There is excruciating poverty in Kogi, Yahaya Bello misused his opportunity —Are, Kogi APC governorship aspirant

Betty Abiola Are, a retired Principal of Queens College, Lagos, is aspiring to become the governor of Kogi State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming governorship election in the state. In this interview by Oluwole Ige, she speaks on her ambition, agenda for Kogi State, gender issues in politics, insecurity among others. Excerpts:

A lot is said to be wrong with Nigeria. What do you think is really wrong with our society?

Our value system is completely broken. A society that does not reward hard work would continue to go down. We should not be blaming governments or our leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari for all the problems plaguing Nigeria. Some of these problems emanate from homes and they also manifest in our educational system. In those days, people had so much respect and regard for headmasters unlike nowadays. They only revere senators, House of Assembly members, local government chairmen and other political big shots. Teachers and farmers were very important in those days. We have allowed negative aspects of civilisation to wipe off our value system. As an educationist, I pray we can evolve functional educational policy. We cannot all make our living by being doctors, lawyers, engineers e.t.c. Deliberate efforts must be made to encourage effective vocational skills acquisition.


There is also this issue of marginalisation of women, especially in political leadership in the country. What do you think can be done to address this?

Seriously, women are marginalised in this country and until we wake up in Nigeria, nothing will be done to address marginalisation of women. The percentage of women in political leadership positions in other African countries is far higher than what we have here. In Nigeria, I am sure it’s less than six per cent. Women should be put in positions of authority because by doing so, we are involving our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. Women care more and they excel tremendously in leadership positions. If you talk about women who had bungled the opportunity given them to lead, the percentage is minute compared to that of the men. We are not talking about men who have failed in leadership positions in the region of over 90 per cent. Women are good managers of human, material and financial resources. We need about 36, 40 or 50 per cent of women in leadership positions. Look at the Senate and House of Representatives, state Houses of Assembly, local government councils, including the current ministerial list and see how many women are there. If Mr. President picks 43 ministers, at least 18 of them should be women. In the Senate, let women be up to 50 and you will see that all the nays without reason would stop. We need the women at the forefront because of that motherly instinct in them and the calmness of our spirit. The rate at which some men in position of authority embezzle or misappropriate funds is alarming. If you put women there, they would be afraid to perpetrate fraud. Government should look for ways to bring in more women and entrust them with leadership positions.


Kogi governorship election is around the corner. What is your take on the preparation for the exercise?

It is really unfortunate what is playing out in Kogi State. First, to an outsider, it would look as if we don’t have any other person except Yahaya Bello, Senator Dino Melaiye and Senator Smart Adeyemi. No, it is not like that.  Kogi is the most blessed state in terms of human and natural resources. We have 29 mineral resources of industrial capacity and every local government has at least two in its domain, but they are not harnessed. There is excruciating poverty in Kogi amidst plenty. Being governor is not a family affair. If you have an opportunity, use it well. Bello had an opportunity of being the governor but failed to use it well. He would have enjoyed eight years in power if he had used his opportunity well. We have three senatorial districts in Kogi, namely East, West end Central. Hardly can we in the Central win the governorship because politics is a game of numbers. But, I will not be deterred because I want to serve my people. I have integrity, intelligence, experience and energy to bring about good governance in Kogi. The forthcoming election should not be a do-or-die affair. People who own guns should keep it and allow the wish of the electorate to prevail so that we can drive our state forward. Concrete steps must be taken to increase our IGR. In Kogi State, we have River Niger and River Benue. What have we got from them? Nothing. Even, in Lokoja, you see dirty water flowing from public taps. Rice production in Kogi State is not as large as what we have in Edo State.


Are you sure you have the capability to govern a volatile state like Kogi?

Kogi State, at this point in time when things are volatile, needs a woman governor. We need a female governor that is brilliant and who is also a team player. When it’s about service and somebody is coming to contribute his or her own quota, you will not see anybody holding guns. It is corruption that makes some people to be deadly and desperate for political office. If you are not going there to steal, there would not be cause for desperation. If I become the governor of Kogi State, I would focus on poverty eradication, women and youth empowerment while the interest of menfolk would be adequately protected. Our educational and health sectors would be holistically revitalised. Infrastructural development such as effective road networks would also be given topmost priority. On security, I would involve traditional rulers and also encourage the vigilante groups to collaborate with security agencies. If there is a case of kidnap in any community, the monarch of such community would be held responsible. Give the traditional rulers their dignity and authority. No governor should be pushing royal fathers around. Traditional rulers are fathers of all political parties. We are all subjects of the traditional rulers and honour must be given to them. In those days, people don’t go to court; all disputes were settled in palaces of monarchs. Similarly, I will respect local government autonomy to fast track steady development at the grassroots level. Kogi is supposed to be the best state in Nigeria because we are endowed with brain and natural resources.


Do you have the political clout to contest against Governor Yahaya Bello, who is seeking a second term of office and Senator Dino Melaiye?

Being a woman itself is a clout on its own because the people are tired of men. The men have failed us over and over again. It has always been men governing Kogi State since the state was created. So, let us give women a chance. Let our people try me. Let them keep their guns and let us talk about good governance and service delivery. That is the way forward and I am pursuing my governorship ambition on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC). I have been a progressive and ardent supporter of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I believe in social service to the people. Take a look at Awolowo’s enduring legacies and you will discover that nobody can obliterate them.


Contesting for elective office in Nigeria is tough and financially demanding, most especially the office of the governor which you are interested in. Do you have the financial wherewithal to push your ambition through in Kogi State governorship election?

I have told you that I am a believer. In the holy Bible, five loaves of bread and two fish were what Jesus used to feed thousands of people and when they were done, they still have 12 baskets left. I don’t know how rich President Muhammadu Buhari was before he contested for the election, but God made resources available to him because he had plans for him. Assuming somebody gets a support of N100million from somewhere for election, the person would be looking for how to pay back such money if he or she wins the election. Our politics is extremely expensive and to give women a chance, the government should make sure that we don’t spend huge sums of money.