Chairman of the House of Reps Committee on Diaspora Matters, Rita Orji recently met with leaders of the Nigerian community in London. The lawmaker, elected on the platform of the PDP for Ajeromi-Ifelodun constituency in Lagos, said one of the reasons she went into politics was to influence policies that will favour the masses and change the mind-set of people about politics
The lawyer described her victory as evidence of unity, saying she she grew up in Ajegunle, schooled there and have investment there.
She said: What makes you an indigenous person, per say, is it by naturalization? I am a part and parcel of Lagos state and an indigene of Ajegunle. Excerpts of her interview with the media after the meeting:
You mentioned Ajegunle and looking at your profile, we found that you have actually done a lot of things within the local community…
Rita Orji: Yes. You have to establish a relationship; when you look at the situation in Ajegunle, many people don’t want to be associated with that local government. But I am really proud to be the member, representing the federal constituency. People don’t really know what Ajegunle is all about and the notion they have of it, but when you come to Ajegunle, this is where people are left to cater for themselves. You are your own local government chairman, you provide the water; you provide electricity, you do everything by yourself, and yet you maintain peace. The people believe that with God on their side, they are in peace. People talk of poverty in the area, but the people pay taxes; this is part of the things you won’t hear.
This is the most neglected local government and is referred to as a suburb in Lagos, Nigeria. People of our class living there knows that this not a suburb, this is just about pain and neglect.
You are now the chairman of the Diaspora committee; how can you attract the Diaspora to support the administration and Nigerian development?
Rita Orji: In the first place, whenever you want to attract somebody, there must be a laid-down procedure; you must prepare the road. Right now, the Diaspora commission bill was not passed; electronic voting is not done. When you want to take issues like that, you go to relevant stages and amend the electoral acts that will enable electronic voting; you do the right things first.
The present administration knows that even coming into its existence, that the Diaspora played a very important role; so any government that needs success will not do away with the Nigerian Diaspora!
You mentioned the Diaspora Commission bill, what is the state of work on that?
Rita Orji: It was not assented to, meaning the president did not assent to it and it died with the 7th assembly. But when you bring it back, it will move from the assembly to relevant place and get done.
one of the biggest issue for Nigerian Diaspora is voting rights. What do you think about that?
Rita Orji: You know we are already a late student in this kind of voting. Algeria have done that and a couple of other African countries have done that. However, we must have legislation that will enable us to get good data of Nigerians. It might not be electronic voting per se; but you might vote in the Nigerian High Commission building; and you tap your results from there. But there is no data. I was at the Nigerian High Commission and it was very appalling. Even about the Nigerians in the UK, nobody can give you the accurate data. How are we going to talk about voting? I found out that a lot of things are happening here in the UK and the High Commission doesn’t even know about it. So, I am going to work directly with NIDO. We will work diligently with NIDO; every other professional body would come under NIDO.
Technically, people will say there are more than 1 million Nigerians in UK and over 10 million Nigerians around the world; would it not be good even if we get 10% of those on record, because we have Nigerians with mixed nationalities?
Rita Orji: Our constitution allows dual citizenship. So every Nigerian, no matter the passport you are carrying, you have a right to decide to vote. But my problem is this, there must be a framework. I am here on investigation, I have being here for a couple of days and I have gone to various meetings with lawyers, Home Office, Nigeria High Commission etc. We believe that we have wonderful Nigerians here and we need to harness that potential by bringing them under an umbrella where they could have their impact felt. I refer to them as my pride. We won’t give up. That is why you see wherever we Nigerians are; they are doing wonderfully well. No matter the restrictions, draconian laws trying to push us down, we still survive, because we don’t give up, we believe in ourselves. I am saying that the priority of the 8th assembly is to make sure that the stars which they are must be allowed to shine; because you don’t need to struggle to shine if you are a star. We just need to create an enabling environment and I don’t doubt they are going to do well.
Another interest for the is the yearly diaspora day which normally takes place in July every year. How would you like to see this galvanised for the benefit of Nigeria?
Rita Orji: I am not a person that is good in social partying or coming to dance. If there isn’t a reason for doing Diaspora day, then it shouldn’t be done but if there must be a reason for it, it must reflect on gains, on vision, ideology. So it will take a different shape. These wonderful Nigerians must have a theme that when we are celebrating, there must be an achievement that would be rolled out on that day, such as; what the diaspora have done either in their host country or in their home country. That this is what they have achieved and what they intend to do in the final part of the year.
All the professionals would come together for this.
Should they now look towards your office as the House Committee chairman to communicate and will they get you, because we expect to call your office, for the phone to ring and someone to say welcome to the Diaspora office.
Hon. Rita: Those that know me very well, even in my constituency, will tell you that I pick up my calls. I may leave my phone with my PA who would pick up the calls too. But I want to tell you this truth, several attempts the diaspora Nigerians made failed because it wasn’t a coordinated one.
In the last two months, we have passed a motion in the house, on a bill for “the choice of first refusal” to any Nigerian company coming into Nigeria to do projects or business. We moved that they must now be given the first priority choice of any job or contracts. We cannot bring people together without having an enabling environment. We have being able to put these together. Now you have an enabling environment, that you can say am coming to do drainage, build a school, or build a hotel, you now have the right of first refusal before any other foreigner. That is what we have done.
Secondly, investment in Nigeria through my office, by the grace of God, will be coordinated with a legal backing; give it a face that nobody will come behind to jeopardise your chance of owning your establishment just because you are in the Diaspora. You don’t want to work under anybody who wants to take up the director this or that, take everything. You would be the one to bring the funds, and somebody else would take everything, and you would be mourning over it. I am a lawyer, when you invest your money, you need to be on top of it. These are the things we have put in place and I encourage you guys too when you are trying to come into Nigeria, please work with our office because we are on ground. We want to know where you can invest and have your returns.