A 26-year-old lady, Rukayat Shittu, won a seat to represent Owode/Onire constituency in the Kwara State House of Assembly. She spoke with AYOOLA OLASUPO about her political journey and her emergence as the youngest lawmaker-elect in the state
At 26, there are indications that you are currently the youngest member-elect for a state House of Assembly, how does that make you feel?
I feel so good and overwhelmed with the reactions of people across the country. It is a rare opportunity which I will use judiciously. This is my first attempt running for an office and I’m grateful to God for the victory.
What motivated you to join the race, despite the volatile political terrain in Nigeria?
I have always motivated myself and I have always been passionate about governance and politics. So, right from my university days, I was a student union leader who occupied several positions as a student representative. I was the senate president for the school and I have been involved in a lot of government activities, workshops, training, governance and politics, so it is a passion.
Did you know you would win or were you simply optimistic?
There were indications that I would win and there was a bit of optimism. I told everyone already that I was contesting to win and that I would win. Also, I said there were indications because of the records of the All Progressives Congress in Kwara State. People see the APC in Kwara State as a party that God has blessed. In spite of that, we will still give our best, especially with the track records of Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and the fact that every candidate the party had for the elections were very capable. I also have my track records, and with the support of the people, we won. So, I was optimistic that I would win and that victory has come to stay. I should add that I’m always confident in anything I do, and it’s not limited to politics. This is who I am. I told someone that even if it happened otherwise I would still remain confident about it. I am positive and I always see the good in everything that happens to me in life.
After you won the APC ticket in May 2022, it was challenged in court by another aspirant, Ayinde Alajere, after which the case was dismissed by the Court of Appeal for lack of merit. After that court ruling, you said you didn’t see it as victory, could you speak more on that?
At that time, I saw it as a victory for all. On the other hand, taking me to court was just democracy at work. If one is not satisfied with something, the best thing to do is to seek redress in court and challenge it. We only went there just for the court to settle it for us and I did not see him as someone who was so desperate about it. The way I see it is that I have proven myself as a winner and he is also a winner. We are all winners because we all belong to the same party. There was no loser. He actually campaigned for me when the campaigns started.
You promised to sponsor bills that would benefit the people as well as lobby for projects for your constituency, could you share some of these with us?
Lobbying for certain projects to be executed in my constituency and sponsoring bills are about quality representation. I’m not going there to be a bench warmer; I’m going there to represent our people and it’s about creating the right relationship with the executive and other arms of government so that we can get things done for our people. That is what it entails. It’s about adding value, creating relationships and making sure the people you represent see governance and government’s presence in the locality.
What do you think gave you victory; was it your manifesto, being a female candidate, being a youth, or you had backing in high places?
All of these that you listed played a role. Support from people within and outside my constituency was part of the factors that gave me victory, and of course the support of Almighty Allah.
Being a media practitioner, fashionista and an entrepreneur, how do you intend to combine all of these or would you need to drop one for the other?
I don’t see that as a problem. I have a capable hand who manages the fashion house for me. My media work is part of being an entrepreneur. I’m still a media practitioner; I write most of my stories, so I am still practicing, but when I fully resume office, I would have people take charge of them.
How were you able to make it to the political stage at an early age in a society where females are still largely marginalised?
In Kwara State, for instance, females are not marginalised and that is where I operate from. The governor has always supported women and he has demonstrated that. If you look at his cabinet, you will realise that about 56 per cent of them are females, so we are not marginalised in Kwara State, so it was not hard for me to get the ticket because it is a state for women and men.
Could you take us through your education and the experiences you have acquired over the years?
Well, I was born on June 6, 1996 and I attended Baptist Primary LGEA School, Surulere in Ilorin. From there, I proceeded to Government Girls Day Secondary School in 2005. When I was in JSS 3, I had an accident and I needed to be transferred back to Ilorin where my parents reside. After the treatment, I proceeded to Government Girls Secondary School, Oko Erin in Ilorin just to stay with my parents at the time. In 2011, I completed my secondary school education and in 2012 I got admission into Kwara State College of Arabic and Islamic Legal Studies where I studied Mass Communication and Islamic Studies. I obtained a Diploma in 2015, and within that time, I learnt fashion, and many other things. In 2017, I enrolled myself in school to study Mass Communication at the National Open University of Nigeria, and in 2022 I graduated with Second Class Upper Division. We have already been issued our certificates. Meanwhile, the latest is that I have been elected as a member of the Kwara State House of Assembly.
How did you raise money to buy your forms and fund your campaign?
It was through the support of people. The Expression of Interest form was free for females and youths in APC, while we only paid 50 per cent of the nomination form. It was through the assistance of my parents and people that I know.
At what point did you get the backing of your parents, and did they play any major role in your emergence?
I have their support. My dad paid my bills right from the university, so I already have their support. There was no discouragement from them and they feel elated that their daughter is a member-elect of the state House of Assembly. It actually means that their dream is getting fulfilled. Even at the initial point of my decision, my parents were okay with everything I was doing. They are always in support of me. I have their support, encouragement and prayers.
Some people would feel you had a godfather to have made it that far, especially in a terrain dominated by men?
The people are my godfather and godmother. I can tell you everybody is happy. They are all happy because the name of the village is now everywhere.
In your first four years, what would you want as your legacy?
The legacy I want is to be a reference point; a good one that people will always refer to, that when she was there she did this and that. That will surely pave the way for other people coming behind.
Did your friends and classmates play any role in your emergence, maybe through donations and during campaigns?
During the campaigns, they played a very essential role. They took it as their collective task, and they also came through with money, materials and even spiritual support. They really did a lot of things for me.
Some people might think it will affect your relationship as someone who is yet to marry. What do you say to that?
It’s not an issue I want to talk about. However, I am not single; I’m engaged. There are a lot of women who are married and in politics and they are doing fine. There are many of them, so why will I be different? I don’t even see it as an issue and I will not like to discuss it further.
How many female members will be in the Assembly and are you in anyway apprehensive, knowing that most of the other members are males and some might be old enough to be your father, yet they are your colleagues?
We are women and without men we can tackle the issues. So, there is no issue. We are all working hand in hand. Even before elections, we had a lot of meetings. There is no issue and nothing to panic about.
What was your biggest lesson from the election?
My biggest lesson is to always be prepared, because in politics one does not know what will happen next. One has to be prepared and ready to face anything that happens. Also, you should have a good record, so people can find it safe and easy to refer to you when talking about good things and opportunities.