By Morenike Taire
Of the 23 women in the 300 member House of Representatives, Hon. Abike Kafayat Oluwatoyin Dabiri Erewa stands out, not just for her elegance, composure and eloquence, but for the uncommon passion she brings into the job.
She laughs and brushes it aside when this writer commented in an earlier phone conversation of how she has a knack for making everyone else look as though they’re doing nothing. Fact, however, is, Hon. Dabiri Erewa, representing Ikorodu, is a born administrator and a born politician who packs more into a day than 10 average women.
And a born broadcaster as well. BornÂ in Jos, Plateau state of the 60’s, it is no news that she cut her teeth in public life by delivering the news on the NTA network, and it’s no wonder she’s the darling of the press. In this much anticipated chat with Morenike Taire, she talks about the essence of her work and the essence of her personality. Excerpts.
The controversy that has surrounded this new Media Bill that you propose, is it the most challenging part of your political career?
I won’t say the most, but one of them. This is more about misconception, misunderstanding, lack of the processes of how things work in parliament. A bill is work in progress. I just presented my Diaspora Commission bill a few days ago. Now the real work starts. Now youÂ Â push it to the public: what do you want, what don’t you want?Â The controversy is unnecessary because this bill is not even with us. It’s with the technical committee headed by Prince Tony Momoh.
Three representatives of the guild are there, ITPAN, NUJ, the Academia, they’re all represented. You will look at this bill, tear it into pieces if you want, take what you want, leave what don’tÂ want and then you refer it back to parliament and we look at it again. The report will be sent again through the public domain. I think everyone has reacted more to a press release issued by the president of the Guild because you ask a lot of people,Â ‘ have you read the bill?’ ‘No, butâ€¦’ The aim of this bill is self regulation. It’s about the watchdog regulating the watchdog.
South Africa just had its own in February. Canada has, UK has. You now decide which model you want. It even talks about the issue of welfare of journalists, insurance, salaries. Some are uncomfortable with private media paying higher salaries. We think journalists deserve to earn more but if they say no, we don’t have a problem with that. What matters is what is acceptable to all stakeholders. I can assure you nobody will be disappointed. This is just the beginning of the work. This bill was presented 5 years ago under Masari as speaker of the house. It came up again because I was a sponsor then. A bill is a conglomerate. That’s why we have a democracy.
What is the truth?
What is in the bill is oath of allegiance. If you head that council and you qualify to with about 20 years of experience in the profession you would swear to an oath to be impartial. You’re going to be a judge.
Many people are making reference back to the FOI (Freedom of Information) bill
Again, lack of understanding. FOI is going through its own process, a very challengingÂ Â Â process because a lot of members did not understand what FOI was about. They thought, ‘FOI is media’. They justifiably felt, if they don’t have Freedom of Information now and they’re doing this to us, what happens when we pass FOI? It took us time to explain that it’s not about the media, it’s about the right of the average Nigerian to know and write to a particular ministry to ask about a particular public utility. Anybody, as long as you’re a Nigerian has a right to public information. Members feltÂ ‘ah, our political opponents will now use information upside down to attack us’.
One would have thought that people have to make up information when there’s no information.
With freedom of Information it’s even more tasking for media practitioners so you have no excuse to write that someone spent one million whereas the person spent only one naira. FOI will put more burden on Journalists and when you get that information, ensure that it’s authentic, you can justify it. You cannot report that the speaker spent 54 billion naira on travel whereas he didn’t. FOI does not disturb the work of the media. In fact I would rather thrive as an investigative journalist without an FOI because I’ll get it anyway.
Apart from the remittances from money that is sent home, what is the advantage of keeping a relationship with the Diaspora?
We just passed through second reading of a bill for an act to establish the Nigerian Diaspora Commission. In my 15 years of journalism and 6 years of parliament I never imagined that we have so many Nigerians based all over the world. Everywhere we went there were so many Nigerians doing well. There is no where Nigerians are not excelling. We now sat down and said if we have so many Nigerians doing well and we are still having developmental challenges why don’t we tap into this thing? There are 15 countries with ministries of Diaspora. India has over 9 million emigrants.
India’s development today is not complete without the Diaspora population. We’re saying let us work together to develop our nation. A Nigerian now is building the monorail in Iraq. A Nigerian just developed the Chevy volks. Chevy volks is described as an American revolution.Â We need to engage them, to tap into them for the sake of the Nigerian nation. This commission will act as a link between Nigerians at home and in government, and Nigerians in the Diaspora. We have the down side which is Nigerians getting into trouble. We just came back from Libya. We’re telling them if they’re illegal immigrants send them back home instead of keeping them in jail and torturing them.
We intend hopefully there will be a public hearing about this illegal migration, why is it happening, and then most importantly awareness to the younger ones that it’s not always greener out there. Look at that man making shoes or that guy selling recharge cards, with determination you will succeed. It’s not easy but it’s not easier out there. Wherever you are, obey the laws of the land otherwise you will get what you deserve.
There was a lady who came to look for me, she came to complain about Vietnamâ€¦
Vietnam has 800 Nigerians that want our intervention because it’s like they’re being charged for various offences and are afraid of deportation.
She was worried about the attitude of the Nigerian Mission there
We need to talk to the ambassador and we need to visit them because the ambassador is telling you something, they are telling us something else. We do not want to judge anybody until we know all the facts but sometimes it can be overwhelming. In the middle of the night my phone rings, I know it’s a call from a Libya prison but I pick the call and listen. It was a job we had to do and at the end of the day we succeeded.
Was it easy making the transition from a very glamorous profession to politics?
Even in journalism you roll up your sleeves. There you are in the morning working with the poorest of the poor and in the evening you’re with the richest covering one dinner. Life is about adaptation. Journalism is about dealing with issues and looking for how to solve them and they’re both about people. NTA prepared me for this without my knowing it. For me it was about job attitude and achieving and it’s the same attitudeÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I translate into the job today.
What’s your personal thinking about health issues of Nigerian women?
I want to congratulate Vanguard Allure for doing something about it. Sometimes we’re too busy about other people to take care of yourself but we have to create time, as we learnt from your last edition of WOW. I think you should do more of that.
Obviously you know a lot of young people looking up to you. Do you have a last word for them?
There’s no alternative to hard work. I have a bunch of them that I mentor from time to time. This bag that I’m carrying, I worked hard for it. You can’t do it as a student or a Youth Corper. If anyone tells you your beauty will see you throughâ€¦ Work hard. Don’t say because â€œMorenike is doing thisâ€¦â€, be yourself. When I was doing my job in NTA I was just doing it.
Beyond the course of duty I go out of my way to find out how they’re doing off camera. There was a girl who was raped by two guys. I took her from that environment and today she’s in university and on my scholarship. Success is not about how much money you have but how many lives you’re able to touch with it.