Nigeria Decides 2023: Nigeria can’t get it right without women –Tallen, Minister of Women Affairs
From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, at the 59th edition of the Ministerial Media Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja said the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate for Adamawa State, Aisha Binani at the Court of Appeal in Yola upholding her candidacy and Senator Stella Oduah at the Federal High Court in Abuja dismissing the suit filed against her, seeking an order invalidating her nomination as a Senatorial Candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State, were good signs of how 2023 elections will pan out for women.
We presently have roughly 9 percent female candidates for the National Assembly, compared to about 10.4 percent in 2019. There are fewer women running for office in the National Assembly now. What do you believe is wrong, and what are you doing to increase the number of candidates running for office while also ensuring that they are successful in getting elected to the National Assembly?
You will agree with me that myself, the First Lady and the Wife of the Vice President, led a powerful delegation on an advocacy visit to the National Assembly on the five bills. We visited the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Senate president and decorated them as He4She in order for them to support issues affecting women in the National Assembly. But we are yet to get there. And that was why the Nigerian women, civil society organisations mounted pressure for two weeks in front of the National Assembly. But all hope is not lost, we are still lobbying and we have been assured, they’ve told us that they will reconsider the remaining three bills by the grace of God.
As far as the poor rate of women’s participation in politics, it is heartbreaking. It is not that we don’t have qualified women, we have very qualified, resilient Nigerian women in politics. But the society is yet to support and encourage women and women you know, there’s a lot of violence in politics. Women can never engage in thuggery because we’re mothers. All the elections that have been conducted, women will never engage in using youths as thugs for their campaigns because we are mothers. We will not encourage the youths to misbehave or snatch ballot boxes, no. It is the men that are doing that. These are facts.
Like I said, the world is not taking the face of a woman and the world over is addressing gender balance. Without having more women at the decision table, we can never get it right. But once we have women, the difference will be clear because the man cannot know it all. They can’t remember everything and that was why the woman was created by God, so ignoring women is going against the will of God.
You’ve stated a few of your efforts, such as visiting the National Assembly to express your wish for 50 percent affirmation rather than only 35 percent. However, it is claimed that women are their own worst enemies. Additionally, your ministry has been criticised for not doing enough to support Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped. You didn’t support a female presidential candidate who ran on the APC platform, either. The women folk did not stand up to support you even after you were forced out of the race. Although ladies do not participate in thuggery, you have the most voters. Why aren’t women able to use that power to support female candidates or aspirants when they run for office?
I don’t know why men want to always amplify this issue. Don’t men work against men? I must tell you, I will take myself as an example, during my campaign, women in the state came out full blast. You can go to Plateau and confirm, my campaign trail was made up of men and women and many women can testify to that. It depends on how you relate with the women.
In the case before us, the only female governorship candidate in Adamawa State, Aisha Binani, women are fully behind her. The ministry, women organisations, Women in Politics are fully behind her and she has won at the Appeal Court. I knew that we would make it. We will move to the streets and all I can say is watch what will happen in Adamawa. We will lead the campaign. Adamawa women are already fully mobilised. They had said that if she’s not given her mandate, they will not come out to contest or vote in any election.
Nigerian women are solidly behind her. A day before the judgement, we held a vigil, we have been praying and fasting on this matter and God answered our prayers. Because, this is a test case, it is not that we don’t have capable women. They did it for me in 2011, they did it for late Mama Taraba and I vowed and said under my stewardship, Lord, wipe my tears and God answered my prayers.
This is a success story to Buhari’s administration. President Buhari will be the first president to inaugurate a woman as a female governor by the grace of God.
Senator Aisha Binani’s case is an election that is already won because, Adamawa people have spoken. The President of the National Council of Women Society is from Adamawa, we are monitoring what is happening.
I am happy. This is good news for Nigerian women. I am from Plateau. I wish I could vote in Adamawa, I would have moved to Adamawa to vote for her. But it is not just women of Adamawa, the men, youths are crying for a change and they will see by the time Binani gets into office, the difference will be clear.
A lot of developments will take place in Adamawa because she has been tested. As a member of the House of Representatives, you can go to her constituency and ask, as a senator not only in her senatorial zone, Adamawa people have told me that she handles the empowerment of women, youths, elderly, and giving out scholarships. This lady deserves to be supported. Her victory during the primaries was a landslide. I thank God she won the case.
Whoever told you women don’t like one another, it is not true. I also celebrated Senator Stella Oduah for the Federal High Court in Abuja for dismissing the suit filed against her, seeking an order invalidating her nomination as a Senatorial Candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra State.
I don’t think women hate each other, we love each other and we will continue to work towards supporting one another. All these victories that are coming up, is a sign of good things to come and I thank God it is coming under the able leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and my humble self as minister for women affairs.
I thank the justice system for standing on the path of truth. I celebrate the Court of Appeal and the judges that handle this case, may God bless them; posterity will remember them for good. I pray other women will win their cases also.
I have a dream that one day, a woman will be the president of Nigeria, just like the dream that Martin Luther Jr had for America and a black man became the President. That day is coming; if it is not in our generation, our children will live to see it. More female governors are coming because by the time Binani sets the pace, other states will cry out to have more women governors. It is a matter of time, we will get there.
Men contest against one another, they fight against their fellow men. Why is it that you amplify that of women? In every society, you must have challenges. In the ministry of women affairs, we are gender sensitive – that is 50-50. And that is what I want in every MDA, in the Federal Executive Council, in the National Assembly, at the state level and then better laws will come up when women are on the decision table.
The final and the most interesting question of how many cases of gender based violence where women beat their husbands have been received; it is just one percent. I have a case of just one percent compared to 98 percent of men beating their women. The case of a woman beating her husband is too negligible and I believe that the man will not even want it mentioned, he will say you are disgracing him.
There is a widespread misconception that highly educated women are incapable of domestication. Because of this, fathers in rural areas in the North are reluctant to send their kids to continue their education. How do you reassure this class of people that highly educated women can also be domesticated?
I don’t think this is a true statement. Let’s take an example from the North, I was married for 42 years. I never broke my marriage. Instead after God, it was my husband and my family that stood by me to make sure that I got to where I am in the political scene. My husband groomed me in politics, supported me all through. The Aisha Binani case that has been won today, is another case in point, her husband stood by her and supported her all through. The former Minister of Education, Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufa’i, is educated and is a professor in the core North of Jigawa State. Till date, her marriage has not broken, she is happily married and supported by her husband. If I start mentioning, the list is endless.The International President of female doctors in the world is a Nigerian; she is happily married. The day I brought her to present to Mr. president, her husband was there, her mother-in-law was there. What are we talking about? Women are successfully married. The president of the National Council for Women Society, that is the highest position a woman can attain as far as many organisations are concerned. She’s happily married and supported by her husband. She is from the core North, also from Taraba. The brand new chairman of Niger Delta Development Commission, is happily married. I remembered when she turned 60. I was there, her husband fully supports her. She is a teacher and more. The former president of the court of appeal is a woman and her husband supports her till today. That’s the highest position a woman can attain in the justice system. Justice Mary Odili, Justice Nyako and all the female justices in the Supreme Court are happily married. The list is endless, it’s just culture or individual mentality. In the North, almost all the wives of our governors are happily married, highly educated.
I want to commend your efforts in seeking justice for the last gospel artist, Osinachi. But there is a recent case, Bimbo Ogbonna, who died as a result of domestic violence would have been the compelling evidence out there. I understand her family has written to you to ask for your intervention. So like to know if you are taking it up?
On the victim of Gender Based Violence, Bimbo Ogbonnaya, we are yet to receive any report from the family. And I want you to understand that the Ministry of Women Affairs does not just handle all the cases in Nigeria; we operate with state commissioners for women affairs and local governments. And in any case, I am always on the phone when I get a report from Lagos, Abia, we reach out immediately to the commissioners and monitor and ensure that action is taken. So, it is not the minister of women affairs that will move into state and handle the case. That’s why we are a federation. We work hand in hand with him.
If it happens in Abuja, like in the case of Osinachi, immediately it happened I reached out, I went to the house. I spent four hours with the children, one on one, and they revealed everything. The husband was not arrested until the following day. Immediately I heard that he was at home, I called the brother and said, If you don’t get that man arrested, I will not get to the house. So, he was moved to the police station and detained. Then I went there to see the children. And I’ve been following it up. We ensured that a few days after she died, we were told that the rent expired. And her mother and her twin sister live in Enugu. We supported them, we wrote to the Inspector General of Police to ensure that he followed up to ensure justice is done. And he did that. He summoned those investigating the case and gave them an order. We have been following the case.
For the children, the twin sister lives in Enugu and she wanted to move them back there. The ministry facilitated and gave them money to move down to Enugu. For you to understand that we work with the states, I wrote a letter to the governor of Enugu, a letter to the commissioner and a letter to the First Lady of Enugu. They reside in Enugu, their mother is old and where she is living, they cannot afford to accommodate all of them. We supported them with the money and called on well meaning Nigerians to support them. But we handed them over to the state government and we are monitoring.
We also investigated and found that they come from Abia State but live in Enugu. I also wrote a letter to the governor of Abia narrating what has happened to his daughter, and the First Lady of Abia and also the commissioner. So, these three lines of action were taken to the two states and I’m just giving you an example of cases that happened within my domain. With so many cases of rape, incest happening, we also reach out. And that is why my worry now is the justice system to fast track so many of the cases that are still pending; what they call awaiting trial.
So, states are the ones handling the cases taking place in a state and also local governments. We have the three tier of government at the federal, state and local government level.
The case of the woman that was locked up in Kaduna, we received a complaint from the family and we’re reaching out and we’re following up the case too.
What magic did you do to get the 34 of the 36 states to domesticate the Child’s Rights Act?
On the magic I did to get the 34 states to domesticate the Child’s Rights Act, there is no magic; it’s community engagement. After paying a courtesy call to the governors, we reached out and appealed to them. The case is before the state houses of assembly because they are the ones that will pass the law before the governor signs. I reached out to the speakers. In fact, I decorated the chairman of the Speaker’s Conference, who is the speaker from Bauchi, as a He4She. I went to Bauchi, I went to the House of Assembly and appealed to them. So we go to the traditional rulers, community leaders, religious leaders, state assemblies, and the wives of governors who are also doing very well. They have formed a coalition of concerned First Ladies Against Gender Based Violence.
So, at the national level, Mr. President has shown full commitment, our First Lady has shown full commitment. The 36 states First Ladies under the chairmanship of the former First Lady of Ekiti, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, while the Secretary is the First Lady of Kwara state. Now that they have finished their tenure, they’ve handed over to the Acting chairman of the governors forum, the Governor of Sokoto State, and his wife is doing very well. She has already arranged a meeting for the ministry and women to interact with the First Ladies within the 16 days of activism to address gender based violence.
I held meetings with all the 36 state governors, and at the end of the meeting with the governors forum, they declared a state of emergency and showed commitment to address gender based violence.
So cases at the state level are handled by the governors, the commissioner for Women Affairs and the First Ladies. There are so many cases that First Ladies have stepped in taking the victims to the hospital and follow up the cases with the police up to the court.
So, the federal and state governments are committed to addressing all forms of violence against women and children. Mr. President has shown zero tolerance, state governments have shown zero tolerance, and their wives have also keyed in. So I’m very impressed with their commitment.
The biggest challenge you have in the case of violence against women or domestic violence is tied to culture. When CSOs, the police want to take up cases of domestic violence involving husband and wife legally, the society will say no, this is a domestic issue we are going to settle domestically. What have you done to engage the traditional institutions, because if you do domestications and the grassroots is not enlightened you’re just not going to achieve the results you desire?
On the issue of violence against women being treated as a family matter because of culture, we take our advocacy to religious leaders, traditional rulers, and most of these issues are more prevalent in the North. The Sultan of Sokoto, I must commend him, has a foundation that is addressing this issue. The foundation organises conferences every year. The third one was this year. And we always work hand in hand with him, he invites the ministry and I am always in attendance; all traditional rulers across the 19 states North are always there. In the South, it is the same thing. The traditional rulers are carried along, we take advocacy right to the community level, religious level, and traditional level. But I must say that it is unacceptable for us to regard or address gender based violence as a family issue that should be settled within the family. It is unacceptable, because a lot of women die in the process. And women are not beasts of burden that should be beaten, treated anyhow by a man. And the next thing is for them to ask her to forgive you and she goes back. And the same thing happens. That’s why we give more attention to the education of the girl child.
If a woman is educated, she’s empowered, she will not live under such an unhealthy atmosphere. Marriage is to be enjoyed not to be endured. And if it is not possible for you to live your peace and enjoy marriage, quit and take care of the children. But if she’s not educated and empowered, how can she leave? That’s why most women remain there and die because they have no work to turn to. Or they have no option. But if a woman is educated, she has choices. If she has a good job, she can decide what is best for her, if marriage is not to be enjoyed, she can quit.
I’m not encouraging women to quit marriages but I’m appealing that men should treat their women with respect, that marriage is to be enjoyed, it is love that joins you. So, we have state governors that are committed to addressing gender based violence and their spouses. And we have the ministry of women affairs at the state level that handles such cases, civil society organisations. In fact, they are the most active. And I must commend our civil society organisations that go all out.
They also have toll free lines, NAPTIP has toll free lines, the ministry has toll free lines for gender based violence because one of the questions says that the one toll free line being operated by the ministry is inadequate. That line is operated for 24 hours, people work in turns. But it’s not just the ministry, our civil society organisations have toll free lines and they reach out to assist and support gender based violence. And when they report to us, we also step in.
So it is a collective effort. All hands must be on deck. It is not just women or the ministry of women affairs alone. And that’s why we decorate men as He4She. We call the men gender champions; if you belong to the group, you will talk to the boys within your community and engage them. Community engagement is very, very effective. We advise them to form close gender champions clubs where they are the ones to protect women and girls. We also encourage schools to form youth boys clubs, where the boys protect the girls. So our advocacy is for all Nigerians to lend their voices to say no to all forms of violence against women.
Female genital mutilation is violence against women and is unacceptable. Yes because in the process, many young girls bleed to death. That is a wrong culture. There is nothing medically that helps a girl that is circumcised.
Women are the mothers in the home. Our young girls are the future mothers; they need to be protected by both men and women because that’s why we decorate men as He4She, as champions within your community to protect these girls. I must say the spotlight states are doing very well. We’ve gone round and we are encouraging other states to key in. These are things we discussed during a council of state meeting and we also have a platform where we communicate with our commissioners at the state level.
Why is the number of reported cases of GBV low or do you think it is simply because of stigmatisation or because there is just one toll free line; is that not laughable?
Again, the advocacy is to ensure that people come out and speak. Some refuse to come out and speak because of stigmatisation. But our advocacy is to ensure that people speak out; you don’t die in silence, speak out. Seek for help.
With only one toll line?
I have told you that it is not just the ministry that has a toll free line. Civil society organisations also have toll free lines. NAPTIP has a toll line. So, it’s not a one man show, gender based violence is not just an issue for the ministry of women affairs alone. It is an issue for the entire society to come out and say no to it. Mr. President has joined us at the town hall meeting, the first time a head of state has joined in a town hall meeting. He’s not a staff of the Ministry of women affairs, but he’s the leader that has shown political will. So, it is something that every Nigerian, both men and women must key in; we must say no to gender based violence in order to have a healthy society. We are appealing to you, the press to be advocates. Every well meaning Nigerian should join and be a gender champion, and fight all forms of violence against women. Women are your mothers, women are your wives, women are your daughters, women are everywhere. Can you close your eyes and imagine a world without a woman? Can you imagine a home without a woman? So, I am appealing for this advocacy to be all Nigerians. We must change the narrative. We must change our mindset.
The Ministry of Women Affairs is just a mother ministry. We have women in MDAs and that was why, Mr. President last year, during this presentation of the budget, for the first time, appealed that all the MDAs must streamline gender. That is very significant.
The Safe Space Initiative you talked about is very laudable because a lot of gender based victims are in need of safe shelters like that. How many states have so far keyed into the initiative?
Many states have responded to that, because I’ve held meetings with some governors; we have sent out letters to governors and their wives to ensure that they create safe space shelters. More than 23 states have put in place safe spaces. Some local governments are even working on having safe spaces because this gender based violence is even more in the rural areas. So, wives of local government chairmen are also engaged in this advocacy. We are just telling all Nigerians that all hands must be on deck to have a healthier society where no one is left behind, a society where violence is completely eliminated. During this 16 days activism, we are going to paint the country orange and declare all forms of violence against women as an issue that everyone must be involved. Orange, the world is to give hope to victims of gender based violence. Because if you are raped, or you are a victim of any form of gender based violence, you can never be the same. You can imagine a daughter being raped by her father, or a daughter being raped by her uncle. Or a staff, some drivers, while taking children to school branch somewhere and rape the children. And that’s why we educate mothers, you don’t leave your children to male drivers alone. It’s not safe. Some of them turn back and do something else.
While in November 2021, you said only 0.51 percent which is less than one percent of SGBV perpetrators were convicted. What is the challenge and has there been any progress?
Again, this is the justice system. I’ve told you, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice is the chairman of the inter ministerial committee, and he is reaching out. And we are hoping and trusting God that the justice system will improve by acting fast and ensuring that all pending cases are treated with dispatch. And that’s why during the 16 days activism, we always take a walk to the office of chief judge of the Federation, Inspector General of the police and agencies to ensure that justice is done and promptly too.
What efforts are in place by your ministry to rehabilitate victims of gender based violence?
After keeping them in safe homes, we train them either in tailoring or any of these fields of trade. At the end, they are examined by psychotherapists, and doctors. By the time they are ready to go back, we give them a starter pack to start their business. The same goes for state and local government level.