NIGERIANS READY TO RESIST OPPRESSION, MANIPULATION THIS TIME - RANSOME-KUTI
Yemisi Ransome-Kuti is a senatorial candidate for the Lagos Central, comprising Apapa, Etiosa, Lagos Island, Lagos mainland and Surulere. She is from the notable Ransome-Kuti family.
In this interview, she told Saturday Sun about her journey into politics, her chances in the election and assessment of the elections generally. She also revealed how Fela Anikulapo-Kuti helped to shape her life.
What influenced your choice of political party to contest the election?
People have tried to find why I did not join the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Well, some people said that you must Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and whatever he says goes. A Ransome-Kuti would not survive in such an environment. I am interested in alleviating the suffering of the people and be a strong voice for change.
CAN, therefore, did not fit into this. So Social Democratic Mega Party got my fancy. I am not new to politics. In this house (where the interview was conducted in Lagos), Chief Akintola stayed as my father's tenant. So I have been close to politics and those kinds of people. And so when the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP) invited me, I felt more comfortable with Olu Falae, Chief Adebanjo, Chief Fasoranti, Sir Olanihun Ajayi. These are people I hold in high esteem, and Nigerians hold them in high esteem. And the fact is that even before then I had been angry at the deterioration of our social, political and economic environment.
The fact that 600 billion dollars of our oil wells have been wasted; the fact that we are low in human development indices and the fact that even in the MDGs, Lagos State is severely off track make me sad. The young people are in distress and have no jobs. Some of them have been drawn into drug addiction by irresponsible politicians who throw money at them instead of assisting them to build their capacity, in order to fend for themselves and build the nation.
I come from the private sector, where I have been involved in many activities in the area of development, partnering with donor agencies to do a number of development work in Nigeria. I am aware of the deterioration in so many areas of our national life. I am a consultant for the World Bank and United Nations on many of these projects. I am also a member of the job creation committee of the Federal Government under Alhaji Aliko Dangote. So I am aware of what is going on. I decided to go into this contest so that I will be more involved in finding a solution to this social malaise. I was able to find a party, where there is no godfather to dictate for us and where there is no undemocratic practices, imposition of candidates and all that.
As I said earlier, the SDMP invited me to run for Senate. I looked at the party's manifesto and it was close to my own ideology and philosophy of free education, free healthcare up to tertiary level.
Do you think ACN did not woo you because Bola Tinubu's wife is also gunning to represent Lagos Central Senatorial District at the Senate?
I am not a soothsayer; so I cannot know what is going on in his mind, but all of us can read or presume what may have been going on in his mind. For me, it is not really a threat that his wife is running, because on the scale of competence I am on a higher pedestal. Of course, Tinubu would not be interested in a strong woman, with the competence and track record I have. They know that in terms of courage, commitment, compassion and people-oriented activities it will be difficult to beat a Ransome-Kuti.
Why did you have to wait till now before joining politics?
I am not a politician, but we all have a degree of politics in our blood, as human beings. I didn't really want to be a politician, I was more interested in building institutions. I am the executive director of Network of NGOs. In the past, NGOs were just doing all kinds of things, going in different directions and there was no coordination, cooperation and no data about what they were doing. There was no synergy. It was Obama who said, when he went to Ghana, that you don't need strong leaders but strong institutions. If you have strong institutions, where people have already been empowered and where people have the capacity to take initiative and run with it, then you are likely to have rapid changes in development. I have done that with the Nigerian Network of NGOs. I have done that with the Coalition for Issues-based Politics and Good Governance, which is a partnership between the private sector and civil society. I have done many things in partnership with such an organizations, as the Convention for Business Integrity (CBI), which is collaboration among CBI, NEFG, Triple NGO, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNDP, EFCC and Oando.
Women have been going round the country with the slogan, 'Women for Change,' yet Sarah Jibril got only one vote during the presidential primaries of the PDP. Do you think women are serious?
I think women are serious, but we have to ask: what are they serious about? We have to ask whether Women for Change is about women or ensuring that women vote for Jonathan Goodluck. We have had so many women groups in the past coming to promote, encourage, support and educate women. The fact of the matter is that you cannot take a horse to the water and force it to drink. The women, who had managed in other parts of the world to defeat the challenges they face in politics, have done so by collaboration. They have done so by building their individual and collective capacity to engage. They have done it by ensuring that there are network and resources available to them, which they utilise and partnership across the world. In Nigeria, I don't think we have really got our acts together, in terms of building partnership and collaborative platform, with the view to ensuring that women play their rightful role. Also there are some issues. I believe the psychological one is the most important. Anywhere I go and talk with women, the first question I ask is: do you think you (women) are equal to men? Some of them would say no. So I would advice them to leave the forum because the talk is not for them. This is because right away they have conceded defeat. They believe that as a human being, another human being, just like them, is superior. So there is no need trying to go into the battle because you have conceded defeat.
Again, the awareness about gender equally is not properly understood. The balance of the population is mostly young and what women should be fighting for is the right of all of them, whether you are young, old, female, male, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or any tribe. Whatever you are, we have a constitution that says we have equal rights to everything. So the equity should be about access for everyone to political office. It should not be fair for a Nigerian man to marry a woman who is a foreigner and she can take citizenship, but a Nigerian woman cannot marry a foreigner and he takes citizenship. Even bailing is counter-productive to women. There are a number of issues that have to do with equity. Women should be at the forefront of telling men that they are their mothers, who brought them into the world.
There are many men who are willing to support. Senator Udoma Egba was the one who initiated the domestic violence bill, not a woman. So, it is not as if we are living in a country of chauvinists, where men are not willing to partner and support women. The work must start with the women, in terms of building their capacity to understand world issues, natural sciences and evolutionary processes.
What are we expecting in this election?
We have been speaking to Lagosians. They promised that this time they are going to make sacrifice because they want accountability. From what I have seen, from different groups, young, old, the Hausa and Igbo community, Nigerians are determined to effect a change. You won't believe the deterioration these people are going through. But they feel they have someone now who will carry them along. They are looking for individuals who can change their lives. People are beginning to see those who give them money and bags of rice as trying to insult their dignity. They want to restore their dignity by voting for a change and we will be the progressives in the vanguard of change for Nigeria.
With the spate of violence now, do you think people would come out and vote?
F ela had said it. Papa de for house, mama de for house. I no wan die. Who wants to die for you? We in the civil society put our lives online in 1999. Some of us were arrested and interrogated by SSS. People like Beko and Gani Fawehinmi were arrested and detained. People have died. There are some names we don't even know, who have perished fighting for our independence. Now it is everybody's turn to believe that they also deserve freedom and their right to live a decent life. The people who want to maim and kill are few. They are not up to one million. How many people are in this country. Can they face all of us when we come out to defend our right? I can assure Nigerians that INEC and security agencies have put in a formidable security dragnet across the country to protect Nigerians during this voting period. But Nigerians themselves must have that courage of their conviction. Let us have this silent revolution where we change the guard and let those corrupt leaders go.
Their time is up. Let us put other people who have some dignity and are not attracted by the monetary gains. Our children are dying. Our youths have a very hopeless and dim future if we don't change things.. Women in particular should summon the courage. I will lead them if necessary. This country belongs to our children and we must elect good leaders that will change this country. Let us come out in mass. Omar of NLC has said that if anybody tries to rig or perpetrate violence, to disturb the electoral process, we will go back to the June 12 scenario. They will not use us as stooge in these elections. Nigerians are ready to resist oppression, manipulation and evil.
In Lagos State, ACN is the party to beat. What are your chances in this election coming from SDMP?
Why did they lose Ibeju Lekki and Ikorodu, even without any big campaign? It is an illusion that any single party is in control. The fact is that Nigerians want credible leadership. The ACN machinery in Lagos has problems because of some of the anti-democratic activities in the party. So I can assure you that it is not going to be business as usual for ACN. Even within the party, many people are severely aggrieved. Women, taxi drivers and many Nigerians who have not benefited from ACN activities in Lagos are aggrieved. They agreed that Babatunde Fashola is trying, in terms of road construction and beautification of environment, but he has not addressed the issue of hunger and poverty. So ACN does not have 100 percent control. Rather, they have control of the government's purse; that is why they can make the biggest noise. Lagos residents are wise because even Fashola almost did not get the second term.
How would you describe the late Fela?
He was a very interesting person. People like that are geniuses. Few families have them, but when they come they accept everybody. For me personally, he was a loving brother and a very kind person. He is somebody who reinforced my womanhood, although people say he married 28 wives. He did it for welfare reasons, but his first wife was still number one. And I think she also gave that kind of permission, that, if Fela could manage it, she wouldn't mind. But she was never sidelined. She was precious to Fela and he gave her a lot of respect and love, right up to when he died.
He has kind and generous heart. It is that confidence he gave me that made me to be the kind of person I am. I was the only one, who could sit on his chair in his house. So you can imagine what that does to your ergo and confidence as a young girl. He was loving, kind and generous. He did not allow his talent to direct him to material things; otherwise he would have made billions of money, build a lot of houses and bought all the big cars. But he used that talent for the masses. We must ascribe to him the kind of political awareness we have in the country now.