As a follow up question, for those Nigerian citizens that think the Chinese and other foreigners are taking over our country and our oils, how do you respond to them?
IOB: [In a skeptical tone] When all the oil companies in Nigeria were American and European, people where not complaining then. The amount of Nigerians that work in the oil industry is probably less than 20%. . . in terms of the Chinese, it is a [sound] partnership. The Chinese have a lot to teach us in terms of work ethic and where they were 20, 30years ago. The Europeans and the Americans have dealt with us for the past 60 years and we have not progressed much. . . [Emphasizing with voice] The Chinese are not looking to give us handouts. They want to trade. They want to do business. They are looking at us as equals. . . There are so many companies that are set up by Nigerians living abroad in Nigeria that are doing well. If you are trying to work in the oil business, set it up. Work hard and plan and negotiate and see what you can do. In terms of manufacturing, the Chinese are saying, “we will manufacture in your country.” The Europeans never gave us that. . . We will be the manufacturers and manufacture to export from [our] country. Of course there are lots of incentives for them [Chinese]. Our countries are closer to their markets. Their markets are Europe and the rest. They open those factories and they teach us how to do it. They are not going to take that knowledge and those factories away. Why are the Chinese doing this? For a long time, the Chinese have been using Africa as a dumping ground. Everything you see in our markets is cheap Chinese products. If they want to come and start making those products on our turf, then we should look into it. We can’t stop their products from coming in. They are so cheap. It’s the same problem America has. They [Chinese] make their cost of production so low and their efficiency so high that our own local manufacturing cannot compete.
IOB: [continuing in a passionate voice] I think that we are focused on the West too much. Our sister countries over the last thirty years have moved on. Take the case of Indonesia. Indonesia has a lot of issues but the country is better than Nigeria in a 1001 [ways] you can think of. How did they do it? I think that is a better way to follow than trying to copy a country that has developed in the past 100years. We should take advantage of the countries that want to trade with us and have only developed in the past 30years.
Let me transition into women in politics.[From] South Africa, Zimbabwe to Liberia, we’ve got women in [strong] political positions. How difficult is it for women in politics in Nigeria?
IOB: [With emphasis placed in her voice] For me personally, I try as much as possible, for my own campaign efforts, to try and be seen as a woman in politics who runs a very good campaign where everyone needs to vote for her. The reason for that, [I] have never been in any situation where I say, “I am a woman that is why I deserve it.” A lot of women seem to be saying that and I think it will never work. If you say, “I am the best person for this role, male [or] female because of [these reasons]” then I think you have a chance. But do not say, “because I am a woman I deserve this.” [Some Nigerian] women want 30% of representation in every aspect of political life . . . Of course it is very difficult. . . I think as women, we need to first develop ourselves economically. What I hear women say in my state is, first “we don’t have as much money so that is why we can’t participate” and “they have meetings and all that.” My answer is if you do not have economic power, then we need to get more women in positions of economic power. In every country especially where you are running for presidential campaign, it is expensive to run. You have to spend a lot of money to run. A lot of women if they do not have money they cannot raise the money. We need to find ways to economically empower women. If they are having meetings [and] you want to participate [raising her voice and emphasizing strongly], I say, “I am sorry you have to go!” It’s like any job. If people are working till 1:00am because they have a deadline and you say, ” . . . I am a woman, I have children, I have to go home,” what do you think would happen to their resource?
[Interjecting] [Dr]. Obasanjo-Bello let’s be a bit more pragmatic and realistic [with the economic empowerment point]. . . Take the journey of women in Nigeria and Compare it to . . . women and African Americans in the USA. In the USA, there have been lots of incentives from the state and federal level that permit women to have access to the political system. In Nigeria it is well known. .
[Interjecting] In Nigeria, it’s well known that the men run the country.
IOB: [Speaking in a passionate voice] Yes they run the country. There are actually, especially in the federal level, more women in positions than men!
[Interjecting] So for Africa as a whole . . .
IOB:[Interrupting and speaking in a raised and passionate tone] I can’t speak for the whole of Africa but in Nigeria, the men are listening and they are giving more positions to women. . . Look, if we expect that men will just open the door so we can walk in, it is not going to happen. I am a very practical person that is why I am saying this. I just stop going to the [women] meetings because people don’t want to hear the truth. I know of a state [where] more than half of the local government Chairmen [is] women. How did this happen? It was encouraged by the government and pushed by him and his wife. These women have to be there and do good. But these are exceptional cases,. . . You have to push it a little.. . .[I]f you say. . .we want half of the senators to be women, it will not happen. It cannot even happen in developed countries talk less of Nigeria. .. [T]he Ministry of Finance [is] run by two women.The head of Federal Inland Revenue Service [is] a woman. Having so many strong women in position, I think it is a lot of progress in a short time. I think this next election or 2011, we cannot say we just want a woman. There has to be a credible woman that has a good chance of winning. If I campaign and say they should vote for me because I am a woman, they should drive me out of the place! I hope they do. They should vote for me because they believe in me more than the other person, and as a result they believe I will do better.
IOB: [continuing passionately] I don’t think being a woman should be the critical issue for running for an election. I encourage a lot of women in our states to get into politics. But, they have to make sure they are good. At times people will come to me and say I want to run for this. I say you want to be a chairman why don’t you be a counselor? The chances of you winning as a Chairman [are] very hard.We should really be concerned more about pushing women into the system at the local level.
[Speaking of women starting at a local level] It’s interesting how you go from health commissioner to the Senate. How come?
IOB: It probably is because I am a bit over qualified for the commissioner post. . . I [am] the only commissioner in the country with a PHD. I think my education [and] my awareness allows me to move from the commissioner level to this [potential senator].
Okay. Let’s transition into the final question for you. . . Your opponents do not believe you are qualified for the job . . .and are [saying]nepotism from your father [as] Presidentof the country and the. . . governor of your state, Gbenga Daniels, will get you elected. How do you respond to that?
IOB: [In a more sober tone] I cannot stop being my father’s daughter. That is who I am. W
hen I was first made commissioner.. .my father had no clue how I got the job. He still doesn’t know anything about it other than me telling him that I had this job. My father has no input as to my [efforts] to be a Senator other than being my father. If I stop doing everything I wanted to do because of [what] people say, I would never do anything. It is part of the cross I have to bear. . .[W]ith the governor I am his commissioner. He encourages me but I am sure I am not the only one he encourages. I think people say that because they want to take away from my political achievement. They should take a poll to see how popular I am in my senatorial district compared to my opponents. My people would vote for me and I think it will be overwhelming. I live [and] eat with them. None of my opponents so far does that. I live in Abeokuta. I see people everyday. I have had my hands dipped in blood from carrying accident victims. I sympathize with women. I know all the market women. They come to my house, I eat with them. [H]ow many of my opponents can say that?. . .There is nothing greater than serving [my] people.
Are you looking to run for the governor seat at some point?
IOB: I don’t know what I will do. Right now, my focus is on the senate. [I] don’t know what the future holds. I don’t have any plans to run any other election after the one for the senate. I don’t preclude anything. I am not saying yes to anything. I don’t think so, to be honest. Having lived almost 40 years now, one has to be careful.
IOB: [in a chuckling tone] I remember when President Bush opened his mouth and said no new taxes years ago and the first thing he did as President was to raise taxes. We change as human beings, we grow and so you never know. What you feel today might be different three or four years later.