The joy that eluded Joy Emordi when her election as Senator representing Anambra State was inexplicably annulled by the court has now been restored with her recent appointment as the Presidential Adviser on Legislative Matters.
Although she is not sitting directly and moving motions on the floor of the upper legislative chambers, Emordi, is nonetheless on a familiar terrain and is out to prove her mettle as a politician who understands the intrigues and rhythm of government. But in this interview with Ruth Choji, she insists that women should be allowed to take their destiny in their hands as the 35 percent affirmative action for them could limit their advancement in the political terrain. Read on.
You look rather young for a grandmother, what is the secret of your youthfulness?
I believe that you live this life once. I also believe in the philosophy that ‘what will be will be’ and I don’t bother myself unnecessarily. I believe in taking things easy and then being very close to my God and I also condition myself to look at things in a simple way, believing that nothing is impossible. I don’t take any burden to bed.
If this is your belief why are you in the murky waters of politics?
I was a student activist in the University of Nsukka and was interested in people getting a better life. At that time there was this desire for a Marxist, egalitarian society and how to achieve it. In school, we were told that the best way to achieve that was to be involved in public affairs and we used our positions then to do a lot for students. I was in charge of Balewa Hall then and I used my position to bring so many positive changes, which we couldn’t have achieved with just petitions. That was what informed my joining politics. I believe that you can help people by influencing policies and you can only do that when you are in the system. Just one good policy will affect many people than just trying to help in your private capacity.
You were removed in questionable circumstances; Nigerians will like to know what actually happened?
I knew that one day the truth would come out and didn’t lose sleep over that matter. It was an injustice for a man who didn’t even go for an election to be declared winner of the elections.
When the court first discovered that my opponent forged all the documents, I was declared the winner by the tribunal. He was not even attending the tribunal which even said that they would have charged him for forgery if they had the jurisdiction to do so. They referred to the report sheet he presented in court as fake because he claimed that the sheets were given to him in the field. And when he was ordered to produce those who gave him the result sheets, he recanted his statement by saying that other party agents gave him the documents. That man is known for doing that type of thing. In his first outing in the House of Representatives, he actually contested under the AD in those days but he came to court and claimed that he was the PDP candidate that won. Lo and behold, I didn’t know how he did it in court and was miraculously declared winner when it was another person who actually won. In my own case, he didn’t even contest for the Senate. There was no ANPP in my zone. He contested for the primaries of the House of Representatives under the PDP. I am swearing with everything I have. This same man went to court and said that he was the candidate of the ANPP apparently because he did it before and got away with it. Again he did it in my case but the tribunal in the first instance threw his petition out. When all of us went for appeal, he wasn’t coming to the court. But after a year and one month, the judgment was given in my favor. How this man went and did it in court still baffles me.I can recall that even before the judgment he was boasting that he was going to remove me but I never believed it until the shocking judgment came. That was why I went to the Supreme Court for an interpretation because the same court had earlier declared me winner. I wanted to know if it is possible for the same court to declare one winner and then turn round to declare another victorious with better evidence. I believe that declaring somebody winner is unconditional. But I took it as one of those things; I didn’t feel hurt but embarrassed. Now the same man is having the same issue. He thought he could do what he did to me again. He used lots of sentiments in my case but this time around when he tried the same antics, it did not work for him.
With what happened to you, do you still have faith in the judiciary?
Of course, yes. The same judiciary declared in court that I won. The judges gave me judgment in some of the cases that I won. I cannot because of that singular act, castigate the judiciary in anyway. During my first outing in the Senate, I was given my certificate of return after ten days and you know how Anambra politics is played. When I went to the constitutional conference in 1995, I faced stiff opposition too because some felt that I was too young to represent them. Some even said that I was going there to ‘carry handbag.’ I followed the result till the end, I also contested for the governorship and I knew what happened.
You were the Chairman, Senate Committee on Education. What did you achieve during that period?
We did a lot. During our oversight visits we discovered a lot of inconsistencies in the system and we worked hard to ensure that the Education Trust Fund was set up because we discovered that fund was a major problem. Our tertiary education system was crying out for funding and support. My committee was responsible for the Universal Basic Education Act. We also discovered that some of the institutions were operating without legal backing. We did a lot to ensure that the welfare of the teachers was taken care of by the government. We tried to ensure that some of the agreements they had with the government were implemented. The government was in the process of implementing the outstanding ones when I left.
During my tenure they wanted to stop the post UME test. I was also supporting it until I went deep into it before I appreciated it. We went round and saw some of the scripts submitted by students. I read the scripts of those who scored about 270 and above and wept. One of them who wanted to read Medicine scored 273 in JAMB but made only four percent in post-UME test. There was a place she was asked to differentiate between a plant and an animal and she said: ‘the difference between animal and plant is that, animal can make love, but plant cannot; animal can cry but plant can’t cry, please have mercy on me’.
I also read another script of a student who wanted to read law and I almost fainted. She was asked to answer a question, but the only thing the lady wrote was’ please help me, I have fibroid’.
After seeing these things, we were convinced that most of these people hire people to write these exams for them. We also discovered that from the period they started post-JAMB, the issue of cultism went down because most of those who went in through phony means were not able to appreciate the teaching and learning and therefore resorted to joining cultism in order to intimidate the lecturer and get their way through. But since the introduction of the pos- UME exams, this trend has gone down drastically. So I totally support the post-UME exams but my advice to the authorities is to stop extorting money from poor parents because some of them were taking as much as N10, 000 from parents. It is not fair. During my tenure we advised the authorities to make the exams free at least collect between N500 and N1000 per candidate for the test. We also ensure that, entrepreneurship education was introduced and money was made available for them, because everybody coming out with basic knowledge of entrepreneurship will definitely have something to do. They will be better placed more than white collar job.
If you had your way, would you go back to the Senate to complete your assignment?
Well, since the essence of being in public office is basically to serve the people, I don’t mind which platform I use in the service of my people. God was with me in the Senate and I used my position to render service to the people of Nigeria. After that tenure, God wanted to use another platform for me to continue to help my people. So whether I want to go there or not is irrelevant now, I think I am okay where I am now, I wanted to go back and serve my people, but I can still be here and influence some polices to the benefit of the people.
How does your position as a former Senator assist you in the new post?
This assignment is not what somebody without experience can do effectively. I am in a very familiar terrain, working with my friends. I know everything about the workings of the Senate and the House of representatives. Therefore I can say that my experience as a Senator is necessary for the success of the new office I am occupying.
Nigerians seem to have a wrong perception of the national assembly because they see the lawmakers as people who are there to enrich themselves.
I sympathise with the members of the national assembly. I was there and to be honest with you, if I say they suffer, people would want to cut off my head (laughs).
People assume they get millions every month or quarter the truth is that they get their salaries. What people assume as their salaries is not really so but funds for the management of the offices of the members. The money they give me to manage my office is different from my real salary, but someone will come and calculate my allowances, traveling, and others and conclude that I am taking millions or so home. That is wrong and should not be encouraged.
Many women lost out in the last general elections. What could have been responsible for the big loss despite the massive advocacy for more women in governance?
It is a pity that some of these problems are cultural. Some people still believe that women should not be seen or heard and that the place of a woman is in the kitchen. These are some of the impediments but the good thing is that they are changing. Economic is another impediment because women do not have access to resources the way men have and elections in Nigeria are very expensive. It is easier for a man to mobilise funds than a woman. Some people will even dismiss you before you start anything. The parties are also not helping matters when it comes to women. They should set conditions that will favor women particularly during party crises as women do not have the ability to withstand political crises like their male counterparts.
Nigerian women agitated for 35 percent affirmative action. Do you think they have got it?
Let me say that this administration has done a lot for women more than any other administrations in this country in terms of keeping to its promise to women. We have to commend the First Lady because she was pressurizing them to do it. For me, I do not support this affirmative action.
Why are you not in support of the affirmative action for women?
Affirmative action will not make for development of women in politics. I am seeing a situation whereby if we accept 35 percent, we will be permanently limited to that number and nothing more; they won’t allow us to get 50 percent or more.
For instance in the Anambra State House of Assembly, we have more than 35 percent of women in the house. The mentality of Nigerian people is changing because women are doing very well in elective positions and even the men are beginning to believe that it is women who will turn this country around. How many women have you seen being dragged around for corruption? So I am seeing a situation where women will get more positions not just 35 percent. My fear is that if women insist on that quota, the constitution will have to be amended to incorporate that. The cultural bias against women must also change. The real question will be which local government will be given to women. So I feel that Nigerian women should be left to move by themselves and before long they will surpass the 35 percent affirmative action. Affirmative action should be for political positions not elective positrons so that a woman that knows her onions will not be hampered.Do you foresee a situation where a woman will emerge as president of Nigeria Soon?
Of course, I am seeing a situation where one day, a woman will emerge as the president, but not soon, because we still have a long way to go.
Do you have any word of advice for women who are aspiring to elective positions?
They must first ask themselves why they want to go into politics: is it to better yourself or the lots of other people? They must have an incentive taking them into politics.
If it is for personal gains, they should not go into the political fray. But if the goal is to help the less privileged, is worth the trouble. Politics could be one of the most traumatic things in a woman’s life. But if you are for the people no matter what you pass through once you remember the face of that poor women, those poor children who have none to help them, it will spur you to stand and not give up.
Women must be morally upright because some people see women in politics as prostitutes.
Women must learn to comport themselves and know the kind of people they associate with so that their integrity is not tampered with in the course of doing politics.