Dr. Adaora Onyechere Sydney-Jack, is a gender advocate, ace broadcaster and a long standing co-anchor of Kaakaki, a morning talk show on the Africa Independent Television (AIT), who just released an intriguing new book ‘Politics, Pu..y & Power. In this interview, she speaks on challenges of gender inclusion and stereotypes in Nigerian politics; shrinking opportunities and fairness in the society and also her audacious new book, described as ‘provocative’ in some quarters.
Q: As a broadcast journalist of note, not many know about your challenges with speech defect as a child. How were you able to overcome that to become a broadcast journalist of note?
A: I already had Mild dyslexia and then developed Speech Apraxia after a traumatic event during my childhood and this was compounded.
Q: What’s this condition about?
A: Apraxia of speech (AOS) – Someone with AOS has trouble saying what he or she wants to say correctly and consistently. AOS is a neurological disorder that affects the brain pathways involved in planning the sequence of movements involved in producing speech. The brain knows what it wants to say, but cannot properly plan and sequence the required speech sound movements.
People with AOS may have difficulty pronouncing words correctly. Sounds, especially vowels, are often distorted. Because the speaker may not place the speech structures (e.g., tongue, jaw) quite in the right place, the sound comes out wrong. Longer or more complex words are usually harder to say than shorter or simpler words.
whilst doing my A Level and undergraduate level in the UK I went through Speech Language Therapy, Counseling and skill pairing exercise. Frankly, I never thought I would be a journalist. Yes, a fantastic photographer, Artist , Film Director, joining the British orchestra or Playing professional cricket, but a broadcaster, well, let’s just say I have great cheerleaders as my mentors during my therapy days and frankly, that helped a lot with my self esteem and determination to break the bias against learning disabilities.
I still have the lisps when I talk, just that I have been trained on how to manage it. Now I volunteer speech training therapy to young girls like me and help to build their self esteem too, as a way of giving back to the society.
Q: The International Day for the Girl Child was recently marked with a lot of rhetorics across the nation, as a gender advocate, what’re your thoughts about the Nigerian girl child?
A: There’s a lot of unlearning and learning to do, especially, with demystifying stereotypes and biases against the girl child in our society, that have been imbedded in our culture and traditional family settings. Even in our education system and socialization of negative norms.
The girl child is endangered if we don’t raise her to think that she is enough and could achieve her potential in any field, in spite of several societal huddles. The girl child should, essentially, be encouraged to have faith in her abilities and also believe that anything is possible, even as we continue to advocate for an enabling environment for her to thrive.
Q: What challenges would you consider as possible peculiar obstacles to the advancement of the girl child in Nigerian society?
A: Sincerely, I will say, lack of mentorship, access to qualitative education, healthcare, and lack of implementation of laws that can protect her. Also, there is a challenge of shrinking spaces for women in leadership, thereby limiting emerging examples of women who are building capacity, using it and breaking barriers.
Q: The title of your new book, ‘Politics, Pu.sy & Power ‘, has been described in some quarters, as ‘provocative’, what informed the choice of the book title?
A: We have normalized speaking about the odds in our private spaces, especially, when it comes to the stereotypes in politics and how it’s affecting women; the negative identities and the patriarchal ideologies that have slowly began to masculinize the way women are addressed. So, I felt I needed to jolt my readers into the reality they may be ignoring. And yes, ‘shake the tables’, in order to succinctly drive the message home.
Q: What is this book all about?
A: You need to buy it, read read it, to figure that out. But in a nutshell, the book is an exposition of the deep rooted norms that have endangered womanhood, leadership and a raw unveiling of the dark underbelly of politics, having participated in elections and ran for office myself.
Q: As a journalist and gender advocate, you have followed developments in the economic and political arena in the nation, what are those things that may have elicited the idea for your book?
A: The undiscussed narrative about the a new pandemic, “The sexualization of the female gender”, the deliberate impoverishment of women at the rural level with little or no infrastructure and sustainable development, the masculinity of our Nigerian parliament, the misogyny and regimented nature of our political party structure and of course the lack of political will by the government to be deliberate about SDG goal 5.
Q: Could you give us more insight into the book, especially the relatable stories that you explored in the book to drive your narrative?
A: I must say, with confidence too, that the themes in explored in the book, resonate across great minds. The narratives in the book also resonate with everyone who believes in fairness and equity in distribution of common resources and access to opportunities in the society, irrespective of gender or any other considerations. It also alligns with the hope and aspirations of our women and young girls across africa, including Nigeria, who yearn for inclusion at all levels.
Q: You made some audacious claims in the book, as regards the transactional nature of Nigerian politics that starves merit and capacity, and in a way, democracy itself, in favour of pecuniary interests. Could you throw more light on that?
A: Unfortunately, records have shown that what we practice in Nigeria is money politics, winning at all cost and the death of Values. Avid followers of political developments in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999, would attest to this assertion.
People are no longer worried about election but prepare for the next usurpation. And that is a threat to democracy.
Q: You once aspired to represent your people in the House of Representatives. Could you share your experiences and how it may have influenced your narrative in this book?
A: It is the narrative. The experience and the journey is another book on its own and am already working on it. I have also come to understand that representation of any kind starts from service from where you are in itself, the process of election and political offices are for power brokering and I believe that’s why it’s a case of winner takes it all.
Q. What’s your take about the current women participation in elective politics and public offices in Nigeria?
A: It’s like standing on sinking sand, we’re groping and hopefully, this administration would have the political will to push for the passage of the five gender bills, implement the NGP as revised ( The National Gender Policy) and political parties will activate their gender quota within their party constitution.
Q: What are the possible changes in the Nigerian society that you intend your book to bring about?
A: Mindset change, demystification and reorientation on negative gender identities, generational collaboration and affirming of the power of womanhood.
Q: Could you help us understand the key essence of gender advocacy and Nigerians perception of feminism?
A:The essence of gender advocacy is to normalize the understanding that women’s rights are human rights; that yes, we may not be there yet, but we cannot afford to be silent on the essence of mainstreaming women across all sectors.
Feminism is a state of mind. In fact, we should all be feminists. Anyone who thinks that his/her daughter , his/her mother, sister, deserves equal opportunities, deserves to be seen, heard and allowed to thrive as a human being not just because of gender; that person is a feminist and I suppose we all want that, except those who are mediocre in thinking, limited in thinking and without foresight.