Ms. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti (YRK) is vying for the post of Senator of Lagos Central Senatorial District on the platform of the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP and dishes on her motivation, agenda for Lagos State and of course her opponent H.E. Remi Tinubu.
There is long standing history of activists in her family notably Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Fela Ransome-Kuti, and Beko-Ransome-Kuti. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti herself was jailed by the military junta, Abacha for speaking up for her people. YRK is the founder and Executive Director of Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (NNNGO), she is the CEO of Ransome Properties Nigeria Ltd, the chairperson of Lagos Chapter, Coalition for Issue-Based Politics and Good Governance (CIPOGG), Co-founder Women in Politics and Governance (WINPOGOV)This 63 year old mother of 4 and grandmother of 3 is committed to utilizing her knowledge, skills and experiences in both public and private sectors for the growth of Nigeria and its people.
YRK shares with Toyin Ajao of free2run on why she is running for office at this time, the changes she hopes to make and what this signifies for women in politics and leadership in Nigeria.
Free2run: Can we get to know you?
YRK: Am Ms. Yemisi Ransome-Kuti am running for senate Lagos Central under the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP). I am known in other spheres of course as a Ransome –Kuti with there is that antecedent of activism and National Development. Being part of the movement for democracy in Nigeria I was arrested by the SSS during the Abacha years and had taste of the tie gas and attended many rallies. I also have my private businesses; I am in the private sector. I worked for Shell for many years and I also have a lot of activities in the civil society. I am the executive director of NNNGO(Nigerian Network of NGO’s) and I facilitate the Governance and Institutions Policy Commission of the Economic Summit Group and am also the chairperson of Lagos Chapter, Coalition for Issue-Based Politics and Good Governance (CIPOGG) and that is me in brief.
Free2run: Those are quite some activities and you are known for your outstanding activism in many sectors, being a well know civil society activist and actor, what really influenced you into bridging into politics?
YRK: I am not a politician although we all have some political leanings in our blood if you are a human being. However I didn’t believe I will be an active politician, I didn’t feel there was a need for it. However, we found that the individuals and personalities that have taken over our democratic space have sourly disappointed us, they have wasted over the years 600 billion dollars of our own money. They have not provided jobs, they have not provided infrastructure, and there is no area we can point to say Nigeria has achieved this or we have sorted this out. And in Lagos State in particular, we are not meeting the MDGs goal one of eradicating extreme poverty and in so many other areas. The fact that each time I go out I see that despondent, I see that poverty, I see that despair and frustration in the face of people. Young men have being turned into drug addicts by irresponsible politicians who just throw money at them and say (jeunsoke), they have being turned into lay-abouts and touts and young girls into prostitutes because there are no jobs out there.
And I feel that all that sacrifice, all the pains and all the blood, sweat and tears that those humanitarians; the Gani Fawehemi, of course the members of my family, after all the things we have put into it this country is actually regressing rather than progressing. Even though we have being working at developing institutions which civil society has been doing, all the work being done is not being implemented because of irresponsible leadership. For example, as a member of job creation committee of the federal government, we have a beautiful programme on how we can do short and long term interventions in areas like agriculture, small and medium enterprise, sport, entertainment, manufacturing and business out sourcing, we have a detailed report which we presented to the government last year. The committee was chaired by Alinko Dangote but you will find out that Dangote as a private individual is the one using some of the ideas to set up some of the interventions he is doing right now, the government itself is not stepping up to the plate.
And that is the frustration that unless you have credible individuals who will take the process forward, the ideas, partners and resources are there but if you have leaders who are not straight forward and who interested in their selfish end then there is no going forward. Then I became even more alarmed that they are now replacing themselves with their wives, in-laws, and daughters and I thought the average Nigerian will be finished if we give them another four year to consolidate their monarchies and empires it will be a humongous task to dislodge them.
And average Nigerian now knows that this cannot be allowed to continue and that credible people need to step up. These are the things that went through my mind.
Free2run: This has brought up two points, that we will like you to expantiate but first can you tell us why you chose to run for senatorial seat and not any other position, what are those key things you think you would be able to change as a senator if elected and you can as well touch on your manifesto?
YRK: My work with the private sector within the Nigeria Economic Summit Group(NESG) has given me insight into a lot of challenges we face in the areas in human capital development, in investment climate, in the infrastructure, oil and gas. And in my work as a consultant for the World Bank and the UN on various activities particularly in the area of MDGs, it gives me insight into the challenges and the solutions. It is not for want of solutions; because we have a depth of solutions but it is how we ensure that we are able to channel them into implementation, into budget, into legal frameworks and that is where the legislative agenda will come in. The focus must be the economy, if you get the economy right, you will be able to manage thethe attendant problems. To create a legal framework that will be friendly to businesses and encourage investors, legal framework that will remove barriers for investment that will protect investors. We need to tighten regulatory policies so that Nigerians will be gainful employed in these companies and that foreign investors won’t take up their jobs.
For instance businesses are moving away from Lagos to Ogun State that is in Nigeria as well because of the need for a friendly tax environment. For long term development, government needs to attract businesses, encourage factories to be built, employ Nigeria, train Nigerians and built their capacities. Government should be encouraged to do a lot research. There are so many areas as a legislature to intervene. I will be looking also into social protection for the aged, physically and mentally challenged, those with temporary and long term challenges and at disadvantaged to get a break through social welfare which I will be looking at. I will also be looking at legislation that affects women and children, how do we make sure that domestic violence is dealt with, discrimination against women as address by the ratified convention CEDAW is looked into.
We will also look critically at framework of managing the economy and that will take care of public sector reform. I know there is such a reform process in place but how do we partner with head of services to accelerate this process and have professionalized civil services and customer friendly civil servants and make them see businesses as the goods that are laying the golden eggs? Justice sector reform needs to be fast tracked to have a judiciary that supports the citizens, the human rights of the citizens, the businesses. The justice system should not be for the protection of the big fishes, but everyone in the society. We must also have budget efficiency with 100% implementation that will be managed efficiently and quickly. I see quality representation as a critical area, the constituency should see you as their representative that includes their input into policies and budgets through dialogue and this will be institutionalized as I have being doing town hall meetings in different capacities before and citizens should be able to monitor development through their mobile phone. Over and above all issues of quality representation, of pro-poor, pro-people legislation, of inclusive, oversight monitoring participatory governance, I have also pledged to set up micro finance in my constituency for women and youth.
Free2run: We touched on CEDAW earlier on, can we talk about this and many other challenges that are limiting women such as the Nigeria Constitutions limitation on women converging their citizenship to their foreign partners/husband, the crawling nature of the affirmative action, how can things be turned around to bebe fair?
YRK: Obviously there are lot of anomalies both in our constitution and our laws, that are not very friendly to women and those and the things that I personally and other gender friendly men will keep looking into this, remember that the domestic law was initiated by Senator Odumayegba, so there are lots of men who respect women. It is not for the lack of having men like that in the Nigeria but it is the fact that they are not in the senate, so we need more of the men who are enlightened and who understand the process of human development, we have to have that balance of men and women partnering in the development of their nation. But not just men and women gender is about the youth as well, it is about every citizen having the rights thatbelong to each and every one of us, that no one should be discriminated against by any reason be it ethnic background, sex, religion, and these are the issues that are often left out of gender equality issues, it is about fighting for equality for all.
One of the other reasons we have to look at is the kind of women that we are sending to represent our interests. Are they women sponsored by Godfathers, or a woman who has no responsibility to other women but to serve either her husband or godfather or whoever put her there? Women groups must look for and support credible women that will be there to represent the interest of women. We must look for women of high moral standards and principles who will be role models. One of thing things that upset me is the lack of understanding that leadership is about certain standards for the future generation. We need to be careful and selective and interrogate women wanting to come into power. We need to look at women vying for positions not about what they promise but their track records, their mental orientation, perspective on development. If they don’t have this why should we vote to them?
Also women need financial support because women don’t have that financial support clout. Long before elections, especially from the end of this election, we must begin to organize resources for women. And we must tap into the support that is out there for women. Affirmative action is good to jump start the process it is still unfortunate though that Nigeria is behind Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa and Liberia. We need to take the affirmative action and various conventions and constitution stipulations as a part of the solution and the other part is the active aggressive education and enlightenment of women themselves. We must demand for an environment to produce human being of high quality. A research I did in the UK pointed to the fact that violent environments affect a fetus; there is a hormonal secretion that will affect that fetus conceived in a violent environment that may turn that child into a bully, a dictator in the making and or one that lacks empathy for other human being.
Women can learn Karate, Taekwando to combat domestic violence but we are not going that route beacuase of the effect on our children, future generation and the development of our country. We must begin to research into why we want equality, why we want domestic violence to be eradicated, why do we want poverty that affect women the most to be dealt with? I appeal to every woman to take the responsibility of getting the information; we can’t wait for women groups and leaders to tell us everything, internet can provide some of this information and there are other avenues too. It is important for women to let leaders both male and female understand the needs of women. Women need to be more organized and ready to work collectively. I usually ask when I give lectures if the women believe they are equal to men and you still find a sizeable number that would say ‘no’. You have already accepted defeat that you are second class citizen, that you are slightly inferior. All these issues need to be tackled in a cohesive, collective and understanding manner.
Free2run: what is your take on Sarah Jubril primary election as one of the PDP presidential aspirants?
YRK: That situation at Abuja was a very shameful. It was a very shameful outing not for Sarah Jubril but the women that went to Abuja but never voted for Sarah Jubril. It was so shameful not for Sarah but for First Lady and Minister of Women Affairs, how could they not have negotiated with the President himself that it would look good for them to have some Votes for this Sarah Jubril?
Free2run: We have talked about gender equality issues; can we touch more on why women are underrepresented in the Nigeria politics, women’s political participation keeps facing different obstacles, what is really hindering women from achieving success in this regard?
YRK: I have touched on the financial and psychological in terms of how women themselves perceive their roles and the psychology of the men too because women make the men. Whatever a man knows has being taught by a mother and reinforced by other women in the society largely as the custodian of culture. However, the other challenges women may fear the danger of security to their lives not that women are not courageous. I have always said that women are the most courageous gender we have.
It is a fallacy that women are weak. However, we know that both men and women are in danger in this environment, security of every citizen is palpable it is real. We need to make sure our law enforcement agents are alive to the responsibility of protecting every human being irrespective of who you are or what you do.
The issue on justice reform is the whole justice administration and encompasses everything, whistle blowers, community policing, neigbourhood watch arrangement, information dissemination system just like the arrangement Lagos State has put in place of the 777, 121 code should become a national strategy. We have to beef up the law enforcement personnel, there are not enough of them as half of them are protecting individuals that should not deserve more protection that the rest of us. All of that should be reviewed and I will look at this when I get to the legislator with other individuals who can deliver that we can form alliance and focus on issues of development, security, justice, peace and growth. People are no longer looking at parties only; a lot of independent minds will be in power to make changes too.
Free2run: How do you see your opponent, Former 1st Lady of Lagos State, Remi Tinubu, do you think she will make a difference if she wins?
YRK: There isn’t much to think about because there is nothing much in the public domain that points to what she (Remi Tinubu) has achieved on her own apart from being the First Lady and her husband helping her set up a foundation, which is good. Do we know if she has people skills, leadership skills? Does she have clear vision and as a leader you must deliver, you must have clear strategies, you must be somebody who has integrity, that you are not associated with corruption. If you are trying to help people you must be a courageous person that has been tested in the public domain, someone that has faced danger and not backed down. Does she have all these qualities? I don’t know. As a person does she have compassion? I don’t know, setting up a foundation does not mean a person is compassionate; these are the things journalists must dig deeper to find out. Let us know more about her character. We need to know if this person has commitment.
The challenge now is the process that brought her in, there were many qualified and capable people in the Action Congress of Nigeria and people where enraged that she was imposed on them. The enlightened Lagostians are not happy with this and the report has it that she is having a tough time on the field. For instance, in my party, I was endorsed by everyone and that is how it should be. Your work should speak for you. People are looking at credibility, antecedents they want to know who to report you to, and they want to know if you are a simple person who will not be easily persuaded into corruption. Your commitment to fighting injustice, the decadent in the society, fighting for development, people must know that all these are second nature to you and people will join hands with you. The report where are getting is she does not have all of those.
Lagosians are not happy about the imposition because is like passing a sentence on our people that they are primitive, we know what is right for you, your brain is not as good as ours. It is a wrong state to do it. Lagos is a state of highest concentration of educated and progressive people. And of course because of the challenge that the present governor has had from the same quarters is also a minus for them, little development in 8 yrs and now within 4 years of Governor Fashola we have seen accelerated development and part of the reason we have not seen maximum development is the same albatross hanging on Fashola’s head. Nobody wants to strengthen that hold, we want people that will partner with Lagos State and move this state forward.
Free2run: If you were to face the crowd and you have a minute to convince them of why they should vote for you, what will you tell them within that minute?
YRK: Legislate, pro-poor, pro-people, laws that will protect citizens ensure that we have quality representation, ensure that we have an inclusive process, participatory governance, everyone together; we are going to make changes in Lagos Central.
Free2run: Thank you very much for your time.
YRK: You are very welcome!
Toyin Ajao is a contributing editor of free2run, a blogger, feminist, gender and information activist and CEO of Stand Tall Consulting.