When Politics and Power are involved, a massive degree of Responsibility should, in principle, be involved. History and current events are full of examples where a lethal combination of the former is divorced from the latter. But Lauretta Onochie, of Nigeria, is the classy cornucopia of all the three elements, and a standing example of a stable face in the world of politics. Via Email, Lauretta spoke to DeltaWomen.
1. What inspired you to take to politics and political studies?
I must say my going into politics was not planned. Although I have always been interested in politics, I never ever dreamed of being involved. I guess coming from a culture such ours, women do not naturally dream or aspire to political prominence. I actively got involved in politics in the local area where I live in the UK when we could not find Africans to run along side other ethnic groups for the Conservatives Party. I was unsure what was expected of me so wanted to play a supportive role only. However, I was encouraged to dive in and received all the needed training. The encouragement was overwhelming and the rest as they say, is history. Having taught and headed a school in Nigeria before arriving in the UK, my area of expertise is Education, not Politics and I am a qualified Lecturer and a member of the Institute For Learning in the United Kingdom
2. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your trajectory?
Life is full of challenges and again my training in my chosen profession and my relationship with God, which I guard jealously, have prepared me to face challenges that I come across each day. My biggest challenge so far would be convincing the Nigerian woman that she has a role to play in nation-building. Being content with raising family and having a successful career is excellent and no one can diminish those achievements by the Nigerian woman. However, when it comes to politics we do not even take the back seat but we take no seat at all. The Nigerian woman is also the first to criticise those who have the guts to have a voice. Women like me get encouragement mostly from men although our society is still largely tended towards the male. This has been my experience so I cannot imagine what Mrs Sarah Jubril must have gone through all these years. Of recent, however, I have started picking up private emails from our women supporting and encouraging me so now, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. This is a sign of better things to come and it can only mean that our campaign is bearing fruit. The Nigerian woman needs to stand up and be counted. A starting point is speaking up against all crimes and prejudices especially those against women and children.
3. As a blogger activist, do you feel there is still more attention necessary towards passive activists and armchair activists who write?
It is one thing to blog and be an activist online but it is another to leave the safety net provided by the internet into the real world and still say exactly what you have said online. Nigerians have occupied their rightful position when it comes to blogging and online activism and I was delightfully surprised to meet some known Nigerian 'internet warriors' at the hugely successful #OccupyNigeria protests earlier this year in Nigeria. Yes Nigerians have learnt that when they stand on a good moral ground, they have the boldness of a lion and no longer need to hide behind pseudonyms. Many of us were on TV and radio boldly giving our names because there's time and place for everything. At that moment it was not time to hide behind blogs and armchair activism. A lot still needs to be done in this area but many more would have been encouraged by our bravery and audacity during the #OccupyNigerian protests.
4. Does anything threaten you?
I am bold, I have an opinion, I call a spade by its name, I am not intimidated because I have the confidence that comes from good up-bringing and proper education. Most importantly I stand on a good moral ground and my belief in God is solid. Nothing threatens me.
5. Do you believe that women are truly empowered today? If not, what holds them back?
Despite being raised and conditioned to be and feel inferior, despite having to break through sexism in their career pathways, despite having to fight off sexual harassment in institutions of learning and the work place, despite having to crouch under the burden of intimidation and all sorts of discrimination and prejudices, Nigerian women have proved that they are as good as their male counterpart. Many have excelled beyond expectations in their professions, coming from a culture where some years ago, they had to sit back to support their families in the education of their brothers. Our culture and religion are not particularly pro women empowerment. Although I do not subscribe to women liberation, I do believe that men and women have complimentary roles in nation-building and so far, the Nigerian woman has not come into her own in this area of our national history. We as Nigerian women cannot truly be exonerated from the failures of subsequent Nigerian government to provide good and accountable governance because we have often remained silent where we should have spoken out.
6. Vis-a-Vis Nigeria, what is your vision for the country?
I believe that democracy should be relative to a people and their needs although the basic principles should be solidly present. My vision for Nigeria is to come to see a Nigeria where we can hold our leaders accountable to their actions, inactions and utterances till they do what is right, after all, they asked to serve us; a Nigeria where the weak and the vulnerable are looked after through the provision of social welfare; a Nigeria where everyone is equal in the eyes of the law with a corrupt free criminal justice system; a nation of equal opportunities for all and a nation where allegiance is to NIGERIA and not to ones tribe or section. There is nothing wrong with being a tribal or sectional leader but such a person has no business stepping into the national arena. A nation where corruption is frowned at and punished while honesty and merit are celebrated. As no society is perfect, i do not expect Nigeria to be but bringing corruption to a manageable size is a comfortable place to be.
7. Why does Nigeria have such dismal rates of development? Statistics are higher for malnutrition, maternal mortality, rape and unsafe abortions. What keeps Nigeria in such a difficult spot?
Bad leadership. Corrupt leadership. Insensitive leadership. Irresponsible leadership. In addition we have a followership that has a laissez-fait attitude towards the leadership. Everyone moans and complains about the irresponsible, corrupt and unfair practices of our elected and appointed political office holders and then does nothing about the situation. We shrug it off and at best, lay it squarely at the doorsteps of God to deal with the situation. God does not help humans to do what He has already given them the ability to do. We have to chart our own destiny.
Nigeria is one of the richest nations in the world but her people are some of the poorest because we have put up with corrupt and irresponsible leadership for years and years. It took the Metropolitan Police in the UK to force Ibori to declare himself a thief. This is against the back drop that our children in Delta state have been left in dilapidated classrooms with no seats and desks in their 'classrooms' in an age when two year olds can Skype.
In a society where 'lootable funds' are provided for adequately in the budget, one would assume that the funds voted for the provision of social services, infrastructural development, health care services etc would be use to meet those purposes. No, all funds in their sight and at their disposal are lootable funds. They also would not spend security votes for much needed services to the Nigerian people. This greed and wickedness, leading to the primitive accumulation of wealth they do not need, is the reason many Nigerians die needlessly each day from malnutrition, poor ante/post natal provisions, unsafe abortions and many get damaged psychologically after being raped as no post traumatic support is offered.
8. What would you say one could do, to be of help to the people of Nigeria?
We need to create more awareness. We need to educate the uneducated, correctly inform the misinformed, present facts where government has been austere with the truth and hold our government accountable, among others. Wherever you are, whatever forum you have, wherever an opportunity exists, use it wisely to speak up against the evil in Nigeria. Its not about any section of the country in particular, its about Nigeria. At the national level. I do these using the #OccupyNigeria platform, at the state level, I work with Deltans in Liberate - Delta Peoples Movement and at the local level, my immediate constituency, I use Anioma fora such as Ndi Anioma and Ndi Anioma Youth Movement.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar