Women’s rights activist and president of the rights groups, Women Arise for Change Initiative and Campaign for Democracy, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, in this interview by NAZA OKOLI, speaks of her drive and a number of current national issues.
You have been involved in campaigns for good governance. How would you assess Nigeria’s democratic journey so far, especially under the current administration?
Well, so far so good but we still have a lot of ground to cover. Good governance still eludes us, as elected leaders are not doing enough in carrying people along as they ought to do. The welfare of the people, which is the essence of government, is not there.
While I may agree that the current administration is new, I strongly feel that more effort is required in alleviating the sufferings of Nigerians who have placed a lot of hopes on the promises of a new order made by the President while seeking the mandate of Nigerians during the polls. The administration also needs to work hard on improving the economy of this country in terms of ensuring that there is food on the table of the average Nigerian.
It’s been more than two years now since the abduction of Chibok girls. You have been a leading voice in the campaign for their rescue but it seems the clamour has died down recently. What is the cause?
The clamour for their release has not died down from me and my organisation. I have continued to campaign for the rescue of the girls through all my platforms, #RescueOurGirlsNow. Every opportunity I have to speak to any government official or top government functionary is an opportunity to renew the call for the rescue of the Chibok girls.
I also do a countdown on my social media pages the very many days the girls have been missing and the need to ensure their return.
Although in the face of myriad of challenges confronting us today, from herdsmen killings to Niger Delta Avengers and the kidnap of people all over the place, attention is being shifted to the very current issues most of the time, and this most times makes the campaign for the rescue of the girls a less attended issue. But we remain committed to the demand for the rescue of the girls.
But some of the girls were said to have returned. In fact, there are conflicting figures. Why is it so difficult to really to say with accuracy how many of these girls are in captivity and how many have returned?
This is a major issue that has generated a lot of controversy and called into question the sensitivity of the government at all the levels to the plight of other groups of Nigerians that have for over two years been involved in the advocacy for the rescue of the girls. The only evident rescue/return that we have seen as Nigerians was the return of Amina Nkeki in May, 2016. Since then, no other evident rescue has been recorded and more worrisome is the total blackout that followed the sudden appearance of the rescued girl till date.
Is this current government doing enough to secure their release?
The government is trying but more effort should be made by this administration to secure their release. We must give credit to our armed forces for their efforts. As we can see, there is a lot of heat on Boko Haram but this has not resulted in the rescue of the girls. Therefore, I believe that more effort is required.
Your organisation played a prominent role in the reconciliation of Mr Jude Izuakor and his wife Gloria, after Izuakor nearly beat her to death. Why was it necessary to reunite them after such a horrible experience? Do you think that is ‘justice’ for Gloria?
Well, in Women Arise, we also believe in reconciliation. We believe strongly that after mediation and proper counselling, if the culprit is remorseful, it is good for them to move on. Not all actions on domestic violence (especially spousal violence) should be punitive; some should also be corrective. I believe it is still justice for Gloria because she can move on and still enjoy her relationship with Jude Izuakor.
But many would have recommended a stiffer penalty even if it is just to serve as a deterrent.
Not at all times. At times, wise counsel applies, and such issues are resolved amicably.
Why has domestic violence continued to be an issue in Nigeria in spite of all the campaigns and the awareness and education and technology?
I think it is because there are lots of challenges confronting Nigerians. Poverty, loss of jobs, hard time and frustration at all fronts. However, with continued campaign and advocacy, I am sure domestic violence will be reduced.
A federal lawmaker recently threatened to beat up and impregnate a female colleague. This was greeted by protests in Abuja and Lagos by women’s groups. Were these women justified in staging those protests?
Yes, they are justified, because such a threat should not be treated with gloved hands. It is important to react to such issues to let men know that verbal threats are also part of violence against women. Nevertheless, it is imperative to state that women should not also be involved in violence against men because gender-based violence is not an act exclusively perpetrated by men against women.
Those who criticised the protesters wondered why there were no similar protests after a woman evangelist was murdered at Kubwa, Abuja, allegedly by religious extremists.
Well, I think there is the need to exhibit caution on such an issue because it is religious and more sensitive than an assault against either gender. A protest march might not be appropriate in that instance but I know that a lot of women’s groups, including Women Arise, condemned the act. A lot of them issued press statements and made strong comments on their social media platforms when the incident occurred.
Recently, a pastor, Francis Taiwo, starved and kept his nine-year-old son in chains for months. A Lagos lawyer, in reaction, said pastors should be examined mentally before they are permitted to start their own churches. Do you think this would help?
I think there should be regulatory measures for the operation of churches and any religious platform for that matter. People should not just be allowed to do what they like. I think there should be adequate monitoring and evaluation so as to get early warning signs.
A certain prophet recently remarked that a time would come when women would overthrow men and truly begin to rule the world. He cited the recent emergence of a woman Prime Minister in the United Kingdom and the likelihood of Mrs Hillary Clinton’s victory in the United States. Do you think this really is the destination?
It will definitely be a good development. Men have failed us several times. So, if women emerge as presidents and prime ministers, I am sure there will be welfare governance where the love and joy of the people shall be the essence of government. That, no doubt, is our destination.
You have remained a prominent human rights activist for a very long time. What keeps you going?
The love of the people, the joy and happiness of the underprivileged and my passion for justice on all issues.
It would seem that younger people today do not often bother about activism and advocacy. Do you fear for the future?
Yes, it is really worrisome because younger people’s interests are hinged on making money. However, we have started a mentoring programme to capture younger minds and groom them for activism and advocacy work.
You have always looked young and radiant. Do you want to share the secret?
No secret beyond being truthful, adhering strictly to health advice, a modest and disciplined lifestyle.