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Monday, 23 September 2013 21:01

Nigeria: Diasporan Africans Should Attract Foreign Investment -- Amb Audu-Emeje

BY ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI

WASHINGTON, sept 23, 2013 (The Leadership) Former First Lady of Kogi State, Ambassador Aisha Audu-Emeje, is a UN Ambassador for the Promotion of Peace, Education and Poverty Reduction. In this interview with ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI in the US, she speaks about her efforts to promote investment and women and youth employment. She also gives her reason for contesting the 2011 governorship election against her ex-husband, Prince Abubakar Audu, and other candidates.

 

 

Q:There were many perceptions over your participation in the last governorship election in Kogi State in which you were the only female candidate; can you tell us what really informed the ambition and what you would have done differently if you had won the election?

For me politics is a game of numbers but we have to always put it in mind as leaders that the electorate have to be well taken care for. The promises that we do make for them while campaigning for elective positions should always be our priority before any other thing follows. As regards your question, I will say that my intention was simply to serve. I joined the race because women deserve a better place in governance than what they get today. It was all lies that i was in the race to get back at my ex-husband, Prince Abubakar Audu who as well contested under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

It was even a lie that I was being sponsored by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to be in the race for an ulterior motive. What actually happened was that I felt for the people in Kogi State so I decided to join the race under the platform of Justice Party (JP). I intended to serve them, help them see how we could better their lives, help see how we could bring investment opportunities to the state, help see how we can ensure that the required megawatts were delivered to the state due to my vast knowledge in this very crucial aspect. It is not news that majority of the people in Kogi are living in poverty. Development is yet to reach the areas where we have mass population, and that was what prompted me to say I that wanted to govern the state at that time.

But you know very well that the kind of politics in Nigeria has to do with a lot of tactics and networking which always favours the ruling class. A lot of people took me for granted and that was why they were coming out with the rumours that I was coming to spite Audu. Honestly, I was just coming to better their lives in the state and as well give women a place and a voice because even before I became a first lady, I had always been actively involved in the corridors of powers - during the regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida till the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo where I then became the first lady of Kogi State. I have always been there at the corridors of power either through economic development initiatives or through the transition from military to the civilian regime. I joined the race because I knew the yearnings of the people; I knew that they were all looking for a change, and I knew that I could be the agent of the change that they need.

Q:You went to court after the election when INEC omitted your party's logo. You also sponsored your party in Bayelsa State to court for the same reason, but you later pull out from the suits in both states. Were you bought over by ruling party?

That was not the case. Actually, we went to court to challenge INEC for omitting the logo of Justice Party in the ballot papers. The INEC did the same error in Bayelsa during the governorship election in the state and I, as the major leader and financier of Justice Party at that time, supported our candidate in Bayelsa and we took INEC to court but there were lots of pressure on us to let the cases in both states die a natural death. We decided to pull out when we looked at the numbers of lives and properties that would be wasted had we gone ahead with the cases.

As a matter of fact, I had to prevail on our party's leaders and supporters to for us to pull out both cases in Kogi and Bayelsa states for the sake of the innocent lives that would have been put under risks. We wanted peace in both states then; we did not want innocent people to be killed; we did not want their properties to be destroyed just because we wanted to rule over them, so we pulled out of the cases. And of course, we would have had the elections in both states upturned by the court if we had gone on, but we wanted peace.

Even at a point, people started saying that we collected N1 billion the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on each state but I want to state it clearly now that it was all a lie. Nobody gave us a dime, we only pulled out so that peace could reign in both Kogi and Bayelsa states. Now, we are watching the governments of both states to fulfill all the promises they made to the electorate.

Q:You have been actively involved in almost all the Power/Energy Summits organised by the Nigerian and US governments. As things stand on this crucial area of governance now, what role(s) do you think that foreign investors should play in order to achieve the required megawatts in Nigeria?

If you can remember, in 2011, LEADERSHIP Newspaper published a report about my activities towards building 1, 000 megawatts of power for the country. Since 2009, my aim to develop power in the country had grown. We had brought in technical partners from abroad at that time, and they were ready to help develop the country's infrastructure but, unfortunately, at that time, the country had not come out with its roadmap for developing energy as it is today. But now that they have done everything that investors need, we certainly continue to see that we are able to participate actively. The US government in particular is very interested in the infrastructural development of Nigeria and they have opened a lot of windows. They have organised lots of energy development summits in which Nigeria is the number one focus. We are looking at those opportunities and, of course, the competition with China is very strong. I also want to say that plans were ongoing by Aiba Vortex LLC, a US-based power company, together with some of its counterparts, to deliver 1,000 megawatt to Nigeria. A formidable team of investors has been put together by the participating companies in the power project in order to make the delivery of 1,000MW in Nigeria achievable within the stipulated period. The need for a stable power supply in Nigeria is enormous and an uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria will make life meaningful to the citizens of the country.

There are lots of investors - not just Nigerians - that are interested, not only in making profit from this but in realising dreams that will take the country to greater heights. I must say that the federal government has shown commitment by its Power Reform policies, and by organizing Power Reform Summit all over the world where investors had been called upon. Having realised some seriousness in the government over this crucial matter, we now have the duty as a primary business company from Nigeria and being in the US to take advantage of this call and bring the dream to fruition.

Power has crippled a lot of infrastructural and developmental projects that would have made Nigeria greater than most of the developing countries. I have a factory in Abuja where we produce recharge cards for companies, and this is an opportunity for us that the power sector is being deregulated. Our card operation will boom as a result of meter reading that will be in place.

Q:As a former first lady in Kogi State and also a serving political appointee under the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, what are your aspirations for your people in Nigeria, your home country and Africa as a whole?

I will go back a bit to my experience in the US and how I relate it to helping my people. Having been here in the US for the last three years, I have achieved an Honorary Degree in recognition of my very active role in community development, especially in the area of women's needs and families. A lot of African organisations are in need of support because we from the Black Race are always at the bottom in the aspect of economy, in the aspect of religion, in the aspect of job opportunities and so on. So far, I have engaged myself in outreach programmes to develop the African women, trying to get the positions where we could be actively seen. I have also had encounters with President Barack Obama in one or two occasions.

We have attended functions together, like the outreach programme for African in the White House. I have always been on top of agenda to develop women, Nigeria and Africa as a whole. We have been relating with the US Department of State because this is where we can actually bring communities together. By and large, my experience has been wonderful. The community rallied round me when I needed them most. All the Nigerian associations that I know, especially the women's groups, they all stood by me. I believe that the status of being a former first lady will make people are looking up to me in several areas of life and one must not fail them. And when it was time for me to give back, I decided to advocate for their yearnings. We are trying to help in order for them to benefit more from the present administration. I have been able to stand up to make sure that these people are adequately provided for.

 

For example, the Abia State Leprosy Scheme, that I was one of the launchers, I have taken it upon myself and I have been providing for them in the last two years. The Igala Community, we have made sure that they have good medical care and we have been taking care of them even when they do not even know who I am. They do not even know that I am the founder of the organization that has been taking care of their needs. We have been able to encourage the youths and entrepreneurship, taking leadership programme out of the US. We try to make sure that our youths are engaged. I do not let the distance affect the activities of the NGO because distance is just by our imagination.

The technologies that exist today have made everything much easier. Look at the flood situation that came heavily, they are still struggling to put themselves together in the affected areas. In that area, we did a lot; we touched about 1,000 lives. I donated my personal house and buildings to see that we were able to provide medical facilities for the victims. Apart from the Middle-Belt that my NGO reached out to during the flood situation, we also reached out to Imo State. We have touched their lives especially in the area of medical assistance. I know the government is doing a lot but we also have to be involved in the area of rehabilitating the victims.

Q:The A3 Foundation, your NGO, has been going round to provide support for flood victims . It has also been organising programmes to develop the community. Can you tell us how you source the funds that you use to meet those needs?

I must tell you that I have not got any financial support from the government; no support from even the US government or the community, but we are still struggling and we know that support will come in the future. But for now, we are carrying our own cross. We spend our own money to meet the needs of those that have to be developed or encouraged. Apart from developing flood victims, I am as well involved in bringing business opportunities to Nigeria and Africa. With Africa being recognised as a giant and the awakening economy of the world, i am very much involved in the advocate to promote investments in Africa and Nigeria specifically. With this, everybody would love to do business with Nigeria but we want some confidence built.

That is why you find me at every business forum. Such forum has equipped me to be able to relate with investors from America who want to know more about what our economy offers. We will not leave this to the government or those that are coming to invest alone - we have to be actively involved. The government has done its best by putting the right policy in place where local companies are being encouraged but the reality is how we can take a good advantage of it, and how we are really protecting it. We implore our Diaspora Africans to get involved in the agenda to bring business opportunities back to the continent.

Q:What is your NGO, the A3 Foundation, doing to fight against domestic violence?

Yes, the A3 Foundation has been doing this. We have a project where we fight for women's rights. We partnered with 'We Refuse Abuse' organisation here in the US and we touch the lives of those that are being victimised and those who do not know how to get out of such victimisation. I had passed through that stage of life as well and I was able to rise because I did not allow it to weigh me down. Up until today, the man (ex-Governor Abubakar Audu) has refused to divorce me but, to me, the deal is over. As a result of my experience in this, I have learnt how to empower women who I find in distress so that they too can rise and come back to life the same way I did.

Q:Can we know what informed the formation of the A3 Foundation?

The A3 Foundation was borne out of my pet projects when I was the first lady of Kogi State. That was the Family Care Support Programme. This is 100 per cent my initiative because I believe that we have to give back to the society; not only Nigeria now but the whole African continent. We formed this NGO because we believed that families should be supported and entrepreneurship should be encouraged. I can say the major priorities of A3 foundation is 'Building Brighter Communities for a Better Tomorrow". Our focus is clear and limited, we prioritize some of the most neglected issues, and we identify a specific point of intervention and apply our efforts against a theory of change.

The A3 Foundation is a US and Nigerian-based NGO, partnering with a wide range of International organizations to ensure that Nigerian citizens across the world, most especially those with the fewest resources, have access to the opportunities they need to succeed, while living healthy and productive lives. A3 Foundation helps, protects, cares and provides for orphans and vulnerable children in Nigeria and the Diaspora.

Q:Recently, you got a United Nations ambassadorial award. You also got an honorary doctorate degree in the USA. Can you tell us the impacts that these have had on your life?

The awards have brought me very close to the power that be in the United States and in the United Nations. The honorary doctorate degree was a double joy for me because at the same time, I also got an Ambassadorial Award for Statesmen/Women at large under the UN Statutes for the Promotion of Peace, Education, and Poverty. I was also conferred with the highest honour of the Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of Ambassadors. With these designations, I now have the privilege to hold meetings with

President Obama and other US leaders. They always make sure that I attend all their functions at the White House and the Department of State. The same thing goes to the United Nations as well. I am always given full recognition in all their events. I just believe it was God's making for me to come about these awards. Those that gave me the honorary doctorate award said that it was based on my background. They said they have confirmed with CICA International Chancellor and WOLMI Chief Ambassador, the Right Rev. Ambassador Hon. Phillip S. Phinn, and that upon receipt of my pre-requisites, they discovered that I deserved it. (END)

 

 
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