The Parliament Diary

The only female in the race Miriam Onuoha from Okigwe North Federal Constituency of Imo State is the only female aspirant for the position of Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives.

The only female aspirant for the position of Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Miriam Onuoha, spoke with The Parliament Dairy correspondent Toffa Momoh on her aspiration and plans if elected.


THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: You are in the race for the Speaker, where is the inspiration coming from?

Onuoha: My inspiration is drawn from the fact that I have offered myself to give a sound legislative service to the nation, starting with the 10th Assembly, as I have stated in my seven-point agenda. I am confident that my colleagues have reposed a lot of confidence in me and I have proven my competence and credibility by my engagement and interaction with other members. We are drawing closer to history to be made again for another woman, in myself, to be made the speaker of the House of Representatives. If you recall that the last time a woman was made the speaker, it was during the time of Patricia Etteh, and that is about 16 years ago. It has been a long time and women have come of age. Just like our democracy is evolving.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: I asked about inspiration because it is a tough battle—coping with zoning, and dollarization of the process. How are you competing? Onuoha: Well, I always say that for me, the race is not for the swift, the strongest, the richest or the most competent. Amongst the competent hands, a winner will emerge. I am one of the most competent, I am going to be that winner, irrespective of the fact that I might not have that many dollars. I was able to weather the Labour (Party) storm. Man! You don’t know what we went through. Labour was a tsunami in the South-east and I came top with so much margin. And I tell you, it was a testament to the fact that the woman in me is steel. And I have a big God that is bigger than all the dollars that you can see. I have the right resources to prosecute this campaign and the election. When we get to every bridge, I will cross it. You have come here in a very comfortable secretariat and I am competing fairly, even above all my other contemporaries. I come prepared financially, technically, educationally and competence-wise. So I want to use this opportunity to further appeal to the leadership and the president-elect not to renege on his promise to women. There will be pressure. Pressure will come from east to west to north to south. “She is this”. “She is that”. We will bring a lawyer – when a woman is involved, you will even see some people trying to set new rules. I have not seen where it is that in our rule, the deputy speaker from 1999 till now or a speaker must be a lawyer. You don’t have to be a lawyer to be a legislator. I am an estate surveyor and a chartered surveyor and with a Masters in environment planning and protection, and a post graduate degree in peace studies and conflict resolution.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: Are there people making a case for “lawyers”?

Onuoha: No, I am just telling you that when it comes to a contest that involves women, people look at it like “Oh are they competent?” Yes, I am competent. And they start changing the goalpost. Whatever the goalpost they bring, we will overrun it because I am suitably qualified—back to back– from all sides. So they have looked inside, back, up, down, there’s nothing else they could say about me. And what it goes to say is that we have a round peg which befits a round hole. If my people have trusted me this far, and the leadership of the House has entrusted me with critical tasks like presiding over an ad hoc committee as chair, being a pioneer chairman of a very new committee which ordinarily takes a lot of experience to do, and I have done it well, then there is no better way to do it. A committee is a miniature of the whole House. And if I have done this and managed members spanning over 40 and delivered. What is important than delivering results?

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: The elephant in the room is zoning. What if it knocks you out?

Onuoha: I am very confident that the zoning will scheme me in. You don’t zone to the forest. You don’t zone it to baboons. Instead, you zone to credibility, you zone to people. I am qualified, the party is watching all of us and I bet you the party will zone this position to favour me. Watch it play out. The women will have a sizable chunk in whatever comes out of the party. I believe in the decision of the party. I will not work against the party, the party is supreme. As much as I have the war chest to face whatever comes my way – and I tell you, the APC and the president-elect will ensure that the women’s demands are met – I am here before you, take it to the bank that I will be a presiding officer of the 10th House of Representatives.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: Some of your colleagues have been speaking with the president-elect, have you met him?

Onuoha: No. But I am sure of his support. By the grace of God, he has promised to work with Nigeria’s gender policy, which is an international treaty ratified by Nigeria. And, the 35 per cent affirmative action has been ratified; and the gender action policy. Asiwaju is an inclusive person, who made a woman his deputy governor, who did not just become a senator but elevated his wife to the status of a senator. Not a councilor that will be lower than himself, but a senator, which is the highest legislative body. I am confident that he will not keep women aside. Whatsoever the zoning formula— the speaker or the deputy speaker— will definitely come our way. That is why I have opened my tentacles to lobbying. I have strengthened my lobbying. It is a presiding office or nothing. I am not running to be compensated with the Leader of the House or be chief whip or deputy whip. I am running to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Worst case, deputy speaker, so that women will still have a voice on the presiding table. The position gives us women opportunity or the leverage to sit on the decision-making table as the leadership of the House of Representatives.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: Is this confidence backed by actual politics in the House? We now have several groups in the House, “Joint Task, Greater Majority and others. Are you backed by any of the groups?

Onuoha: Politics is a game of intrigues, it keeps evolving. Every day it comes in different shades. I tell you that we are all fishing from the same waters, most of the people who were at the Joint Task briefing were in my secretariat before going and when they finished they also came back. I have my own handful in that lot. Most of the people in different blocks will all meet here when the party takes it decision. Then we will now begin to see the fallout from the decision, re-strategize and make alignment upon realignment until everything is aligned. So for me, it is just like when there is thunder and lightning before the rain. Once the rain falls, those things will disappear, and the clouds will settle. It would look like there was no contest in the first place. This is a big house comprising the APC, PDP, LP and others, all of those (lawmakers in all the parties) will come together. And let me tell you, Asiwaju is a leader, he is a unifier who believes in the strength and capacities of the various people who are contesting. He will put all of us side by side, and nobody will be a loser. It is not possible to have more than one Speaker at a time neither is it possible to have more than one deputy speaker at a time, but there will always be something for everybody. But at this time, how many people are in the contest? It’s just one woman. So what are you saying? Are you saying that the whole protocol list of Nigeria will finish and there will be no woman in an Asiwaju government? A man who made a woman his deputy, who made his own wife a senator? I don’t believe that. And the party itself has lent a lot of support to women, you know. And, to come this far they believe that in their meeting they will know that there’s a need to bring this woman, who not only represents gender but also covers the youth, covers a particular zone that has been marginalised and also is a Christian for God’s sake. I’m not a Muslim, so this is like a stone that kills more than 10 birds at a time. It is like picking 10 at the price of one, who wouldn’t want that?”

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: You talked about the wife of the president-elect, Remi Tinubu, what kind of support are you getting from women groups?

Onuoha: I would also like to bring to your notice that the 100 women’s lobby groups and over 5,000 support groups have severally come on air to support my aspiration. What that means is that women will stop at nothing—we are making this as a demand that we have brought a lot to the table. Irrespective of our geopolitical leaning, we as women have collectively given over 55 per cent of votes in the last election. Mind you, the girl child who is also a youth is a woman. If you aggregate all of that, we deserve and demand a seat on the decision-making table, nothing less. That is why I am here. I will deploy all diplomacy and tact to ensure that this light we see will not dim on us.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: What of your governor, Hope Uzodinma, what kind of support are you getting from him?

Onuoha: That brings us to the issue of networking and lobbying. I must give credit to my governor, Hope Uzodinma. He made it possible for me to get that party ticket in the first place. And no pregnancy, no childbirth. He has lived up to his credibility. I must give credit to him, else, I will be an ingrate. He ensured that among all the men that came out, the party worked with me to ensure that the good work I started in my first term did not go to waste. Having worked with me in that part, he did not stop at that, he ensured that I have the resources that I also got through the murky water, and survived the Labour tsunami in a predominantly urban and mixed community like Okigwe North. You will know that even my society is patriarchal. But because of the love they have got for me, and the confidence they have reposed in me, and following my good job and the good performance of the governor, it was easier to sell my candidature to the people. So, I give it to him. My governor is a team player, a party man. He will work with the system to ensure that my interest is protected. I know that a lot of the people from the South-east are equally angling for the position of the Senate President, Speaker that is being contested across the country. People from the North are contesting for Speaker. People from the South are contesting for this same Speaker. People from the North and South are contesting for the Senate President. And vice versa. It is a case of expression of interest across the geopolitical zones—within the APC, of course—so it behoves on the party now to come out with a workable zoning plan that will take into cognizance several variables and factors. The party is well known for that, and they will consider the opinions of governors, former senators and others. They will be guided by the norms and the ethics of that process, and to ensure that the right persons are brought on board and that each geopolitical zone gets their rights and fair share of leadership. Overall, my governor is not against me and he is a man who works with the system. I am doing my thing with the knowledge that he will not be against what will bring development and support to the South-east. In my part of the Southeast, Okigwe North, we delivered. We garnered a handsome amount of votes for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We worked. There is no better way to start reconstructing the South-east if we don’t have a voice. I also believe it is high time we give women a strong voice and a strong woman that—with my personality, someone who is loyal within the party, who is also working with the governors and the system, I believe I will be a rallying point for the south-east, for the women, and for the youths, even for the Christian faith because I will work across board to ensure balance.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: Away from politics, let’s talk about programs and plans. What will a Miriam Onuoha-led House look like in 100 days?

Onuoha: First things first. First is to reposition the House. Give it a reorientation on its real task which is nation-building and making effective laws. A lot is being said and rumoured about the House of Representatives and what its roles and duties are really about. I am glad that we will soon commence our reorientation programme, which properly informs the newcomers and old members with the current norms and practices, current affairs, constitutions, amendments and all of those, so that those who have come into the House will work in harmony with the terms . We are going to run a House devoid of negative divisions. We shall duly respect all the different political parties as well as the party in power; and also ensure that the policies of the government of the day see the light of the day. So in my 100 days in office, I envision a House where we will work with the executives to reel out workable policies that translate to the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people. Policies that will tackle our dwindling economy, mass unemployment, poverty, and the insecurity challenges facing the nation. Policies that will promote inclusivity and diversity and diversification from this mono-economy; and recalibration of the economy. I will work with the executives to ensure that we bring good governance to the people and ensure that good policies of the Executive do not get truncated by a National Assembly that is not working in sync with the mandate of delivering the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. Nigerians want Nigeria to work. That’s it. No drama. We are tired of stories, we don’t need PhD, doctorates. It is not about grammar, rhetoric or qualifications, it is about core competence and experiences that we need to respond to the right issues of national importance. Pick the right response and deliver the necessary intervention to attend to increasing and unending challenges as they come.”

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: We cannot talk about plans without mentioning the attitude of the National Assembly toward gender bills. Five were rejected last year. How will you ensure the passage of these bills and other similar ones in the future?

Onuoha: I go back to my style of leadership. If elected Speaker, my style will be of inclusivity, respect and advocacy. As I said earlier, I will deploy lobbying and advocacy, and close contact and interaction with the men. Mind you, the Nigerian society is patriarchal. We have tried to achieve the passage of these bills with an approach that looks like a fight between men and women, and it did not yield any result. My approach will now be to seek the support and closeness of the men, the buy-in and confidence of the men. We need to earn their confidence. Let them know that this bill will not run you into extinction, but it will compliment you. Most of the men are not even aware of the contents of these bills. You don’t rob it in their faces that they should understand, no. Every member is a big baby deserving attention and understanding. And even if there are terms and terminologies that appear in a way like LGBT and others, you need to explain to them. Even if it is to rework or rephrase or even paraphrase or add more words, paraphrase, rejig in a way that everyone understands what we are doing, and get their input. Find out what their fears are, if you don’t come close to them, but you just keep assuming, then they go to vote and vote it out again. For me, I will deploy tact and diplomacy, engagement and jaw-jaw. I am not a combatant legislator. You don’t get anything out of war but by negotiation. If women are going to get it right with the bills, it calls for working harmoniously with the men from conceptualization to passage of the bills. Women legislators in the National Assembly are less than five per cent, and if you need two-thirds of the votes, even if women are allowed to vote 10 times over, they cannot win against the men. The only way out is to deploy tact and diplomacy, engagement and jaw-jaw. I am not a combatant legislator. You don’t get anything out of war but from the negotiating table. If women are going to get it right, then we must work with the men from conceptualisation to passage. If we don’t do this – as women in the National Assembly, what is our number? We are less than five per cent, and if you need two-thirds of the votes, even if we vote 10 times over, it is not going to work. The only way out is to deploy tact and diplomacy. That is what I am doing now; building a bond. Some men find my declaration to run for the top office offensive. To show them that there is nothing wrong with my aspiration, I have also given other aspirants support. When I demand my rights, don’t see it as offensive, support me. I am leading by example in the spirit of reciprocity. I am a bold person, I have swam against sharks. But I did it with tact

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: What makes you feel the House will be different under you?

Onuoha: The thing with being in politics as a woman is about the plan of work and time management, which is also a course that I would advocate that members should take. It is not just about balancing family life, social life; it is also about balancing your health. You are aware that in the Ninth Assembly that we lost almost 15 members to pressure. Pressure from constituents, work pressure, financial pressure. Campaigns in Nigeria are crazily expensive. It is a problem that need to be addressed squarely. We need to get the electorate to understand that whatever you take from politicians, the system has a way to take it back from you. So, the first thing I really need to work on is, let’s begin to x-ray candidates when they come to work on the basis of what they can do, by what they have done. Not on the basis of what they bring to the table. Unless and until we begin to structure such a pattern of choosing our candidates or establishing such performance indices to select our leaders. We must change our consciousness; become performance-driven; ensure character competence, ather than dollarizing and monetizing the processes. So doing we have lost it. I believe the National Orientation Agency (NOA) should really work in collaboration with this House to make sure that these ethics and values go down to the core communities and constituencies. For instance, the average electorate in the village should know in Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Efik languages the core function of a legislator. They don’t even know how to differentiate what is even the job of the governor, who is the executive, and that of the local government chairman from the legislator. My job is not sensitizating. An institution or system with job roles and description should be seen to be working.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: Maybe we can blame the lack of transparency in the activities of the National Assembly for the misplaced expectation. Are we going to get an open National Assembly from an Onuoha leadership?

Onuoha: Well, you already know, that’s my core point agenda”

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: That’s a serious promise.

Onuoha: You saw it in my declaration. First thing I said, I am an open book. Open the House, Nigeria is an open house, not a secret cult. There is nothing we do under shady waters, it’s an open process. You the media are always in plenary to watch our proceedings, so I believe also that the public and public opinion and public interest should be well captured in our sitting, motions and bills. We must avoid being seen as carrying on legislative functions perfunctorily only as we fancy it; not bearing in mind the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: We will hold you to account on that?

Onuoha: Sure!

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: A woman once sat on the seat you are aspiring for, Patricia Etteh. We know how it ended. What is going to be different about you? Onuoha: The challenges that came up at that time, which led to the disagreement between the Madam Speaker and members of the House, were about non-inclusion or not carrying members of the opposition parties along. Some of them have recounted the issues to me. As someone who learns from history, I have repackaged some of the experiences. You can see today that even as a co-contestant, I had to honour the invitation of a male contestant. Recall that in my declaration last month, I had pleaded with the men to step down, but since they are still contesting, the onus is on me to continue with lobbying. I will keep appealing to them. Politics in a democratic setting is about lobbying. It is not a military dictatorship. It is not authoritarian. You deploy all measures to lobby and show a sense of brotherhood to the men, so that they will know that you are not in this race to stomp them out of the way. But you are here to present yourself because you are qualified to run the House. Because you have allayed the fear of your co-contestant, then you have a better acceptance. Should the tide favour you by zoning or anything, then the men will not be regarded as to say it can never be her because you have softened their hearts. In answering your questions, these are some of the steps I have taken – these are steps that some women will not take in the past. I lobby to get the courtship of the men to assure them that I am a friend, a partner in progress and that I am not a bully. That I am not using my gender to stomp them out of the way. It is clear and evident that Nigeria needs a governance that will bring women on board to unite our over fragmented interests. There is a lot of division along ethnic and religious inclinations.

THE PARLIAMENT DAIRY: One final note, you attended the declaration of Alhassan Doguwa, another aspirant, some may say it is bad optics.

Onuoha: My appearance at Right Hon. Doguwa’s declaration demonstrated that I have also the emotional capability to unify the House. It will go a long way; I owe it to all my co-contestants. It is paying my dues to them. It is reasonable. It is clear prove that I belong to all. And I believe that that was why Hon. Doguwa could refer to me as “a mother”. It shows my broadmindedness. It demonstrates one of the leadership qualities in me: Liberality, tolerance, progressiveness, etc. A woman should be less combatant, and of course we women are usually reasonably combatant.

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