The state has set a record in consistently sending a female legislator to the National Assembly since 1999 and at least two female legislators to the State House of Assembly since 2003
By Inemesit Ina
One remarkable record that has gone largely unnoticed by even women activists in Akwa Ibom is the consistency of female legislative representation from and in the state in the last 16 years. Indeed, since 1999, a woman has successively featured among the 13 National Assembly representatives from the state. It is an unbroken record that most states in the Federation cannot boast of.
At the level of the State House of Assembly, a similar unbroken record of at least two women in the Assembly has been set since 2003.
Barr. Iquo Nyong Inyang blazed the trail of female representation in this dispensation when she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1999. She represented Ikono/Ini Federal Constituency.
Iquo, as she is popularly called, became well-known nationwide on account of her role as the all-too-powerful Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs. She proved to be more than just a pretty face.
The State House of Assembly in this dispensation was an all-male affair.
Against all odds, Iquo, a very formidable politician, was re-elected to the House in 2003, again as the lone female representative from Akwa Ibom.
She consolidated in the Police Affairs Committee, her stronghold, as the Chairman.
Two women were elected into the State House of Assembly, namely Barr. Iniobong Enobong Eshiett (Etinan State Constituency) and Obonganwan Mabel Etim Udongwo (Oruk Anam State Constituency). Both women held leadership and committee chairmanship positions in the House. Eshiett was Deputy Chief Whip and Chairman of House Committee on Women Affairs while Udongwo served as Deputy Majority Whip and Chairman of House Committee on Information.
They were later joined by Mrs. Sarah Esitikott (Nsit Ibom State Constituency) who replaced her late husband, Elder Joseph Esitikott, in 2004.
It should be noted that the first woman to be elected into the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was Barr. Grace Edim Inyang (Itu State Constituency) who was in the pioneer Assembly between 1992 and 1993. She served briefly as Deputy Speaker. Within that same period, Barr. Christine Akpan represented Itu Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives as the lone female among the 24 representatives from the state then.
Iquo lost her third term bid in the 2007 election but the womenfolk of the state got something bigger in return: a Senate seat. Lady Eme Ekaette, a former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), was elected to represent Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District, making her one of the three Senators from the state.
Ekaette served as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs. She is best remembered for sponsoring a bill against indecent dressing by women.
Two women were again elected into the State House of Assembly: Dr. Ekaette Ebong Okon (Itu State Constituency) and Mrs. Alice Ekpenyong (Mbo State Constituency). Okon served throughout that tenure as Chairman of the House Committee on Education while Ekpenyong chaired the Information and later the Women Affairs Committees.
It was as if the Senate seat of Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District was zoned to women in 2011. The primary of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) became virtually an all-female affair with Ekaette pitted against a former Minister of Environment, Mrs. Helen Esuene. In the end, Esuene triumphed and went on to win the general election.
Esuene not only succeeded Ekaette as the Senator for Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District but also as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Women Affairs.
There was increase in female representation to the State House of Assembly from two to three.
Ekpenyong and Okon were re-elected into the House and they became principal officers – Chief Whip and Deputy Leader, respectively. In addition, they kept their headship of the House Committees on Education and Women Affairs, respectively.
The third woman was Mrs. Sarah Sunny Elijah, wife of the strongman of Nsit Atai politics, Prince Sunny Elijah Akpan. She served as Chairman of the House Committee on Information.
Unlike Ekaette, Esuene declined to seek a second term and opted to contest the governorship seat in 2015.
But the womenfolk did not lose out completely in federal legislative representation. One of them, Mrs. Owoidighe Ekpoattai, a former Chairman of ONNA Local Government and later PDP State Treasurer, won election to represent Eket/Esit Eket/Ibeno/ONNA Federal Constituency, interestingly Esuene’s own federal constituency.
At the state level, Akwa Ibom went back to the record of two female legislators. These are Princess Felicia Bassey (Okobo State Constituency) and Princess Mfon Ekong (Nsit Ibom State Constituency). In December, last year, Bassey was elevated to the position of Deputy Speaker, making her the second woman to hold that position in the history of the state.
Truly, a female face has never been missing among Akwa Ibom’s representatives to the Legislature in the last 16 years. But like Oliver Twist, the women of the state appear not content with just one pretty face among the 13 National Assembly representatives and two pretty faces among the 26 House of Assembly representatives.