Nigeria: How I manage male-dominated House – Princess Chinwe Nwaebili
By CHUKS EZE
She is fondly called Ada-Ugo by fellow honourable members. She bears about a dozen traditional titles, such as Ada di Igbo Mma 1 of Obosi; Ada Ugo of Ogbaru; Ugo eji eje mba of Abagana, Mmili oma Agulu, among others.
And she says they have not affected her humble and simple lifestyle in any way. Asked how she handles die-hard male admirers, she tells the reporter it is not a big deal. She is the Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Princess Chinwe Nwaebili.
In this interview, the pretty politician, accountant and member of ANAN, who represents Ogbaru II Constituency in the Anambra State Assembly, shares her experiences, as female Speaker in a male-dominated house, how she has been coping with her husband’s death and the gains of having a peaceful House of Assembly, among others.
Has your numerous chieftaincy titles honorary awards changed your lifestyle in any way?
No, they have never affected my lifestyle because I see such awards, as mere recognition of who you are, what you have achieved in life or what you are in the society. It is a normal thing that happens to anybody, who is doing well in a position he or she is occupying.
What do you say about those in positions of authority, who allow such positions to get into their heads?
It is probably because they do not realise that, that one is a chief shouldn’t have anything to do with one’s normal humble lifestyle, as a human being. Chieftaincy titles can only bring more problems to you when you allow it to enter your head because expectations on you would tend to be higher than you can cope with. But when you live your normal life, people will see that you are still your old and normal self.
What have been your experiences since you became the Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, considering that you are presiding over a male dominated House?
My experience, as Speaker has not been so rosy because you are not just looking at the issue of male-dominated House, as most times, the men are not even your problem. Sometimes, most of the problems even come from some of the female members. You know, in our society today, many women do not even like to see their fellow women grow. And there is always the pull-her-down syndrome that exists among women sometimes. So, coping with men, for me, is just a normal thing because in our family, my parents had more of male children than females. So, it is not a big deal coping with my male colleagues. And like I said earlier, the men are not usually my problem in the house. They may have their own problems though, as regards having a woman presiding over them. But I believe that their realisation that they also have wives and daughters at home, whom they co-operate with and give support, they tend to view me as a stabiliser between the state legislature and executive. As a woman, I would not allow any violence or rancour between the legislature and the executive. And I always go the extra mile at ensuring there is peace and realisation that nothing is actually gained through fighting.
It has also been challenging from the other (executive) arm of the government too. Most times, you get instructions from different quarters. And as a speaker, you want to protect the government and ensure there is peace and relative understanding because if anything goes wrong, you are held responsible. So, it has not been easy managing the men, women, those happy with you and those not happy with you. But despite the challenges, I have to also state that it is an experience that I enjoy. And I believe that such experience prepares one for higher positions and responsibilities.
Would you ascribe your usual display of humility and calmness at House sessions to the kind of upbringing you received from your parents?
Humility and calmness, to me, are upbringing things. It is just my nature, my lifestyle and unimitable virtue. Even biblically, it is said when you raise yourself high, God will humble you but when you do otherwise, you will be lifted. But being calm or humble doesn’t imply weakness. I am one person that can suddenly take up a behaviour that can stun those who view me as being weak because I have all the characters you can think of. But I believe that leadership demands a lot of humility and calmness to be able to pull through, especially as regards piloting the affairs of the legislature. You know, being a Speaker doesn’t make one special amongst the rest of the lawmakers. You are simply one among equals. So, viewing yourself as an extra-ordinary member by carrying yourself high would just be the first step towards your downfall. Being a speaker is just like in a classroom where you have a class prefect. You must parley with everybody because you could carry yourself high today only to be impeached the next day and replaced by another member.
How was life as a child?
I grew up in Benin City where my father worked. And we were comfortable, at least, to civil servants’ level. During my nursery, primary and secondary school days, I attended some of the best schools around then. So, my life as a child is worth giving thanks to God because it was beautiful.
Has your being an accountant helped you in the discharge of your duties as Speaker?
Indeed, it has. And you can even tell from the running of the House. When I assumed office, I summoned the management staff and told them, especially those manning the account section, that I wouldn’t want stories and excuses because it would not be business as usual. I explained to them the need for team work, hard work and sincerity. I have also introduced a special accounting system where, at the end of every month, everybody is made to know our revenue, expenditure and whatever balance – whether deficit or surpluses. That has never happened in Anambra House of Assembly. Also, I don’t allow spending beyond our capacity or income. That is why we do not borrow money from banks or anywhere to fund any of our projects or programmes.
Given the opportunity to lead Nigeria as president, do you think the Nigerian woman also has what it takes to make the difference?
I can tell you that if women are given chance to govern the country; they will make a very big difference. I keep telling people that women are not greedy. It is true that in every twelve there must be a Judas, but generally, women are not naturally greedy. A woman would always do things with fear of God, fear of the society and that of her own family. So, I do not think that given a chance, any Nigerian woman if given a chance to govern any state or the country would not do well. I can assure you that she would want to show the world that what a man can do, she would go extra mile to do better.
But in terms of what they call die-hard male admirers, how do you cope with them?
That is not a big deal because a man will always admire a woman. And it depends on how the woman comports herself. Any woman, no matter how old, will always have male admirers somewhere. But the question is; how does the woman handle such issues? It is allowed to admire but when such happens, a woman is expected to hold herself and know what she wants as a woman, what she wants in life and also be able to take a decision not to allow such male distraction to affect either her job or set goal in life. You know that women also admire fellow women these days. So, both male and female admires should be handled maturely at all times.
What is your impression about the issue of same sex marriage or lesbianism and homosexuality?
The act, for me, is not what any right-thinking person would encourage. Even though some foreign countries have legalised it, it runs against our culture and tradition in Nigeria. Why would a woman choose to be a lesbian when there are men? I even hate discussing the issue because it is not what anybody should encourage. And I can tell you that if such bill is brought to the House, I will be the first person to kick against it.
How has life been since nature left the upkeep and management of your family to you alone?
Like you rightly stated, God chose to leave our family under my care alone for reasons best known to Him. Naturally, when such happens, you will feel it badly, as a human being. Death is a debt we all have to pay some day. So, you have to move on with your life, especially when you are blessed with wonderful children. You have no other option. Thank God, my children were there for me, always giving me consolation, encouragement and support. So, though my husband is no more, I usually feel his presence in my children. It has not really been easy though but God has been wonderful to us. When it happened, I thought I would never be able to cope with life again.
What do you remember most about him?
I remember the way he used to wonderfully stand by me, advising and encouraging me always. He was such a wonderful person. You know, as I am a female politician, people always told him all sorts of stories about me. But he was somebody that never listened to gossip or rumour. He would always tell them to leave us alone and that he was happy and at peace with me. And he would always call at regular intervals to know how I was faring. Whenever he heard there was a little problem in the House, he would call severally to advise and encourage me to take things easy. His usual words were, “it is a common thing”, “Just know that problems will always come and go”. He would always make you believe that no problem was beyond you and assure you of his prayer support and I am convinced that wherever he is, he is backing us up spiritually.
What is your advice to fellow women who are aspiring to join politics?
I would advise them to always be focused and know what their goal is. The problem with some female politicians is they behave in a manner that would create bad name for others. Politics should not be an avenue for women to flirt about. Men don’t take such women seriously. But when you respect yourself and mind the business you are there for, they would know you are serious and start respecting you. So, women must realise that they can gain relevance and other benefits in politics without trading their bodies. They must also respect and be loyal to their husbands because they need their husbands’ encouragement and support to succeed.
What is your next target in politics?
Well, everyone aims for higher position in life. God willing, I would like to go higher than my present position. But tomorrow is in God’s hands.