Hon. Rita Orji, who represented Ajeromi/ Ifelodun at the House of Representatives between 2015 and 2019 is a legal practitioner. In this interview, she speaks on the plight of female politicians, the repositioning of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the executivelegislature relationship. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
You were a member of the Federal House of Representatives for four years. How quantifiable was the experience?
Well, I learnt a lot while there. I found out that Nigeria as a democratic state has a lot of things to do. Talking about legislators, a couple of them don’t really know that they went there because of their constituents. Some of them are there because the party took them there and they revert to the party and not to the electorates.
Some of them are not ready to criticise the government because they belong to the ruling party and they make the job of legislators useless. We ought to serve as checks and balances to the executive. Those of us from the opposition party, we were trying to make sure that we do our job, but those of them in the majority, who are from the ruling party, were there to protect the party and not the people that elected them.
Does that has to do with our system because we all saw what happened in the United States that despite the Republican being in the majority after people loyal to Donald Trump invaded their National Assembly?
It is like that because the democracy being practised in the United States of America has a human face, but the democracy in Nigeria is not really a democracy, it is militocracy. They are just congregating as democrats, what we have here is not the way democracy is being practised. Democracy is whether it is your party or not you want to make sure that the right thing is done. Democracy in Nigeria is about “my party said I should do it.” Whether what your party said you should do is right for the Nigerian populace or not, does not matter to them.
How are you coping as a woman in politics?
I make sure I do the best when I was in office. That was why when I won the 2019 election, they failed to declare me as the winner. Another reason is that they believe that I was working against their Governor. I won the 2019 House of Representatives election in Ajegunle area of Lagos with more than 35,000 votes. In 2015, I defeated the APC candidate with 45,000 votes. I am from the masses in Ajegunle area of Lagos. I cannot walk on the streets of Ajegunle without causing commotion. I was there on 31st December, 2020 and I caused traffic there.
What is your objective assessment of this current government in Nigeria?
There is no government as far as Nigeria is concerned. The executive has taken over the job of both the legislature and the judiciary. We have only one arm of government right now in Nigeria.
Can you be specific on this?
When the president ought to address Nigerians, he didn’t, he ignored them. The National Assembly has the right to summon any minister or anybody to come and tell them how they spend public funds, but today it doesn’t happen. The presidency is leading the pack by not appearing before the National Assembly, when he ought to. Right now, Nigeria is a government of the executive there is nothing like other arms of government.
How prepared is the PDP for the 2023 general elections both in the South-West and at the federal level?
The truth is that did people really voted for the APC? APC rigged themselves into power even in Lagos State. Look at the 2019 election in Lagos, upon ballot boxes snatching and everything, what was the difference with the votes of the PDP. APC is not used to winning, they are used to rigging and writing election results and they use the judiciary as they like. Are you not aware how they maltreated some judges and burgled their houses- all in ensuring that they have their way. In my own case, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) denied that the results they announced were not from them and the court compelled them to announce the results. When they came to court, they denied the results. A lot of people are crying and you see people suffering and smiling in Nigeria.
Are you so sure that people will vote for the PDP in 2023?
People will normally vote for the PDP, it is not about whether people will vote or not. They will always vote for us. The only thing the PDP needs to do is to block the loopholes, where they use to get to us.
What has been drawing you to Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State it seems you are close to him and he is not the only Governor in your party?
It is because he is a performing Governor. I always associate with people who do the right thing. I saw a man that is ready to change the cause of time. He is ready to make Oyo State the Dubai of Nigeria. I am ready to support anyone who is ready to do things for the betterment of the people.
How do you think the Federal Government can handle the issue of security in the country?
Nigeria has become a country, where the President says that the security of the country is in the hands of God. What else do you want me to say. But during the tenure of former president Goodluck Jonathan, people blamed the President for everything. But now, the security is no longer in the hands of the government, when the constitution is clear that the primary function of the government is the security of lives and properties. In our own, we have handed it over to God.
So, what is your expectation now?
My expectation is that the PDP would produce the next president in 2023 because people are crying as they have seen what is happening.
What is your advice to female politicians, especially on the issue of sexual harassment?
The issue of sexual harassment is everywhere, but one thing I know is that a woman that comes into politics and you make yourself a prey for men, you would be. I have been in politics since 1998 and no man has tried that with me because they know that what I will do will crash their entire life. It is the way you present yourself that matters, You want to get a position and you are sleeping around with men, I don’t do that, I fight with what I have. I can’t go and sleep with a man all because I need a position because those who are getting it are not better than me. Why would I sleep with a man because I want what I know I am qualified for. I will not do that. Some women are doing it to get positions, they think that by sleeping with big men they will be given positions.
2023 is around the corner, where do we see Hon. Rita Orji?
I am silent on that because I don’t know the plan of God for me. I am watching, praying and repositioning the party. I might be coming out for presidency in 2023. I could be the first female president in Nigeria. It is possible.
People believe that it is only people who are not doing well that go into politics, can you tell us if your own is different?
People who don’t do well in politics are those, who are not living before politics. If you are living before politics, you would not have problem. I told people that when former president Goodluck Jonathan said that he didn’t have shoes for the first 18 years of his life, I said that was metaphorical. He is a graduate, a PhD holder, so he prepared himself for the journey ahead because if you don’t do that you would have problem. I have always prepared myself. I am a legal counsel that appears before the Supreme Court of Nigeria and I have a personal consultancy job across the African Continent. I have an office in Guinea, I have in Gambia, Congo, Togo and other places. If I am not doing well, I would not be in those places. So, I have been living before politics. But for people that want to build houses and buy cars from politics, they are the people that make a lot of noise because they would die if they are not in any office. That is why if some people lose elections, they would be depressed. Some of us take politics as a hobby.
What is your legacy for the people of Ajegunle?
I did a lot for my people. I even worked more than some Governors. When I was first elected as a member of the Federal House of Representatives, I discovered that Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government had one of the highest homicide rate in Lagos State. I worked with law enforcement agents and the community to find solution that brought down the rate of violence and the killing of innocent souls. I brought versatile grassroots experience to bear with many Bills and Motions that addressed the challenges of governance and the common man. I introduced vocational training programmes to ensure that the highest percent of the youth in Ajeromi/ Ifelodun are prepared with skills they needed to excel in life. As a lawmaker, I built eight roads, donated 53 boreholes across the constituency and others. I have Rita Orji Foundation as an outreach platform for grassroots development. The foundation helped to uplift the youth, women, children and other vulnerable members of the society through vocational training, scholarship and empowerment programmes. The foundation has supported over 300 youth through their university education, while some undergraduates are currently enjoying our full scholarship. Thousands of women, youths, widows, and the less privileged people in the society have been empowered through the foundation. I built a modern clinic home with modern equipments to ensure that there were affordable care for women including maternity care, free pregnancy test, free medical check up, free eye test and free distribution of drugs for the people of the constituency.