Mabel Oboh, a 56-year-old governorship candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the September 19 election in Edo State, is a criminologist and former broadcaster/journalist with the Nigerian Television Authority. She tells PREMIUM TIMES of election challenges in the state and the need to eliminate godfatherism, among others.
PT: Do you feel challenged entering a male-dominated governorship race?
Oboh: I believe that if you want to succeed in anything that you do, it does not come easy. I embrace challenges very well and my mindset is that I do not want anything to stop me. First and foremost, I do not approach issues as a woman and I think that is where people get it wrong. In carrying out duties, gender should not play a role and I do say that to women as a form of encouragement because sometimes you find that women could be self-defeatist. After all, there were male aspirants at my party but I defeated them due to hard work. So, if that can happen within my party, why not the larger election that is male-dominated? It is only when women take themselves to be the weaker sex that they get defeated. I think the job is more important.
PT: But your party does not have a structure in the state and is not well known, how are you selling your party?
Oboh: I joined ADC because of its ideology and not because I was looking for structure. I have never been happy with what is going on politically in Nigeria and initially, I was skeptical when my husband introduced the party to me. But I investigated the party and found out I liked its ideology. So, coming to Edo State to sell that ideology was a big one, but at the end of the day, if you do believe, it cuts across. I preferred being called a technocrat than a politician because the kind of politics we play in Nigeria means telling lies which, of course, I cannot practice. With the help of the media, I have been able to pass my message across.
PT: What’s in your manifesto and what would you do differently if you are elected governor?
Oboh: My manifesto is about what would take Edo out of its sorry state. There is high inflation here and you cannot compare it with Lagos. Food is expensive here, and for a state that is blessed with arable land and the people are into farming, it is a big disgrace. The first point in my manifesto is to get rid of hunger because as a criminologist I know that there are a lot of reasons why people go into crime and hunger is one. So, reviving agriculture has become a necessity. I think we should be more advanced than what we are doing now in the agricultural sector. We should be looking at food packaging, preservation, and export. Through farming, we can also be looking at generating electricity with our waste products, we should be going green. We can also generate pharmaceutical by-products from agriculture. In Edo, these are things that we have and we can tap into the grants that we have to achieve these. If the grants are already tapped into, I will be asking, why have we not improved? With these grants available, we can get the experts to train our people. We are looking at an instant solution that will go into the long term. In the health sector, we can give all the health institutions space for us to have health tourism. We would introduce the health insurance scheme as well across communities. These are things I have surveyed and found feasible with the health insurance companies; no matter how small, everyone can afford it and the government will subsidise it. We would also consider the physical challenged and the aged, they should be looked after because they are not being paid at the moment. We should be looking at a superlative Nigeria and Edo State in the next 20 years and this should start from somewhere. By that I mean we should be able to eventually achieve a full welfare state that can cater to someone that is not employed. I found out that our system is just not right at all and that is why the likes of me that lived for years overseas and I think it can be replicated here because it is us (foreigners, including Nigerians) that make it work there. Diasporas are the ones making the economy of the western world big. I say no, it is wrong, we can do it for our country. The aspect of road infrastructure that I will look into is the provision of lanes for disabled people. If you look at our roads, there are no lanes for them and I think this is unfair. I think the mindset was tilted towards embracing everyone that we find in society. I believe that the moment you decide to be in government, you become the servant of the people. But I have found out that the people in power are being worshipped and this should not be. Listen to the people and give them their needs, it is just as simple as that. For me, the women and the youth are an area I am going to be looking at. There are a lot of strong women out there and we would encourage them to come into government. I believe in us assisting each other because God has already designed it that way. Women are supposed to be the pillar of any house and they can also be the pillar of a nation.
PT: So, why do we have only a few women aspiring for elective positions?
Oboh: I think a lot of women feel that they cannot do it because it is a male-dominated space, but I think that you will need to go and prove yourself. I have that attitude right from time and anywhere I go, I stand out. I say to women, when you are getting it tough, please do not use your gender because from my experience, men do appreciate women that strive in their walks of life.
PT: Considering the huge resources that are required for the election, how do you hope to cope with the big gladiators in the forthcoming exercise?
Oboh: It is the people that will decide that. I tell the people that I do not have a godfather and I do not wish to have any because there are strings attached. You cannot want to serve a nation when there are strings attached. If you get the huge financial support, you need to question where they got the money from. If you accept such money, you will need to pay back when you get into government and that will hinder you from doing what you plan to do. I think that what I am doing here is to lend my voice and I believe that it is being heard. I understand I am the only woman in the race at the moment and that is because I never fell for any temptation from other parties and it means that it is possible to be elected. The only way I want to serve my people is through a job and I believe that if given the mandate, I will do the job very well.
PT: The state has been in the news lately for violence, largely emanating from the camps of the APC and PDP, do you see it spilling into the election proper?
Oboh: There is tension around, even among the people. And a lot of them have expressed doubts, if they would go out to vote on that day. People have also urged me to leave the state before that day but I said I would never do that. I believe the state’s security (agencies) is (are) up to the task because they have called us for several meetings on that. I was also quite honoured when I went to see the Oba of Benin (and) received my blessing. He also showed a big interest in that regard. The Oba even recognised my position on the debate by candidates because I believe that you can only convince the electorate through debates on how you plan to implement your manifesto. People have been asking how the candidates plan to implement their programmes, even though some of the politicians are lying, it means that the people are no longer stupid because they are beginning to ask critical questions. The chain of buying and selling of votes must be broken at one stage or the other. I do not allow money to tempt me one way or the other and there is no way I will give someone money to vote for me. If you believe in what I am selling to you, try me. If I disappoint you, then kick me out.
PT: How do we eliminate vote selling and buying?
Oboh: It is sad, but I think the only way is to appeal to people’s conscience. Nothing good comes easy. All the revolutions that have taken place globally took a few selected people to say no to (a) bad policy. It cannot be worse than this and Nigeria has got to that stage.
PT: Godfatherism was an issue in Edo some years back and it still appears to be now, how can it be eliminated?
Oboh: It can be eliminated through the kind of example I am setting. For instance, I question the source of any money that is coming into my campaign funds and I am proud to say that no one has given me any huge amount of money. We have just been doing it through personal finance and party donations because we know that we are on a mission. We know the backlash of godfatherism in Edo and that is what the state is suffering from at the moment. You can see that someone was trying to break away from that chain and that has resulted in the issues we have in the state today, I do applaud that and I believe that the moment Nigeria and Edo State can break away from this, we would start seeing the light again.
PT: Do you think the political parties in Edo are following the COVID-19 protocols in carrying out their campaigns?
Oboh: A lot of parties are not abiding by that. We watch here and there on television, the huge crowds in campaigns, and they have broken every rule of the coronavirus protocols. You will never see any of my campaign that involves crowds; what we have been doing is the door to door campaign and approaching people one on one.
PT: There was a virtual debate among the governorship candidates in Edo by the BBC (Pidgin English programme) and only three out of the 14 candidates were invited, does it mean that you were not considered a candidate for the election?
Oboh: I think it was disgraceful for the majority of us not to be invited. Whosoever approved that for a BBC programme should have taken that pain to reach out to other candidates for the election. It is shameful they did not take their time to reach out because our contacts are in the public domain.