With a heart of steel encased in physical frame of unfading beauty, the journey to success was not always smooth for Anyanwu. It was especially so for her when beauty and brain collided with the brawn of the Sanni Abacha regime at the peak of that regime’s bastardisation of human values.
Senator Anyanwu has lived to tell her story which has since progressed through two terms in the Senate and is now focused on an anchor at the Imo Government House.
Following a morning walk out session and over a breakfast of fruits, she spoke on her time in the Senate and the continuing plea of Ndi Imo for help. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
ALMOST eight years in the Senate now. How has it been?
It’s been good. It’s been good. The Senate has been very satisfying for me in one sense and that is the fact that I have been able to lobby for projects going to the East, especially Imo State. I have always said that Imo State and the Southeast have been very underdeveloped even in the years that the Nigerian Federal Government was investing in industries and institutions, but not much was done in my state.
So, we have a situation where people go to school and after that go to Lagos, go to Abuja and even to other places where the opportunities are more. But that does not make for development, rather it dries it of useful manpower and the ripple effect of a large income earning population is not felt. You know if people are working there, paying taxes there and buying there, it will trickle down to the ordinary people and lead to advancements but we haven’t felt it because there have been very few opportunities.
Now with me in the Senate what we have been trying to do is to try and lobby the Federal Government to bring projects, and we are talking about the basics like roads, water, hospitals and we have moved on to the higher levels and talking about employment, building institutions that can employ people or prepare people for self employment or employment elsewhere.
That is where we are and to that extent I can say that it has been satisfying for me because I have been able to do a few of those and made my contribution.
What would you describe as your most challenging experience in the Senate?
The challenge has been that you don’t pass laws by yourself. You may have all the enthusiasm, you may come up with one million bills, but at the end of the day it has to follow a process that is so sluggish. The fact that you pass a bill in one chamber does not guarantee that it will be passed in the other chamber. You have to have them passed in both the House and the Senate and it has to be done within a time frame that allows you to also go to the president and secure his assent.
The very sluggish process of passage of bills in the Nigerian legislature is very challenging if not frustrating, not just to me, but for most legislators. I wish there was some way of quickening the process of passage of bills. You see, it takes a lot of work to get meaningful bills. Often you have consultants, you have lawyers, a lot of research goes into them and these are things we think can have very meaningful impact on the people.
Is there any particular bill you proposed that has been so affected?
Off course! In the last assembly, my Sexual Offences Bill which was unanimously passed by the Senate did not go through the House and that journey was wasted.
It began the journey again in this assembly, now it has again gone to the committee in the Senate but the question again is if it gets a third reading in the Senate will it go through the House in the life of this assembly?
And here is a bill that would have provided a legal framework to deal with Boko Haram and others who prey on young Nigerian girls.
If you have strong laws punishing those things it is going to be a restraint on others, but you see that bill is stuck somewhere.
One of the most important bills that I have been part of is the Occupational Health and Safety Bill. The bill is the answer to the abuse of Nigerian workers in the work place. It is a law protecting the Nigerian worker in the workplace and the workplace starts from a home where you have a given number of people, small businesses where people are exposed to all kinds of situations. Even in the farms where farm helps are spraying chemicals unprotected, building construction sites where people are working without helmets and all that.
The Senate has passed that bill for more than one and a half years now and it has been sent to the House but the House has not responded and has not even scheduled.
Why has the House not responded?
I don’t know, maybe it is their own internal administrative issue or they have a number of bills, I don’t know.
You have covered the National Assembly as a reporter and now you are a senator. Is there a change in your perception of the National Assembly? Is it really a place that flows with Ghana Must Go?
Well that was not my perception. In my time as a correspondent I didn’t see it as a place that free money went round at that time. At that time democracy was quite new and the quality of people in the National Assembly was not quite as high as the people you have now. Then, you saw a number of people who were out of place and the debate was not as rich.
So, when you saw those who spoke well and debated intelligently, they were the superstars and you were in awe of such persons.
At that time you had a lot of farmers and all sorts of people in the House of Representatives and people whose backgrounds did not really prepare them well for the job and so, you saw them following their leader and doing whatever their leader said they did, but now, you have young men and women who know their onions and who have been educated well and who have quite some experience.
In the Senate you have phenomenally well experienced and well prepared people but if in the end the result as good as has been expected, then there must be something in the internal processes that makes it impossible for us to get the best out of these people.
You are chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy. Has the Navy under your oversight made any contribution to the war in the Northeast?
We are not supposed to reveal all these, but the navy from the beginning has been involved in anti-terrorism because the navy has a corp of personnel that I want to say are the best trained for anti-terrorism and they were trained by American Navy SEALS. They have been there and they are there and they are contributing and play a very pivotal role.
Are you concerned over what some regard as the early retirement age of Nigerian military officials?
I personally, have very serious concerns over this issue. A lot of our strong men, a lot of our well prepared officers and men are being sent out of the force because they have reached the age of retirement and we spent a lot of money training many of these people abroad and we don’t get to use them.
I think we have to do something so that well trained persons can be retained in the system and institutional memory that is necessary to have continuity and to make progress can be preserved.
In the last three years that I have been chairman of navy we have had three chiefs of naval staff. That’s too much. For a nation that is facing challenges you cannot afford to continue to change leadership that rapidly because each time you change, you lose momentum.
Any particular challenge you face being a woman in the Senate?
No! Absolutely no! Let me tell you the first time I became conscious that I was a woman was during the time of Abacha when I was arrested and when a soldier said you are a woman. Before that when I worked in NTA, I used to fly in helicopters, I used to go in ships and do all sorts of things and did jobs that many of my male colleagues were a little bit afraid to do.
In the Senate there is no such thing as a man or woman there, it is the job.
You have returned to the PDP in Imo State.
Is it different from the PDP you left in 2007?
Times change and the atmosphere changes.
The headship changes and they bring to the table their own ways of doing things, so I would not be surprised if it has changed since the leadership has changed.
People were surprised that after you helped to enthrone an APGA governor that you ditched the party?
But you have to look at the dynamics and one would be stupid not to respond to the internal dynamics or even the external dynamics.
Even the governor we voted in is no longer in APGA. He has ditched APGA and is now in APC. You know he never had any strong loyalty to APGA or any party and I will not be surprised if he ditches APC tomorrow. I left as a matter of pragmatism and in the overriding interest of my constituency.
Are you satisfied with the government you helped to install?
I don’t like to discuss the government or Rochas. I don’t believe in harassing people in government. I could be part of bringing you to power, but once you are seated there I leave you to do your job. If you succeed, you take responsibility.
If you fail, you take responsibility. If that government fails, he will have only himself to blame because both myself and Imo people have left him to his own devices. He has enjoyed more peace than any governor we know in the history of Imo State. Not because he is a superstar or superman.
Not because he even deserves it, but because let us leave him and see what he can do. I will not even engage in assessing him when the time comes, Imo people will assess him.
There is hearsay about your intention to vie for the governorship. Is it true?
Yes! I am studying that possibility, I am consulting the people of Imo State. I am looking at Imo State, what the situation is there, what needs to be done and I am studying at how I can contribute to a greater Imo State. Yes, I am looking at that right now.
What is driving this aspiration?
Imo needs help.
You think you are in the best position to offer this help?
I believe so. I believe I am ready, I believe I have been well prepared for this, I believe I have the passion to drive this, I believe I have the knowledge, the exposure, and the capacity to do this.
It is not about money. I hear some people boasting that they have the deep pockets to get the governorship.
That is absolute and total nonsense. The people that say this provoke an inquest into the source of their deep pockets. If a guy has never worked in his life, if a guy did not inherit wealth, if a guy is not known to have a huge account when he entered the political sphere and now he has deep pocket to prosecute this, you ought to ask, where is this money coming from? It is only in Nigeria that such asinine statements can be taken without proper and immediate investigation.
You cannot reap off a people and use the money to buy them and then spend four years to recover the investment and that is what is going on.