Dr. Mrs. Roseline Ada Chenge, former Benue State gubernatorial aspirant, on the platforms of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 2007, and All Progressives Congress (APC), 2015, has a string of firsts attached to her name. She is not only Northern Nigeria’s first female mechanical engineer but also the first female Managing Director, Benue State Water Board, and the first female Managing Director of the 12 River Basins in the country. But right now, she is fighting and hoping to become her state’s first female governor. In this interview with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, she speaks about her drive and vision.
Give us some insights into your background
I’m married and have been married for 32 years. I’m a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Engineers. By the grace of God, I have both biological and adoptive kids. So I will say I am a mother of Benue and Nigeria by implication. I had this vision from childhood that a woman can actually do what men can do. I felt strongly as a child that we are not, technically speaking, different from men; we are just the opposite. But from our upbringing, we got this feeling that men and women are different creatures. We believe that, unlike men, there is a lot that women cannot do or there is a lot that they must do. For instance, a woman must be home on time, etc. So from childhood, I told myself, I will try my hand at what is predominantly a male-dominated area. And that was what took me to become a mechanical engineer. Then they said that mechanical engineering is strictly for men. My science teacher, an Indian, told me, ‘you’re quite intelligent.’ But, please, you better go for medicine or pharmacy because men do engineering; women do medicals. I was like, wow, I want to do engineering. And then I saw that nothing was wrong with a woman being an engineer. In 2007, I tried my hand at becoming the governor of Benue State. I tried again in 2015. After eight years, I felt that the men should allow us to have a shot at it. I came second, next to the current governor when we did it at the primary level. I don’t actually like to fight a person sitting on the throne. So after eight years, I told myself that from 1962 till now, no woman in Nigeria has ever been elected and returned as a governor of any state. So I am here to try again.
You attempted it twice and failed. Why do you think that a woman is cut out for this job?
The challenge that is confronting women generally is funding. This is because the Nigerian population’s orientation is, ‘you need to give us some money to be able to vote for you.’ That is why I said the National Orientation Agency has a lot to do. Nigerians believe that as a politician you need to go round in vehicles and convoys, to convince them that you’re qualified to be voted for. So, most times, women have the issue of funding. The amount of funds available to them at the point of the campaign is nothing to write home about. For instance, we have 23 local governments in Benue State. Before you can pick the ticket as a woman, you need to have gone round to the 23 local governments. And, you need to go with people, to talk to people. So funding is very important.
Secondly, most of the people, the NGOs, and the partners that want to help you would say, ‘pick the ticket first and then we’ll come to help you.’ How does the woman pick the ticket before you come to help? She needs to be helped before she picks up the ticket. This is because once the ticket is picked, the party takes over. So all these international NGOs, the local NGOs, partners, technical as well as the media, who want to help women, you have got to help them before the primary. So funding is very important, especially when you talk of governorship or mega elections. And then we talk about violence and insecurity. A lot of women by their nature do not want trouble. We don’t want to hurt a fly. We don’t want to see blood. We give birth to children by shedding blood. So we don’t want to see blood spilled. It doesn’t give us joy. I don’t know, it has to be a woman that is filled with a lot of what I don’t know, that will love to see blood being spilled on her behalf. Because we don’t like to see blood being spilled, a lot of times when these people are being used to fight themselves and kill themselves, guns are being shot at campaign rallies, a lot of women actually keep off.
But it’s time for women to occupy such high office. We came together as a nation in 1914. We became independent in 1960. And from 1960 to now there has never been an elected female governor. Men have ruled to the level that everybody is now agitating to go their separate ways. So I feel that women should be given the opportunity. Men having run this country from 1960 to now are clearly telling us that they need help.
Why governorship candidacy, and not any other position?
When you talk about being the chief executive officer of a state, you make decisions that will affect the people. The role of a governor affects every individual in a state. It affects the old and the young. It affects the women; it affects men. So when you talk about the insecurity in Nigeria, you’re talking about states not being able to curtail and control their human resources. The first thing to get right is the governor of a state. If we get it right at that level, the federal government is just there to anchor everything that is happening in all the states. From the grassroots, the state governor determines what happens in human lives. So I am trying it again because I feel that if I become the governor I will be able to show an example to other states of Nigeria, of how women can assist the men in administration.
At the first APC women’s convention recently, part of the demand was that women are okay at least to start with being the Vice President of the country or deputy governor of a state. What’s your take?
You didn’t capture it at all. They said it must be twinning. Twinning means if the governor is a man, the deputy governor should be a woman. But if the governor is a woman then the deputy governor should be a man. We are saying give us the 35% and in implementing it, let’s have some equity in every position. So, for instance, when you have a National Working Committee of a party that has the chairman, the deputy chairman, the secretary, and other positions, some of the offices should go to women instead of just having the position of a woman leader among that large number that make up the working committee. Women should also occupy other executive positions. So it was about twinning but the 35% was quite loud and clear.
Part of the problem governors complain about is that even though they are chief executives, they don’t really decide when it comes to security. What, in your view, can we do about the general state of insecurity?
I feel that governors are doing their best according to what they know best. But not everybody in Nigeria has police attached to them. Do you understand? You secure your family to a certain level. You build a fence; you build a house with a door, you don’t open the door and expect the police to come and stay at everybody’s door to stop crime. When you build a good house with a good fence you would have done 70% of the work. Then whenever there’s a problem, you can call for help. But when you’re getting a security allowance every month, the federal government allocates a certain amount to you as a security vote, I think that implementation or proper utilization of the security votes will help to bring down to a minimal level, the security challenges in the states.
As a politician, career woman, an engineer, a wife, and a mother, how do you combine these roles in your day-to-day living?
I have what I call the village principle. When it’s time to take care of your family, you, take care of the family. By the grace of God, I held some positions and the family did not suffer. I have been the General Manager of Benue State Water Board and it was quite demanding. When you are in charge of providing water to the entire state, water cannot be hidden. If there is no water, there is no water.
There are no two ways about it. So if you’re a GM water board and you’re unable to give people water, there’ll be an uprising everywhere. So, as GM water board, I go out at night to check the pumping stations and be sure that the water is being pumped. If you don’t check to be sure water is being pumped at night, in the morning if you turn on your tap there might be no water. So the water has to be high on the reservoir for you to have water supplied to the town. So it’s quite a demanding work but God led me through it. He did not just lead me through it, I was able to do it and be given a higher responsibility. And as the Managing Director of the River Basins, I was in charge of Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa, and a senatorial district in Kogi State. And so by God’s grace, I have held political positions, and I’d been able to manage my family. Like I said earlier, I am 32 years old in marriage. I married quite early, at the age of 18. I’ve stayed in the marriage all this while. I think I’ve tried my little best. But I want to do better.