In an exclusive interview with NEWSWIRE Law and Events Magazine in the aftermath of her 70th birthday, Sen. Daisy Ehanire Danjuma, a one-time Senator of the federal republic of Nigeria and currently the Executive Vice-Chairman of South Atlantic Petroleum Limited (SAPETRO), shared her thoughts and unique insight on a number of issues, of both personal and public concern.
Here are some sound bites from the interview:
ON HITTING THE MAGIC 7.0.: ” I feel that life does begin at 70. It is no mean feat to live to 70 years in good health and sound mind. But I’m ready to face old age when it comes.
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ON WORK/LIFE BALANCE: I’ve mastered the art of time management. The ability to plan one’s time is very important. Women are naturally multi-talented and they multitask. I don’t think it is any longer a matter of debate that women – at least here in Africa – work harder than men.
ON RETIREMENT: I work – by choice; because in most cases when you retire at a certain age, it’s like a signal to the powers that be that you’re ready to die. That’s why I think that retirement is overrated. So I say to people my age, “Continue working if you can. Continue being active. It will prolong your life.”
ANY REGRETS?: There’s nothing I would do differently. Any mistakes I made were just part of the learning and growth process, and I’ve learned from them. Life is not all smooth; roses, with all their beauty, also have thorns on them.
ON LIFE HIGHLIGHTS: When I graduated from school and got my LL.B degree, both of my parents came to my graduation ceremony. Back then, when your parents do that, it’s always a great highlight and landmark. They were also with me at my Call to Bar Ceremony in Lagos in 1977 – which was also fulfilling. Later in life I had 5 children – another highlight. Career-wise, I’ve also done well. Marriage, for me, was also a landmark.
ON LIFE’S GREATEST CHALLENGES: Campaigning for and winning election into the Senate (representing Edo South- Senatorial District) in a traditional and conservative setting such as Benin City was a huge challenge. For a woman to summon the audacity to vie for a position of leadership in such a setting was almost unthinkable. But through hard work, and my family name, I was able to win the people’s trust.
Another challenge I was able to surmount was stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Edo State. I was then Chairman of the ECOWAS Women and Child Rights Committee, as well as Chairman of the Women and Youth Development Committee of the Nigerian Senate, and an executive of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). I realized that the only way I could go about stopping this practice was to get the buy-in of influential stakeholders such as traditional rulers, church leaders, women and youth leaders. The late Oba of Benin (Oba Erediauwa) not only supported me, but also sent a highpowered delegation – led by the Iyiase of Benin, Chief Igbe and other prominent Chiefs – to the seminar we held on the issue. We also got the support of other traditional rulers in the area, women leaders and (male) youth leaders. Church leaders from different denominations were also fully on board. We confronted and countered the argument that FGM helps to curb promiscuity among our women and girls. Instead, we said, it has brought untold (and needless) suffering and agony among our people. The youth leaders, in particular, stood up and made a commitment that they weren’t going to marry any girl who had been circumcised in that manner. In the end, the women who were at the forefront of this practice agreed to stop the practice. The members of the Edo State House of Assembly generated and passed a Bill to prohibit the practice of FGM in Edo State into law – making Edo one of the first states in the country to do so.
We were also able to provide the women involved in the traditional practice of FGM with an alternative source of income – to prevent them from going back to it. We gave them seed money to go and start businesses.
Another challenge I have identified, which I’m still grappling with is that of maternal and child mortality. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of this scourge in the whole world. It’s a problem that all Nigerians of goodwill and financial capability should help to address. On my own part, I’m building a hospital in Benin City, Edo State, which will be commissioned at the of April 2023 as part of activities to mark the 10th anniversary of my late mother’s passing. I am passionate about maternal and child health. We have to significantly reduce the incidence of maternal and child mortality in our country. In that regard, I’m looking forward to seeing the National Assembly passing a relevant reproductive health bill into law that addresses this problem in an effective manner.
ON A SUSTAINABLE SOCIO-ECONOMIC PARADIGM: We can only do this by building strong institutions, without which the provision of social services will not happen. Governance is not about the will of one man or a particular group. The world has changed, and we Nigerians must change along with it. We must change the paradigm by which society works – and that includes politics, policy and governance.
Let’s use public money to make sure the people have water, light and other social services. If people have clean, potable water, for example, you’ve solved 75% of our health problems – because most illnesses in this part of the world are water-borne. Also, if you generate adequate power supply, cottage industries will flourish. Once we meet our energy needs in this country, people will not complain much; they’d be too busy making money from their businesses – be they caterers, or hairdressers, or welders, or operators of grinding machines, or tailors, etc.
We’re also blessed with extensive and rich farmland; Nigeria is one of the countries in this world where you can throw a mango seed out of the window, and by tomorrow it will germinate and grow. If Nigeria were better organised, we’d be exporting farm produce, as well as scaling up the agricultural value chain. Back in school, we were taught about balance of trade; there must be a healthy balance between your imports and your exports. Nigerians are a very hardworking people, and we’re among the most intelligent people on the planet. Our creative industries – our singers, the Nollywood industry, our artists and fashion designers – are among the best anywhere. The first step creating a conducive environment for them to flourish is security. Without it, you really can do nothing. You can’t develop tourism; all the people going elsewhere should be trooping here. The Niger Delta should be the Venice of Nigeria.
ON WHY THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY ARE IN NIGERIA: As a society, we no longer value competence and skills – especially in our educational system. For example, we have relegated polytechnics to the background – in relation to universities. But polytechnics, not universities, are where the relevant skills needed to propel our economy are taught. You apply for a job, and they’re looking for a B.A holder rather than an HND holder, whereas the HND holder is the one with the practical skills who can solve their engineering challenges. We have lost the culture of artisanship and apprenticeship. That has to change in favour of an orientation that helps our society to grow and sustain our economy.
Also, the sad fact is that our values, in general, have changed for the worse. We no longer value integrity, hardwork and a good name. These days it doesn’t matter how you made your wealth; what’s important is the fact that you made it. Period. In those days, if you displayed sudden wealth, there’ll be all sorts of questions, especially from your own family. There’s so much greed and so much pressure on young people to keep up with their peers – by hook or by crook.
We must reclaim our old values of integrity and hardwork, and teach them to our children. It starts from the home. The way to heal our society is from the home – and the church, too. Incidentally, many of these yahoo boys are members of churches. So what are the churches preaching? The European missionaries that brought Christianity to our shores were not rich people. They left the comfort of their home countries and came to Africa, where they lived in huts and braved malaria (and some even died of it) just to preach the gospel. That was evangelism in its purest sense. And they brought us the benefits of western education, too. Of course, there were traders and opportunists among them who came to exploit and enslave our people, but those missionaries were worthy of emulation. Our prosperity pastors are not emulating this sacrificial evangelism in the least; they are breeding a greedy, prosperity-minded congregation.
Finally, the rule of law must be cardinal in our society, and must be rigorously applied for society to flourish. People who err must be brought to book. For the present culture of impunity to be eradicated from our system, there have to be consequences for wrongdoing.
ON THE BENEFITS OF HER SENATE TENURE: Public life taught me the virtue of patience and the art of listening. It gave me the right experience and confidence to tackle challenges. It gave me the opportunity to go to places I wouldn’t otherwise have gone to in my life – especially during my campaign for Senate. I visited even the remotest localities in my Senatorial District.
I learned that politics is about influence – and I also have my husband’s clout to thank for that. I also came to understand that issues of development and the people’s welfare are not just about government and what it does or doesn’t do. People who are well-off should also help their communities. I also learned how to reach out across the divide; of the 109 Senators from all over the nation, I knew exactly who to talk to concerning any challenge I was confronted with, and to compare and contrast issues, especially those that were outside my scope of experience. And I also learned about sustainability, consultation and teamwork.
ON FEMALE PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS: A lot of people are asking for affirmative action – that is, the allocation of 35% or more of parliamentary and cabinet positions to women in line with the recommendations of the 1995 Beijing Conference. But beyond Beijing, my recommendation is that out of the 3 Senatorial seats for each state, ONE should be reserved for a woman. That automatically translates to one-third of the Senate – which is a good start. The truth is that countries around the world which have put women in policy-making positions have been very successful. Women leaders are more compassionate, and they take their home-management skills to the level of public governance. In Africa, women drive the economy – especially the informal, market-based economy. Women strive for harmony at all times. The truth is that you cannot succeed as a nation if you relegate women to the background. Look at the Nigerian women who have transcended Nigerian politics and gone international. Are they not successful? Why can’t they shine where they came from? And yet, if they should stand for election in their communities today, they would lose.
The political parties – which are responsible for nominating candidates for office – should include the provision I just mentioned (one woman Senator out of the 3 per state) in their constitutions. But they must make sure this woman is a capable person who can win, and she will do the work when elected, and bring pride and joy to her people. She mustn’t be a token female who is put there just to fill a quota.
ON THE 2023 GENERAL ELECTIONS:
First of all, we have to pray that God will help us choose the right leader this time. The stakes are so high. We need a leader who will remove us from recession and re-strategize the economy on the path of sustainable growth, a leader who will work for the people, who will be fair and promote natural justice, equity and good conscience. We want free and fair elections – that’s key. It’s when elections are not free and fair that people start fighting. I People won’t go to court. Already, we are spending too much money on litigation, and in the process we have corrupted the whole system. The main cause of conflict in virtually every country and society is INJUSTICE. So for peace to reign, justice must prevail.
ON BEING MARRIED TO THE LEGENDARY GEN. TY DANJUMA: They say unlike poles attract. Gen. Danjuma and I are completely different. He’s very quiet and reserved, and likes to be on his own. I, on the other hamd, am very outgoing. I like reaching out – which makes me a good politician, I think. But my husband has accepted me as I am.
He’s not your typical soldier; he is a very civilized and cultured person. He loves classical music, and is an avid reader. He likes marine life, and he loves going to the beach. He’s a student of history, and when I don’t understand how certain historical events evolved and played out, he’d explain to me in detail, the genesis of it, especially the root causes of conflicts, revolutions, and so forth. In fact, I call him my encyclopaedia.
He is straightforward, forthright and truthful, so if you don’t want to hear the truth, don’t go to him.
ON LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS: I have learned the value of hard work, good values, integrity, accountability, and the fear of God. It is extremely important to pursue natural justice in your dealings with your neighbours.
Leave a good name for posterity, so that your children can proudly say, “I’m the son or daughter of so-and-so.” Because of the good name my grandparents and parents had, my people gave me the opportunity to serve them in the Senate. It’s not about the money, either; make a good name first. A good name is very important.
Learn from those who have done well in your area of endeavour. Mentoring is very important, so get yourself a good mentor. Read about successful people. And when you’ve done well yourself, don’t forget to share the knowledge and other benefits of your success with others.
RELAXATION: I love cooking and entertaining. My friends call me ‘The hostess with the mostest.’ I also love gardening. The sight of a flower bud opening up in the morning makes me very happy. Even when I’m in a bad mood, and I see that small sign of the creative nature of God, it fills me with joy, the joy that comes with the knowledge that, indeed, there’s God.
I also like to watch aeroplanes flying, seemingly effortlessly, across the sky. Whenever I see a plane in the air I never stop wondering at the ingenuity God gave the people who created such a technological marvel.