The only female senator of the 57 Senators from northern Nigeria, Binta Masi-Garba, has advocated for an affirmative action on female representation in both state houses of Assembly and the National Assembly, saying women’s positive contribution in leadership and development is critical to the development of the country.
Senator Binta Masi, born in Kaduna had the rare experience of representing Kaduna state and now Adamawa, her ancestral home respectively at the National Assembly on different occasions.
The National Assembly is carrying out amendment to the1999 constitution but during the speakers’ conference held in Yola recently, the conference said it was waiting the national assembly to hasten the transmission of the document for its input, what is delaying it?
I am surprised to hear that the state houses of Assembly said it is not in receipt of our document because we had to hurriedly and quickly complete our work so that the state lawmakers could have the ample time to deal with the document and make its necessary input and by the provision of the constitution, we need at least two-third of the state houses of assembly I.e. about 24 state houses of assembly to support the amendments.
What was your take on local government autonomy?
We agreed on that because our argument is not farfetched from the fact that the local government is the base from which development can be fostered, youth can be gainfully employed, artisans can by empowered to run their trade without necessarily over populating the city centres. If our youth can find jobs and access to support for their small scale businesses, there would be halt on the rural-urban migration because what they go looking for in the city, they now have access to it in their village or local government.
It was unanimously agreed by all that it was a necessary and expedient move if Nigeria will move forward as a strong and united country. The idea was accepted by all except for few objections from some senators who were former state governors, who find it unsettling after serving as governors for eight years, allowing local government autonomy seems strange to them. The beauty of what happened was that we included the speakers of state houses of assembly in the constitutional amendment team on an observatory status along with all female state legislators included in that capacity too, so it helped the process.
Another highly contentious issue in the constitutional amendment was my recommended amendment in section 147 of the 1999 constitution where a new clause was introduced saying the federal character should be included in screening and appointing nominees for ministerial appointments including a 35percent affirmative action in the nominations. My arguments was that Nigeria has to stick to its Beijing conference agreement. Many African Countries like Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, have all introduced the Beijing conference agreement into their constitution. Some people were throwing religious arguments at me on that, but I had to tell them that you cannot be holier than the custodian of the religion in Saudi Arabia who have admitted women into their council of Shura which is like their national Assembly and I can confidently tell you that the number of women in Saudi Council of Shura are more than the number of women in the American congress.
Also the ban on women driving has been lifted. The Rwandan parliament has 52percent women representation and its cabinet has about 56percent women representation, and today Rwanda is flourishing, so we can’t run away from the ongoing globalization in governance.
Right now, I am the only female senator of the 57 senators in the 19 states of northern Nigeria that is like the minority of the minorities. Same situation applies in state houses of assembly where there are hardly any female representation, states like Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Yobe, Borno, Zamfara, Bauchi, I think up to about ten states or more have no female representation. We keep saying things are not working in Nigeria but they are not working because we have not place the right people in the right position of leadership, Nigeria need to place more women in leadership position to change the country’s situation.
Nigerians are sceptical about the ongoing APC’s nationwide restructuring forum, some say it was an activity under the pressure of Atiku’s criticism, what is your take?
APC is a party that is fully aware that the power of true federalism lies in a power arrangement where power flows from a local government system, thus making the constituting units stronger than the centre, so what we are pushing forward is for an upscale in the power of the local government to drive national development and people oriented growth, so it is not about anyone, it is about the party’s goals.
But to be sincere to ourselves, we cannot say we want true federalism and abhor the concept of local government autonomy. I am one person that believes that for Nigeria to walk in the path of progress and prosperity prescribed by our founding fathers, we must take the issue of local government autonomy seriously, that is the place where unemployment and poverty thrives and that would be the birth place of Nigeria’s greatness. These are the issues that inform the decision of the APC to go to the grassroots and feel the pulse of Nigerians on what they really wanted in this federalism.
Some have been talking about reverting to regionalism, others on devolution of power from the central government but don’t want to hear about local government autonomy. The IPOB were calling for an independent country, but when we came back from recess, the narrative changed, may be they have scratched the surface and found out that it would not work out well for them and probably even if it would, there is the other problem that there is no village in this country that you would not find an Igbo, so the person campaigning for IPOB is probably looking out for his interest and not that of everyone among other issues but it is has become increasingly clear that our unity must be in our diversity.
The most important questions are, do we want to live together as Nigerians and if we do, what determines our citizenship? In what context are we Nigerians? I was once in America and I asked a lady which state in America she was from and her answer was that she is an American her state of origin was not that important, she could change her state of residency anytime.
Again, when we were growing, one of the basic requirements as part of our social upbringing was that we were asked to take languages like Yoruba and Igbo for those of us from the north and those from the south were asked to read Hausa, it was a process of social integration and awareness.
I was married to an Igbo man and one day he woke up and was telling my children that they are Igbo, on what basis? I had to correct it because that doesn’t make sense; I believe that when our children grow up they have the right to decide on what they want and how they want to be identified or the context of their association. We are witnesses to Nigerians fighting to gain citizenship of America or Britain, thousands of miles away from this country, but we have made it impossible for an Igbo man to become a citizen of Katsina in northern part of the country or for one Muhammed born and bred in Port -Harcourt to become a citizen of Port- Harcourt. This kind of situation is more common in the south. I know an Igbo man who became a member of the state house of Assembly in Kaduna. I was born and bred in Kaduna, got married in Kaduna, aspired for a legislative position and won, that is how Nigeria should be, I came to Adamawa my ancestral home, became the chairperson of APC, now I am senator representing Northern Adamawa.
I am a Christian, don’t I have the right to be taught Christian Religious Knowledge in Katsina or if I am a Muslim living in Rivers State, don’t I have the right to be taught Islamic Religious Knowledge in Rivers? These are the things we must deal with. Can we say that about Imo, Abia, Ondo or any other state in the country? Can every Nigerian dream and aspire to becoming anything in any part of this country without been held back by the sentiments of state, tribalism or region? Until that is dealt with and attained, we cannot talk about the progress of the country or about true federalism.
Nigeria is 57, what is your message to Nigerians?
Nigeria has reasons to celebrate, we went through troubled waters and we are still standing strong. We have escaped the worst for several reasons as far as I am concerned. Nigerians are becoming politically aware, which means the days of ‘God fathers’ in Nigerian politics are gradually fading away. A major victory for me also is the passing of the bill for Independent candidacy into law, a move which in my opinion will infuse some kind of vibrancy into the Nigerian political environment. The law will boost the emergence of credible candidates from within the party ranks and give every Nigerian the right to stand on his own regardless of party politics. A case in point was APC’s situation in Osun State, when we lost senator Adeleke, his brother came out to contest but was rejected by the party but he went to PDP and won the elections. It gives the political parties a food for thought, it deals with issues of political rascality within the party system, so that party leaders have to think through before throwing a candidate out, some good candidates have been thrown out, and these kinds of candidates can express themselves as independent candidates. I made that point clear when I was the state chairperson of APC in Adamawa; we set the rule to always present a winning candidate.
What is your opinion on elected officials in relations to the quality of service Nigerians get from their elected officials?
I have always been an advocate of a five year term for parliamentarians and six or seven year single term for state governors. The term is so short that politicians in the middle of their term would begin to strategise on how to win another term instead of serving their people. Even during Obasanjo’s time, I said so. I have always maintained my stance for a single term, so third term would not work with me.
I have been calling for investment in education, health, water supply, agricultural development and good roads, these are the responsibility of government and by doing these, the government create a favourable environment for its people to realise their dreams and potentials.
Nigerians are immensely gifted, talented and ready to work, what they need is a favourable environment, and that is the responsibility of government