From: Joe Effiong, Uyo
Deputy speaker of theAkwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Felicia Bassey doubles as the National Chairperson of the Parliamentary Women Association of Nigeria. In this interview, she opens up on various issues and explains how Nigeria would be better if governed by a woman.
Before coming to the House of Assembly, you had served as transition committee chairman, and later on, local government chairman for Okobo LGA. Can you compare that position with that of the deputy speaker?
Governance is governance but it differs. There are three tiers of government but you know I happen to belong to legislature now. I was an executive chairman for Okobo local government. At the local government level, you are very close to the grassroots. As the chairman of a local government, you are the chief security officer. At the local government level, you need people, those who you can actually call and say these are my people: the poor, the rich, the ugly; all kinds of people. You need some of them at that level. You know there you go to village markets and interact with village people, the traditional rulers, all those people.
So my experience there was very interesting. It makes you to know where you come from, what are the needs of your people, how can you better their life, the administration and other issues.
But as a legislator our principal duty is making laws, oversights, all those things you understand if we legislate fine, you will bring laws which will not only serve your local government but the state as a whole. Many of the things we do at the state will better your local government in particular. As I am a member of Okobo State Constituency, if anything happens in Okobo LGA, it is my duty to draw the attention of the government because they gave me their mandate. They voted for me because they know I’m trusted and tested, and truly that as a local government chairman, I did not fail them; that if I go to the House of Assembly, I can have them in my heart; and do what I’m supposed to do for them. So the two, they are governance but in different forms. So as a legislator, I’m still an Okobo woman. I still relate with them but now as a legislator not as a local government chairman.
Which one puts more pressure on you, your time and even on your resources?
There is more pressure to me here as a deputy speaker of Akwa Ibom State because I’m not only an Okobo legislator but deputy speaker of the state. In fact, the demand is even beyond the state because as I’m talking to you today, I am the Chairperson of all female parliamentarians of Nigeria. So you see, the scope is wider and the pressure is much; the pressure is not only Okobo. And for your information, I am the voice of Akwa Ibom State women; I am the one representing all the women, so anything relating to women of Akwa Ibom State, I am there. And you know my constituency, the women constituency, we are many and so is the pressure.
But we thank God for the grace because we are still able. He has given us the capacity to be able to manage especially my main Okobo State constituency. I cannot forget because without them, I will not be where I am. So the pressure is a normal thing in life.
Let raise the issue of deputy speakership; I think you are the longest serving deputy speaker either female or male in Akwa Ibom State. So what’s the secret?
The secret is God and his grace. I may not be the best. But it’s His grace. The government of Akwa Ibom State, I would always tell them thank you – from the governor, the wife, my speaker, my colleagues, all of you, even you people in the press, all of you have contributed to who I am today. So, for people to appreciate and say no, give it to her; they are a lot of factors apart from God because faith without work is vain. So, if I am the longest serving deputy speaker in the state, to God be the glory and to all of you who made that possible especially my colleagues, I give God the glory.
There was this upheaval in the house especially the leadership crisis towards the end of your first term and gratefully it was handled. But within the period what were your fears, especially as a female deputy speaker, how did you fill the gap?
Well, I am a legislator I am a democrat. You know those things are the beauty of democracy. It’s not a war-war affair. Where we cannot handle it democratically inside, we seek redress in court and it was well handled. If you compare what happened in Akwa Ibom State to other state houses of assembly, you will score us very high because we have mature men in the House. They are not thugs; so when people came in, it wasn’t any of the members who were unruly. You know some people; they cry more than the bereaved. They came in and we were able to make sure that things were not out of order and those who were not satisfied went to court. I don’t want to talk about the court because the verdict is there. So, Akwa Ibom State house of assembly is a beautiful place; democracy is the best. All of us are still friends; no love lost; where ever they are, no love lost. So that’s how it was.
As a deputy speaker then, as a female I did my job and as a mother. My own is to advise because if anything happens to any of them, definitely, it will affect me. Anything that affects their wives affects me because I represent their wives; so it’s okay we are in order now.
First time in history we have a mixed race woman being a vice president of the United States. Will you say Nigeria is ripe for a female leader even as a vice president?
We are ready to make a big difference; try us; try a woman. Nigeria will be good. If the world can accept Ngozi Iweala, a Nigerian, a black woman – when we talk of the world, it’s not just Africa – tested and trusted and they know she can do it, is it Nigeria that we cannot rule? We have intellectuals, we have women with the fear of God. We have women with conscience; we have women who can look at you and tell you that: “No, what you are doing is not good.” You know, all these cabal issues are not with women. We are mothers; we know what is good for our children and we know that Nigeria when it’s in a woman’s hand, there will be peace – number one -because anything which will lead to shedding of blood, we will not want to do it. We will say no, we will talk as a mothers.
When the heat is on, we will say no, it is not here. Let’s do it this way. I have been a deputy speaker how many years now, have you ever heard of any problem between the deputy speaker and the speaker. No, I’m a woman and I’m a mother; and I know who I am. It’s just like giving you a wife. Your wife is not to come and rule over you. She’s your companion: just your back up.
In the state, PDP has been in power since 1999. Three years ago, there had been an assumed stiff competition between PDP and APC which has the strength at the centre which is the federal government. Do you see PDP still maintaining leadership in the state in 2023 and even beyond?
My brother, you don’t need a soothsayer; Akwa Ibom is PDP and PDP is Akwa Ibom.
But Nigerians used to say or PDP used to say they were going to rule for 60 years
It doesn’t matter, I’m talking about Akwa Ibom. You know the centre is APC. You witnessed the defections, centre power; this power but the people spoke with their votes and we were able to carry it. Let me tell you, you only rig where you have support. Do you know that anywhere you don’t have support, you will see people even ready for you to kill them. They will say kill me. And you won’t be ready to kill because is it not human beings that you are going to rule? I tell you, I see Akwa Ibom 2023 being a PDP state. I am a PDP member and will continue to be a PDP member. Let me tell you the beauty of democracy, don’t think that you are alone; you are not alone. You will bring from Felicia; you will bring from Atim; you bring from Okon; you know each and everyone of us, we have people following us behind and that makes that family. So what happened that time was to tell you that people own the land. The land is not I; the land is We; and we spoke so we are going to speak again if Jesus doesn’t come.
That also brings the issue of PDP at the centre. People thought that PDP would reclaim power at the centre in 2019; and the optimism is still there among the PDP members. What do you foresee at the centre in the nearest future?
Let me tell you something, I will continue to tell you this. There is the tendency of us taking back our power. Between me and you, what has APC done. APC themselves they are tired; they know. There is how you come back home and they cook soup and the soup is very salty; and you came in with a friend and you yourself you know that soup is not good; and you pretend to swallow; and your friend will put hand and wash and say okay I ate. How will you feel? You will be ashamed and when your friend leaves, you will scold your wife, abi?
Nigeria is talking of zoning. Forget what other parties are doing. Where will you want your party to pick its presidential candidate from?
I will not answer you that question. You know why? There is hierarchy. There are people we put to keep thinking of that; they know what is good for Nigeria. If I’m called upon probably, I will give my own views then. But for now, no, I will allow it to be at that level. There will be convention; when we go for convention, we will weigh the merits and demerits.