Metropole Magazine

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04 Jun

In this interview, Ayisha Osori, Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund, talks about the organization and its recent film project,‘A New Dawn’.


Tell us about the Nigerian Women Trust Fund

 Nigerian Women Trust Fund is a non-profit organization registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2011. It is a joint collaboration of civil society organizations, government, and private sector. It has one key purpose, which is to try and get more women into government.


There is lots of evidence of the fact that when you have a more representative government, there is more sustainable development and it is better for a democracy as well. Nigeria has a National Gender Policy which recommends that every decision making body should have at least 35% women, which is the international standard. So based on that policy and based on the fact that Nigeria committed in its Millennium Development Goal that we would have 30% of women in the National Assembly by 2015, we are far away from the mark. As of 2011 when we were incorporated there were only 9% of women in National Assembly, and after the 2011 elections we dropped to 7% so we’ve gone lower.


So the fund was set up based on these two policy documents. We are predominantly funded by the federal government but we are nonpartisan.  In 2011 we funded the elections of over 150 women running from 25 different parties.


How did you become involved with the Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund?

Well, I was hired (laughs). I was hired from the private sector to come in and run the fund. After the fund was created in 2011 it was largely dormant. It was incorporated literally weeks to the elections; they did what they could around the elections using a committee of people who had set up the organization.


I was hired in the private sector mainly because I had shown interest in the public sector. I had become very vocal since 2010 prior to the elections. I had funded and produced a radio program named Radio Talk Politics here in Abuja. I was involved in the fuel subsidy movement. I had worked a lot in civil society in 2010 in my private capacity even though I had a fulltime job, so I was given the job.


How has the experience been so far?

It’s quite challenging actually. I thought after working for a tobacco company (British American Tobacco) that there was no harder sell than selling tobacco, but actually tobacco is much easier to sell because people who like the product will buy it anyway but women in politics is not a product many people believe in or want to buy, both men and women. So I found it quite difficult as a product to sell despite the fact that I do believe in it. I think it has a lot of value and I think that if people were truly honest and not stuck in their frames about women, they would see the load of value that women bring into the society and they should be able to tap into their experiences and passions for the government. But for now it is quite tough.


In what ways does the organisation help women in politics?

We do four things: Leadership Development. We get women who are not yet in government prepared to get into government. So if you’re going to campaign how good is your campaign? We can help you train your manager, we have a team of trainers that can do that.


We do gender advocacy; sort of talk about the fact that we want more women in governance.


There is research and communications. We try to put data together because all women politicians in civil society should be prepared when they meet people in government or influential positions to challenge them and say we have a gender policy that says decision making bodies should reserve at least 35% of posts for women, so why do you have six male commissioners and one woman commissioner? We need that kind of data to engage and change policy.


The last is Fund Raising and Grant Making. There were two women with disabilities who ran for councillor positions during the Plateau local government elections in January and we helped with our Board of Directors. We pulled some money together, paid for radio time, nomination funds, made posters. We try to stay away from giving cash because it is harder to account for. We spend on your behalf. We do these things to alleviate your burden.


We’re beginning slowly to build a list of women who want to run in 2015, it is still a very short list, but whatever support we can offer them, we will.


How can women access help from the organisation?

We have an Eligibility Criteria. When women come to us that is the first thing that we do. It gives them a sense of what we think they should be thinking about. If you are a serious politician and you want to make a difference, this a good guide, it blends with the traditional and non traditional. It allows us to say based on my assessment you are eligible or not. We decide based on the eligibility criteria.


Don’t you think women in politics are being pampered?

No I don’t think so actually because there are more men than women and there should be more women than men. Or at least a fair number of women. We’re not anywhere near 35%. We’re 7% at National Assembly. I think at the Federal Executive Council have dropped to 20%  with the reshuffling. There is no female state governor in Nigeria right now. We think that men are doing okay and don’t need any advocacy (laughs).


Why has the organisation invested in this film project (A New Dawn)?

We deal with advocacy and messaging. There’s been lots of discussions, articles, books, about the value of women in politics and we thought, “how do we capture this message in a movie?” Our audience is predominantly Nigerian. Nollywood is famous not only in Nigeria but across Africa, we do seem to have a culture that prefers to watch than to read, so why not put our key message into a short movie? So we got funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a U.S. based organization and got a small grant to do the movie. So we had to source other funding to launch the movie. Our message is very simple: the value of women in government.


It is also a message to women who are sitting down at home or in their offices who maybe never thought about running for elective office. Hopefully this movie might make them think about why they should run. And maybe there are women who are thinking about running but can’t get up or move so this movie would resonate with that group of people, and also resonate with people who don’t believe in the project, don’t believe in the cause. And for people who do believe in the cause, it is something they can share and use as an example.


How did you get Joke Silva and Kate Henshaw to star in the film?

They are goodwill ambassadors of the organisation. I have to commend the committee that set up the structure for the Nigerian women trust fund. I came and met these ambassadors and all I did was tap into the different expertise and skills the ambassadors had. Thankfully when we thought about the movie it was just a matter of picking up the phone and saying to Joke and Kate this is what it’s about and sharing the script, and hearing what they think. Of course we’re very very pleased they supported it.


What do you hope to achieve with this film?

We want women to think seriously about why they are needed in decision making and in government. We want support of our societies so men, women, young people can vote, understand and appreciate that everybody has a role to play in governance and women especially, as the primary caregivers of young people and old people. So it is an advocacy tool for 2015 and beyond. It is also the call to women: ‘where are the women? It is also a call to create more space for women to be able to run.


Thank you very much.

You’re welcome.

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03 Jun

Former Minister of Education and a former Vice President of the World Bank, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili has dismissed insinuations that she is an ‘overnight activists’ because of her frontline role in the #BringBackOurGirls movement, a campaign urging the federal government to rescue the over 200 school girls abducted exactly 50 days ago by members of Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State.

She also denied a political motive for her involvement, ruled out any future political role for herself, and disclosed that she had indeed turned down offers of appointment from the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.

 “I have always been somebody driven by conviction,” she said in an interview in Metropole magazine’s special edition on the Abuja campaign for the rescue of the abducted girls. “Being told all kind of things by naysayers on account of standing up for these girls doesn’t matter because there is no cost that is too much for these girls.”

She insisted that her role in the campaign aligns with the deeply held values that have defined her private and public engagements over time. “It’s a renewal of my values,” she added. “I believe in the value of human life; I believe in empathy and the sanctity of the social contract; I believe in accountability and good governance; and I believe in an inclusive society. There is no way I would not have done this”

While commending Abuja residents and others for the sacrificing to be part of the #BringBackOurGirls movement, she said the core of the campaign is about citizens demanding that government must play its constitutional role. “Our single issue is about bringing back our girls,” she said. “But that single issue is enveloped in the role of government and the accountability that government has for the live and the property of each citizen.”

Elaborating further, she said: “the [abducted] girls are not just the children of their fathers; they are daughters of Nigeria. And I am a daughter of Nigeria, and a mother that could be the mother of these girls. When people say ‘why do you take it so personal?’ it is because I could be any of these girls. These are children of the poor. My dad was a poor public servant. I could have been any of them. So it is personal.

 “After the abduction, there was no formidable search-and-rescue operation. If it happened, nobody told anybody anything. Over the number of days that followed, there were pictures of Chibok fathers and brothers going off on their own into the forest looking for their children. Why was there such institutional indifference and inertia? 

“There was complete failure in the initial days of the abduction of these girls. We lost so much time. It was as if there was no response in favour of the girls. That is what upsets me about this and any attempt at pretending that this was not so is actually even more troubling. We need to accept that there was failure and walk back and say why was there that failure and indifference? Why was there that apathy and lethargy?”

She maintains that those who criticize her or express surprise about the online and on-street role she has played in the campaign do not fully know her. “What they know of me is the minister and VP World Bank,” she said. “They didn’t know the Oby that was campaigning on the streets of Lagos in the 80s and the 90s. I was beaten by the military on the streets of Lagos. I was one of the leaders of Concerned Professionals. In those days, it was the days of kill-and-go mobile policemen. They would turn up in tankers and teargas. The people who say such things are the ones who should have taken time to study the person they are talking about.

“They should go and ask former President [Olusegun] Obasanjo. When I was in his government, he would say to me, ‘Oby you are my minister, are you going to continue to be an activist as my minister? So with you in my government who then needs a Gani Fawehinmi?’ And I would say to him ‘sir, this is the best compliment that you have given me; thank you very much because I absolutely love Gani Fawehinmi.’

“Why was he saying that? It was because I would raise those things that people wanted us not to talk about. That’s me. I will not keep quiet about the things that must be discussed. I will not negotiate my values. So while I was in government I was the internal critic of the administration.

It is not something that I am apologetic about. The issue of good governance has been my forte for decades. As a young professional, I was one of the co-founders of Transparency International. Doesn’t that tell you something?  This is not some overnight activist.”

She said she is unmoved by those condemning her for her role in the campaign for the abducted girls. “I don’t see those that abuse me,” she stated.  “And I don’t see those that praise me because there is nothing to praise me for. If I didn’t do this I will go to my grave completely disappointed in me. There is no way I would not have done this.”

Her interview was conducted before yesterday’s ban on public protests for the abducted girls by the FCT Commissioner of Police, Mr. MT Mbu.

Apart from the extensive interview with Ezekwesili, Metropole’s special edition on the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which will be out soon, is a comprehensive package of the campaign in Abuja, featuring interviews, profiles, reports, analyses, and iconic pictures.

 For breaking news out of Abuja, follow us on Twitter: @MetropoleMag


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