Kate Anolue, hailing from Nanka in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State, was elected Mayor of Enfield Borough in the United Kingdom. A widow and mother of four, the midwife-turned-lawyer speaks on politics, her challenges and marriage during her visit to Nigeria.
From your observation, do you think we have enough participation of women in Nigerian politics? - I am disappointed at the level of women's participation in Nigerian politics. Nigerian women have a lot to contribute to the development of the nation, but unfortunately, their presence is not felt. It's sad at the way they allow their potentials to waste away.
What in your view is responsible for this? - Politics in Nigeria favours men. It's quite different from what holds in the United Kingdom. There, politics is hinged on merit. Here in Nigeria, there is no equality between the male and female. I believe everyone should be given an equal footing. We went to the same school and do possess the same certificates. Nigerian women need to speak out and put in their best to make a change. They shouldn't allow themselves to be pulled down.
What advice would you give to Nigerian women interested in politics? - I will advise them to go for it and put in their best. Women are the wealth of the economy. I will also add that the thought of making fast money should be far from them. I believe people move on in the UK because they do a lot of voluntary works for the society which do not involve money.
Survival in the UK is believed to be difficult. How did you combine your responsibilities as a mother and duties as a midwife? - I joined my husband in England at a young age in 1971. I trained as a nurse, since this had always been my dad's desire, and became qualified after three years. I also had another 18 months training as a midwife.
By 1977, I had already acquired two certificates while I also had two children. I was able to stay on my job as a full-time worker with my husband's support. By 1984, my children were four while I had also risen in my profession to the post of a team leader.
Unfortunately in 1985, October precisely, I lost my husband and things took a downturn. The future became bleak. I was left with four kids to cater for. The eldest was 13 years and the others were five and nine years old respectively. The youngest was 18 months old. Fortunately for me, I had around me friends who were supportive.
I saw my husband's death and the responsibility of raising my children as a cross I had to bear. I therefore rose to the challenge. Most of my managers were likewise supportive. They all did their best to encourage me by giving me work schedules that were flexible. With this, I was able to give my children the necessary attention.
At what stage did you decide to study Law? - When my last daughter was eight years old, the urge to do something different from nursing came up again. I applied for Law, and, during an interview with my lecturer, he asked with utmost disbelief "With a good profession as a midwife, why do you want to study law?" I told him I studied nursing to please my father and he's happy. Now I also want to make myself happy. It took five years to complete the course as a part- time student.
How did you make it to your present office? - I knew that, as a Nigerian and a woman in a foreign land, I must not settle for less, this was my driving force. After studying and graduating in Law, I started going to the council to seek information on issues. I later began to make enquiries on how councils were run and how their leaders were elected. I was advised to join a political party. I began to study the manifesto of the existing parties. I was attracted to the values and ideas of the Labour Party.
In 1997, I became an active member and my activities moved from Ethnic Minority Officer between 1998 and 2000 to that of Women Officer between 2000 and 2002.
My post as the Women Officer kept me busy because I was always bringing women issues to the fore. This opened me up to a lot of information. I later became a school governor and was privileged to have more information and knowledge of how the society was run.
As time went on, I began to develop interest in the councillor seat. I was always at the campaign meetings, learning how to pull all the strings. Next, I joined members of the parliament to build my confidence in public speaking.
At the time of selection for the councillor seat, I was interviewed and asked to present my qualifications. I presented with confidence my resume as a school governor, Enfield Women Aid (support to women who suffered domestic violence), Enfield Women Centre (support to enhance women’s mental revolution), full time worker and an active member of the party. My background in Law also gave me an edge. I was selected and then the campaign kicked off.
What efforts did you put in convincing people that you were fit for the post? - Before the election, I knocked at 6,000 doors to present our party manifesto and campaign my candidature. This went on every day till I was able to achieve meeting everyone one on one.
My campaign cut across all races and tribes living in my ward. I was able to convince them that I was competent for the job and that they could count on me. Some slammed the door at me when they saw I'm black, while others threatened to pour water on me. I won my first election in 2002 and had a repeat of this victory in 2006 and 2010.
Towards the end of my tenure as a councillor in 2010, I gave the post of mayor a trial. The biggest hurdle was winning 37 colleagues to my side for endorsement. At the end of the day, I had more than the required number for the endorsement. I eventually won the seat of deputy mayor. This was to nurture and put me under observation to see how I would perform if I later became the mayor.
This was quite necessary because the mayor is the first citizen of a borough. Enfield is the fourth largest borough out of the 32 boroughs in London. Enfield is a big borough while I receive any visitor coming to this borough.
Would you agree that merit is solely the major consideration for selecting and electing candidates into political seats in the UK? - Yes. For whatever office you are vying for, who you are and what you have done to boost the society should speak for you. If positions are given to people because they are liked and not on merit, it is obvious that there would be no performance. Merit means you have shown one way or the other that you are fit for the job and this has nothing to do with money.
What plans do you have for Nigeria? - The top on the list is coming back to Nigeria and imparting the society with the skills I had acquired. I have over 35 years experience as a mid-wife. I gave up my job in April 2012. I have 11 years experience in local government administration. Working in the community is another, while motivating and inspiring people are the other skills I possess which I believe will enhance me in whatever I engage myself in.
Politics in Nigeria is a different ball game. How do you plan to cope? - I do visit Nigeria on a yearly basis and I have taken time to observe how politics is played here. In Nigeria, the square peg is put in a round hole. People who have no idea of what is happening around them are given exalted positions. I tell you, they will not perform. I will try to operate from a different angle. Women development will be an area I would launch into rather than go into full politics which I believe I may not meet with people's expectations.
Message to Nigerian women? - No matter how bad or bleak the state a Nigerian woman finds herself, she should not give up. Learning to manage time is essential. If you lack this potential, you are not likely to accomplish all your aims. Again, education is a must for every female.