OrderPaperToday – Lois Auta is a very upbeat person living with a disability. She has however stoutly disallowed her physical status from impeding an infectious resolve to impact on society.
To Lois, the political arena is a path she has chosen to make the impact. And the 2019 general elections is an immediate point of contact as she verily emerged as candidate of Accord Party contesting for AMAC/Bwari federal constituency seat in the House of Representatives. She is hoping to be the first representative of the people living with disabilities (PWDs) community at that level of government. Will she make it?
Titilope Olayemi Fadare brings excerpts of a very engaging interview with Lois Auta:
Why did you decide to run for election into the House of Representatives?
For too long, over 25 million Nigerians with disabilities, 80 million young people and 50.3 million women have been excluded, discriminated, marginalized and underrepresented in government policies and programmes and this moved me to run for office to be able to advocate for the rights of these vulnerable people when I get to the green chamber as the first woman with disability at the national assembly. I am going to work with my honorable colleagues to ensure that the rights of these precious people are given to them.
From what you said, it means you plan to represent three constituencies- AMAC/Bwari federal constituency, people living with disability and the women. Which is of utmost importance to you?
Basically, it is the people of Bwari and AMAC that are sending me there for me to represent them and ensure that they enjoy sound education (and) health care services is delivered to them. I feel very bad when I hear that a woman died during child birth due to the carelessness of some doctors and nurses. I am going to come up with innovative ideas on health care service delivery by saying that any doctor or nurse found wanting will be sanctioned. Then the family that is a victim will be compensated which right now, government is not doing that. If something like that come up, the doctors and nurses will sit up and do their work diligently with commitment and good character. They will treat patients with respect and with professionalism. So, my first constituency that is so dear to me is AMAC/Bwari, followed by persons with disability. I was affected by polio when I was two years old but I see my disability as a bridge and not a barricade. I see it as a blessing and not a curse. I see my disability as an opportunity to change the world. I am a problem solver. I am a leader with ethical skills. I know how to follow up on issues. Coming on board with innovative ideas that will ensure the rights of the people are given to them. The third constituency is for women. To be frank with you, women played important role in my life by becoming the woman I am today. God used women to bless my life, first of all, my mum. So when you ask me about my role model in the family cycle, it is my mother. If you talk about the disability journey, Erickson is my role model and in my career, I want to be like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. My mum gave me good training and disciplined me. Secondly, after my secondary school, I could not go further: I started making calls, selling recharge cards to be able to sponsor myself for my diploma at the University of Abuja. Until God sent a very important woman that touched my life positively. She decided to be giving me allowances every month. When it is time for my school fees, she will pay. My course mates also played an important role: at times they come to my house, pick me and take me to school, drop me off. Some of them paid for my school handouts, and so many things. Today, I have diploma in public administration and I also have B.Sc in the same course from the same university. So that is Mrs. Lois Maikuri. After my diploma, 11 of us, me and my classmates went to NNPC, we did our industrial training but do you know because of God’s grace, I was the only person that NNPC retained till date. Though I am not a permanent staff, but God used NNPC to bring me to where I am. Individuals in NNPC and as a corporate organization, they have supported me positively and it was through a woman that I was retained in NNPC, Mrs. Mariam Sani. I will never forget these three women- my mum, Mrs. Lois Maikuri and Mrs. Mariam Sani. My children will get to know them and I pray they live long so I will be able to pay them back for the good acts of kindness they have exhibited in my life. So, women are world changers. Women can do and undo. She is passionate about her children, her family and people in her community. Do you know a woman in a public office can contribute to the GDP of her country with 21%? Because she knows where the shoe pinches. And when you give a woman N1, she transform it to N100. So, women should be given opportunities, women should be supported, women should be empowered and when these three things happen to a woman, everybody will feel it. Look at our dear late Dora Akunyili. Since she left NAFDAC, we have never heard any DG in NAFDAC, like the way we heard about Dora Akunyili because first she is woman, woman with professionalism, woman with passion, woman with character, woman that is competent to create the change that she wanted to see and she did it exceedingly well. I am very passionate about these three constituencies.
On disability bill, do you have any reservations about its passage, provisions or implementation?
Yes, we are glad that Mr. President signed our bill into law. I want to use this medium to thank him. The question is how will this act come up with a commission? Who are going to manage the affairs of the commission? What about the implementation plans? These are issues we need to raise. I have fears about the implementation though they said they have given individuals and corporate organisations five years to ensure that the provisions in that act are achieved. In the bill, we have so many issues that have been addressed- accessibility, education, politics and others. It is always an issue whenever I go to a bank, they will ask me to stay outside and one of the staff will come and attend to me. Why? Because they do not have access for wheel chairs and crutches. The deaf can easily can easily go to the bank. The blind, yes, but they will have issues filling in signature and other things. That is why I said, we need everybody in. This involves all Nigerians to ensure that the act is being implemented.
Going back to the ‘three’ constituencies especially AMAC/Bwari, it appears your vision for them is keenly on health, are there other deliverables?
I don’t want to promise more and deliver little. I want to promise little and deliver more when I get to the green chamber. I only have to advocate for inclusive legislations. Whenever my male colleagues are coming up with bills, I will ensure there is equal opportunities for this group. Secondly, I am going to work on inclusive health care service. I am also going to work on education. If I am not educated, you won’t come to me. So I am very grateful to my family for first of all believing in me by sending me to school and today I am using education I got from school to do what I am doing. The third one is employment opportunities. I will come up with ideas on internships, fellowships, skills acquisition centers and other great innovative ideas that will bring employment to the people of AMAC and Bwari. I am going to talk to global organisations like HP, Toyota and other ICT organisations, bring them in to Abuja to invest by setting up an industry where they will work together with young people, women and persons with disabilities and ensure they are the ones assembling these devices. From there, we will get opportunities to be employed and I will come up with Lois Auta fellowship whereby you don’t need to go to school before you attend a leadership training in the US or UK. I am going to work with organisations that will partner and collaborate together and ensure these goals are achieved.
I was amazed when you said women have been very supportive to you because younger female politicians complain of being sidelined by veterans, what is your perception on that?
Yes. I am not comfortable with it because women need to support and empower women. And that is the strategy men are using against us. You see man to man fight and the next minute they are shaking their hands. They are trying to see how they can support each other. I was moved when I met one of our colleagues also contesting for House of Representatives from Nassarawa state. He said it was his boss that pushed him. He told him he can see qualities of a good leader in him and that he should run because he will support him. Yes that’s a good one, but some of these supporters, I am not encouraging ‘godfatherism’ or sponsors that will like to dictate what you execute in your office but if you are a good boss you can support, advise and mentor. I will use the word ‘mentorship’ than ‘godfatherism’. I will say I have attended many forums organized by women and the participants are women and they will say they are going to support the younger women in politics. They will give you that contact but after that meeting they will not pick your call or respond to your messages. So how can you help? In public you are like this, in the private life you are different. We should be truthful and transparent in dealing with each other. First of all, I will advise the older women that have experience and are already exposed in politics, economy, education and many other aspects to mentor young women, not spend money to do that but connect them to an organization and support you in your vision or career. I want to see women like Alakija, Ibukun Awosika sponsoring/ supporting young women in politics. We are really having the challenge in competing with male counterparts in politics because the men are ready to do anything to get that power. I have seen situations whereby many women won the primary election and they were substituted with male names. It happened here in Abuja in APC. Barrister Amanda Pam won the primary election. A week later, her name was substituted with someone from the presidency. That is what we are saying. At that time, I was expecting women to come up with press release and actions against the substitution. Many groups left her alone. She took the case to court and last week Wednesday, there was a court ruling that she is the winner of that election. Now she is in the race, the other person had to step down. It is a good one because a woman is running on the ruling party. Doing things in the right way will take us to the next level.
How do you see the future of female inclusion in Nigerian politics?
Hmmmmn. This is a very good question. I was disappointed when I read your report that only 233 women out of 1900 candidates are running for senate. It is disheartening. That is why women need to come together. Look at what is happening in Ethiopia and Rwanda. These are smaller countries that are looking up to Nigeria and now, Nigeria is looking up to them which is wrong. They always say Nigeria is the giant of Africa but we are not leading by example. When it comes to statistics, it is discouraging.
What plans do you intend to put in place for effective implementation of constituency projects?
I plan to have a constituency office in AMAC and Bwari whereby in a week, I will choose a day to either be in AMAC office or another day in Bwari office. So that people will come in and share their problems with me and I will look for ways of addressing them. The constituency allocations, I will ensure its use for projects that will accommodate good roads, clean water, etc. On Saturday, I was in Garki police barrack where I met like over 200 women. They said they have water and do not need borehole but what they need is employment for their children, so you can see what I am talking about. Our public officers need to be transparent, accountable to people that they are representing. They need to talk to people about their needs and challenges. I have learnt a lot during my political journey, do you know everywhere I go, and they have specific needs and challenges. Some will tell you, they need roads that when you give them roads, I will do eight years in the national assembly. Some will tell you, it is school that we need while others will say they need health care centres. There are many needs that need to be addressed; it is when you go to them that you know and get aware of these needs.
Why are you running under Accord party? How will you rate their level of reception when you told Accord party that you wanted to run?
(Giggles) I have been attending many political meetings whereby the former IPAC chairman come to deliver speeches and in the meetings he has been seeing me when I was with APC. I started with APC but when it comes purchase of nominations and interest forms, I could not buy due to the exorbitant fees. So YIAGA came out with a press release that young people, persons with disabilities and other young women that could not afford forms in the major parties should move to other older or smaller parties that can support them. That encouraged me to move to Accord party whereby they were excited about my decision to join the party, they gave me the necessary support, the forms were free for aspirants with disability and all the structures that I needed to use were provided for me in Accord party. That was how I became a candidate. It was amazing when INEC brought out the list of candidates from presidency to house of reps: 4,000 plus names of people out of the 4000, I am the only woman with disability that is running for the house of the representatives. Already, I am a reference point. I have dared the political space and we are on the way of making history and by the time I win, a good name will be created for Accord Party for being inclusive. Not just in Nigeria but to the world and Africa. Secondly, they have written their name in gold by this action they have taken by supporting me. Many political parties do not believe in persons with disabilities because one, we do not believe in ourselves. So how can someone out there believe in you? Secondly, we don’t have the money other people have to run for elections. Yes, I came out with faith and with the caliber of people I know, I thought they were going to do fund raising for me so I can be able to move on smoothly but by the time I started telling people about my intention, some were encouraging and discouraging me. The people I was expecting them to say Lois take N500,000, N1 million or N2 million to run your campaign, they never supported me. So it is different people that I have never even expected that will ask for my account details. That’s how we have been moving slowly like chameleon, now we are at the stage we are right now and I believe with the number of support groups coming up to adopt me as their candidate, I believe I will win this election.
How will you rate political parties’ inclusiveness in areas like their constitution, manifesto, etc.?
That is where the problem is. If a political party’s constitution said they are going to reserve 35% for women, 5% for persons with disability, 10% for young people, it should happen. We are tired of all these issues of names substitution, interest and nomination forms being sold at a high cost, when INEC is giving you forms for free. It is the same paper. Then why are political parties putting money like that? Rather they should be taxing members to pay dues every month or every week. From there, they will be able to fund the party activities. When it comes to nomination forms it should not be more than N100,000 or maximum N500,000 according to the position from presidency to councilor. They really need to be inclusive in order to bring people into the political space. Today, they are fighting or killing each other because of the same position. We should do politics like the US.
How will you describe your campaign so far?
(Sighs) It is challenging because I have issues with access to meeting halls due to the inaccessibility of our buildings. Some villages are also not accessible because you have to cross a river. What happened during such events, I will just sit in the car and my campaign team will go meet and talk to them. Some of them will cross over and meet with me. It is so exciting the way people are responding about me because they say it has never happened before. They have never seen a person with disability running for office. They said they have tried the able people, the rich ones and the indigenous members (Gbagyi) and they have failed them. So they said it will be better to try me because they could see the passion in me, the exposure and experience that I am for humanity. So they will do their possible best to support me. The experience is also amazing (smiling) and it is going to be historic. I am documenting everything. After elections whether I win or I do not win, I am going to write a book and I believe I will invite you for the launch of the book. (Laughs).