Nigeria’s population is in the region of 177 million in 2015. This estimated number excludes 10 to 14 million Nigerians who reside and live in the Diaspora. If the expertise and potentials of these Nigerians abroad could be harnessed, Nigeria as a nation could become great. The World Bank said more than $25 billion is remitted back to Nigeria yearly by Nigerians in Diaspora. With the appointment of Hon. Rita Orji as the Chairman Committee on Diaspora by the House of Representatives, there is hope that these potentials from the Diapora would be properly harnessed. In one of her press meetings with stakeholders in London, Barrister Orji said one of the main reasons she went into politics is that she saw politics as an avenue through which she could influence policies that could uplift the masses and to change the mindset of people about politics. She was elected under the platform of the PDP for Ajegunle Constituency on 28 March, 2015 in a state controlled by APC. She sees her victory as a unifying factor in an area she was born, raised, schooled, worked and invested so much in. So she says she can’t understand when they say she is not from there. “What makes you an indigenous person? Is it by naturalization?” she queries. She thinks she is a Lagosian and an indigene of Ajegunle from Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area, and has the right to represent the Constituency in the House of Representatives. She speaks about this and other issues in this interview she granted while on a factfinding mission in the UK recently
Q: You mentioned Ajegunle and looking at your profile, you have actually done a lot of things within the local community and the people really upport it; could this be one of the reasons that people really do these things in order for them to go into politics?
Ans: Yes. Number one you have to establish a relationship; when you look at the situation in Ajegunle, many local people don’t want to be associated with that local government, but I am really proud to be the present Honourable member, representing my Federal Constituency; it’s because 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 live by themselves. You’re the local government chairman, you provide the water; you provide electricity. You do everything by yourself, and yet you maintain peace. With all these they could have resorted to violence, but they believe that with God on their side, they are working in peace. Even in the Local Government you cannot get potable drinking water; you can’t see electricity, you cannot see good roads, but they pay taxes and rent. These are the ones you won’t have heard about. This is the most neglected local government and is referred to as a suburb in Lagos, Nigeria. People of our class living there know that this not a suburb, this is just about pain and they are suffering neglect.
Q: Let me quickly ask you this question, you are now the chairman of the Diaspora Committee in the House of Reps. How can you transfer or rather attract the Diaspora to support the administration and Nigerian development?
Ans: In the first place, whenever you want to attract somebody, there must be a laid-down procedure; you must prepare the road. The Diaspora Commission is not been established. Electronic voting has also not been approved by law to enable Nigerians in the diaspora participate in the election process in our country. These are the reasons why I’m a lawyer and I’m in politics. When you want to take issues like that you go to relevant stages and amend the Electoral Act that will enable electronic voting to take place before you bring any bill to challenge electronic voting; you do the right things first. Then when you are talking about Diaspora commission. This present administration knows that the Diaspora played a very important role before it came into existence.; So to every government that needs success will not do away with the relevant aspects of the economy. The Nigerian Diaspora are one wonderful entity that no government will want to do away with.
Q: You mentioned the Diaspora Commission bill, what do you think was the position of the 7th Assembly or does it mean that the Diaspora bill has not been officially passed?
Ans: It was not assented to. The President has not assented to it yet. Thus, bil has not been officially passed and, it died with the last 7th Assembly. But when you bring it back, it will move from the assembly to a relevant place and be passed.
Q: One of the biggest challenges for Diaspora Nigerians is the lack voting rights. What do you think about that?
Ans: You know we are already late students in this kind of voting. Algeria have done that and a couple of other countries have done that. Why we won’t do that is that, we must have legislation that will enable us get good data of Nigerians. It might not be an electronic voting; 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 the Nigerians in the UK, nobodoby could give you their accurate data. How are we going to talk about voting? So, I and my team are putting a blueprint in place to get a data because they already have a portal being designed where all interested diasporas, if you claim to be a diaspora and independent of the government can register. 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; every other professional body would come under NIDO.
Q: You mentioned NIDO, which is the official umbrella for Nigerian diasporas. 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 interested to be on the data, because we do have Nigerians with mixed nationalities?
Ans: Our constitution allows dual citizenship. So every Nigerian no matter the passport you are carrying you have a right to decide to vote in Nigerian government. Even if we don’t have a restriction on nationality, they can enjoy that, but my problem is this, there must be a framework, that in any case, like Nigerians in UK are supposed to harness their brain and intelligence and push on. I am here on investigation, I have been here for a couple of days and people don’t know, I have gone to various oppositions, met human rights, lawyers, Home Office, Nigeria High Commission, etc. There are salient questions the Nigeria High Commission and the Nigerian government have to answer on these issues. But we believe that we have wonderful Nigerians here and we tend to harness that potential by bringing them under an umbrella that we would feel their impact. Their impact is needed and is important. I refer to them as my pride, I refer to them as first class citizens wherever they reside, and they have Nigerian blood in them. That is why wherever Nigerians are, they are doing wonderfully well, no matter the hard conditions they find themselves. No matter the restrictions, hard policies, draconian laws trying to push them down from their real self they still survive, because we don’t give up, we believe in ourselves. So every Diaspora is my pride wherever they are. I adore them because the state they are living in, an ordinary person couldn’t have coped and yet they are succeeding. I am saying in this administration my priority and 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 allow them to come into existence and I don’t doubt they are going to do well.