Ndi Kato is a 28-year-old female politician. She has declared her intention to contest for a seat in the Kaduna State House of Assembly on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 general elections. Ms Kato seeks to end the drought of female representation in the legislative arm of Government in the North-western region of Nigeria; the only region with no woman in the State Assembly, Federal House of Representatives and Senate.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ebuka Onyeji, Ms Kato says if elected, she will introduce a bill to abolish the Almajiri system in Northern Nigeria. She also gives insights into why female representation in governance is low, the challenges women face in politics and how she plans to address these.
PT: How do you intend to break the drought of woman representation in your region and again what do you want to do differently?
Kato: Well, I’ve spent the past couple of years building a political career in PDP, it was not easy, one can’t be naive. I am bringing a new angle to politics. I’m more vocal, radical and more do or die than I think a couple of people out there. I intend to keep my identity as who I am. I don’t want things to change when I get power. Though I have to consider the reality of politics which is quite different when you are with power but I also think that am the one who can’t keep her mouth shut like Senator Shehu Sani who is always vocal.
The angle I’m coming into politics with is care, I think if you show people you care you will get positive results. People react to care and empathy. One thing about some politicians is that they enter office thinking they are doing the people a favor but in actual sense , we are only doing our jobs, it is what we have to do. We asked for this job, we should serve and nothing more. People should not roll over or bow before us because we built a road or something.
My manifesto is centered around security and peace building. My constituency is crisis prone so it really make sense if I make this number one on my list. I want to sponsor a bill to establish community watch so that people can work together with the Nigerian Army to tackle crisis and identify signs of conflict. A lot of empowerment training is another thing we want to do for women and other people who have lost a lot to these crises so as to tackle poverty. I want to include peace and conflict training on this empowerment. In my local government, we have a lot of single parents because many of the men are the first to get killed during crisis. Most families are led by women now and because of culture most of these women don’t have anything doing. We have to empower these women and I want to initiate policies that will improve maternal/child health care.
For education, I intend to sponsor a bill for free and compulsory education from Nursery to Secondary school level in Kaduna State and establish guidance and counseling units in all the schools because I feel there is a lack of ambition where am coming from. A lot of our young people are also plagued with mental health issues because of the crisis and environment, these guidance and counseling units will also see to that.
Alamjiri-nchi is a serious issue to me, we are talking about over 5 million children in Nigeria in the streets. It is really problematic. I intend to sponsor a bill to abolish the Almajiri system which is basically child slavery.
PT: Sponsoring a bill to abolish the Almajiri system is a daring move, how do you intend to go about that?
Kato: Right now, I am walking with a bullseye on my head, I speak against the government of the day and I have a lot of controversy here and there, I don’t think adding one more would scare me. Women die and men die. I also want to point out that I was not raised with gender roles so there is nothing a woman or man can do to me. These are boys who are under slavery. I lived in the quarters here in Abuja where these boys used to come and beg. As a child I was raised with everything at my disposal with the comfort of my parents but these boys did not and I feel very bad the way they are treated, they go around to beg and if they return with no money to their mallams then they have to fetch firewood.
These are the boys around my own area. Some of them die and when they die their handlers don’t even care. Their lives most time have no value. The question is what future are we preparing the Almajiri child for? I don’t think it’s something that should be controversial to say that in 2018, child slavery should be abolished because that is what it is.
The Almajiri system might be set up for something good but it’s been grossly abused and that is the situation right now. The lives of youngsters are at stake and by extension, the future of Nigeria. I think we should have no problem curtailing this trend and even if it’s a system that we want to continue then we have to monitor it. Lets know if it’s an orphanage, the structure must be spelled out. Are the boys been taking care of? No child should be on the street begging. There are lots of young people like me working around these issues and I think we can achieve a lot if we work together.
PT: Are you aware of Alamjiri schools were set up by the previous administration, some critics say it’s performing below expectation. Have you rather tried to look into this schooling system?
Kato: Yes, I’ve looked into it. I remember when I mentioned to my team that I want to raise a bill to abolish the Almajiri system, we agreed that we cannot just abolish it without creating a proper channel. The question is where will the boys go to? I always believe in processes, if we don’t focus on processes we are wasting our time.We have to take a closer look at the Almajiri schools, who is running them, do we have a board in place to make sure that things are being ran properl? This is over 5 million children that we talking about so we need to make sure there is a process and channel where these children can be taken proper care of.
Those we can still find their parents will be returned. There is no reason why these boys should not be in school. There should be a system in place to follow up the lives of these young boys. With the high rate of drugs and violence in the streets of the North, there is an army of children in the streets, an army of boys and that is what Almajiri system is.
Keep in mind that at a certain age they will be kicked out in the street so you see that this is an army of boys that can be used by any organisation to start trouble and we have seen over time that they can be used like this so we have to monitor them. It is a phasing out and rehabilitation process when we say we are ending it. We will have to follow through the process gradually till the next 20 years or so. I believe we should follow up and I think government is a continuum so we will follow it even after I must have left the state house of assembly to higher grounds by Gods grace.
PT: We have seen a gross misrepresentation of women in the 18 years of Nigeria’s democracy, what are the factors contributing to this?
Kato: I think it’s culture, the culture that says women belong in certain places and do not belong in others, the culture that generally keeps women out of the discussions and the belief that we should be submissive. This is why women have low representation in politics.
PT: There has been a lot campaign to motivate women participation in politics and 2019 presents another opportunity. Going into the polls next year, do you think women stand a good chance?
Kato: I think a particular crop of women has been on the political space for a while. There has not been enough women to fill up certain spots in the age gap. The older women have held down this battle for us for so long. Recently, a certain gender revolution is ongoing. Mothers have started stepping into roles politically, roles they were not socially engineered to step into initially. We are beginning to see leadership as a thing for women. Our voices are getting louder, we are leading conversations, doors are opening in terms of organisation.
Gender equality now shapes global conversation so politically we are stepping up. We might not get the exact percentage of seats we are looking for in 2019 but I think we will improve significantly, we will have more number of women in the Senate and House of Reps. I think that this election based on what people have done in the last four years, Nigerians would want to vote for people who care, who have more empathy, who do more for the community and it is mostly women that do these things so I think we will do better in 2019.
PT: But for you what are the odds, what are the challenges ahead of next year polls?
Kato: Cultural challenges will still come up at the end of the day. When you have put in all the work but it will still be at the back of people’s mind that you don’t belong here. There is something a man will do, he will be hailed a good leader but a woman will do the same thing and be castigated as a stubborn woman. There is also the challenge of finance. Women do not have the same level of access to finance that men have. If there is anywhere there is inequality in politics, financial inequality is there too.
Women do not have that kind of money so that is also a major issue. The party system and structure with respect to delegates also works against women and then in terms of experience, for a long time women have been kept out of the game, they don’t have that kind of experience that men have but I also think we will put up a good fight irrespective of these challenges.
PT: Let us talk about you, your case is qute interesting considering your age and you coming from the southern part of Kaduna, a region where no woman has ever represented in the federal and state level. What motivated your interest in politics?
Kato: I studied mass communication in the university (giggles). Like I said, young girls are not socialised politically, they make them see politics as a thing for men but for me, I always know I wanted to be great but I didn’t know I would be involved in politics initially. Many of my mates want to settle into the normal life, get a federal government job but not for me, I know I will not be the normal 9 to 5 person.
I got into university at age 14 and I was done by 19. I did many jobs but I was not getting the satisfaction I wanted so I set up my own organisation and this is because I came from a region where there is a lot of crises. Benue, plateau, Southern Kaduna, Nasarawa and even Kogi states are all crisis prone in fact, there are pockets of crises all over the country. In my own area, there was not enough media coverage for the crises happening, the North-east was getting coverage thereby getting relief materials and when people get killed in our own side and little or nothing is done so I started doing something about it because leadership is a doing word, it’s a verb.
I started drawing media attention, providing relief, drawing government attention to ensure that the crisis in the North-west and middle belt regions becomes a national issue that Nigeria finds a lasting solution for. I think it’s successful now in the sense that the North-west and middle belt crisis is now being covered. The farmers/herders crisis is now covered on a larger scale but we still lag behind in terms of getting reliefs and resettling people displaced by crisis. I think if we get power we can do all this on a larger scale. I don’t think I want stay out of the box of actual legitimate leadership in Nigeria because without that you cannot get much done, that is why I am motivated to get power.
I want to influence policies. I am an in the executive council of the Middle Belt Forum. I want to get more done so if power is the way to get more done, why not get power and get more done. That is why I joined politics. In the build up of the 2015 election, I started up a group that became vocal, we dictated the tone that shaped the last elections in my region. Of course I jumped ship when I entered the PDP, I felt it has a greater space.
The former president was listening to these challenges so I felt he was more malleable than the one to come so I turned to the PDP side of things. However, after the 2015 election we realised that this our group of youth that was very vocal in negotiating the government that will come in didn’t negotiate for ourselves and thereby we still have little or nothing to say in the government of the day. That is why we want to get there now and get things done.
PT: You have a strong energy. How was growing up for you?
Kato: My mum was a teacher and my dad worked in the Nigerian Ports Authority. My mum taught me everything I know. She died a lecturer in the University of Abuja. She was a radical woman. She kept a lot of literature around me and that really helped. I was raised reading works from Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka etc. As early as I had picked up a book. Her writings and works raised me. Then if you do something wrong, she will make you watch Jesus of Nazareth (movie), parts one to five. My father also tried. we are four and I am the last. Like I said, we were not raised with gender roles so anything I do, my brothers also do.
PT: Figures from the National Population Commission (NPC) in April show that population of men and women in Nigeria is almost at par and yet this equality is yet to reflect at the polls. For you, how can women step up to vote and be voted for?
Kato: There are lots of processes ongoing that are targeted at getting women more involved in politics. Politics and Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC), the CDD and other organisations are all working towards that. If for long you have been told you are not part of this conversation, it will take a while for women to come up. I am also grateful for all these programs that bring women together.
These programs should also be taken to the villages not just in urban areas, these are places where women are much restricted. Women have to take permission from the father or brother before they can do anything. We need to reach out to these places and make women join the conversation because women traditionally in these areas are not seen as beings on their own.
We belong to our brothers, uncles and fathers and when they finish they hand you over to your husband. New ownership. When you are faced with such reality, it changes the way you see things and react to issues. We should make politics and governance all-encompassing because it is what determines how we live and how we are governed.
Politics decides everything so if you don’t belong to yourself and people think you are a lesser being then it means you will be kept out of the conversation. However, the situation right now is that women are breaking gender roles, standing up and speaking up for themselves.
They are taking on roles as home leaders and this is paying off. We have some challenges but I don’t think in 2018 we should still be operating under what Nigeria consider as norms.
There are certain conversations that we should look at. I like the fact that we even speak openly about these things now. We may not get all results now but the more we are vocal, the more women show up in these places and go for elective posts, the more we will get there. Representation matters, I think we are on the right path.
PT: You are not just a woman, you are also a young Nigerian. Recently the “Not too young to run bill” was signed into law by the president, what is your take on that and how do you feel this will boost the participation of young people in politics?
Kato: Its very important to start a political career at a young age, if you can vote at 18 then why not run for office? You can enroll into the army at 18 why not be in office at that age? The government should encompass all parts of the society even people with disability.
We have a system of gerontocracy in Nigeria. Let me paint the picture a little for you. I have a friend in Nassarawa State who is 54, he served in the government and wants to go for Senate and he was told to wait that he is still young and still has time at 54?
Reducing the age limit enables us to start a career in politics at a young age. In my late 30’s when I go to the Senate, I won’t be considered too young or inexperienced because I’ve been around for a while so this reduction of age will see more young people fill these spaces because there are young people who can afford to run for office and we have a higher population.
PT: How can women in politics balance their careers with family roles?
Kato: (laughs) This question is completely irrelevant and it should be on record that I laughed and said ‘next question pls’… I mean how can you ask me if I can balance politics with family? Next… (Laughs). The question should be: can I be functional in politics? That’s all that matters. I think my private life has nothing to do with this.
PT: What else would you want Nigerians to know about Ndi Kato?
Kato: I think my story is inspirational. I want the root of entering politics to show young people that we can do it and also to grow within the system. I didn’t want to enter politics as a naive woman that will just show up. I want to grow within the system and remain functional within the system.
I represent my party in the media, I’ve fought for open doors and participation of young people. At the street level, my people know me for things I’ve done. It’s not just because I want to run for office but things I stand for. We have to leave the narrative of politics as usual and bring in new perspectives that will touch on those sensitive spots.
Nigeria needs radical politics and that is what am here for. If we want to change Nigeria, we can’t continue with the same thing we are doing before and expect something new. I am here to bring in new perspectives, ideas and processes for solution based politics and also follow it to the end.
This project is supported by Ford Foundation.