Lois Auta, a person with disability since age two and the founder of Cedar Seed Foundation and a two-time aspirant for political positions, spoke in this interview about betrayals, deceit, double standards, hypocrisy, lies and the poor attitude toward political participation of women, youths, and People With Disabilities (PWDs).
Recently, you contested for a parliamentary seat in Kaduna State on the APC platform but lost the primaries. What was your experience on the field like?
The experience was filled with good moments and bad moments. Good in the sense that I have learned new things; I met new people and I also have a new experience running in the state. The first time was in the federal but now in the State House of Assembly.
Bad experience in the sense that the Kaduna State APC Women leader, assembled all the female aspirants and asked us to step down for another woman. And this lady they asked me to step down for, did not even declare her intention in her unit let alone her ward or the local government entirely. She did not declare nor campaign and she did no consultations. She only bought forms so she would participate in the primary and that was her mission. And I, who had been around communities, met with gatekeepers, duty bearers, and influencers to make things happen for me, was asked to step down for her on May 18, 2022.
When the woman leader called me on the phone to come to the party office immediately, we needed to talk. I asked, is there anything urgent? She said yes, she wants me to step down for Joyce. I was shocked, I asked was it because I am the only woman with a disability? Don’t you know if you support me, the first woman with a disability running for a position in your state, you’ll be writing your name in gold? She said no! I have to accept it and if I do not accept it, whatever happens, I should take it. That she wasn’t going to support me after that day. Can you imagine a woman saying that to another woman? She threatened me on the phone that she’s not going to support me if I do not step down.
Women should begin to see others as sisters, supporters, helpers of each other to achieve their dreams and mission on earth. And not stand against another woman. Can you imagine the delegates that promised to cast their votes for me within a few hours changed their minds after they were given money and promised all manner of things? They even swore to an oath that they are going to vote for the other person.
I was told that the person that eventually won lacks the capacity; he is not even literate but there’s no problem. We will keep trying. This will never deter me, rather it will give me more courage to come out with bigger opportunities and on bigger platform next time.
In your appreciative message sent out to supporters, you said even though you lost the primary to Sunday Nehemiah, you won so many positives, what are those positives?
Yes. The positives are that out of the 15 people that ran for one position or the other in Kaura constituency, and out of the 150 in the whole of Kaduna that ran for House of Assembly in Kaduna, according to what my party told me, I was the only woman with disability. So, this has broken records and has encouraged women with disabilities and also persons with disabilities to aspire for future elections. Even though I lost the primary, I have won in many positive ways. My participation was inspirational, courageous, resilient, an eye opener for many people that never gave me a chance. I was at the polls, yes I lost but in many other ways, I have won.
During female aspirants’ interaction with the First Lady, before the primaries, you said you encountered Electoral violence on the field, can you take us through that experience?
Yes. In 2019, party officials of my then party collected N100,000 from me a day before the election. I spent N2.5 million that year. A day before the election, I was cornered by some of my party officials. And the only money I had in my account was collected by them. I was told they wanted to use it as logistics for me, on the day of election. But the next day, they did not do anything they promised. Because I didn’t get any report from them. That money was meant for young people that had volunteered to be my agents on election day. I had to tell those volunteers the truth that although I had some money earlier, the party officials had collected it from me. I told them to just work out of passion for me. Some of them came out, some did not because they were relying on that money to transport themselves to the polling units. So, on the day of the election, nobody stood in for me, watched after my vote nor gave a report of what was going on at different polling units. So as far as I am concerned, that was electoral violence. If I had enough resources to mobilize party agents to do the needful, I know at least even if I did not win, but at least the number of votes I got would be a challenge to my contender, or to the person that won.
This recent experience was worse. Betrayals by party officials, deceit, double standards, hypocrisy, lies, from delegates hoarding to delegates buying and all that. Our attitude towards political participation of women, youths and PWDs is still very poor. The person that won, his wife, was a delegate. I heard he gave millions to party officials and N100,000 each to delegates
So, I would advise women groups to start strategizing on how lack of resources and electoral violence could be addressed.
Is like the gender bills have gone with the wind, any hope for women in active office come 2023?
It is so sad that the agenda bills have been kept aside. It’s really disheartening. And my recommendations are women should begin to see themselves as one. They should love themselves, they should support each other with the whole of their hearts and with all the incentives, facilities, resources, initiatives, ideas, strategies, to make sure that women win their elections.
There’s nothing wrong with a woman forming a political party and I’m very serious about this. A woman should set up a political party and look for young and older men that are very active and influential, traditional rulers, persons with disabilities including those in Diaspora and bring them in.
The next thing is to come up with a campaign to change the mindset of the woman at the grassroots. The third thing is to start working with women generally at the grassroots. We should mobilize women to organize.
Let’s use the YAGA strategy. The elite should stop protesting. Let women at the grassroots start protesting because they are the voters. When politicians begin to see that women are no longer accepting their money to vote for them, they will sit up. When women at the grassroots start opening their eyes, refusing to dance at political parties, refusing to collect Maggie, rice or those charity things, politicians will reverse these bills that they refused to sign; they will say aha! even women at the grassroots are in this? So, let’s start a campaign that will change the narratives, the mindset, the ideas of money politics, to competency politics. So, we need to turn around the challenges in our political sphere. We need to challenge the challenges. We need to challenge the status quo and make sure that things begin to change from 2023.
What are the chances of your party, APC in the general elections across board?
The chances of my party in the forthcoming general elections are bright because of the inclusivity. From the party guidelines to party manifestos to implementation, they have done a lot for women. Out of five statutory delegates, two must be women and from the federal level to the unit level, there are positions set aside either by elections or by appointment for persons with disabilities. Just as they have a national youth leader, national woman leader, six zonal leaders and other positions from the federal to the unit level, they also have a national PWD leader. So, this is a big win for the APC and I believe their policy of leaving no one behind, bringing everybody on board, is a strong factor for winning in 2023.
Don’t forget women, youths, persons with disabilities are a huge number. Recently, I checked INEC’s website and I realized 16,000 plus persons with disabilities got their registration, both online and offline on this continuous voters’ registration exercise that is being done by INEC. So, inclusivity is a big factor for APC to win the year 2023 elections.
In the 2019 general elections, you ran for a federal lawmaker position in the capital Abuja, under the Accord Party, why did you return to APC to contest this time around?
Yes, in 2019 I ran on the platform of the Accord Party. I will forever be proud of the party chairman for giving me a platform. I’m so proud of his inclusive mindset. I’m so grateful to him for believing in my capacity. And to tell you the truth, the National Party chairman of the Accord party is a good man. It’s just that some people in the party are polluting the system. I can authoritatively tell you that I returned to APC, because of their inclusivity. The Accord party needs more structure, because I was left alone during my campaign activities in 2019. The small resources I was able to gather were collected by some party officials of the Accord party in 2019. Earlier, I mentioned how electoral violence happened to me in the Accord party in the 2019 election that I ran for House of Representatives in AMAC/Bwari federal constituency. So, I returned to APC simply because of inclusivity. So, I want other parties to emulate what APC is doing. APC has an inclusive model and manifesto.
For the guidelines? I don’t think justice was done for persons with disabilities in the guidelines of the APC, because I think they did it alone. They need to work on that.
Four years after INEC policy framework was launched for the inclusion of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process and to reduce the barriers they face, would you say there has been improvement?
Another institution in the electoral processes management that I’m proud of is INEC. I’m impressed with their work. And I want to tell them to keep doing more. Yes, where we were 10 years ago is not where we are right now. Now, we have the Disability Rights Act, the National Commission for persons with disabilities, a legal framework and a department for gender and inclusivity in INEC. Yes, we would have been included in so many things, in the Electoral Act 2022. Clause 54 specifically mentioned issues of persons with disabilities, Braille ballot, accessible polling unit, sign language interpreters, magnifying glasses for persons with albinism, and so many types of disabilities were included. Yes, they have not really started implementing them as they should, out of the 36 states, I think only few states have started the implementation. We want to see more. When they are allocating polling units, they should make sure that those polling units are accessible for voters with disabilities because they are excluding us. We are part of the development of this country.
Do you know that in any country of the world, persons with disabilities contribute 7% of our country’s GDP? So, why wouldn’t Nigerians give us the opportunity, we have the right to vote and to be voted for. Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that, and section 30 of Nigerian Disability Act also mentioned that persons with disabilities have rights to vote and to be voted for. So, we want these articles, provisions that we have implemented. And we should start seeing it from INEC, which controls and manage electoral processes.
In every step INEC is taking, in every idea they are initiating, in every project, in every committee they’re setting up, there should be representatives of persons with disabilities; there should be platforms for persons with disabilities. Yes, they are doing well, but we want to see more of this.
In the just concluded elections in Ekiti, we have seen how persons with disabilities complained that they couldn’t vote independently, they had to be assisted. Because the polling unit was not close to them. Sign Language interpreters were not there to interpret for them; magnifying glasses were not provided for persons with albinism. Braille ballot papers were also not provided for voters with visual impairment. Nigeria is bigger than this; we need to be doing better than this.
So, it is time that every stakeholder comes close to INEC, let’s collaborate, partner with each other, share ideas, move with a positive mind and contributions and let’s ensure that inclusivity is achieved in every spell of our political world.
What is your take on the ongoing PVC registration?
Oh, yes for PVC registration exercise, INEC is doing well. I’m proud of them. And I’m grateful to them for extending the deadline for the registration. PVC is our power, PVC is our voice. PVC is our right and we should use this PVC to vote for competent leaders. Yes, I’m a conscious politician.
Yes, I’m a card carrying member of a party but at this time, don’t forget that I’m also a humanitarian, an activist, a comrade and an advocate of inclusion. I want to see people enjoying the basic things of life. I want to see inclusion in every agenda of the President, governors, members of the parliament. Whatever role you have, either in the public or private sector, we don’t want anyone to be left behind. We want everybody to be carried along. We want to see inclusive health, education, agriculture, economic empowerment, opportunities and training. We want to see inclusivity in every aspect, every sector of government, every policy, we want attitudinal, institutional, infrastructural barriers removed, because they are the ones stopping us. Once those barriers are removed, then we’ll become independent. Barriers are obstacles, they are barricades against our progress and development. We’ll make a lot of progress. There will be development in every aspect of life. So, I want Nigerians to use their power in voting for the right leaders in 2023.
I want to see changes, people are hungry, people are dying. People are passing through some evil vices. We want a social construct. Let there be a new Nigeria. Let there be a new beginning for this country in 2023. We want a good leader not a bad leader. I don’t want to know which party it is. Yes, I’m a card carrying member of a party. But what I want to see is positivity, progress, Development, Peace, infrastructural development, everything to be developed. I want Nigeria to move from a developing country to a developed country. And we need to choose the right person that will do this job for us. It is a huge job, it is a huge task and one person cannot achieve it.
So we need to get our PVC before election day. We need to go out on Election Day and cast our vote. Let’s exercise that civic right that is key and would bring a future for the generations and generations to come. That they will live to remember us for doing the right thing, for choosing the right leaders for, making things happen for them even without us alive at that point in time. We need to do the right thing in 2023. So everybody, go out, those that have PVC, keep it well. Those that do have, go and register and get your PVC as quickly as possible. And as we do that, God sees and God will bless us and bless this country, Nigeria. So that someday, people will begin to say I want to come to Nigeria. So that Nigerian visa would become difficult to get because of the good things that are happening in this country. We have to do it. And I believe you and I can make this happen.
This article was originally published in sunnewsonline on Monday July 4, 2022