Barrister Ebere Ifendu is the President Women in Politics Forum and the National Publicity Secretary of Labour Party, in this exclusive chat with the Amazon she told LINUS ALEKE, that there is urgent need for current regime to implement the globally canvassed 35 percent affirmative action to give women more opportunities to contribute their quota to nation building as well as economic emancipation of the nation.
One basic reality that women may not know or deliberately choose to pay deaf ears to is the fact that political power is not obtained anywhere in the globe on a platter of gold but in a battle field of political maneuvering.
Therefore, It is incontrovertible that even in Germany or United Kingdom, or Philippine or Liberia where women currently occupy the most exulted position in the land, it was not given to them as inheritance or compensation for centuries of denial but a product their share struggle and determination to make a difference in a terrain dominated by men.
Meanwhile in Nigeria and African at large, women are clamoring for 35 percent affirmative action, a political concept and strategy that had pinched critics, pundits, observers and political gladiators against each other thereby triggering a fierce debate on the subject matter.
While some posits that the best strategy and mechanism to bridge the already widened gap between men and women in politics and governance is to consciously and deliberately evolve a policy that would reserve certain percentage of elective and appointive position to women, hence the globally canvassed 35 percent affirmative action.
However, those who opposed the foregoing proposition contends that such policy is antithetical to democratic creed and principle, arguing that in a democracy, political power is not acquired through negotiation, agitation, or compensation but through the ballot.
They further argued that reserving or giving 35 percent to women is undemocratic and therefore should not be giving consideration by any serious and responsible government and people, advising women to go all out to get what they want as it is not given but taken.
Nonetheless, in her contribution to the debate on whether the demand for 35 percent by women is democratic or not, the National Publicity Secretary of Labour party (LP) Dr. Ebere Ifendu noted that the demand is legitimate and democratic.
According to her, “Well, what we are saying is that we need to move with the rest of the world in terms of women participating actively in politics. In Africa, Ruanda is leading in this regard and they got to this point where they are setting the pace in Africa through affirmative action. “So affirmative action is an incentive to women, even though we know that it is not an indefinite tool but it would go a long way in bridging the astronomical gap that currently exists between female and their male counterpart in the political arena.”
She argued that “35 percent affirmative action can be likened to the Federal Character Principle in the nation’s employment policy and body politics or the recognition accorded some states that are educationally disadvantaged in a bid to bridge the gap with the states that are educationally advanced.
“You are aware that they are giving certain incentives and advantages when it comes to admission policies, they enjoy lower cut off marks. As we speak, there is hardly a political party in the country that does not have 35 percent affirmative action enshrined in their constitution but the challenge is that they do not implement it.
“And these things are happening because the political parties are not sanctioned when they fail to implement the affirmative action as enshrined in their own constitution. So it is becoming an avenue to just get registered as a political organization and after that that is all and we are saying that it is not right.” She posited.
The image maker of Labour Party also expressed bitterness and frustration on the insignificant number of women serving in the current government as opposed to the over 30 percent that served in the former regime.
Her word, “Well, that is true and I personally condemned that in the press conference I held on the first of January 2016. I challenged the president on that and he invited us to discuss the issue, because part of the reason why women voted for him during the 2015 General Elections was due to his campaign promise to work with the National Gender Policy when elected and you are aware that the gender policy also stipulate 35 percent for women.
“To that effect therefore, we insisted that he should leave up to his own promises. He promised to address the issue and apologized for not including enough women in his cabinet, but what we are saying now is that he should address the imbalance in the remaining appointments into Department and Agencies of government.”
Barr. Ifendu also opposed the clamour in certain quarter for the registration of women political party as a useful vehicle and veritable platform to actualize their dream of 35 percent as well as instrument to ventilate their frustration in the current regime where men are dominating the political space.
“No, we are not forming any women political party because that would not place us in the right pedestrian. We would be isolating ourselves politically if we attempt to do that but we are determined to work with men to achieve our goal. We have the numerical strength and if we use it properly we can topple any government through the power of ballot and not bullet.
“So all we need to do is to sensitize the women that the men are not ready and inclined to work with women or avail them the opportunity to play active role in the spolitical space. Therefore, let us take the power away from them so as to get them to start asking for affirmative action if need be.”
On whether her political party – Labour Party had been able to implement the 35 percent affirmative action, she answered in the affirmative, urging other political parties in the country to emulate Labour Party in gender balancing.
“I started as the National Women leader of the party but today in Labour Party (LP), we have over 35 percent of women in the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. The Deputy National Chairman of the party is a woman; I am the National Publicity Secretary and many others women are occupying important position in the party.
“It is rare feet because this is the first time a major political party in the country is using a woman as a National Publicity Secretary, Financial Secretary, Treasurer and other prestigious portfolio in a party structure. Do you know that in Labour Party, if women come together, they can get anything they want in the party because their number in the National Executive Committee (NEC) is enough to form a quorum; therefore they can push for any policy that would be fair to all the stakeholders in the party.
“Other political parties in the country need to learn from Labour Party on how to include women in the decision making processes.”
She also gave insight in the active participation of women in the just concluded political summit organized by Save Democracy Group Africa.
“I am excited, especially with the men staying back to listen to us because if they had allowed us to seat and talk, it then mean that we would not be able to effect any changes. And the good thing is that most men that stayed behind to listen to us are legislators from the states and you know that even if we succeed in getting the National Assembly to pass a bill mandating government at all level to institutionalize affirmative action, it would still need the approval of the states legislature before it can be a constitutional matter that would be operational across the country.
“So I am happy that the Speaker of Bauchi state House of Assembly, Deputy Speakers, principal officers and myriad of other legislators stayed behind to listen to us and make further input on issues affecting women in Nigerian political terrain. The discourse on women participation in politic and governance is a global thing and we are glad that we are contributing our voice and government is listening to us.”
It is pertinent at this juncture to conclude with the words of former American President Mr. James Madison who observed that “Those who wish to govern others must be equipped with the power which knowledge alone can give, for knowledge will forever govern ignorance.”