Do you think Nigerian government over time has done enough concerning issues of rape, especially as it concerns minors?
I don’t know how many people have been prosecuted after being caught. I know that if most people that were caught have been prosecuted, and we have lawyers that are able to stand for those ones that are raped. I know of an NGO which is really championing the issue and making the girls to come and report to them. Before now, it was like a taboo. If we are able to encourage such thing and they find out that if reported, they will be prosecuted and the punishment will be grave, they won’t dare do it. Nigerian government needs to take it as a priority. Rape is bad so we must be able to stamp our feet as government to deal with the matter.
Is your NGO still running now that you do more of politics?
My NGO program of deworming is a programme we do yearly. It runs independent of me. I am just the founder, it has the management staff that organise the program for young people between the ages of 11 and 18, mainly for females but we sometimes include the males in the programmes.
What do you intend to do further for your community having been in political terrain for a while?
I have looked at how we have been marginalised in my constituency for a very long time. We haven’t had a very strong voice to speak for our issues. I will be representing the men and the women, therefore I would work generally for everybody.
You have held several political posts in the past, how have they impacted you?
I went into elective office in a very rough terrain. We never had a female elected even as a councilor prior to my being elected as a member of the House of Representatives so it was a tough one. Because prior to that time, I had an NGO that I was using to reach out to children doing deworming exercise for them in my community and doing elderly help line for the aged out of passion. I didn’t know it would amount to running for an election. Then I had a governor’s wife at that time who had a skill acquisition program and I was fortunate to be a coordinator in my community. I did the training for the women, monitored it, got them to graduate and ensured that the equipment that were given to the women actually reached them and they used it. Prior to that time in my community, you could hardly get any caterer for events. So, after the training, you could now find caterers for events, no longer having to bring caterers from Port Harcourt, we now had hair dressers in the community and other little trades taking place around us so the women began to understand that it is important for them to be part of the systems. At that juncture, it was time for election and the women asked who would go for them and they said Maureen Tamuno should go. But I had stiff opposition from men. Incidentally, two were lawyers and one was a traditional chief. They all said they would not allow a woman take the seat. But the women teamed up behind me. Some said I was married to this community and not originally from there. Other women who were married into the community now said that if it has to take them 50 years to be a part of that community, then they would pack and go. So, when the men saw that they were serious, they had to ask us to stay back that we are actually from here. It took a move from the women to do that. Fortunately for me, I had the support of the men later on and I clinched it.
What would you say your community would remember you for while in the house of assembly?
One of the things I made up my mind to do was to ensure I left my footprints in the sands of time, so that when another woman who wants to run in Benue or in Edo State, tells the story, they will believe that she too can be able to toe the line because as mothers, we care for details. We care for the health of the people, we care for the type of the water the people will take.
One of the major things I did after getting into office is providing portable drinking water in most of the wards in my local government area, I also ensured that women’s health issues were taken seriously and aside doing that, I ensured that, since visiting my community was not possible by road, you have to go on an hour speed boat by sea. Building was difficult, people couldn’t come to see me. As a member of the House of Assembly, I ensured that a bridge was put in the budget. And I followed up the executives to ensure that they awarded that bridge and even went as far as telling them that I didn’t want to know the contractor and to the extent that I didn’t drink anything on that bridge. As I speak to you now, the bridge connect us to the other parts of Rivers State and so that gave me another strength. In my community, there was no light, especially on Sundays or Saturdays, they put on the city generator so the people never knew what light was and it was a problem. I discussed with the then NEPA and when I was in office as executive chairman, I connected the Bollo community to Rivers State. Now, whenever light comes in that community, they will scream “Maureen don come”.
Do you have plans to mentor younger women to be like you?
We have plans to mentor younger women in politics that’s why we often talk to them. Discover them young. When I was in the House of Assembly, I was committee chairman in education, part of what we were doing is to go to the schools and find out from them what they want to become. Surprisingly, some of the girls would tell you, First Lady, others would say nurses. And when I ask them if they wiuld like to be governors, they get scared. We want to educate the girls to know that they can be governors of Rivers State.
What advice do you have for Nigerian women generally?
We are in the 21st century and it is not enough to ask, should women participate in politics? It is like asking should women give birth to children? We have gone past that stage. Women should take the bull by the horn. Power is not given, power is taken. Wherever you find yourself as woman while doing your business, reach out to your own immediate family even if you can’t extend it to the whole community because one day, you may need the support of the community. It would be too late because they will ask you what you were doing when you were a lecturer, did you lecture us, did you teach the people that are not educated how to read and write? Women, get back to your communities. Politics is local. You can’t come back from the US and tell us you want to run for president of Nigeria. We will not give you support. We will give support to the woman that has impacted the people. Nigerian women will stand up for the person. It is important to lend a helping hand to one another. Nigeria is a country that we all come from, we must learn to build it, we must learn to respect it, we must learn to elect only those that will not take us backwards. We have had enough, let’s not be deceived by the things we see today because for me, my religious background tells me and I believe that what we see today is temporal, what we don’t see is eternal so let us endure so that we can have a better Nigeria.
The government has not done enough on convicting rapists. It is a problem that still needs to be addressed. We need to really go beyond just talking about it.
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