OKADIGBO'S WIFE STEPS OUT, ZONING AKIN TO APARTHEID
Coming from the background of a pampered wife, only to be made a breadwinner by the sudden death of her husband, Lady Margery Okadigbo, widow of the former President of the Senate, Dr Chuba Okadigbo, has signaled her readiness to plunge into politics.
Lady Okadigbo, who has the traditional title of Odibeze Oyi, is eyeing the Anambra North senatorial seat in 2011 regardless of the fact that her husband died at the 'battle front.' She has resolved 'not to avoid a war just to avoid being killed', as an Igbo adage says.
Accordingly, she said she was ready to leave her widowhood nest for active politics on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a party her late husband dumped before his death.
She also spoke on the raging controversial debate on zoning of the presidency in 2011, describing the issue as akin to taking Nigeria back to the days of apartheid in Southern Africa. Excerpts…
How has life been since your husband passed on?
It has not been busy. It's seven years now since he left. He left me with teenagers that are now adults. The first one has graduated (from the university). So it has not been busy raising them, chasing after them coupled with their entire adolescence problem and at the same pursuing my other business concerns. So it's not been a dull moment, I must say.
What aspect of your late husband's life do you miss so much?
(Laughs) His companionship, his jokes and putting humour in everything around us. I think I miss that the most. He had a very good sense of humour.
Your husband was believed to have died for a cause while serving the nation and now you also want to join politics. Are you not afraid after what happened to him?
We have a saying in Igbo: 'Anaghi eji maka mgbagbu eje ogu'(You cannot because of being killed avoid the war) Yes, one has to be careful but I am a strong believer in destiny. Sometimes we do things without even realizing why we are doing them. But, then, that is our destiny calling. So, I will not dwell on the negative. I will rather dwell on the positive in politics.
What are those positive things?
Improving the lot of the people. For instance, Anambra North is a food basin. We are talking of the whole of Anambra North as a food basin, both in land and in water. That has to be harnessed. You find a lot of youths who didn't go to school and they end up in the market as traders. Trading is all about buying and selling. Whereas you can actually harness what is God-given to you from the land. So if you decide you want to go into fishing and have real fish farming, cold storage facilities and stores, then you can actually supply and feed the people. It is not just to end up in Onitsha market or you go to Taiwan or Dubai to buy and come back to sell with a little profit whereas you have God-given resources that are untapped.
We used to have the Adani rice, which was very well known. The local rice was well grown. Now you hardly see it in the market. Years ago in Lagos, I remember my children used to tease us with 'Mummy, we want that rice that smells nice.' Because when you put the rice to boil, the whole house is covered. As children, if you recall, once you have your mother cooking rice, the whole neighborhood knows that she is cooking rice because the aroma fills the air. So you find your playmates saying 'today, e be like say una dey chop rice o.' We don't see that anymore. So we are all now buying Taiwan rice, Chinese rice and all that while we are sitting on this thing. I think that area needs to be tapped. The food basin of Anambra North needs to be tapped. It is totally lying fallow.
You want to go to the National Assembly. Are you not concerned about your name?
I mean your integrity when you get there?
Like I said, you cannot because of whatever the challenge is run away. It is only when you join that you can make that difference. You cannot sit at home and criticize. If you join, then you can make the difference. One person can turn the whole place around, and if you go in there and begin to relate with people of like mind, you find that though it takes time it will happen. So, I don't think it is something you can do from without. You have to be within to effect the changes you want.
I am not going to the National Assembly just to become Senator or seek for a name and all that. I think I can with all humility say that I have a household name. So I am not looking for a name or comfort or to own property in Abuja or in my home state. Those are not my priorities. Seven years of being a widow and raising my kids, I know what it means to painstakingly set goals and achieve them. To go from a pampered wife to a breadwinner in the twinkle of an eye, I have done that and I know what it takes to do it. Raise my kids, set up my own business, I didn't do it from just folding hands and watching. You have to be there; you have to get dirty. Put your hands to dirt and do the work.
Your husband defected from PDP to ANPP before he died. Why are you going to a party he dumped?
I never really moved away from the PDP. Since Chuba Okadigbo brought PDP to Anambra State, it is the same name and space I have on the register in Ogbunike. It is just that I wasn't playing active politics. I didn't move anywhere. I had stayed and remained in the PDP. He moved from PDP to ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party) for very obvious reasons like every other person did move for very obvious reasons. So, PDP is very much a family for me because he was part of it. He was one of the founding fathers. My husband did not move out of PDP from choice but like he would say, he made the political arithmetic and found out that the equation was not going to be a PDP equation, so he had to move.
Was your refusal to defect with him as a result of your disagreeing with his political ideology?
Not at all. I wasn't in active politics. So there was no question of disagreeing with him on anything.
So why didn't you move?
There was no need for me to move. I didn't have a role to play. I was inactive. I wasn't going to seek any political office. So why move?
In support of your husband…
I support him every day. I go to a different business, he goes to a different business and we come back to the same house.
Did you ever advise him not to go to ANPP?
I rather not dwell on that (laughs).
What is your take on the controversial issue of zoning in PDP?
I will go back again to another Igbo adage, which I will try to interpret in English. When you come to a house where you have sons and the father dies, it is not compulsory that the first son should be the one to bury the father. Any son who is capable should do it. So, we cannot because one zone is disadvantaged or in charge, on top or whatever, say okay, you start with zoning from this zone or that zone. We should look for the best and if the best happens to come from any zone, so be it. We can't say we want Zone A or Zone B and then because Zone C doesn't have the resources, we say let Zone C have it when we have the capability in Zone A or in zone B. That is my take on this.
But some are saying President Jonathan should continue in office while others are saying no, the presidency should go to the North…
I don't see why Jonathan should not continue if he is capable. He is a Nigerian and everybody can aspire to any office in the country once you have the qualification. So if Jonathan is interested and aspires to be, he should be. It doesn't stop anybody from the North or from the East also aspiring. As far as I am concerned, this zoning thing is taking us back to the days of apartheid. We cannot be talking about discrimination in faraway countries when we are discriminating among ourselves in Nigeria. Zoning is restrictive. It doesn't give you the best.
You have passion for women issues. What would be your focus in the Senate with regard to issues of equal representation by women?
First of all, my training as a lawyer teaches me that there is nothing like inequality. It teaches me that equality is for everybody, male, female or child because even a child has its own rights. You cannot see a child crawling and you step on him. In your movement, you will avoid the child. Everybody is of equal footing as far as I am concerned. So in the case of women, mainly because of upbringing, even among us mothers, we tend to suppress the right of the female child.
So, for the Nigerian woman and even women abroad, it is being able to let them know, understand and appreciate the right they have. You find that a lot of states, for instance, have adopted the women right bill. But nothing is being done to enlighten the women. So, it's like we have done it, we have passed it, you can't say we didn't do it. But the women don't even know because nobody is telling them. Some women don't even know that their states have passed these bills or adopted them because nobody is talking about it. For instance, a lot of women don't even know what their rights are as a widow till they get subjected to all kinds of inhuman practices, and this is a time you are most vulnerable.
No matter the quarrel at home, a husband and wife will always find a way to mend fences. You don't go interfering between a man and woman because when they make it up, they will use you as their make-up talk. So, when one party leaves, the other definitely will feel it. The woman goes through so many traumas, and that is when you choose to attack her. That is the worst thing you can do to any human being, to choose when they are at their lowest to attack them. That is what happens.
So, women rights especially as it concerns widows and children, I am very passionate about it. It is only when you wear the shoe that you will know where it pinches. I have won the shoe of widowhood for seven years with young children and I know how it feels.
But it just doesn't end with women. For the children, you begin to talk about education. We have poor male involvement in the South East. We have to address that. We have to find a way to turn it around. That area which was known so well for education has gone so low. If it means taking the education in any kind of package, formal or informal, to them at their doorsteps, even at the market. Simple book keeping for the young man in the market is education.
Being able to put your books in order is education. In Nigeria, we tend to lay emphasis on formal education. But outside Nigeria, we have all kinds of programmes that people can engage in; other forms of skill acquisition. We need to be able to address it, so people don't feel that because I didn't make five credits, I can't go to school. There are other things you can do that amount to education. There are many ways you can acquire skills that can be useful. Even the Mechanical Engineering graduate should be proud to own a mechanic workshop because you are also a mechanical engineer. But the local roadside mechanic knows more about vehicles than you do because you are just acquiring paper certification and not the actual skills that go with it.
Anambra is one of the most volatile states in the country politically. How do you intend to overcome this?
Good. Anambra State is volatile and it is vulnerable. But it is the people that made it so. When you sit back and don't get engaged, you will have problem. I don't believe you can make that change from just sitting back. But the question you will ask is, where were you for seven years? Well, I have a figure with seven. My husband and I have a seven number as figure…
You have seven children?
We have nine children…between me and him, I have three. But seven was just a number that we found. When we met we found the number seven was like a common thing we had. We just have something with and for number seven. I have also said that my priorities will be my children because those children were left at a young age. So I have to play father, mother, friend to them and that for me was priority. Having done that by the grace of God, like I said, the first one has graduated and the second one will be doing so next year. The baby just got in last year, so he is in the second year. Now I think I am ready to go. I am ready to leave the nest.
Anambra politics, as we all know it, is the way it is because the people who need to talk have kept quiet. That is the way I feel about it. So the whole place has become volatile. But in Anambra North, my senatorial district, I am proud to say we are a little bit on the mellow side. If you do your investigation, you will find that Anambra North is more on the mellow side and not on the high.
Are you going to contest using your own name or under the canopy of your husband?
I don't understand what you mean by canopy because I already have his name. I can't change the name. Even my children will wonder if mummy has lost it (laughs). So there is no way I can detach myself from that name. It has been seven years and obviously, if he had any structures, it has not been sitting and waiting for him for seven years. I am going to have to build my own bloc. I am going to tap into old allies of his definitely. I am going to make new friend as I go and I am also going to make my own enemies as I go. So, I won't say it is entirely his own structure that is sitting and waiting for me to go and take, because it wasn't waiting there for seven years. I have to build and I am going to build.
So you are prepared to face politicians like Senators Joy Emodi, Alphonsus Igbeke and others?
They can be vicious but there is the story of David and Goliath.
Are you the David?
I may just well be the David.
At some point, your husband was very close to former President Olusegun Obasanjo politically. Has the former President been in touch with the family since your husband died?
No, not at all. He didn't even come when he died. So I haven't seen him and I haven't heard from him.
How did you feel after Obasanjo came to your house to celebrate and the following day he reportedly sponsored your husband's impeachment as President of the Senate?
Well, for the years of being together with my husband I have seen quite a lot of backstabbing in politics. Anybody in politics, even for the spouse of a politician, one thing you must be honest about is the fact that not everybody who comes through your house, through your doors is a friend. I think every spouse knows that and a hawk-eyed spouse will be able to point out some of those people to the husband. So it is something that I know and it doesn't come as a surprise to me. It may hurt because we are human. But after the hurt comes the reality that this is what it is, and you begin to deal with that reality.
Are you thinking about getting married again?
I have no such plans.