n this interview with ALLWELL OKPI, former Governor of Anambra State, Mrs. Virginia Etiaba, who recently launched her autobiography, speaks about her political journey, the crisis in her former party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, and women participation in Nigerian politics
What have you been occupied with since you left office?
Since I left office in March 2010, I’ve been a fulfilled woman. Once in a while I go to my school in Anambra State. You know, once a teacher is always a teacher. Apart from that, I also go to Abuja sometimes, when I have an invitation from the President or the First Lady. I’ve also been busy with church activities and my non-governmental organisation.
You mean you have not been involved in active politics?
I’ve not really been involved in active politics. What I’m doing now is to mentor the younger ones and give them sense of direction. One problem in Nigeria is that the old politicians sit tight in their positions and do not allow the younger ones to take over. When I was leaving the office, I had able younger ones who could take my place in government. If you remember, there was a time my son made an attempt to become the governor of Anambra State. I know that move will not die. I believe that young people should be given a chance to govern this country.
How did you, a teacher, get involved in politics to the extent of becoming a state governor?
In the first place, I believe there is a relationship between teaching and politics, because both of them deal with human beings. As a teacher, I was able to set up a reputable school. I developed my method for nurturing my children to show them that there has to be a standard of life that has to be emulated -honesty, hard work, focus and so on. Apart from inculcating good manners in my children, I was getting their parents. Sometimes, when we have Parent-Teacher Association meetings, I try to help them see the need to build a good and virile society. Going into politics was a calling. If you read my autobiography that I just launched, you will see the details there. I told them that I wasn’t comfortable that my birthday celebration was becoming political. Most of the major political parties were there; the All Nigerian Peoples Party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, the People Democratic Party and others. So, I cautioned my children, against joining partisan politics. About two weeks later, they came to collect my Curriculum Vitae. When I realised that it was an invitation to be a deputy governorship aspirant, I told them I didn’t want it. They insisted. It wasn’t easy but because I made a vow that whenever the Lord gave me an opportunity to serve my community, I would do it. So, I later accepted it.
When Governor Peter Obi was removed, you became the governor. How were you able to govern Anambra State, in spite of the various political godfathers, who constantly tried to control the state?
I’m a Christian and I believe that the Lord equip whoever He calls. And that was what happened in my case. I became the governor of the state when Mr. Peter Obi was removed. It became historic; that for the first time a woman had become the governor in Nigeria. Though when it happened, I said I was not going to step into the position of the governor. But after consultations and review of the situation, I realised that constitutionally it fell on me. When I was sworn in, most people were not happy. Some were worried that my hard-earned integrity would be dented. Some thought that the shark-infested Anambra politics would damage me. But I made up my mind to face the challenges and was encouraged by prayers of people from different churches. I was able to sail through. I told Anambra people that I was coming in as a mother; that I wasn’t going to listen to any religious, political, ideological or cultural group. I made them understand that any day a group or individual tried to lord it over me, I would resign. I was there to serve the state and not any individual. As a result, I had no godfather. Nobody could say he put me there. That was why I succeeded.
As a woman, how were you able to balance politics and family, especially when you were the governor?
I believe that any woman who wants to go into active politics, especially at the top level, should start after attaining the age of 50. Because at 50, a woman who got married, would have been done with child-bearing and must have taken a good hold of the family nurturing the children until a certain age. In my case, I was above 60 when I joined politics. All my children were grown and I’m a widow. So, I didn’t really have problems with my family.
Are you satisfied with the level of women participation in Nigerian politics?
I’m not totally satisfied because we are looking at a particular percentage. The percentage that President Goodluck Jonathan has given us is good; about 35 per cent. But we are looking at getting to 50 per cent. We need more women in politics.
But then the women in politics are most appointed, not elected?
(Cuts in…) I will tell you why. Women are being marginalised. They are marginalised because there are things women wouldn’t subscribe to; for instance, hooliganism and touting. Most women will not use youth as thugs during election because they know that those are children of other women. The problem of Boko Haram in North and kidnapping and armed robbery in the South is as a result of the children that were drafted into touting and rioting by politicians, and at the end they were discarded. And the situation is compounded by unemployment and corruption. Women also lack funds for campaign, which costs a lot.
You once said you finally chose to become governor to save APGA, because your refusal would have resulted in PDP taking over the state. How do you feel seeing the party in a protracted crisis?
The crisis in APGA bleeds my heart because when I was in government I did a lot to stamp APGA on the map. It is on record that I appointed some of our party members, who really worked hard for us but were left out. When I appointed them, they were happy and that helped to unite the party. What is happening now is as a result of selfishness. A few people at the top want to grab everything in APGA. I must tell you that the demise of APGA National leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, is the reason for the crisis. There is nobody to control them. The crisis started when his (Ojukwu’s) health started dwindling. When he died, it was obvious that the pot has been broken. It’s only a miracle that would save APGA. Election is near in Anambra State and as it is, the chances of APGA retaining the state are very slim.
Why did you dump APGA for PDP?
When I became the deputy governor, major political parties, such as PDP and ANPP, were trying to woo me. Then, I was involved in mentoring the youth and mobilising women. Even when I was at the tribunal, I was being wooed by the PDP, but I refused because I felt it would be an injustice to Ojukwu. I felt it was wrong for me to leave my party at that crucial time. But when I left government, some people thought I was an obstacle to them in the party. So, I decided to join PDP. It’s not that PDP was perfect. But I believe that PDP is a party where I can be free and enjoy the remaining part of my life.
Some people have said Nigeria is becoming a failed state. Do you agree?
I wouldn’t say Nigeria is a failed state. Every country goes through a period of turbulence. Soon, we will celebrate our centenary and I was very happy when I saw Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and President Goodluck Jonathan lighting the torch. There is no way we can develop, if we don’t live in harmony. Nigeria will not break. No region is perfect. Government should find a way to ensure that more youths get employed and from there, we can start to cure our ills. We need to employ our youths; we need to redirect our education system. Corrupt politicians should be brought to book and their property should be confiscated and used to develop industries.
As a politician from the South-East, do you see an Igbo becoming president in 2015?
All that I know is that 2015 is a mirage for the Igbo. We have an incumbent (president) and we are yet to know whether he will go for second term or not. He is not from the South-East. Even if he says he will not go for second term, I’m not sure that northerners will agree that an Igbo should go. Let’s plan for 2019, which is more realistic.