Wife of Ondo State governor, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, speaks about her ambition to represent Imo East Constituency in the Senate
You are from Imo State and you are now the First Lady of Ondo State, being the wife of the Ondo State Governor. What informed your decision to return to Imo to canvass votes to become a senator representing the state?
I am Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu. As it has already been said or you are aware of, I am the wife of the Governor of Ondo State. Most importantly, I am from Emeabiam in the Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State, which means I’m an Emeabiam girl by blood. So, my marriage cannot change anything. I am a full-blooded Emeabiam girl. This is why I want to go to the Senate to represent my people.
But having been married to an Ondo man presupposes that Ondo is now your home. Why not vie to represent Ondo at the Senate instead of Imo State?
I have a right to contest for any position in a place where I was born and I do not think that the constitution is against that. And if you look at things critically, as a married woman, looking at the time I got married, I was already a made young woman. My husband did not train me. I was trained by my parents who were teachers; they valued education for all their children irrespective of gender. They had no preference for the males, as it was the order of the day at that time. I do not know if things have really changed now. So, I did not see any discrimination against my gender when I was growing up. My parents trained me to be whatever I want to be. They invested in me very much. So, obviously, I am very much attached to where I come from. When I got married, I also understood what the challenges were as a girl child. I also understood that I needed to demonstrate that my parents’ investment in me wasn’t a loss.
For your information, I graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1977, meaning I got admission in 1973 barely three years after the war. It was a tough time. Not all parents had the nerves to train their children, especially the girls. You found that many of my peers were married off due to difficulties that most families faced after the war. As at the time, when you graduated from the university, you would be given a car. My first car was a Volvo. When my husband came for my hand in marriage, my parents were expecting see an Igbo man. It so happened that the person they saw asking for my hand in marriage was a Yoruba boy in jeans. It was depressing (for them) but you know, young love was there. I did not even want to hear of anybody persuading me not to get into that relationship; I was adamant; I had made my choice. They said they had lost me despite investing so much in me. I had to device a means to convince them. Now, this young man I married did not know how I grew up. I didn’t travel anywhere; I was just a daughter of a village school headmaster, moving around Owerri. I saw how women and girls were treated. There were certain things you would do then that they would shut you up because you were a woman. Women who did not have male children were subjugated. There were so many things happening while I was growing up and within me, I was bothered. I didn’t travel abroad but education opened my eyes. I asked a lot of questions while growing up. When I married my husband, I made him understand that I come from a marginalised community – a totally forgotten community with little or no government presence and it has remained so. And I can say this because I visit home every Christmas, so, nobody can tell that something is happening in my place that I don’t know of.
With my exposure, I know that things can get better. But I looked around and I wasn’t seeing that quality representation. Let me tell you, I had run for office in 2007 under the umbrella of the ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party). I wanted to go for Senate under the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria). You know, in those days they were looking for quality representation. I presented myself to go for Senate under the ACN; they did not consider me for ticket, then I jumped over to the ANPP. So, my first attempt was under the umbrella of ANPP and, of course, nothing like election happened that year. It was the year that (then President Olusegun) Obasanjo said it was a do-or-die affair. In fact, the materials for my ward were left at Umuguma in Owerri; they did not even care. Result sheets were already written. Very funny things happened during that time. I needed to give my community a voice because nobody was doing it. I said here I am, an educated woman, I have been exposed; I have travelled widely all over the world. I said let me take it easy and come to learn the politics of Imo State. I came down, that was the era of Rochas (Okorocha). I joined the rescue mission for that time. And my husband also became interested in politics or rather walked his way into politics. And the experiences in politics gathered, he benefited more. I helped him so well, for him to win his elections two times. Any woman is mentally capacitated, physically capacitated and above all companionate.
The community where I come from, there is no road, schools or hospitals, especially for nursing mothers. Women are dying from childbirth complications due to poor health care. It’s unfair. If men who are expected to go out there and bring good governance and infrastructural development are not doing it, I will do it.
How do you respond to those asking whether it will be fair for you to be vying to become a senator when your husband is a governor?
My husband being a governor should not affect my aspiration to become a senator. You know that the mistake that people make is that they are saying that after being First Lady, she wants to be senator. Look at our people’s mentality. I am saying that Emeabiam is a forgotten community and somebody is telling me that I am a First Lady. Because I feel that’s not how governance should be. Governance is about people caring for the well-being of people without exception. Roads bring development. At the school in my community, there are no English, Mathematics and Chemistry teachers. How can that community progress. You find out that what we have is circular poverty, generation to generation. The children cannot get the education they deserve. Without education the community cannot progress, I cannot be the First Lady for eight years and I will be known by cosmetics. Is that what I’ll be known for? Something has be done and I did it. I walked up to the NDDC and I was given 1.6 kilometre at the cost N1.6m for the construction of the Emeabiam Road. The road is going at Iheagwa, Nekede. And I told them, I am a quality First Lady, you must give me quality, not quantity and that is exactly what is happening now.
Some say your husband, the Governor of Ondo state has turned governance to a family affair after he appointed his son as Director General of the Performance and Project Implementation Monitoring Unit. Do you think the choice of Babajide Akeredolu is justified as PPIMU DG?
To start with, I don’t you if you heard about youth o’clock? There has been that clamour for youths to come on board. And the governor has a son who has demonstrated in a very profound way his competence; do you now leave him just to satisfy what? And again, you know in politics you need someone you can trust; someone that when you are moving in front, he won’t stab you in the back. I am sure you heard about the issues with him and his former deputy; a deputy that the governor trusted like a son. You tell Mr Governor, do this, he would say go to the deputy governor, yet the deputy governor betrayed him. Once beaten is twice shy.
How close are you to the people of your senatorial district in Imo State that you intend to represent in the Senate?
This is my place. The place you are interviewing me now is my father’s house in Imo State. I am very close to my people. The closeness, you cannot get it any better. This traditional fan I am having here now is a symbol of female leadership recognition by the 43 communities of Owerri dialectic blocks given to me by the 43 traditional rulers in Owerri. So, if I was not close enough, there is no way they would have given me this recognition. I am always here. In the last 41 years that I have been married I have been visiting home. In the last 40 years, I have always been in Emeabiam for Christmas; my father’s house is in Imo State; I am close enough.
The senatorial district you intend to represent is currently being represented by a male senator. Do you think you have what it takes to trounce the incumbent senator at the polls?
I was a part and parcel of Rescue Mission and we succeeded. I was not raised as a girl-child to be afraid of men. Instead of me to be afraid of them, they should be afraid of me. I am Ada Owerre, a title given to me by the 45 traditional rulers in Owerri Federal Constituency.
What are loopholes you’ve seen in the representation of the constituency by the male senator that you hope to address if you win?
Has he addressed anything? I have not seen any other thing aside sharing Panadol during medical outreaches. A senator who understands the needs of his people would have gone to ask them for their needs. I was not a senator but I was proud to ask my people what they need, because I am a proud daughter of Emeabiam. Even though I have been married for the past 40 years, I understand the needs of our people because I asked them.
At one of the town hall meetings I attended, I asked them, especially when I became a First Lady, ‘What are your needs?’ They have a lot of needs but they mentioned three things, which are road, road and road. I spent time, using my connections as a First Lady and I got a road for them. In the same manner when they elect me, I will do same. Communities need health care. These are things I will bring in community development. You must ask your constituents what their needs are.
What I will do differently, I will not stay in Abuja and erect one electric pole and streetlight that will not last more than two months. That will be shameful and scandalous.
Women like Patricia Eteh have been given chances and Nigerians didn’t see them do much. How do you want to convince the electorate the story won’t be the same in your case?
If you mention Patricia Eteh, you will see a thousand men like her. That shouldn’t be an excuse for men to continue to relegate women to the background. Men have done worst things. Men have failed this country. Let us try women, omen with competences.
Will you leave the APC if you fail to get the party ticket?
I am not going anywhere. I will not leave APC if I don’t get the party ticket. I am a wife of a two- time governor of the APC (All Progressives Congress). He is the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum. I won’t leave the APC. I will remain in the APC whether I get the party ticket or not.
The level of insecurity in the South-East is worrisome. How do you think this can be conclusively addressed?
That is why women are known to be peacemakers. When a woman gets there she will be able to look through the files and documents, maybe interact with her people, know what the issues are and so on and bring in that motherly touch of settling quarrels at home. That is what I can offer here. Because issues of security are not issues what someone can open their mouth and say I will do this or that. One must understand what is going on and see areas for compromise; that is what is going to be my approach. This is why men need to support competent women to actively get involved in politics going forward.
What is your view about the women gender bills that did not scale through in the National Assembly?
How can I be satisfied with it? Women remain relegated to the background with negative thoughts against us by men. We keep struggling to have a voice where our views, ideas will also contribute to nation building. People had to take the National Assembly to court when the women gender bills were rejected. W e protested in front of the National Assembly under the scorching sun. It was even the House of Representatives that attempted to listen to us. Some of the women activists had to go to court to get court to make a pronouncement on the 25 per cent (affirmative action). But then, court pronouncement is one thing, implementation is another thing because, if you look at what is going on, there is stiff resistance. We are going into another election year; women are still not wanted. Women might not have all the money to throw around, but a woman that is competent and has what it takes to represent her constituency could rally people who could support her. Representation is not about distributing bags of rice and beans. We are talking about women who understand what the issues are; women who understand what good governance is all about. I can tell you that we have not got much from the men that keep presenting themselves for election every year. We vote for them but at the end of the day, there is nothing to show for it. So, we should give women a chance. Women need to be at the table where decisions are made and let us see if there will be a semblance of change and I can assure us that women will make positive changes if given a chance in 2023 because women are more compassionate when it comes to looking after people. Good hospitals, roads and infrastructures, these are what women care about. These are issues that touch our lives on a daily basis. A mother will never be happy if her children have not eaten. Let women help fix the country. If I go there I will not be distracted with chasing girlfriends or taking them to Dubai and London for shopping or buying jeeps for girlfriends, as men do. Priorities of women are different. A man will spend millions of naira buying a choice wine, display to show he has arrived. If you come to my house, I will give you malt and water. If I put all that money together, I can have a scholarship scheme.
Zoning of the presidency has continued to be a point of debate. While some think the North can continue with power after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, others think power should shift to the South. What is your take on this?
Let me tell you, I am an Igbo girl. Where my people are that is where I am. I support the call for the South-East to produce the next President of Nigeria.