As we mark the International Women’s Day, Kayode Somtochukwu Ani and Kofo Beckley of the Socialist Worker editorial board interview Faith Yaasa, the TIB Benue state coordinator, revolutionary and disability rights activists on her politics and bid for the Makurdi South seat at the Benue State House of Assembly this Saturday, on the platform of the African Action Congress, AAC.
Good day comrade, could we get to know you, and what inspired you to contest for political office?
My name is Faith Yasaa, and I am contesting for the Makurdi South seat in the Benue State House of Assembly. Thank you for the question. What inspired me to contest is that over the years, we have been agitating against the social and political ills in our country, in our state, in our local government and in our communities.
We have been calling on the authorities to do the right things. We have been arrested for this. I have been arrested several times over the last few years. Then I said to myself that these things we are calling on the authorities to do, we can do ourselves, if we wield power.
So I concluded to rise up to challenge the powers that be, who have not been representing the people’s interests as we have been doing, at the polls and will continue to do so on the streets as well.
That’s really inspiring. I’m sorry that you’ve been targeted for advocating for your community. As a working class woman – someone who isn’t rich, who doesn’t own any companies or factories or such, someone who depends on selling her labour or artisanship to make a living – contesting for office in Nigeria, how would you say your working class background has influenced your ideology and political principles.
Okay, so, as a working-class person, someone who is trying to make a living with no white-collar job or assured salary at the end of the month, I know what precarious living can be, and is, for millions of Nigerians. This also influenced my idea and the nature of my political project.
When you have suffered enough in a working-class constituency, you have felt the pain that people in your constituency (who are also working people) have passed through the bad periods, and you see that there are options which the government can take to make life better for the people but yet are not doing even after you have called them out to do so, you get angry.
My politics is rooted in activism, and I have suffered dearly for it. For example, I was arrested on October 1st 2020 for leading a demonstration which we tagged “the people are hungry,” as part of the RevolutionNow campaign.
Nigeria celebrates independence on October 1st every year. But the working people can see nothing worth celebrating. So that day we were out as the people to ask that what exactly are we supposed to be celebrating when we are still starving and without jobs after 60 years.
Instead of improving the lot of the people, the ruling class has rather been putting us in hardship, suffering, destroying our educational system, making life so difficult for the poor working people to live. And then they come out to celebrate independence!
We called on them to reduce fuel prices; we called on them to reduce VAT; we called on them to also improve the wellbeing of ordinary Nigerians; to reduce the prices of things in the market, to make things better for the common people to live.
For saying this we were arrested. I was arrested, I was detained, I was tortured for saying what I was saying. Passing through some experiences like this influenced my ideas, gives me more courage that “Faith you can do it. Stand up for what is right and make that change.”
These are the things that influenced me to take this bold step of challenging the oppressors at the polls, as a candidate of AAC, to come forward to continue the fight. The experience strengthened me, boosted my confidence.
Wow! That’s very well said. Why did you choose to run under AAC? Please explain.
I choose to run under AAC because it stands for poor working people like me and inspires us to fight. Every political party that exists is based on the shared ideology of its members. As we see, the other existing parties are running society with ideas that do not represent the people. These parties are doing things that are not right. So, we decided to come up with our own political party with our own ideas on how to run society.
African Action Congress, AAC, was founded by a group of people whose ideologies are more or less the same. The leader of the party, Omoyele Sowore has been under the eye of the Nigerian government for many years. They have arrested and tortured him repeatedly. But he has remained unbroken.
I see that I share ideas with him and like-minded comrades. We analysed all the other existing parties and can see that their ideas are all the same, and they are ideas that only make life worse for poor people. Call them APC, PDP, NNPP they are the same people with the same ideas, jumping from one party to another party formed by the same kind of people.
Omoyele Sowore believes that Nigeria can be made to work for the people only when those who have the common people at heart are running society. He then came up with the idea of registering a political party that will be different from all this money making political parties. And AAC was founded.
I have been part of the resistance movement before the party was formed. In fact, I am the Take It Back (TIB) movement coordinator in Benue. I joined this movement at the beginning of 2018. But, even before I knew Sowore, I was already in the struggle. In fact, it was with one of my earlier arrests that I got to know Sowore, because he agitated for my release. Otherwise I might have never known him, even though I share his idea of fighting for the common people.
So, looking at how Nigeria can be made to work for the common people, I was inspired. AAC was formed by activists who have over the year refused to compromise. The party is well structured, and powered with revolutionary ideology. And when you hear or read our programme, you will see that there is no party in Nigeria which has a program that could be better for the common people, not minding whether it ia a party that is well known or not.
It can be well known through me, it can be well known through all other candidates who seize the opportunity of the campaign period to put forward our program on both traditional and social media. Every time we are on radio or social media such as Twitter spaces, talking about our party and its programme, people don’t only love it, they want to join the African Action Congress. We don’t just talk; we talk and do.
Over the years we have been agitating and calling on Nigerians to fight for their rights and we have been arrested, so many times. Several of us have been called for discussions by leading members of the ruling class. They want us to take money and compromise. But we refuse. And that is what makes us stand out.
The major parties have also fielded female candidates in the upcoming State elections. Including Aisha Binani contesting the Adamawa gubernatorial race under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Beatrice Itubo contesting the Rivers state gubernatorial race under the platform of the Labour Party. What do you think of the role of women in the ruling class’s parties and now the Labour Party? How do you think this is different to the role women play as activist-politicians in a revolutionary party like the AAC?
Let me say that working women face two burdens. We are exploited as workers, and then there is constant suffocation of patriarchy. The bigger political parties filling in women as candidates are not filling in working-class women. The women they are putting forward are also exploiters.
If you look at virtually all these political parties that have been existing from 1999, you will see that they do not have the interests of poor women at heart. They are interested only in their selfish interests. Everyone that has been part of the big parties is part of the ruling system. They are the ones who have finished and looted the country and made Nigerians so miserable. They are the ones who have put us where we are now, whether they are men or women makes no difference to me.
And let me tell you something, these political parties will not just pick a woman and give her a big ticket, like make her governorship candidate to rule a state, except she has over the years showed she can do even worse than the men that have been there, in the collective interests of the slave masters.
These are women who have been part of their degenerate system and over the years have learnt how to loot, how to steal, how to kill, and how to destroy. They will be keen to prove that what a ruling class man can do to the working people, a ruling class woman can do worse.
This is what would have made the men to feel comfortable because these are women that they have been stealing together, eating together, killing together making the educational system worse together, sending their own children abroad while they leave ordinary Nigerians to suffer. They will then say to themselves: “I think she deserves it, she can actually dance to our tune”
The role that activist women play in politics has to be revolutionary. But take note that there are real activists and there are cashtivists. When you see women who are interested only in their own selfish interests or business but claim to speak for all women, they are cashtivists. They will not call out what is wrong with the system. What makes women that are genuine activists is that they stand up for the rights of people, irrespective of what party they are in. When a true activist sees what is wrong, she calls people out, even if it is in her party.
But the fake feminist will not say anything even when her party is going wrong. In African Action Congress, we believe that there is nobody above being called out when they do the wrong thing. We are selfless; we are coming out for the people. We believe in what works for the people not us as individuals. We fight for the people and with the people, not to make ourselves rich.
Women who have been given tickets in some of these big political parties have already queued up behind the slave-masters’ agenda of patriarchy even if they say otherwise, as well as with continued exploitation of poor Nigerians in the interest of rich people, which they are, even if they are women. They are qualified for the offices they are going for now because they have demonstrated that they can do worse than what the oppressor men have been doing.
You will see that they have occupied some big political office or top civil service office. And they have shown that they can steal better, they can loot better, they can even kill better, they can destroy lives better.
That is the difference with us as women in AAC. We are women that fight for human rights and liberation of the poor masses, not for self-gain or to protect a powerful few.
Thanks for that incisive answer. You are the Founder and President of the Strength in Disability Initiative and a member of the Women’s Peace Council. That speaks to your experience as an organiser. Has this experience helped with your campaign? And have you faced challenges contesting as a disabled working class woman?
Yes, my experience working with persons with disabilities and specifically also working for dialogue that will bring about peaceful co-existence in my community, which is the Community Initiative to Promote Peace (CIPP) has been very useful for my political development. I will say that the experience has actually helped me a lot, especially in the struggle for people with disabilities.
It has helped me to have knowledge about mobilising; it helps me to have knowledge about social dialogue. It also gives me a better chance to listen to people’s problems. I have one-on-one discussions with them.
They have confidence in me, as a leader of the organisation. They know that personal things that they tell me about their challenges will stay with me. I have the opportunity of counselling people on how they can grow in life and live beyond disabilities.
When you give people a listening ear, the problems you will know are more than if you just take them on a plain surface. In terms of dialogue, we have had opportunities to help people solve problems at the community and local levels and even at the state level. And that has helped me to gather more experience about mobilising, problem solving, mediation, and putting pressures on the government to address concerns of people living with disabilities.
But I have also faced mockery, and discrimination based on both my gender and disability. As a woman with disabilities, what do you expect? Some ask that who is she, who is her father, how many people with disabilities have won such offices before, even as men? Let her go and sit down! Please step down for this person or that! That is what you will hear. But I have built myself beyond their criticism. You can criticise me. If I deem it worthy to respond, I do so. If not, I move on.
I have moved on beyond disability. I move and disability follows; it doesn’t lead me. Disability does not stop me, rather living with and working to protect the rights of people with disabilities has enlightened and strengthened me for the struggle, including running for political office.
Thank you for your answer. I must say your journey is a very inspiring one and your bravery and conviction are so motivating. As we mark the 2023 International Women’s Day (IWD), what is your view on how far Nigerian women have come in securing political rights, and how far is yet to go?
In terms of securing political rights as women in our country, there is a lot to applaud, due to the struggles of bold women before us. But there is still so very far for us to go. Nigerian women have fought over the years in every aspect of social and political life. At a time, even for women to read the bible in the church was a problem. And our roles in politics were very limited. The same even goes for the trade unions and civil society organisations.
But through political advocacy, sensitisation, conferences and other means of building awareness, many women have become more enlightened about their rights and bolder in advocating for these.
Some states, such as Benue state, have implemented the 25% affirmative act. In political areas of social life, there is at least formal improvement in the status of women, in a general sense. Despite it’s the limitations of doing this under liberal democracy, affirmative action for women is a step in the right direction. But we still have a long way to go. The struggle for women’s liberation is not a day’s job. And we need all hands to be on deck, including men as well as women, and we need a more radical approach, towards ensuring that all sexes and all genders have equal rights in everyway in all aspects of our social life. That’s my take.
What are the ways in which Nigerians can support your campaign in the days left before the elections?
The way Nigerians can support my campaign is, first of all by voting for me, for those in my constituency. Second will be by spreading my campaign’s message through the media. And third, financial support to give money to volunteers that are my polling agents to buy water and support their transportation costs.
Very nice, comrade Faith. We will make sure to spread the word. Thank you so much for speaking with me.