How I Handle Sexual Harassment As A Female Politician -Lawmaker, Omowunmi Olatunji-Edet

One of the stylish female politicians in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Omowunmi Olatunji-Edet. The Assembly’s beauty queen was a guest of the journalists covering the assembly during their weekly programme tagged; “Time Out With The Press,’ where she speaks on issues bothering on life as a woman politician, especially as it relates to sexual harassment.

Edet also used the occasion to disclose that she is officially divorced from her husband against her wish, adding that she did not have any amorous relationship with Fuji Music megastar, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (KWAM 1), who she said is just her helper and a big brother.
Omowunmi Edet, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Establishment, Training, Pension and Public Service was at her best as she effortlessly answered questions on several matters of interest during the over one hour session.

Can we know more about you?
I am Omowunmi Olatunji-Edet, I was born on 15th August 1973 at No. 3 Olopade Street in Lagos Island. I grew up in that area, later my father was transferred to Benin in Edo State, where I had half of my primary education before we relocated to Akure, Ondo State. My parents are from Akure, I had my first basic education in the town, I later continued at St. Louis Girls Grammar School. After completing my secondary education, I was admitted to Auchi Polytechnic in Edo State, and because of my youthful exuberance, I had wanted to travel abroad to the United States of America. But coming to Lagos again, I met Mr. Edet and that truncated my education at that period. I started having babies; I got married in 1993, when I was just 20 years old. I was so naïve and inexperienced, but I had an understanding of family values because I was raised by a civil servant, who was focused, and wanted to give value to the society.
My father was a general post master; he was doing his best working with P&T in those days, part of which was NITEL, which was before everybody had telephone. NITEL was an extract of P&T. I came from a family of nine and I am the last child.

I am a mother to many, but I grew up having this understating that I could do it. When I got married in 1993, I told myself that my education could not stop although, while I was doing that, I had my diploma in computer science and I went back to theological school and I had diploma in theology. After that, I went to Kaduna Institute of Teachers. I later went to have first degree in English Language at the Lagos State University (LASU). All these while, I was still having babies, and I am blessed with three children; I have a 21-year-old son, an 18-year-old daughter and my last child is 16 years old, I am a potential grandmother so to say. I later stumbled into politics, which I once regarded as an aberration as a full time pastor, I have pastored and planted several churches. I started full time ministry in 1988 as an assistant pastor. I went to bible school in 1991 and graduated in 1994. I was ordained by Pastor Ben Enoch of Communion Chapel in 1995. God ministered to me to minister to people and I started an NGO through, which I reach the people, the headquarters of the organization is in Ghana. It was after one of my trips to Ghana that the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) was sensitizing Christians to go into politics and I heeded the call, which was what led me into politics.

In 1999, I contested for the post of councilor, and I lost at the primaries, but I didn’t give up. Again, in 2002, I came out and I lost, after that the party came and endorsed me as their consensus candidate to the Lagos State House of Assembly in the 2003 elections, but I lost, all that put together, I lost three elections, and I won two, which was what brought me into LSHA. I have been serving Oshodi-Isolo Constituency 2, where I since 2007 and my people are happy to identify with me. I live amongst them and I am one person that can say that I have been able to facilitate several projects into my constituency. My family and my people are proud of me. I have been able to run a good race, but I have not stopped.

You said you got married at the age of 20, did you face any challenge then and is the marriage still intact?
It is a straightforward question, you are only asking me to state the obvious, it is no longer news that Omowunmi Edet is divorced because my marriage broke up in 2009. But sometimes, you get stories that are not true; I am divorced though I hold on to the name because three children are involved. It is important that I manage the situation very well. Being a pastor, I try to convince the people around me that you could find yourself in an unpalatable situation. I never envisaged that I would have to go through a second marriage; I wanted a marriage that would work because I grew up with my father, mother and siblings. So, no matter what you go through as a woman you can make things work. I found myself in a very nasty situation, which I couldn’t help and I did not leave my husband, it is the other way round for reasons best known to him. I never at any point left Pastor Edet. I did not leave him for any other man.

I want to know if you have a church and what does it take to own a church?
I do not have a church, you do not need to have a church to be a pastor, we had a church in place before my marriage break-up and I had to step aside, when the issue came up, I could no longer be part of the church. But, I do a lot of evangelical work; I minister, when I am invited. For instance, I am ministering in the church of Bishop Odeleke this month, so I do have invitations to minister in different churches. Church is people, it is not the building, you can have a big cathedral and you are not affecting the lives of the people, it is a matter of time before they would leave because if your church cannot change you, you would change your church. So, it is not about the structure. To own a church depends on what you have in your head. I don’t believe that I must build a church before I can affect lives. I do not own a church, what it takes to own a church is if God leads you, if God does not lead you, it is a matter of time, you would pack your bags and baggage. To own a church is secondary, it should not come first, one thing should precede the other.

You are a pastor, and as a female lawmaker, we have read much about you, especially about your relationship with King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal, can you clear the air on your closeness to him?
When you see a man and a woman standing even under that tree, you would say something is going on between them. The relationship between me and KWAM 1 was orchestrated by God, I met him divinely. I had been working as a board member of the state Ministry of Youth and Sports before I met King Wasiu Ayinde. I had contested several elections and lost, but somebody, where I worked told me that ‘go and meet KWAM 1, he lived around your area, you can talk to him, he is a factor that you must reckon with.’ In Isolo, where I come from, you have two people that are very prominent; the founder of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, and you have KWAM I, you cannot ignore these two people.

The day I went there, I gave them my complementary card at the gate, and I told them I was from the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Sports and he gave me audience. I told KWAM 1 that I had been contesting election for some time and lost and I said I wanted him to support me and he endorsed me as his candidate and we have been working together. But all these stories that I was befriending KWAM 1 are not true. Even for three years that my marriage broke up, I never set my eyes on Wasiu, I was far away from him. Thank God there was no link, if there had been a link, people would have had photographic evidence, but they were just baseless news that are flying around. I want to tell you that I don’t have anything to do with Wasiu and I are even related, his mother is from Ilupeju in Lagos and my father’s mother and Wasiu’s mother are first cousins, you can add that to whatever you have in your archives, so he is my big brother. I call some people five fingers staring with God Almighty, then Dr. Frederick Fasehun, through him I met Opeyemi Bamidele, who led me to Mutiu Are, who introduced me to KWAM 1, who is the last finger. These are the people I call helpers of destiny, they have helped me in my journey. Wasiu has helped me at a point, so I cannot leave him; he is not my boyfriend, husband or sugar daddy. He is my father and he would remain that in my life.

How do you combine being a pastor with your political career?
They are both the same, as a pastor, you are dealing with human beings, and as a politician, you are representing people, so both them work hand in hand. You want to give value to the lives of people, you want to do thing that would make people remember you for two things; the problem you create and the problems you solve, I want to solve problem, I don’t want to create problems, I have enough problems in my hand, so I am trying to go around and solve people’s problems. So, that is the essence of pastoral work and political representation, I am representing people, trying to solve problems, if there are issues of security, lack of infrastructure, I intervene, I am there to solve problems. I may not be able to create infrastructure, but I can facilitate some ton the area, and that is what I have been doing.

I would like you to react to the spate of defection in the country. For instance, about six APC lawmakers defeated to the PDP the day Governor Ayo Fayose was sworn-in as the Ekiti State Governor?
Defection would always happen, what is popular now is stomach infrastructure. In my constituency, it is so funny, I have been able to facilitate about six major roads; link bridges here and there, but people would still talk about the money you have for them. We want to be like the United States of America and Europe, you want Lagos to be like Paris, Dubai, but these are the things that people sacrifice. If you continue to think about your stomach, you cannot do anything for your country, it is not about what your country and politicians can do for you. That is why most of the times, when they are casting votes, you buy your votes, is it supposed to be so, your vote supposed to be your voice, it supposed to reflect what you think, but we don’t have that here, that is the setback we have had in this country.

As long as that is there, people would continue to defect to juicy party, party where you think the platform is ready-made, and nobody wants to go to part of a structure that is static. You want to go to a place, where you know the leaders and they can talk to President Goodluck Jonathan. That is what is happening in Ekiti State, people defect from APC to PDP because APC is no longer in government, they are moving to where it is happening, so I would not blame them because one thing goes first, myself; what I would be and what I would eat. That is what a lot of politicians are after, but those of us that come from pastoral background have been working, I tell you about my NGO, I can tell you I have affected thousands of people before I got into politics. So, I cannot stop doing it, so you keep on seeing defections because of selfish interests.
As a woman in politics in a man’s world, what are the challenges you have seen, and as a young, beautiful woman in politics, I want to know if you have experienced sexual harassment because that is why many women shy away from politics

Of course, I have been sexually harassed, when you have a House of forty members and you have only five women when we came in 2007, five to 35, scarce commodity, don’t forget that you said I am young and very beautiful, which are also tempting, it now depends on individuals. Initially, when I came on board and they tried to woo me, I would say, ‘I bind you,’ they used to call me ‘I bind you.’ But with time, I started studying them, most of them don’t mean any harm, but if you are not careful, you are in for it. When they took their time to look at the women that just came in, they started placing us, which does not mean they would not try, but I did not succumb because I knew where I was going. You can imagine if I now become the Governor of a state, and I look back and start seeing plenty of people that have undressed me. There are times, when I hear what some male pastors do to their female members; I wonder that these are the people that call them ‘daddy.’

This is the same thing that guides me, it is not limited to me, what about you, the organization where you work, are you supposed to do such. You can imagine me coming to the floor of the House and when I want to talk, I would start stammering if I just had a short time with somebody, all that will take away your confidence, and I don’t want to lose it for any man, it is not worth the trouble. This is what has kept me going, we are humans, some times the flesh wants to give in, but what keeps me on is this word that ‘your future is very bright, where you are going you have not got there,’ I cannot abort God’s vision for me mid-way, there is a propelling factor that ‘Omowunmi, where God is leading you, you cannot stop here.’ I am going to re-marry and it would be known to the whole world, don’t worry, the guy is warming up. So, there is no vacancy.

You said before you got to the House of Assembly, you had to seek the support of people like Dr. Frederick Fasehun and KWAM 1, which seems to be the trend. Now, would you say this is the same with women to women in politics, do you agree that there is a pull her down syndrome amongst women in politics?
I don’t know the reason for this, but of recent, we have a forum that is encouraging younger women to come on board. We have the women in politics; our last meeting was in Ghana trying to encourage younger women in politics. I have a lot of female councilors whom I am supporting because succession plan starts from today. I don’t want to wait till I am 60 years of age, I want to start grooming people now, these are the people that would take over from us when we leave the political scene. But what you said is the truth, most of the people that support we women are men, but if you look at it the other way, it is vice-versa, the people that support men are women. You see lots women around them during elections, but I am here, nobody is coming to me. I am trying my best to disabuse some things because they believe that the men have something to give them, it is old mentality, we will get over it soon.

People have called for the review of tenancy and traffic laws; there are some flaws in the tenancy law like there is nothing in the law that prevents people from bringing visitors around for too long unlike what obtains overseas. Do you subscribe to the review of these laws?
Law itself is not static, even the United States of America still review their laws. Most of the laws are made in a haste, you end up coming back to address them, so I want to believe that reviewing the laws should be our priority. The next reading would afford them the opportunity to remove some things. Talking about what happens abroad, our environment is peculiar, you see a man from the eastern part of the country accommodating about 10 people in a room, our laws have embraced another law. The tenancy law is working with the Residents Registration Law; the people in an area must be registered. Even if you are lodging in a hotel, your data would be taken. So, that clause would be added, it would help us a lot in Lagos State.

From your presentation, I discovered that you are passionate about youths, do you have any programme to train the youths?
It is important we understand that some of us are still youths, at 41, I still believe that I am a youth, I can add value to the generation that is coming behind. Who is a youth, is it a 14-year-old boy or a teenager of 15 or 18 years of age, youths must be experienced, so they must be ready to work with those in power, most of our youths are in a hurry, they want to ride posh cars, they want to build houses, they want to have modern structure, these are the things we need to know. We need to ask our youths questions or else people go away with so many things. Be receptive to knowledge, and scrutiny, they are on a fast track and they want to arrive at a destination in a jiffy. All these are the things we need to work on, they want everything now, they must know that they must wait for their time. My programme for the youths is well spelt out, I do not encourage laziness around me, I introduced skill acquisition to my youths. I tell them they can engage themselves in several ways even as a graduate you can still add value to your lives. We cannot all have white collar jobs, we can do things that can add value and put food on our tables, and then you can pay your bills, some of our youths are lazy and we have some political jobbers, this is their season. Don’t allow people to use you for their selfish aims. I encourage the youths and I give them soft loans periodically to assist them to have financial autonomy.

Recently, there was a policy that political leaders such as governors, deputy governors, speakers and deputy speakers would be earning fat pensions, do you subscribe to this?
I am not against pensions, but I know that there are lots of wastages in governance, and we can control that, pension is not a bad thing. Having the office of the speaker or deputy speaker getting pensions is okay because, when you see what happens to some of our people, when they leave office, you would pity them. That is why I say whoever must go into public office must be somebody who could feed himself before going to the office. You should have something that can put food on your table so that when you leave office, you can go back to it. Some people say that politics or public office is an employment, it is job for boys, but I don’t see it as job for the boys, it is service to the people, when you finish, go back home, if you can still go to the same market, shops and buy things, then you have done well or else you have not done well.

I want your reaction to the role Oby Okwesiliese is playing on the students of the Federal Government Girls College, Chibok that were kidnapped by Boko Haram members.?

Madam Oby is trying her best, but the issue of the Chibok Girls is a collective matter, it should not be handled by one person, they are already frustrating her, but I thank God for her courage, she is not giving up, what stops you and I from doing the same thing, but Nigerians are weak, when you talk about the same matter for six months, people are tired, some people are saying they are pregnant, there are a lot of speculations here and there, we don’t even know the truth. But what I do at my private corner is that I pray for them, the truth is known to us, but we don’t want to tell ourselves the truth, our leaders don’t tell us the truth. I say it that I represent over 1.5 Million people, but does the statistics show that, you don’t even know the people that have not been counted. I think they are about to do another population census in the country, may be when they finish, they would tell me I now have 2 million people, but I am sure the current figure is what I heard before I left secondary school. We can’t even say this is the figure, so the issue of the Chibok girls is what affects all of us, it could be your child, my child, your sister, it can happen to anybody, we should be passionate about anything that happens to people in this country.

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