Ireti recently won Senatorial seat to represent the Federal Capital Territory on the platform of the Labour Party, writes Dele Olowu
Patriarchal heads of iconic political families enjoy such overpowering measures of eminence that they sometimes tend to conceal much of the public good that lesser lights in the family may be championing. Baba Gana Kingibe , Nigerian diplomat, politician, civil servant and man of affairs has held several high ranking government offices , the high point being his appointment as Secretary to the Government of the Federation from 2007 to 2008. Counted among Baba Gana Kingibe’s public service gemstones, would be his glory of having served six Heads of State, and most recently, serving as a member of the inner circle of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration.
Ireti Kingibe, partly Fulani, partly Yoruba, partly Ibo and wife of this exciting eminence grise, could easily have been passed off as an “also ran”. However those who know these things, insist that Ireti was not just a wife who operated marginally from the sidelines. She has been a decisive center court player who in many ways has been an important witness to history. Ireti has also over the years served as the brain box of the great man. She has been the genie in Baba Gana Kingibe’s bottle, and whenever Baba came face to face with existential challenges, Ireti’s intervention was often useful and transformative. Burning bright for several years, Ireti’s enduring concern for the political space has now openly expressed itself in a decision to run for the Senate, representing the Federal Capital Territory on the platform of the Labor Party. Ireti Kingibe is not making a sudden leap into politics, partisan or non-partisan; nor is the Federal Capital and its issues, challenging her gaze for the first time.
Her home has afforded her the privilege of experiencing some of Nigeria’s historic events from the ringside and has sometimes helped in shaping events and influencing decisions. She has also over the years, continued to express leadership from outside her home. In particular she has been beholden to the welfare of the indigenes of Abuja. Ireti Kingibe is outraged by how development in the capital has often meant neglect and pauperization for the indigenous communities.
So acute was her concern that a delegation of FCT indigenes went to see her as a delegation in 2014 requesting her to run for Senate and represent the FCT. The 2014 experience did not run to full term but the solidarity Ireti Kingibe enjoys with Abuja indigenes is an enduring romance. Hence she is now in the race for a seat in the Senate to represent the FCT on the platform of the Labour Party.
A few interesting conundrums may have been raised by her participation in the contest. Abuja is part of the conservative north, where female leadership is not always regarded with great enthusiasm. Furthermore, as a gender activist and canvasser for minority rights, her participation could be seen as running counter to her vision of increased indigene inclusion. Ireti has not been fazed by these anxieties. She herself comes from a colorful and eclectic background; her father, Abdulkadri Lanval being of Fulani and Yoruba ancestry, while her mother has links in Asaba and Bonny.
She is Kanuri by marriage, but on account of several years residency, she contested to represent FCT. In any case, her heart has always been with the people of Abuja. She however promotes the vision of a pan Nigerian Abuja which even while it makes special room for indigenes, also welcomes the new diversity presented by expatriate populations. Ireti has been a bit of an oddball herself; she qualified from the University of Minnesota as an engineer, a severely masculine profession and served her NYSC term with the Nigerian Air force.
The vision of an Abuja that will be a home to all, aligns fluently with her own experience of inclusiveness, which runs in her parentage , in her profession, in her homestead and in her political environment. Ireti who attended Queens College Yaba, is a woman of considerable discernment, this among other things, being expressed in her delicate gardening skills, an aptitude she obviously shares with her elder sister, Ajoke Mohammed, wife of Nigeria’s late former Head of State. Around the FCT she is widely known as a problem solver. Ireti is concerned that because FCT Senators have not been people with the right pedigree, they have often allowed themselves to be used for dubious and anti-people purposes. A powerful senator can turn the tide in favor of a new and better life for the people and indigenes of the FCT. The demographics in the FCT as with the rest of the country are changing.
In 2003 the strength of the electorate was a mere 300,000; today it stands at 1. 6 million people. The resident population has become preponderant and this makes the need for protecting the rights of indigenes extremely important. This concern features in the vision of Ireti who is already considering formulating a bill to address this anxiety. It is a matter of great relief that in addressing the matter of greater inclusion for indigenes, Ireti is not only thinking of inanimate infrastructure, she is also concerned about the culture of the endangered minorities. Infrastructure can always be retrieved and restored. But when a culture dies and goes extinct, something in the human race is beheaded. There is no coming back.
Ireti Kingibe has brought her training, her world view and her refinements to reshape a new vision of Abuja. She wants a city of liberal sameness in development and not one broken into camps of impoverishment on the one side and havens of unspoken affluence on the other. She is therefore committed to a programme of regeneration which would bring back beauty and soul to a broken city. Ireti has thrown her hat into the political ring. She comes from a stable with a famous heraldry. But her primers insist she is new and unsullied and therefore can bring in a breath of fresh political air.
The political environment in the FCT is changing and has changed. New hegemonies are being raised as old minorities threaten to become the new goliaths. Should you see an impending gloom, her supporters say Ireti Kingibe is carrying a lamp, pointing out the way and building bridges which will hoist her vision of a pan-Nigerian FCT. Some can hear the drumming in the distance.
Olowu is a veteran Journalist