Hon Nnenna Elendu Ukeje, PDP, Bende Federal Constituency, Abia State is chairperson Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives. In this interview she speaks on national issues ranging from Nigeria’s foreign policy, anti-graft war, immigration crisis in the United Kingdom and the 2016 Appropriation Bill. Excerpts:
By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Do you agree with those who say the National Assembly has been sloppy in its oversight functions of the executive branch?
Everybody sticks to the fact that we must be alive to our responsibility as legislators. But you would recall that at the twilight of the last administration, we had challenges with inviting ministers to come before committees of the National Assembly.
Of course it was difficult for us to do the work for which we were supposed to do when we were working with an executive arm of government, with ministers who did not think that they had any cause to answer to the summons of the National Assembly. And so it was a bit difficult towards the end. And I would say that that was probably also responsible for the fact that we were not able to capture the last phase in the budget.
What is your opinion on the proposal to allocate 30% of the budget to capital expenditure?
Well, I think it is a good thing but let’s also realise that N6 trillion has been passed.
Foreign policy sector
So the fact that 30 per cent is committed to capital expenditure, it means that the recurrent remains same, so it balances up.
Are you satisfied with the allocation to achieve Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives?
Let me say that Nigerian foreign policy sector has always received less than 1% of the national budget. In listening to Mr President’s speech on the overview of the budget I did not hear a foreign policy complement. To me I am hoping that there is more commitment because the war against insurgency for instance is the difference between our foreign policy and as well as our migration policy.
Dealing with IDP’s for instance has a foreign policy component to it; of course in security like I said has a foreign component to it, diversification has a foreign policy component to it. We see that we live in a world that is increasingly without borders. We find out that the things we do in Nigeria will necessarily affect the things that happens outside the world.
So I am looking forward to a budget that is more committed to a vibrant foreign policy. Mr President also said he wants to go back to the glorious days of Nigerian foreign policy commitment and I am hoping that they stop the trend of less than 1% of the national budget.
Of course we have also come to realise that most of our friends have become our competitors. It was a President of the United States who said foreign policy without might is really no foreign policy.
And I think we need a foreign policy that is strong, we need one that has might and cost money. So I am hoping that the foreign policy component of the budget is one that will reflect our aspirations moving forward as well as building on the sub-continent and the world.
Is your committee concerned about the way Nigerians are treated and deported from foreign countries?
There are between 2.5 to 3 million Britons of Nigerian descent and Nigerians who live and work in the UK legitimately and they are doing all sorts of things from aviation, to medicine, to the field of education. As a matter of fact, it is said that Nigerians are some of the most educated migrant community in the world.
Now of that 3 million there is something called migration removal poll in the UK. Now this migration removal poll has averagely between 25,000 to 29,000 Nigerians. Now these are people who had either overstayed their visas, went to school in the UK and decided to stay back and had not converted their visas.
Those who have served jail sentences and have not gone back. So these are 25,000 to 29,000 people. Now around the world, we get a lot of reports about people picked up in the streets and then put on aircraft and then sent back. Because of our relationship with the UK and the Nigerian affinity for the United Kingdom, Nigerians will necessarily think of the UK first.
And so we felt that because of the large number of Nigerians who reside within the UK, it was necessary for us to go into a Memorandum of Understanding on migration. Now the intendment behind the Memorandum of Understanding on migration was for us to have a pact on the deportation process in the hope that Nigerians would be treated with dignity.
Every country will remove people who are in violation of their laws, be they immigration laws, be they civil laws. Nigeria removes people from her country that lives in violation of our immigration policy.
But what Nigerian government thought to do was come to a place where and reach a memorandum of understanding that there will be certain criteria met before a Nigerian be sent back even if it is in violation of the immigration laws; one is he safe to travel? Two, is he in court, has he exhausted all the legal redress within the UK law to give him the opportunity to stay back in the UK? Three, does he have strong family ties in the UK which cannot be broken; for instance has he been married to a British citizen, they live together, they have children? And four, is he a citizen of Nigeria?
Now when these four criteria have been met, the Nigerian embassy in the UK would issue a travel certificate. Now this travel certificate is what the Nigerian citizen uses to leave the UK. So it is a collaboration so that they are treated with decency.
Now a Nigerian official is put on the plane to come back with them to Nigeria so that they are not put on cargo planes, so that they are not treated like cargo and they come back to Nigeria. But let me say here that with me lies a very emotive subject, there is a new reaction to agitation.
And so there is a window in that memorandum of understanding, a bi-annual window that gives the opportunity for review.