BY CHRIS OCHAYI
Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, a lawyer, was Nigeria’s ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti and also Permanent Representative to the African Union, as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. She resigned the positions in December 2010 and returned home to participate in politics. An internationally renowned activist, Toyo is currently seeking the nod of the people of her Calabar-Odukpani Federal Constituency, Cross River State, to represent them at the House of Representatives on the banner of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview, Toyo said after years of criticisms of government policies, it was time she joined the race to change the situation.
Why did you leave your diplomatic career for politics?
First of all, I have been trying to go the parliament. This is my third attempt. So, I have already built a lot of political goodwill and when the people said I should come this time that they would make sure that I scale through, I decided that I could not say no to them because you don’t know what will happen in next two to three years when you come back. It is not very politically correct for somebody to turn around and tell his political followers that he is not coming because that means that you have closed your door to their support. So I had to come in order to keep the support. Like I said this is my third attempt at going to the National Assembly: I was there in 2003, I didn’t make the primaries, 2007 I didn’t make the PDP primaries but to the glory of God, this time I was successful in the PDP primaries.
Why did you lose primaries in 2003 and 2007?
The party has it’s own internal workings and these maybe difficult for some of us who came from the outside to access the party properly. Between 2007 and now, what I did was to reach out to the key stakeholders inside the party because I know that you may have popularity outside, you may have the support of delegates, it is what the key stakeholders determine that make the party result what it is. So this time around, I started first with the key stakeholders and made sure that I got their support before resigning.
When you said you an ‘outsider,’ what did you mean?
I used to be an Non-Government Organisation, NGO person. I was a critic of Government so it’s not easy to come out as a critic of government and immediately be accepted by the party. So the ambassadorial job is the first time I have worked for government. I have always worked in the civil society sector raising my concerns about the development problems of the country and calling to questions some of the policies of government.
Why did you choose to go the parliament, whereas they are other areas you can directly touch the lives of your people?
It didn’t start as wanting to represent my people, it started as wanting to represent my constituency. I used to work as a civil society person, as I told you, and we were very much in the forefront of the women mobilisation for political participation. So in 2003, a number of us women took a number of bold steps and decided that it is one thing to want more women it is another thing to be part of the women who will put themselves out for elections, so I decided that I will be one of the women. They were many of us, about 10 of us from different parts of the country that put ourselves out and almost all of us did not succeed. So it is clear that you need to be active for sometime before you finally get there but once I got to the community I also became very aware of the problems of the community. But as soon as I got into politics it became realistic that I should find out more so I toured the whole local government, Federal Constituency, began to make acquaintances, speak to people to support me and that way I became a natural friend of many people in the constituency.
What kind of change do you intend to make in the legislative business of the country?
Some of the things I am particularly interested in are the issues of tourism and legislation as it relates to how to promote tourism because we are the tourist destination of the country. The second thing is the issue of water resources. When I am talking about water resources, I am not talking about transportation or anything like that. I am talking about the real resources like fish and other resources of the sea, which unfortunately we are not exploiting because we are so focused on oil.
As a country, we have not started exploring and exploiting our aquatic resources yet. I am hoping to raise the attention of the Federal Government on water resources in terms of what our entitlements are, how we can protect those who are poaching on our waters, etc.
Another thing I will speak about from the context of our constituency, is how we can make education workable for people. It’s no longer a story for anybody to tell the country that jobs are what Nigerians need. We need to begin to talk about work and education that give jobs. It is not the white collar jobs but jobs that are serviceable.
If elected, you will be a fresh legislator. How do you hope to convince your older colleagues on these projects so that you don’t disappoint your constituents?
A legislator makes laws what you need to make a legislator effective is knowledge and by the grace of God I have the capacity to find the knowledge. If I don’t have it, I have the capacity to find it, to use it, articulate it and present it.
I was your Permanent Representative to the African Union, AU, and go and ask, I spoke. There was no doubt that Nigeria was in the roll. So if I could speak in the community of 58 or 53 African countries, and make Nigeria’s presence known and felt, I have only two local governments to represent, I think I can do it well.