21 October 2007

Nigeria: Nine 'Queens' of the Senate

The 6th Senate has seen a surge in the number of female legislators. "We are inching toward the Beijing declaration, though still far away", one commentator has said. At the start of this democratic regime in 1999, only three women made it to the 109-member Senate. Between 2003 to 2007, the number rose to four and the last April elections produced nine women for the upper chamber.

The senators who are drawn from the various geo-political zones of the country are:

Gbemisola Sola-Saraki (Kwara state), Chris Anynwu (Imo state), Zainab Abdulkadir Kure (Niger state), Grace Bent (Adamawa state), Joy Emodi (Anambra), Ufot Ekaete (Akwa Ibom state), Patricia Akwashiki (Nasarawa state), Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello (Ogun state), Eme Ufot Ekaete (Akwa Ibom state) and Nkechi Justina Nwaogu (Abia state).

But the increase in their number has not been the issue, far from it. Many observers are simply puzzled at the growing influence of the women as well as their contributions to the business of legislation. Rather than remain spectators, they seem to have taken the front seats in debates. And though they are not represented in the selection committee of the Senate, seven out of the nine are chairing some important committees of the Senate.

Saraki who took a shot at the Senate Presidency in June this year had to step down due to political exigencies. She was a staunch opponent of the Third Term agenda of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, something that apparently denied her the support of the PDP hierarchy.

During the contest for the Senate Presidency between David Mark and Senator George Akume, Saraki and Zainab Kure supported Akume. And though the camp failed to win the race both senators fell into the magnanimous hands of the Senate President securing the chairmanship of standing committees.

Undoubtedly, the female nine of the Senate appear focused in their duty as legislators. They are regular at the hallowed chamber and rather than fall into a spectacle of gender weakness, are proving the old adage that what a man can do a woman can do better.

But what is their relationship like? "Cordial", those interviewed by Sunday Trust's reporters confirmed.

"We relate wonderfully. My relationship with each one of them is cordial... We talk a lot on issues. We approach each other and discuss national issues. I make eye contact with Gbemi Saraki and we know what we are talking about. I make eye contact with Joy Emodi and we understand what we're talking about and so I do with others too. Once we're there issues join us together and issues break us apart, whether I am sitting on this side or not", Senator Patricia Akwashiki told Sunday Trust.

Akwashiki who is the only opposition female senator neither holds a committee chair nor a is she deputy chairman of any committee. But she is as vocal as the others on issues before the Senate.

Senator Gbemisola Rukayyat Saraki

Daughter of the Second Republic Majority Leader of the Senate and the undisputed godfather of Kwara politics, Senator Olusola Saraki, Senator Gbemi is about the youngest of the nine female senators. She is a second term Senator and was a member of the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003.

With a good education capped with a sound English accent, Senator Gbemi is always a delight to listen to.

As one of the ranking female senators, her wealth of experience is very vital not only to her female colleagues but all senators. Her courage cannot be doubted, as she was one of the senators that stood against the passage of the controversial Third Term agenda of former president Obasanjo. As a mark of respect to her, some of her colleagues supported her to emerge Senate President on June 5, but she later stepped down.

Similarly, she was touted to be tipped for Deputy Senate Presidency when Senator Ibrahim Mantu came close to being impeached in the controversial rent and furniture saga in the last Senate. She and Senator Zainab Kure were the only two female Senators that voted against Senator Mark on June 5.

Senator Gbemisola is presently the chairman Senate Committee on Marine Transport and has already sponsored a bill for the establishment of skills acquisition centers in the country. The bill has passed through first reading. She represents Kwara Central in the Senate.

To a reasonable extent her dressing code reflects Islamic traditions. For her, the veil is a companion within and outside the chamber. She sits close to her fellow ranking Senator Nicholas Ugbane (Kogi East) in the chamber.

Senator Joy Emodi

She wears a unique hair style of afro-blow-out and usually in typical African fashion designs of either skirts or wrapper with blouse. She is also referred to by Senate President David Mark as the 'Joy of the Senate'. Senator Emodi is also a ranking senator, representing Anambra North in the Senate for the second consecutive time.

The first Igbo female Senator, she lost half of her first tenure to the Chris Uba political escapade in the Obasanjo days. Since the court asserted her victory, she has held the political ground firmly against a seemingly hostile political environment.

Senator Emodi is the Chairman Senate Committee on Education and an active contributor to debates in the hallowed chamber.

Like the grassroots politician she is, Senator Joy rises up to the occasion and puts across her views when she feels strongly about any matter. Recently, the Senate President, David Mark had suspended a debate on the allegations of corruption made by Senator Gorge Akume, on screening of ministerial nominees, but she prevailed on him to reverse his stance saying it was a matter that touched on the integrity of the Senate.

She has special interest in education and has been trusted by the Senate to oversee the sector for the second time.

Senator Emodi was born in 1955 in Anambra state. Before her election to the Senate she was a teacher and later a legal practitioner. She is married with four children and is already a grand mother.

Senator Grace Folashade Bent

Senator Grace Folashade Jackson Bent has her roots in the Yoruba speaking area of Western Nigeria (Osun state). However, she crossed the proverbial river between to marry Capt. Jackson Bent (Rtd) in the highlands of Adamawa state in the North Eastern part of the country.

On the strength of this marital affiliation, she was elected into the Senate to represent Adamawa South Senatorial Zone, something that is rarely tolerated in the political field in many parts of the country. On this feat, she says her life "replicates the intricacies and peculiarities that can be used to represent the true feelings and experiences of our everyday life and the true dreams and aspirations that push us to dare new frontiers and stretch beyond our limitations".

Senator Grace Bent is an active member of the Senate. She contributes substantially to debates in the Senate. She took the place of the most eloquent Senator Jonathan Silas Zwingina and observers say she is fairing no less.

She has a strong passion for poverty alleviation and environmental protection. As chairman Senate Committee on Environment, she told Sunday Trust in an interview that she is determined to pursue the challenges posed by increasing degradation of Nigeria's environment.

Grace Bent was born in on 25th October, 1960 in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria and had her early life in the city. She attended the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and University of Calabar where she obtained a degree in English Language. She also bagged a Master's Degree in International Relations from the Clements University, British Island, West Indies.

Grace Bent has been an active member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) right from its formative stage holding various positions including Special Adviser to the former Natioanl Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbe.

Senator Nkechi Justina Nwaogu

Born on May 29, 1956, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu represents Abia Central Senatorial District in the Senate. She is a trained and experienced banker. As a deliberate policy of the present leadership of the Senate to place 'round pegs in round holes', Senator Nkechi was made to chair the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions.

During the course of her long years of practice in the banking sector, she had been a Branch Manager of Diamond Bank Nigeria Plc. Her legislative interest is in appropriation and oversight functions.

Senator Nkechi is a regular senator and has contributed to several debates on the floor of the Senate. She is married to western attire, quite often appearing in corporate outfits such as suits and trousers or skirts. It is not surprising giving her pedigree as a player in the banking industry. She sits very close to her brother, Senator Enyinanya Abaribe (Abia South). She is married.

Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello

Daughter of the immediate past President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Iyabo is unarguably the most partisan politician of all the children of the two times leader of the country. Born on April 24, 1967, she holds a Master's Degree and a PhD in Veterinary Medicine from the University of California and the Correll University respectively. She represents Ogun Central.

Before coming to the Senate, Dr. Iyabo was Commissioner for Health in Ogun state and is presently the Chairman Senate Committee on Health. Her legislative interest is in health and education. She undoubtedly possesses the courage of her septuagenarian dad and many Nigerians see her as his carbon copy. The Ogun born politician has been vocal in deliberations on the floor of the Senate. She voted for Senator David Mark on June 5, 2007.

Senator Iyabo is mostly dressed in Ankara wrapper and top. More importantly, she always looks simple and truly African with a unique headgear. She is married and is a neighbor of Senator Simeon Oduoye in the Senate.

Senator Chris N. D. Anyanwu

Veteran journalist, Senator Chris Anyanwu was and ace broadcaster in her youthful days. With an uncommon beauty, she was the delight of many viewers of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

She was one time Commisioner of Information in Imo state and later the publisher of the widely read TSM magazine. In her active days in Journalism she had the misfortune of being roped into what has been described as a fanthom coup plot during the reign of late General Sani Abacha and was incarcerated for some time.

Senator Chris is the only PDP female Senator that has not been appointed committee chairman but she is the Vice Chairman of one of the most powerful committees in the Senate; the Senate Committee on Defense (Army).

She has been very active in the senate and contributes to many debates on the floor of the Senate. She has a bill standing before the Senate seeking to fight sexual abuse against women which has been read the first time. She has also moved several motions in the last four months. Senator Chris Anyanwu is married and sits close to her brother from Imo state; Senator Sylvester Anyanwu (Imo East) in the chamber.

She is mostly dressed in corporate style but alternates with traditional African attire. Senator Chris Anyanwu was born on May 26, 1951 and represents the people of Imo North (Owerri Zone) in the Senate.

Senator Eme Ufot Ekaete

Wife of the immediate past Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaete, Senator Eme was born on July 7, 1945 and represents Akwa Ibom South in the Senate. She was a Pharmacist at the Nigerian (NNPC) and Chief Pharmacist at the Nigerian Military Hospital.

She is presently chairman Senate Committee on Women and Youth Affairs. Senator Eme Ekaete's legislative interest is in the area of water supply, environment and oil and gas.

Senator Ekaete has also shown signs of being a reliable lawmaker as she has contributed to several debates in the Senate. She dresses simply as a mother and is very easy going with the dignity and respect of an African woman.

Senator Patricia Naomi Akwashiki

She is the only opposition female Senator voted on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to represent Nasarawa North senatorial zone. Between 2003 and 2007, she was in the House of Representatives representing Akwanga/Wamba/Nasarawa Eggon constituency on the platform of the PDP. She defected to the ANPP on December 18th last year shortly after she was denied the ticket to return to the House in a controversial PDP primary election. She picked the ANPP senate ticket and she made it swiftly.

Senator Patricia has a good education and is outspoken on matters of national interest. She contributes substantially to debates on the floor of the Senate and is a resource person for many media organizations.

She feels strong about the level of poverty Nigeria and is currently working on a bill on social security to alleviate those living in penury. On a personal level she is building a skills acquisition center "to teach the women and the youth how to fish rather than giving them fish".

"I went to South Africa this year for a conference on social security. It is indeed amazing that this scheme exists in South Africa; it is obtained all over Europe, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and even neighbouring Ghana. I think Ghana is the only West African country that has that", she told Sunday Trust.

Senator Patricia was born in 1955. She was a teacher and a banker. She left the services of the defunct Lion Bank and made a triumphant entry into politics winning her first contested election into the National Assembly.

Senator Zainab Kure

The wife of the immediate past governor of Niger state, Abdulkadir Kure, Senator Zainab is the Chairman Senate Committee on National Planning. Her legislative interest is in youth empowerment and development.

While she was first lady in Niger state for eight years; she was also known to have harped on youth empowerment and development.

"I personally came to the Senate to ensure a better Nigeria...I want to be part of legislations that will impact positively on the lives of Nigerians", she said.

She contributes to debates on the floor and hopes to pursue youth empowerment in the course of legislation.

Senator Zainab graduated from ABU in 1984. She is outstanding and catches attention with her unique Islamic appearances. She dresses in accordance to Islamic dictates; always with veil and covers her body barring her face and palms.

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