Times have changed, really. The days when women were mostly relegated to the background in intellectual and social discourse are finally giving way to a new era in a modern society where girls and young women are being empowered to take on leadership roles and make constructive input in government policies and business establishments. It is reported that a certain Naja’atu Mohammed was the first female SUG president in Nigeria at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in the 1983/84 session. On Tuesday, February 2, 2010, history was made as over 48,000 students of the University of Benin, Nigeria, went all out to exercise their voting rights. For the first time since the inception of the school in 1970, the only female among the eight contestants, was announced winner at 7PM. She did not have the grandest publicity, but her campaign tag, “Change is Possible”, seemed to have made the victory sure, taking many people by surprise. But with the new office has come more responsibility! In this exclusive interview with 22-year old Chineloma Eleodimuo, UNIBEN’s first and current female Student Union President, she tells BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu about her journey so far, the impeachment threat last May, and her relations with other students.
Please tell us about yourself.
I’m Chineloma Eleodimuo from Nnewi in Anambra State. I’m also a 400 level student of Biochemistry of the great University of Benin and a Christian.
When and how did you become the SUG President of the University of Benin?
The elections that saw me becoming the SUG president was held on the 2nd of February and we were sworn in on the 4th of February. I’ve always believed that my becoming the SUG president was all about God and proper campaign.
Why did you contest for the office of the Student Union President?
I contested for the office of the president because I had a vision of a change I wanted to see in the University of Benin and I believed I could effect that change from the office of the president. That way I would not have a problem of having to deal with a superior or head who might not share in my vision.
How would you describe your experience handling/wielding power in your position as SUG President?
It has been a very educating and challenging one; every day presents itself to me with a new lesson. I’ve actually become more patient and tolerant because I have the opportunity of meeting with different kinds of people every day who have different perspectives about life and you know working with students is never easy because everyone is an intellectual. So, what goes on outside the school would never be accepted by students because you need to have a good reason for every action taken.
Do you feel intimidated among the male officials you work with? How do you get along with them?
I’ve never felt intimidated working amongst my male union officers. Instead, they have been very supportive and co-operative. The highest level of intimidation actually came during the campaign and elections, so if I could cross that line, I really do not see any other intimidating factor.
Are some of your male counterparts intimidated by you in any way? Please, share some of your experiences in this regard.
I really cannot say because even if they are, they would sure find a way of concealing it. However, there is this look of surprise on people’s faces whenever I go to functions and I am introduced as the SUG president. Then some guys who probably had the intention of chatting with me after the event begin to change their minds because some men actually feel intimidated by intelligent women. lol!
What are your future aspirations? Do you intend to run for any political office in the future? Kindly shed more light.
The future gets closer and closer; I really would not like to talk about my political aspirations for the future now so that I can get more focused and achieve the electioneering promises I made to UNIBEN students before the end of my tenure.
It was the news circulating then which arose from some little mistakes at the beginning of the tenure which stemmed from inexperience on my part, but obviously it was not true because if that had happened I would not be granting this interview. Besides, the experience has left me stronger and wiser over the months.
The 2011 elections are around the corner. What roles have you played and will you play in the coming months? Are you canvassing for votes for any political office seeker?
As a union leader, I play non-partisan politics so I am not canvassing for votes for any political office seeker. I’m only trying in my own way to organize seminars and symposia aimed at making other youths recognize the necessity of getting registered and being able to cast their votes for the right person so that collectively our votes can count and we all can build the better Nigeria we want to see.
Do you have a boyfriend? How does he handle your status vis-à-vis your relationship? Have you had any (major) challenges in this regard?
I really do not like to talk about my relationship publicly, but I try to create a balance between politics, academics and relationship. But even if I have a boyfriend, he knows himself so why advertise it on the pages of magazines.
Do your parents support your activism and foray in politics?
My parents were not even aware of my intentions till after the election results were released. You know there’s a way news makes the rounds so fast. So while I was jubilating, I received a call from my parents congratulating me with so much surprise and excitement in their voices. So far, they and my siblings have been very supportive, even through their prayers.
What are some of the major successes you have achieved since you resumed office as SUG President?
To me that really would be like blowing my own trumpet so I would prefer an average UNIBEN student answering that question. The best is yet to be achieved so I wake up each morning and work towards a better day than my yesterday.
What disciplinary measures have you taken to ensure continued success?
I try as much as possible to carry everyone along in decision making and implementation so that they are able to understand the reason why certain actions are carried out. That way, even when I am no more in office, continuity is ensured because they keep building on the foundation that they have also helped in laying.
Could you share some of your memorable experiences and moments in office?
My most memorable day so far has been the day the journey itself started which was when the election results were announced and I was declared as the president. The position has also brought its own joys and sorrows, which I cannot begin to really list.
I really do not see a change in my personality but people become more critical of me and then I have to get friendlier. I also have to dress formally at all times compared to when I had the liberty of walking around the school in my casual outfits.
What would you love to be remembered for, years after leaving office?
I know I’ll always be remembered as the first female SUG president of UNIBEN, but aside that and more personally I want to be remembered for hard-work and standing up against victimization of students, amongst others.
What other activities do you engage in outside studies and politics?
I really love public speaking, especially among other youths because it gives me an opportunity to share my experience, interact and learn more.
How do you cope with studies and political involvement in school?
I try as much as possible to create a balance between my academics, which is my primary reason for being in school, and politics. You hardly see me in my office in the morning because I would be in class, then go to the office later in the day.
What are your hobbies and how do you unwind and relax?
I love reading inspirational books and novels, listening to music and cooking. I really love hanging out with my friends and then sleeping is a whole lot of luxury for me.
Any other thing you would like to share?
My experience so far has taught me that there are really no limits or boundaries except those you set for yourself. For me, it has always been: if I can dream it then I sure can achieve it.
Gbenga Awomodu is a freelance writer and editor. He blogs at Gbenga’s Notebook!, a repository of his thoughts and other works.