Princess Islamiyat Oyefusi was the deputy governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP) in Lagos State in the just concluded general election. She speaks in this interview with JULIANA FRANCIS on her mission in politics and challenges faced by female politicians, among other issues
What was the motivating factor for venturing into politics?
Well for me it’s not much of injustice but the act of service, because I come from a family that always served. My father was the longest-serving king of Ikorodu. He was on the throne for 43 years and he brought development to Ikorodu. Also, the late Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, who is the father of a former Secretary to the Lagos State Government (SSG), Adenrenle Ogusanya, is my uncle. So, our family is known for service to the people and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Right from my university days, I’ve always been active in politics and I was a member of a very prominent political party overseas. So, it’s normal for me to transfer that service to Nigeria, especially Lagos state.
You were formerly a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); what happened that you left the party?
When I came back to join Nigerian politics, I studied the manifesto and constitution of each of the parties and that was what determined which party I was going to join, and PDP was very close to where I was coming from. I read the manifesto of the constitution and for me, it was just a perfect fit and I joined PDP in 2014 although I have been active politically while I was overseas. I also contested for a senatorial ticket. In 2019, I contested again and I was nominated as the candidate of the party.
For me, women’s development and advocacy of justice have always been the first point and that was why I joined the PDP for proper representation of women at all levels. I also speak to the government that women are role models, so show them that they can aspire, show them that it is possible to attain any position regardless of your gender and that’s why I joined PDP and fought all the way.
However, I had to leave PDP because of the same women’s agenda. In PDP’s constitution, they stated 35 per cent proportional representation. That means that every committee they set up, every local government structure, everything elective position and selective position, 35 per cent of positions should be specially allocated to women. That means nobody else can contest that position; just women.
It’s in the constitution but only for them to have just one woman in the current National Working Committee (NWC) and it is not like women didn’t contest. There were women who contested for all sorts of positions but the only one that was given to them was just the Women Leader and that was just too much to swallow.
For me, it was just the last straw and fortunately, the opportunity came up with Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor and we were both in PDP and the policy we wanted to implement in Lagos, our agenda and our vision were closely matched. When he said that he wanted me to be his deputy, I accepted and that was how I ended up in Labour Party.
Aside from the things you enumerated about PDP, was there at any point women were supposed to go for certain positions and were told not to purchase tickets for such positions?
They had a very subtle way of doing things; they won’t tell you not to buy the ticket. Although they grant waivers to women, every other thing that makes you compete on a level playing field is not there.
So, they are indirectly telling you that you can’t compete. If there is 35 per cent of the National Working Committee that has 22 people on it, that means seven positions are specifically for women and no one should be allowed to compete for that.
Women must be pushed forward; the first priority is women and that’s the meaning of the law. So, there is a need to back that law with affirmative action. When you have barriers, you need strong enforcement to tear down the barriers because as women, we are naturally resistant and talk less. To allow women to thrive and compete, you cannot just pay lip service to the word – affirmative action.
There is this belief that the high cost of electioneering impedes women’s participation in politics. Do you share that view?
The electorate process in Nigeria is very expensive from start to finish. Even if they say don’t pay fees for nomination forms, the fees that surround everything else are a killer by themselves. When one gets there, you have to look for campaign money because the party doesn’t give you anything. What they provide for you in PDP is assistance for the election itself, like polling unit fees and security and all that stuff. Even Labour Party didn’t provide all of that; you are on your own from start to finish because it is a new party and is being driven by the Obedient Movement.
So, women feel threatened and fearful by that fear of money. I don’t have money so I can’t even compete. Even for the lowest position, they still can’t do it because there is a stigma that female politicians are either bitches or prostitutes. You are also dealing with this male stigmatization; men can do it better and you haven’t gotten into the environment.
You can see some of the remarks being made when they were fighting for the female bills in the Senate. So, it’s a really dogged environment and you must be mentally prepared that you have to do double the work, be twice as hard and twice vision driven because you are going there to compete with men.
Do we have policies or laws that actually kick against money politics, so that there would be opportunities for all?
There are laws but they are not electoral laws; they are not day-to-day laws. It is the Electoral Act law that protects against vote buying but limits how much you can spend on a campaign and how you can generate money and all that stuff. But we have to go beyond that to cleanse the system. We have to actually bring in the laws; new laws that monitor the operations of the parties. We have to bring in real laws that force the hands of the parties to implement their constitutions.
When you bring one law, they will interpret it in thousands of different ways to suit themselves at that particular point in time and because they have already bastardized our judiciary system, there are all sorts of abuse of our legal system. So, there is a lot of rebuilding that is needed in this nation before our laws can work.
It also said that violence discourages women from participating in politics
I agree, especially this last election, violence is an unfortunate thing that we have managed to bring into our nation and it is fear for any democracy to have this level of violence into it. It started with intimidation, we are gradually taking away the freedom and the rights to choose because when you have intimidation, you have already divided the people because of the fear.
When they create that kind of environment, it discourages women, and they tell you women are too fragile and we are not supposed to be doing that and all sorts of things but you have already disenfranchised us. It is very wrong that we bring violence into our election as nobody should be killed because of an election
What do you think should be done to ensure violence-free elections?
The solution lies with our politicians, even when they make the law, they won’t even implement it. Even the securities agencies are sometimes overpowered. When you find thugs in different polling units, what do you expect the officer to do? He too will be fearful for his own life. So, it is the responsibility of all to make sure that there is no violence in our community and in our elections.
For young women who want to venture into politics, what is your advice to them?
My advice is that they need to leave the worry to one side. This is the time for women to come together and help these young people get into positions. In Kwara, a young woman of 26 contested the House of Assembly election and she won. She wasn’t afraid, she went all out there, did her campaign and nobody could tell her stop because she wasn’t going to listen.
We need to stand up now and be part of politics because if we run away from it, things will continue the way they are but if we all come together and face the challenges, we will achieve our goal because nothing good comes easy. Women have to stand up and declare that they want to be part of the process that changes things positively. People will want to intimidate and bully them but they have to stand their ground and you will see that the journey is easy.BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis