Natasha Akpoti, Kogi’s Chauvinist Politics, and the President’s Yes-men, By Akin Fadeyi
…Natasha Akpoti’s ambition is beyond her. It is going to be a testy moment in our collective capacity to accommodate divergent views and positive, profoundly radical ideologies aimed solely at national development. It shall put to test our capabilities to truly mean what we say at various international fora about an urgent imperative to unshackle women from the stranglehold of anachronistic and medieval mentalities.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) comprised eight objectives with measurable targets and clear deadlines for improving the lives of the world’s poorest people. To meet these goals and eradicate poverty, leaders of 189 countries signed the historic millennium declaration at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, with clear action points, amongst which were the following: To “achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality rates. Improve maternal health. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases”.
Of the goals, one also stands out: Promote gender equality and empower women!
Considering the above, one would have expected our politicians to cascade this down to the needs of this nation, aimed solely at development and genuine concerted efforts geared at poverty eradication or, at least, poverty reduction.
How does this therefore correlate with the submission of the director-general, media, of Governor Yahaya Bello, Kingsley Fanwo, that the senatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Natasha Hadiza Akpoti was not fit to become a senator and would not be voted for by the people because “she does not have a proper family and culturally, she must have a proper family to be voted for”. He also mentioned tradition and religion as the basis for personally disqualifying Natasha. How base, bland and pedestrian can this get? How can a director general within a governance system in this 21st century reduce the election of a senator to mere conjectures around her family background or family issues. That’s not just shocking, it speaks broadly to the issue of mediocrity in leadership, which has left this nation amputated and prostrate. While this opinion is not an attempt to endorse any political party or candidate, I nonetheless expect leaders to commit their public utterances to issues-based politics, not humiliating fellow contestants because of the dynamics of their upbringing or single-motherhood or other family challenges, which they obviously had little control over. Kingsley Fanwo failed woefully to demonstrate panache, finesse and unquestionable aptitude in temperate, measured and intelligent public communications.
In 2012, the United Nations Women office in Nigeria hired me as a consultant to strengthen the capacity of some female politicians. Ramatu Bako, immediate past executive director of the Nigerian Bar Association and I took the female politicians through various burning issues of national development. In concert with the terms of reference and training template coordinated by Grace Onyali and Maureen Lance-Onyewu, both of the UN, we made clear to the target aspirants that all the beautiful pictures posted on walls by politicians remain mundane and reflect nothing about their capacity to confront our challenges as a nation. We challenged their intellect and generated conversations around life expectancy, maternal health issues, girl-child education and marriages, education policy as a whole and a system of governance that elevates their voters’ individual standards of living.
Without fear of equivocation, these were the various issues Natasha Hadiza Akpoti keeps bringing to the fore. I have read her profile. She is cerebral, exposed and has unrepentantly penned down her concerns about the aborted Ajaokuta Steel Project. She’s passionate about getting the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill to work again. She holds a singular conviction that it remains an untapped alternative to our fixation on oil.
She’s irrevocably committed to opening up Kogi to the world and transforming it to a global technological hub. Simply put, she envisions to enact strategic ideas that would generate employment, put food on the table of citizens and dignify their lives.
In breathing life to her ambitious agenda, she set up the Builders Hub Impact Investment Programme – a social enterprise focused on creating jobs through the sustainable revival of Nigeria’s indigenous and neglected industries. She also made clear that the day she saw her father come home looking weak and drained because he just donated two pints of blood to the poor, was the day she firmed up her resolve that, “to help the poor, you must be prepared to suffer some hurt”.
These are the issues. These should be the fulcrum of political discourse. Any other submission by any political appointee pointing accusing fingers at another candidate’s “improper family setting”, or fuelling the embers of religion to discredit another candidate is crass banality and sheer impudence. Natasha can lose this election. It’s fine. I am solely for any candidate that would resolutely move Kogi forward. But if she loses, let it be because her opponents brought better alternatives in policy propositions to the table. Let it not be because they opted to exploit the people’s cultural and traditional vulnerabilities or through half-truths based on sentimental theorising.
The federal government under President Muhanmadu Buhari owes Natasha the provision of adequate, unhindered security. She is not only an under-dog, she has evolved into a feared dark horse that may upset the Augean stable. Just this past Saturday, February 7, her campaign was allegedly assaulted and she narrowly escaped. She has also consistently alerted the nation that established powers were after her because of her demand for a radical rebirth of the Ajaokuta Steel dream. If Natasha drops dead today, it is to our collective shame as a nation, which has been paying lip service to diverse and multi-party politics. She must not only be protected, her supporters’ votes must also count! Mr. President, Governor Yahaya Bello, who does not hide his open loyalty to you, has been reported as recoiling at the mere thought of facing you with the report of losing the Kogi Central senatorial election to another candidate. Can you kindly pull his ear to tell him your ambition to approximate electoral victory is not worth the loss of anyone’s life? A certain former leader, whose leadership fell below par in best practices’ measures by any standard, managed to score some global respect with that singular position and words that have now become a famous and enduring reference.
Gratefully, former minister of science and technology, Mrs. Paulen Tallen was one of the class participants I trained at the UNWOMEN gender equality workshop. Gratefully, she is very much on ground and has direct access to Governor Yahaya Bello. As a mother and a political weight, I urge Mrs. Talen to call Kogi male chauvinists to order, just so they stop defecating the political space with stone-age, odoriferous proclamations.
By the way, Natasha Akpoti’s ambition is beyond her. It is going to be a testy moment in our collective capacity to accommodate divergent views and positive, profoundly radical ideologies aimed solely at national development. It shall put to test our capabilities to truly mean what we say at various international fora about an urgent imperative to unshackle women from the stranglehold of anachronistic and medieval mentalities. History is gradually being written today. And as the world keeps evolving at a meteoric technological pace and mental amplitude, the Kogi style of victory by force by an army of sycophantic advisers and overzealous presidential yesmen will find no place in the future data of reputable men.
Akin Fadeyi is executive director, Akin Fadeyi Foundation.