanding husband, who has always supported me and even my children, I carried them along and it worked fine for me. They became like my kitchen cabinet, when they hear things from outside, they always come around to ask me questions. Once you get your family in tune with what you are doing, you are not likely to have any issues.
Would you advocate for higher percentage of women for political appointments?
Yes, of course, I believe that the administration of the incoming President of Nigeria, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) and that of the elected Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, would do well for the women because they played a very pivotal role in the campaign and if we have given so much, we should be get so much.
What type of empowerment do women need to fit into the country’s political terrain perfectly?
Most of the time, it has always been the issue of money because, when you want to contest, you need money and men are used to supporting themselves, things are getting better, even women are now supporting themselves. If you empower our women and they are financially stable and strong, I think they would do better.
People believe that we have more women than men in terms of population and yet the percentage of women in public offices is just about 20%, while that of men is about 80%. What do you think is the problem and how can we close the gap?
Let me say that most of our women don’t take their time to learn the ropes. For instance, it is not when men have put together their delegates that you would now say that you want to contest. The first thing is; you to start from the ward congress. If you cannot take carry the delegates along, you would have problems. Even if it is only six people that you can carry along in your ward, they would not put you into consideration in everything they do. Most of our women would fold their arms during ward congresses, during local government congresses and when it is time to pick form for elections, they would pick forms. Do they expect the men to give them their delegates, which is not possible? Even if you don’t have as many delegates as possible, party leadership can support you, but not when you allow other people to keep the delegates and expect them to give their delegates to you, nobody would do that. So, our women should learn to play the game the way it should be played. Now we are complaining that we don’t have many women in the Lagos State House of Assembly whereas many of the women who picked forms to go the Assembly don’t even have one delegate each. How do you want us to do that, you want us to impose you on others, if we impose you during primaries, what about the general elections? So, we need to orientate and teach ourselves about how to make it when we want to contest for offices.
Did you have any issue with challenges like sexual harassment when you were much younger?
In Lagos State now, know it is an offence to harass any female sexually, so it is fast becoming a thing of the past because men know the consequences.
So, what is your advice to young women who want to join politics?
They are welcome, but what it is important is that you must get your bearing right, some women who cannot win councillorship elections, but they want to be governors. Those are the things that you should do away with. When you want to be a councilor, work with the party, then you go to the next level. But our women that are just coming into politics want to be senators, they want to be Governors and expect other women to queue up behind them, it doesn’t work that way.
How will you appraise the contributions and performances of female public office holders in the country at the federal level?
Those women didn’t work as women for the country, they worked for President Goodluck Jonathan, so I cannot use them to rate the performances of women in Nigerian politics.
What would be your reaction to Taraba State election, where a woman from your party, the APC, is almost emerging as the first female governor in Nigeria?
It would be the best thing that would happen to women in Nigeria, a lot of intrigues are going on and we were almost celebrating before we got a shocker that the election is inconclusive. But it would be the greatest disservice to this country if the woman is not given the mandate, it is not about the woman, it is about the psyche of the woman. It would show us that we are accepted and that the men are willing to carry us along in the scheme of things. If you don’t give people a chance, you would not know what they are made of, so just give us a chance. For instance, in Lagos State today, 17 out of the 57 Executive Secretaries in the state are females and I see it as an opportunity for them to prove their worth. If you give them the opportunity, you would see whether they are good or not. So, let us give the women the opportunity and see if they would be the best Governor in the country, we are watching them and we want to see if they would give her a chance because she is a woman that is very passionate. She is very passionate because I know her personally, she would be one of the best Governors Nigeria would ever have if they give her a chance.
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