Abiodun Essiet, a gender advocate, women leader of Nigeria Women Trust Fund (NWTF) and public health consultant, is the special adviser (SA) to the Chairman, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) Hon. Abdullahi Candido, on ICT, donor agencies, and civil societies. In this interview with ENE OSANG, she speaks on how she joined politics, her experience among others.
What is your background and did it influence you joining politics?
I am a registered nurse. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Nursing Science and a Masters in Public Health. I also hold a Diploma in Development Leadership and certificate in Community Development Leadership by Women, Conflict, and Peace-building, Action Research for Citizens-led Change from Coady International Institute, Nova Scotia, Canada.
I am a passionate community leader with seven years of experience in project management, community development and leadership. I am also involved in identifying development gaps in society and ways of bridging the gaps.
In 2018, I participated in the canvassing pan African youth democracy programme and I am working on a six-month project in my community on public service efficiency by engaging elected representatives to become more accountable, efficient and to deliver impactful governance to citizens.
Currently, I am the National Director for Women, Gender and Development Affairs of Africa Youth Union Commission, as well as the Executive Director of Abiodun Essiet initiative for girls, a Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) dealing with youth and women empowerment, Board Member and Health Consultant For Strong Enough Girls Empowerment Initiative and a volunteer for Baobab for Women’s rights.
I am actively engaged in public service, volunteerism and mentoring, and I started the “35% Inclusion Movements”, a grassroots movement aimed at reaching 35 per cent inclusion of women in decision making positions towards 2019 Nigeria general election.
I created a social media network known as the Young Africa Women leaders Network to Mentor young women across Africa on politics and leadership development, a platform I use to share my political journal as an aspirant in the general election in Nigeria.
Your background is in the healthcare sector, why did you move to politics?
I practiced nursing for some years and later moved into the civil society which launched me into an activism program. I became an advocate for gender equality and good governance.
My work in civil society got me involved in women’s empowerment programmes that really opened my eyes to the issues women are facing across the various sectors of life and development. The activist in me was not okay with the status quo. I felt something has to be done especially concerning the marginalization of women in governance.
This led to starting a grassroots movement called ‘35% Inclusion Movement, to advocate for 35% inclusion of women in leadership at both the public and private sectors, which was in line with international declarations and treaties like CEDAW, and Beijing platform for action 1995.
In the year 2016, I decided to practice what I preached by fully getting involved in politics by registering in a political party.
I see politics as an important tool for getting into governance. For so long we have left some specific kind of people who are not really interested in developing this nation in politics to shape our governance system which I was not happy about. I felt we needed a new crop of people who are transformational leaders, interested in developing this nation in politics.
My parents are politician, so at the early stage of my life I started participating in party politics passively but I became a partisan politician in 2016.
As an undergraduate and also in the postgraduate, I contested for different positions in our departmental association.
So, what has the experience been as SA to AMAC chairman?
Well, I contested in the last general elections as counsellor for my ward, Orozo Ward, which is one of the 12 wards that constitute AMAC.
I contested against five men and lost at the primary election. Although I didn’t like how everything turned out during my primary elections, I continued working for the party.
I was made the campaign secretary for my ward for the campaign team of APC, where I worked with other members of the party to canvas for votes for our candidates at the general election.
I also joined the APC FCT Women Leader, Hon. Hail Mary Aipob, campaign structure, where we formed a new campaign team called Women and Youth for Buhari. We went around the FCT with the minister to canvas for votes.
The AMAC chairman, Hon. Abdullahi Adamu Candido, noticed my commitment to the party and my community development work and he requested that I should join his team to serve the people.
I joined the team in May 2019 and my seven months in office has been interesting and challenging. Coming from a civil society background some of the civil servants found my zeal to make a change strange because they are used to having things done in a particular.
So, I spent 1st month in office to understand the system and to draft my agenda. In my one month in office, I was able to revive the ICT unit and I updated our social media pages. I registered AMAC as a member of world smart cities and local governments. I also created a structure to manage the affairs of civil societies in AMAC.
The first few months of resumption of the administration were used to set the agenda. Interactive meetings were held with the staff of the ICT division, the information division of the council and the social welfare unit of the council. Assessment of the website, social media platforms of the council was carried out by the team; information gathered was used to initiate the process for updating the website of the council with the website developer.
We also had engagement with relevant donors and civil societies. The team paid a courtesy visit to various national and international organizations.
We now have a very active social media handles. We are currently updating our website. In this process, my team is working on securing the website, activating links to the various departments and we also working on creating a newsfeed section on the website.
I led AMAC delegation on a governance impact learning visit to Kigali, Rwanda, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The governance impact learning visit is a program designed to expose young political leaders to global standards of governance and provide them with a peer support space for ideating on how to cascade such learning experiences for governance impact in their local political leadership and sphere of influence. Participants spent six days visiting relevant government agencies and institutions in Rwanda and UAE.
What informed the choice Rwanda and Dubai?
Rwanda is ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Africa and also ranks higher than Nigeria in the global competitiveness index by the World Bank.
While Dubai which was an emerging state in the early ’80s has become one of the world’s leading tourist and investment destinations within a space of three decades, and Nigeria with far more resources than both countries lags behind. Both countries have substantially improved vital sectors such as education, health, transportation, and tourism, which have significantly enhanced the impact of government on the lives of the citizenry.
Rwanda and Dubai also have a relatively flexible visa policy and low travel costs.
I ensured development partners meeting with the council chairman whereby 21 partners attended the meeting with the cabinet members of the council.
The meeting was organized to provide a coordinating platform for the council to know the donors and NGO’s working on various projects within the municipal area and to create an opportunity for development partners to share their projects and action plans.
At the meeting, the chairman recognized that the government cannot do everything; partnership globally can assist the government. Interventions through organizations will ensure services reach consumers and promote the development of a more united and prosperous Area Council; through encouraging brotherhood between Indigenes and other Nigerians to appreciate stronger ties and partnership. The meeting was also to strengthen existing infrastructure and we harped the need for AMAC microfinance banks to support economic empowerment among the less income AMAC residents.
Also, the need for sustainable agriculture development, promoting the achievement of basic health care provision across all our Primary Health Care Centres; partnership for e-governance service delivery in the council; exchange programmes with other councils across the globe and an all-inclusive government that encourages women to contribute their quota to development at all levels was stressed.
You joined AMAC seven months ago but was awarded the most efficient staff in 2019, how did this make you feel council?
I feel excited and proud of my achievement. I promised myself to perform my duties with excellence. Knowing that women hardly occupy the position I occupy at all levels of government I wanted to make women proud and also for the men to find it worthy to always put women in positions of authority. My success is dedicated to women in governance.
My achievements rebranded AMAC on social media, built the capacity of staff on ICT. I ensured AMAC was registered with Wego Facilitator, AMAC partners and ICT investor.
I established a structure for creating a gender unit and gender policy in AMAC to sensitise staff on gender-based violence at the workplace.
I promoted working relationship of AMAC with developmental partners by setting first-ever Round-table discussion on development with the AMAC chairman. I also facilitated several projects/programmes for AMAC from NGOs and donor agencies.
Before I came to office, men had been occupying this position for a long time and none of them could do half of what I did in seven months. I am happy I have a HeforShe as chairman. He appreciates good work and awarded me the overall best cabinet member in AMAC for 2019.
What is your vision for AMAC?
My vision for AMAC is for the council to be the best local government in Nigeria, setting the pace for others to follow. I look forward to an inclusive council with the agenda of bringing dividends of democracy to citizens.
Also, I envision a council that supports citizen’s involvement in governance, promoting open governance and transparency.
In line with my office, I want AMAC to be the best council that promotes enabling environment for none governmental organisations to engage with the council
What advice will you give young women who are facing challenges in politics?
I will encourage them to be bold, calm and collected. Learn about politics before getting into it. Have a mentor within the party structure.
They should know their constituency very well and relate well with members of their constituency as well as community leaders.
Their success in politics also depends on money, every month I set aside 20 per cent of my salary to give welfare to people in my community.
So, what will you say to Nigerians in general?
To all Nigeria, good governance depends on our day to day actions and not just on the actions of few people elected to manage the affairs of government.
Get involved in governance; let your voice be heard. Change begins with us.
To women, take the steps. We are often limited by so many factors that directly or indirectly affect our lives. Believe in your dreams and take the necessary steps towards actualising those dreams, the world will not fall apart without you.