Hon Onyejeocha Chidubem Nkeiruka is one of the long serving female legislators in the National Assembly and currently, a contester for the speakership of House of Representatives. In this interview, she told select journalists why the cap fits her.
You have declared your intention to want to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. How do you intend to win this battle because some men think that politics belongs to them?
First of all I am a Nigerian. I am a woman. I think that being a woman shouldn’t be a minus; it should be a plus for me. Being a woman should also be my strength and I want to capitalize on my strength as a woman because to begin with, God created us to be helpmate for the man and that means we should simply get it right this time around, the men should have their helpmate presiding at the Chambers. Having said that, if I am coming from that concept that we have to compliment the men, that means that Nigeria needs a woman to compliment her.
There are lots of things that we have not gotten right. Why don’t they just try this one woman who God just brought?
I was a local government chairman, a commissioner, and a third term member of the House. I’ve learnt the rope. I know what it means to be in politics. How do I win? It is simple. Everyman has a mother, every man has a wife, most men have daughters and I know they cherish their daughters, wives and mothers and they see some strength in their daughters. So it is not like something that is unusual because I know that first-hand information is important. These men we are talking about know that we have the strength. It is just because of the religious and cultural background and those things are the things we have to look into and then push Nigerian forward to the next level.
I believe that the men will support me because I know that every day of their lives they come in contact with women as their daughters, wives, mothers, sisters. Hence, it is not going to be out of place because you couldn’t have become a man or woman if a woman didn’t give birth to you.
Basically I attended the same school, the men attended. During the election, nobody treated me like a woman and of course as a woman you have to fight 10 times to win. Being a woman for me is not a limitation because l went to the same primary, secondary, university with men; they didn’t set different exams for me neither was I given any less. Why would I aim for less because I am a woman? I believe that it is high time that a woman changed the narratives; it is high time the women changed the conversation; it is high time the women changed their attitude.
Oh! I’m a woman I don’t think I’m fit; most women are fit it is just because they have been stereotyped into believing that a woman will be asking for peanut or 35 per cent. For instance when we discuss or debate in the floor of the House, sometimes they use to bring down our bills, on one simply item, if you ask for gender that is against the constitution because the constitution states that there should be no discrimination. When you push gender issues, they will say no! Don’t go there because they will raise the constitutional point of order. It takes a constitutional point of order to obey what the constitution has said about gender. Why will they bring gender issue when somebody wants to contest election? Or they will bring religion, sex, and all manners of things, the constitution has given me the right to contest and I believe that those points of order we use to hear every time would be applied for equal opportunities.
There is this general belief that women don’t support one another. What is your take on this?
That is why I am saying that the women have to change the narrative; women have to change their style. I support women. The women that will not support me are just the minority; it is just that sometimes the minority’s voices are heard the more. I am basing my campaign on the majority of women who are progressive, majority of the women who are mentoring young ones, women who are caregivers, not on women who careless about supporting other women. I am not going to dwell on the minority, their voice is loud but they are not the majority because me personally, I support women because before I came to the parliament in 2007, I was the chairman house committee on women parliament. I promoted women issues and concerns. The issue of women not supporting women will not be a challenge because we are talking of Speakership of the House of Representatives. It is beyond only the women but the entire House.
Your party, the APC, seems to have zoned the Speakership out of your reach. What are you going to do about it?
The party officially has not told us so. I am a party person and if the party comes up with this zoning and it does not favour me because I’m from the South East, the worst I can do is to let them know that it is not good to exclude a region from national politics. Party supremacy is sacrosanct because all of us came from a party platform. We believe that the party will do the needful to look at the South East geopolitical zone.
Would you accept a lower position if given to you by your party?
I don’t want to limit myself because I believe that I can be Speaker and I’m not someone that can take no for an answer. The good thing is that I have more positives than negatives. I believe that with God all things are possible but you see no man or person is an island, you can’t be if the people do not want you to be. That is why my agitation is women should be given their place because the president said that he is going to run an inclusive government and if he had said so, that means that South East will be recognized and the geo political zone should be part of the next level of the APC government.
Secondly, the President promised that he is going to include women in his second term in office and I believe that the President can start with the House of Representatives.
What would you do differently if given the position?
The first thing is that I am going to collaborate with every facet, all stakeholders involved in this House. Remember we are representing 360 constituencies. Who are the grassroots, who are the men of the nation I will make sure that these people the 360 constituents are involved with what we do more than what we’ve had. The conversation will still be on previous leaderships have done well. It is just to improve on what they have done and bring in the feminine balance into the equation.
Apart from politics, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a mother, I cook. I do home chores. I have a timid background no apologies to anybody, I wasn’t born in America or in a city. I was born in my village, I grew up in my village, I attended village primary and secondary schools except for my university in Nsukka and Nsukka is equally a village. For me it’s about my constituents, it’s about being home around my people, that is why till now I still visit home at least twice a month which may be unusual for people who are born in America or with silver spoon. I didn’t come from a poor background. My grandmother was one of the richest people around her own time and my father was well to do. The only challenge I had was that I lost my mother quite early. You know how it is to lose your mother and your father remarried. That is just who I am.