Former House of Representatives member, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who also served as Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora, in the 7th Assembly makes a strong case for the establishment of Diaspora Commission and database to know the number of Nigerians living abroad, PATIENCE OGBO reports.
Why did you join politics?
I had just completed a programme at the Harvard University and was back to my job as a broadcaster with the NTA. I was facing some challenges with where to fit in. It occurred to me that I can put my knowledge into politics. One day, I decided to go to our party’s office in my ward at Ikorodu and I registered with the party. I asked about the meeting days and I started attending. I will sit among the women, the fisher mongers, the traders and elderly women and I will enjoy their company. I love sitting with them and we will talk and share ideas. I decided to take another step and after three months, I went to meet our party leader and told him that I would like to contest to represent my constituency. That time, the person representing my constituency had decamped to the PDP. I had the support from the women and they said if I did not win, they were going to strip. I contested with five men and I won.
There is a general belief that women do not support one another especially in politics but from what you said the women were behind you. How did you achieve this?
It is not true that women do not support one another. It is usually women who come together to give support to their fellow women. What I have to say is that women who have found themselves in position of power should help elevate other women. Like I said, I showed concern I related with them. We bonded and that was the secret.
The PDP government under the leadership of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had the 35 percent affirmative action which made it possible and easier for more women to be appointed into politicaloffices, it seems so far that the APC does not have plans for women. Also, there is a decline in women elected in the present dispensation. What do you have to say about this?
This is a harsh question. The question I ask is it the number of women in political offices that matters or the quality of women? I am of the position that if we have women and their effects are positive and being felt, that is what matters. What I usually advocate for is that women should help other women. What are you doing as a woman to impact on your fellow women where you are? Are you uplifting your fellow women where you are right now? I feel that women or anybody in leadership position should have integrity. The person must be upright and have the interest of the people uppermost in their hearts. That is what really is important.
Recently, you are accused of being indebted to a bank. What is your take on the allegation?
Well, my reaction was that after that story was published, I did not waste any time as I headed to the court to sue the newspaper and the bank for N500million. They have since apologized. I wonder how they came about that story. I took the matter to court because I know I do not owe anybody.
What has been your most embarrassing moment with the press?
There was a time a publication was flying that I was sleeping with the Speaker of the House, Alhaji Masari. When I saw the publication, I started crying and I went to him with the publication. He just laughed and he told me to relax that it comes with the job. He told me that more such publication will target me because of my position.
You have a Foundation, is the foundation for girls only?
Some people think the Foundation is for girls only but the Foundation is not for girls only. They have even accused me of being gender biased but in fact, we have two twin boys we gave scholarship to. I give mentoring to girls but the Foundation is for boys and girls.
Can you talk about being the chairman of the Diaspora committee?
You know we were in the opposition party at that time and they felt they should give me something. So they said let’s give her chairman on Diaspora. I went to work because there was nothing to work with. I had to start from the scratch but with determination, hard work and God on our side, we succeeded.
What is your take on the database for Nigerians in the Diaspora?
There is no database of Diaspora in Nigeria, we are only dealing with estimate, there is a need for a proper database, I challenge the university and the department to find a way for this.
There are many Nigerians suffering and doing well in the Diaspora, half of Sudan is Nigeria, Nigerians are doing well in Sudan, so there is a need for Diaspora database, which I hope this government will establish. The best professor anywhere in the world is a Nigerian it is annoying that what you hear about Nigeria is bad, such as prostitution, drugs, etc.
What do you have to say about Nigerians in the Diaspora?
It is a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. Nigerians are one of the most illiterate migrants and US president, Barrack Obama said this. Let me start with the bad .We have about 600 Nigerians in India’s prisons, China is uncountable, there are many examples, in Libya, Ghadaffi was killing Nigerians like chickens; our people have been dying like chickens. The good thing is that Nigerians are the best in the world.
What are your achievements?
We brought back 24 Nigerians from Libya prison, one of them was a graduate of the University of Nigeria with his two children. Even in South Africa, Nigerians are the largest in South Africa prisons, some of them are not supposed to be in the prisons, the Nigerian government and the embassies should rise to protect them.
You are advocating for a Diaspora Commission and database. Why are these important issues to you?
Nigerians in Diaspora have great potentials. Only in 2014 Nigerians in Diaspora remitted about $21 billion apart from domestic finances. Federal Government ought to emulate other countries such as India, Tunisia, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Somalia, Benin and Senegal, among 26 countries that have domesticated Diaspora Commission. There are about 26 countries with full ministries or Commission for Diaspora, in fact, Diaspora Day in India is like their national day. There is the need to bring them to network and for them to bring in their expertise to bear in the country. It is not because they are better but there is the need for synergy.