CLARICE AZUATALAM is a veteranjournalist and long term unionist who in response to heightened calls forincreased participation of women in political decision making joined the frayin the 2019 general elections. She contested in her Owerri Constituency for a federalseat in the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly. In a telephone chat withConstance Meju, she reviews her experience contesting for office under MAJAParty.
Money was a major issue
Votebuying was really a major issue. People were selling their votes for N1,000,N2,000, N5,000 depending on the municipality and party. The two major partiesfully engaged in vote buying. In fact it was sorry to see how people wereselling their right for four years for as little asN1,000 and N2,000. What canthat buy? N2,000 cannot even cook a good pot of soup. Poverty has made thepeople so desperate they are ready to e bought over with very little.Government has to discourage vote buying.
You knowwomen do not have money, most men have money and politics in Nigeria consumesmoney from campaign to election. People come to campaign grounds based onmonetary expectations. In my constituency the slang is ‘aka kwogaosesike’ meaning a hand that gives reasonably. They seepolitical campaigns as bazaar, everything is money.
Violence Not Really An Issue
Therewas no violence in my constituency and no death was recorded in my state, Imoduring the February 26 and March 8 elections. It was only in Mbano area that afemale candidate’s brother was reported shot and the woman had to rush him tothe hospital.
Terrain Difficult For New PartiesAs Brand Loyalty Holds Sway and INEC Did not Sensitize Enough
I foundout too that people are still loyal to brand. My party, MAJA’s logo is the mapof Nigeria and a school bag, a little difficult to understand by the people inthe village. The people are used to umbrella and broom. Not enoughsensitization was done by INEC to educate the people on party logos. I havealways said that INEC always comes in for elections and goes in after electionsbut the work of sensitizing the people on voter education ought to be acontinuous process.
Women were receptive but did notmatch this with votes
Womenwere receptive and supportive but they voted for major parties that gave themmoney. Youths are readily available to do dirty jobs for politicians. They comesaying, we can do this and that for you if you give us money. In our campaignsin the communities, at the market place, we were well received but the votesdid not come. There is need for mindset change. Politicians have so disorientedNigerians they are ready to take any crumb.
Give Appointments To Women WhoContested
I agreethat we did not get enough seats in the elections, three per cent. I supportthe call for more space in appointive positions. The federal government should giveappointments to those women who participated no matter the situation. Thatway you can serve and build and maintainyour structure and also show that given biggerresponsibility, you will be able to handle it.Men do not often go back to theirconstituency and nobody is going after them but no woman will fail to dosomething in her constituency as she will be afraid because of her in-laws toavoid bringing shame to them.
Themajor parties PDP and APC did not give any woman opportunity;, women wereover-ruled. In my Owerri Federal Constituency, since 1999 no woman has beengiven the opportunity. It is so sad.
From mycampaigns I observed that our communities have no access roads and there is highunemployment among the youths. Poverty is also an issue.
Message to Women
Don’tgive up despite setback. Let us start planning for the next four years and keeptrying. One day God will hear us and liberate us.
#Gender And Accountability
Constance Meju is gender equity and environmental justice advocate and publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper