Ambassador Esther John Audu is Nigeria’s ambassador in The Gambia. She started her diplomatic career in The Gambia in 2008 and has remained in the country since then. Audu is about the longest serving Nigerian head of diplomatic mission. Vivian Onyebukwa and Chioma Igbokwe of Nigeria’s The Sun newspaper who were in The Gambia, paid a visit to her office and she narrated her experience, challenges, achievements and politics, among others.
What other things would you say you have achieved during your tenure?
I will say that I have tried as much as possible to make sure that we have this building put in place. We were renting somewhere before and we have been renting for donkey years. I came in here and they were just starting with the foundation, and I thank God that out of all the missions that started the same time with us, we are the only people that have reached this stage. Not just reach this stage but we got the president, Goodluck Jonathan to come himself and commission the place last year November. And now we are gradually moving in. You can see work is still going on here and there but it was commissioned. So, kudos to our government back home for supporting us with the funds, although it’s not been easy to come by. Also, thanking the government in place here in The Gambia who gave us this land on gratitude and has also given us other plots. When I came in, we were able to acquire a plot of land for staff quarters and another one for the high commissioner’s residence because I still live in a rented place, but I thank God because it is one step after the other. Today, we have moved into our building; so paying rent for the chancery is no more going to be there. I believe that with time too, we will be able to build our residence and the quarters that the president graciously gave to us again on gratitude when I requested for this plot. That will reduce the cost and the burden that the mission is bearing on payment of rent. Once they hear that it is a staff of the embassy, if something is for 10 pounds they will turn it to 20, if not three times the price. That’s what we are facing with rent here. But I thank God that we are gradually leaving this rent thing now. At least the one for the chancery is solved. And hopefully, staff quarters, residence will be solved. It’s been a period of challenge to get funds to carry out the activities. I want to thank God because when I came in, I realised that there was no signed agreement on ground by the Nigerian and The Gambian government.
Do you think President Jonathan has kept his promise of 35 per cent affirmative action?
He is doing his best; he is actually working seriously on that area. We have a lot of women ambassadors. Within the sub region, we have about three women and so many other countries. He is trying; it is not easy to fish out people you know you can trust. I think he is actually working towards that.
Generally, do you think that women have done well both in elective and appointive positions?
I have been involved in election process in the past. I contested and won my election to the House of Representatives for Abuja Municipality. After, we were dissolved when the former Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar came in. I was not discouraged. I have exhausted myself in terms of energy and money expended during the UNCP era. I went back and contested for local government chairmanship and I won. I served as an elected person. I have discovered that because we visited Beijing and we talked about 35 per cent affirmative action, we forgot that we should not just sit down and watch things come our way. You can only elect somebody when the person is out to contest in an election. If you don’t go out to contest, you don’t expect that you will win an election. A lot of women are still not convinced that they will be able, so they want things to just work their own way. You have to work on things to work your own way, so you have to be directly involved. In order to achieve 35 per cent of elective positions, we have to be seen identifying and encouraging ourselves and having the boldness to come and face those challenges we feel we can handle. If you know that you can serve well as a legislator, why not go out and let the people know that you want their support? It is an issue of seeking the mandate of the people. Maybe the Beijing thing made us to relax and we decided to face the appointive positions which are not the best because you have to be part of a system before you can influence it to take decision. If today, I have stood for an election and I am elected as a governor and we have about five of us, any day that government said that we should submit names for ministerial positions, because we are serving female governors, there must be a woman on the list even if they said three names per state. With that we have helped the government in place to bring in the gender equality that we are talking about. When we do not strive to be in a position where we will talk and people will listen to us, then we have a long way to go. Women need to do more to meet up with the 35 per cent. Let us use those offices to help those ones who are relying on appointments. These days we are talking about 50 per cent. There is no man that has stopped a woman from contesting. It is only among those that contested that a winner will emerge. If we have only men contesting, then a man must surely win but if we have 10 men contesting and there are five women, then we can lobby among the 10 to get more votes. I know our men and they are ready to support us. I have been lucky to be identified and informed and I took the bull by the horns. Some of us are having better brains than the men and you also discover that we think more than the men do. We can shoulder 10 responsibilities at the same time which the man will not do. He will take things one at a time. You will see that the woman will do five things at the same time and she will succeed in all of them. Women that are found in authority who have got there by merit have performed wonderfully well. It is only when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came that Nigeria came up tops. Nigeria is now among the emerging economies in Africa, she is a woman. It was when Kema Chikwe was sent to the Ministry of Aviation that we started having renovations at the airport and having our transit buses within the airports. They were not there when men were in charge. It was when I was in AMAC that we started working on schools where children were sitting on the floor. Ordinarily, we will say this is Abuja, what we see as Abuja in the main city is only four walls out of 12. The remaining eight are out there without roads, hospitals and good schools. When I got there, I knew that I had children and had to look inwards to see how we can change what we met on ground. I had to go ward to ward, visiting schools, clinics and farms encouraging and opening up roads. I had to beg FCDA to give us a bulldozer and a grader. I know as a local government, we might not have enough money but I was able to work on those bulldozers, refurbish and service them and put them in areas that we have difficult terrains especially where we had villages that school children had to swim across to other villages to attend school. In such places we constructed bridges. Women that have found themselves in offices of authority have exercised that properly and I challenge us women to move and make up that 35 per cent by presenting ourselves for elective positions.
2015 is around the corner, what is your advice to women?
My advice to us is to fish out people you know within your environment and trust that they can stand for an election and win. You fish out such people by looking at their past and present. Some of them have got so influential in their villages, they can become councillors, local government chairmen and much higher positions. I feel ashamed of myself when I see the number of women representation in the Senate. Nobody will go and appoint you to be Senator; you have to go for an election. Let us come out and go for elective positions.
What propelled you to the top?
I will say, I have been a gender sensitive type. I believe in justice and socialise a lot. I believe in going out to do it myself, because of that I have been involved in many women organisations beginning with the grassroots. I became president of Abiedi Women Association which is our language association. Even as an ambassador, I am the president of the Gwari Women Association. I am in touch with my own grassroots. I am a Soroptimist; I was actually president-elect of Abuja chapter when I was sent here. I was the president of the National Council of Women Society in the FCT for two terms. By the time I came out for elective position, I was not the one who nominated myself. The Abuja women fished me out during the Abacha regime, when Abacha told the NCWS to fish out women state by state, those they felt had the capacity to win elections. This was how they nominated me. I contested for the House and I scaled through and became a member of the House of Representatives. I have worked with these NGOs. I have worked with a lot of persons. I have always advised the women that they have to let their husbands know that they are women. He is the head, anything that it takes for you to build the home, do it. If your home fails, it is you the woman that has failed because at the end of the day, you will discover that the man is looking unto you. Today, I am a BOT member of PDP and I have friends in every political party.]]>