Barr Ime Essien Udom needs no introduction in Akwa Ibom politics, she has over the years played pivotal role at various leadership positions in Nigeria. She is a chieftain of the people Democratic Party.
Barr Udom has spent the last 17 years in active politics and within this period, she has championed the course of including women in politics especially entrusting them elected positions.
She has served the People the PDP as a National Publicity and Secretary and an Ex officio. Before she retired from Civil to join politics, Barr Ime Essien served diligently in the old Cross River State and present Akwa Ibom State and occupied many position especially in the Ministry of Justice.
In 2005, she led the Akwa Ibom State delegation to the National Political Reform Conference where she was a member of the Committee on Revenue Allocation.
On Saturday, September 21Ist, she was a guest on Inspiration 105.9 FM, Uyo, where spent time to discuss on tropical issues and women participation in active politics.
Our Reporter Victor Ufot monitored the interview for the INK PORTAL NEWSPAPER and brings you the excerpts!
Plenty thanks for coming on to Talking Point this morning!
Do you think we have enough women currently in active politics?
It depends on what you mean by being active in politics because they are many women who even want to be more involved in politics. Whether they have succeeded or whether they have been given opportunities to showcase themselves is another thing, we can have more women participate in active politics if the doors are open for them.
So we have some women who are passively involved?
Not passively involved, but they not where they should be.
Is it that the environment is not conducive for the women to get where they should be?
I don’t think the environment that is the issue; initially it was the cultural barriers, but gradually over the years we have been able to push out those cultural barriers. Currently what we are facing probably is the agitation by the men that women are overshadowing them, which is true in many cities and I see that happening in many cities.
Let’s talk about your assessment of the women who currently in active politics?
You know, the woman whether in active politics, academics, in business and so on; she has to always go that extra mile to prove her worth. That being the case, you see that the women that come out are of high caliber and they rarely disappoint.
Do you think if we have women in key positions that it will affect the well being of Nigeria?
Definitely, I have no doubt about that, it will affect us positively.
Let us look at some examples in Africa like Helen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and others; are they performing better than some men at the helm of affairs?
Very few of them have been caught in the act of corruption which is the greatest thing that can pull down a nation. Even on the score of that alone, I will say women have performed creditably well and before they go to contest out, they are sure of themselves and they sure they can actually perform well.
So when you have somebody as Helen Sirleaf, I have had course to work with her in an organization we call the African Strategic Peace Group and she is a wonderful women, very hand working and very intellectual. So, for her to get into the seat of power in Liberia, I didn’t expect her to do less than she did.
Women that come to politics are women that have already tried themselves at home and succeeded, because they know they will face criticism from the public.
Barr Ime, you have said women are not involved in corruption but we remember the story of Hon Patricia Ette when she was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, will you say women should be entrusted with such key position again?
Did we actually see what happened? I was participating in that because I was a member of the NEC of the Peoples Democratic Party as a National Publicity Secretary of the Party and it was even my duty to sale her case, the issue she had was she did not have a good defense. What we have to always understand is that you can be as innocent as anything but if you don’t have a good defense to work for you, you can get yourself soaked into anything and I think that is what actually happened in that Patricia Ette’s case. She didn’t just have a good solid defense.
So maybe the men overpowered in this case, did that happened?
Yes, they got out and took her seat.
There was a time you aspired in Akwa Ibom State we want to know what motivated you and how the experience was at that time.
Yes, I have aspired on and off in Akwa Ibom state. In 1992 I retired voluntarily from the Civil Service because I wanted to go into politics, why did I want to go into politics? I got quite unhappy with the Situation the women were going through, I just finished working as the Administrator General of the State and I had a lot of work to do with the beneficiaries of the estate of diseased persons and I saw how the children and wives were being treated. I was also the Chairman of the Law Reform Commission and I saw so many laws that needed to be changed if the women were to be properly taken care of.
I had gotten that high and I didn’t see why I should be seating in the Ministry of Justice putting files so I left, retired and went into politics. Then we had the option A4, and needed someone who was to go for the presidency, I was one of those that came out, it was four of us. That one again didn’t last. After that the military came back and forth.
In 1995, the military had scattered all the civil organizations, I had to go out and work with the USAID but I came back again and I ran for the senate of Uyo Senatorial District and I challenge my friend Senator Effiong Bob to say if the men did not take my position and give to him. I Challenge him to response to that.
That is a very mighty allegations you are making there, are you saying you were cheated out of that elections?
Yes, a very mighty allegation and I can say that in front of anybody who cares to listen but then that is neither here or there, it is part of politics. You learn as you go along and you have to make your choices, do you want to play along or do you want to keep your standards. You keep your standards you don’t get what you want because probably that is not the standard of everybody.
After that elections what happened?
After that I went into the party I was in National Executive Council NEC from 2003 and I was in National Working Committee in 2007 that was a short lived one because we had to change.
I also went for election as National Vice Chairman, South-South, again I encountered same treatment. Again I challenge any of the Governors of the South-South States, to say that I am not telling the truth.
It seems that every time you come out for elective position you are always rigged out because of your gender. Is that the case here?
That is the case because men are not comfortable working with women.
The 35 percent affirmation preached in the country at some point is suffering setbacks, what is your reaction to this?
We keep going, it didn’t start today it started at some point in 1995 during the international agitation for women empowerment and since then we have moved from 30 to 35 and now we are aspiring for 50 percent. We will keep going until we achieve that realization that men and women though not the same should be treated equally and given equal opportunities.
In the last presidential elections, women were given the opportunity to buy forms for free; I think that is a high level of inclusiveness of women into politics?
Hahaha… it is not, it was just a Greek Gift. That is not how to win elections. When you want women to win elections, it does not stop at buying forms, you have to give them strategies that they will use and overcome the primaries, because it is at that stage of overcoming the primaries that they can win elections. If they cannot win the primaries and become the candidates of their parties how will they win the elections, so you say I have given them free forms and we weave from forms all over the place, does that make us candidate of the party? No! We are aspirants with free forms.
In 2011 elections, we had a woman who went on to become a Senator in Akwa Ibom State, I think that is commendable and shows that Akwa Ibom is open to having women contest election.
I wouldn’t say we have not done well, that is Eket Senatorial District. Eket Senatorial District has always had fantastic and powerful women over the ages that have always had the mind of their own. As back as 1929, we had people like Emma Brown who worked with Zik. Those kinds of women have always come from Eket and they have a long line of powerful women and I think their men have come to terms that they have powerful women.
So how have the men in your own Uyo Senatorial District treat women who wants participate in active politics?
Uyo Senatorial District men, I think they really need to seat up and realize that they have very powerful women here. I am not sure they have really done well yet. Of recent the women got together and decided that look, we have just had it, let us come together and let these men see that they do have women that can do as much as they can and even more. And let them know that they have under used the women that they have around them. So with such an organization being set up, I am sure we will make headway in Uyo senatorial district. We really need to let the men know that they have a lot of good women to work with.
Let me ask you some personal questions, do you have any intention to run for an elected office either at the state, party of national level come 2019?
Well, the party is having its National Convention come this December and they are some positions that are zoned around. We are lucky to have one zoned to Akwa-Cross but since Cross River State had such position last time, it is zoned to Akwa Ibom State and that is the National Legal Adviser. So if after consultations, I feel I have the opportunity or the openings, why not go for it? I am well qualified for it, I have been in the NWC and I have been in the national politics for quite some time now.
After consultations, do you think that the terrain and the men in Akwa-Cross region will allow you occupy that position, since you seem to believe that the men are always strangling the women politically?
They are always comfortable with each other but for whatever reasons, they tell the women you won’t know how to play politics or share money or be team members or do what they want you to do which most times are the wrong things. They are comfortable within themselves (men) and they want the status quo to remain, so to that extent, yes, they don’t want the women to get to certain levels.
What do you think the women should do in order to qualify enough to be included in politics?
They need to be further trained, though we have been trained more than the men because we have been at it since 1995, we have trained the women at various levels. But they need this special training that will make them to understand the nitty-gritty of politics. They need to know the challenges that they have to face, so when they come out for politics they will know they are coming out for politics. So that when they face these challenges, they will know how to overcome them. When they are trained they are better equipped to face the challenges.
Lets come over to Akwa Ibom State now, how do think Governor Udom Emmanuel has performed in terms of including women in his own administration as well as giving them key positions?
He has done well, I forgot to mention one thing, and that is the men have no problem in appointing women, in fact it will give them that macho-feel that they are the one that put them there. So we have never really have problems in appointments, it is when it is elections. They will feel like, look at that woman so she wants to come and show that she is as powerful as myself. That is where the problem is.
With Governor Udom Emmanuel, he has no problems with appointments.
Perhaps he has with elections?
Laughs… he has not been exposed to it yet. Let us watch and see how he feels and reacts to the elections of women but I know that his wife is all out for women participation in elections.
There were some insinuations from some quarters that your party, the Peoples Democratic Party is in the game in imposing candidates on the people, this could be an allegation which is incorrect, what is your reaction to this?
It is very true; I would have made the same allegations. In our post 2015 discussions we agreed that those were the kind of things that assisted us in losing that election that we lost. So it is true and in most times, women are always the greatest victims to suffer, they impose men on women and not women on men. So we are trying in the new PDP, let me call it new because we want to do away with those ills so that come 2019. We thought we were bad but we are beginning to see worst people come to the scene.
It has been observed that giving women elective positions always resort to problems starting from the likes of Patricia Ette, Dieziani Madukwe and others do you think other women should be encouraged to take up more leadership positions?
I don’t know what kind of problems that giving men opportunities has not led to, for every one woman we find as corrupt, we find more one hundred men and then women are more than me mind you. So what are we talking about, there will always be good women and bad women. There are very few men and there are many bad men. We have women who went there and showed us what they are made of like, Ngozi Iwella, Dora and others who made us proud. In the national Assembly we have a lot of them. So let us not just look the few bad ones.
Yes there are few women; but can you count the number of men that are in Koje Prison right now?
I wish time could allow us continue, thank you very much Barr Ime Essien Udom for coming around.
Thank you and God bless!