Posted by News Express | 22 December 2020 | 1,403 times
Chief (Ms) Temitope Ajayi, a Nigerian-American, has always been a lead advocate for Nigerians in Diaspora hence she's fondly called Mama Diaspora. In 1996 during the regime of late military junta, General Sani Abacha, Ajayi was one of the activists who went into self exile abroad. A Special Assistant to former deputy governor of Lagos State, HE Alhaja Ojukutu, and Founder/CEO Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP), Ajayi represented the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) at the 2014 Confab organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. She is an advocate of women/youth empowerment and in the past one month has empowered over 300 Nigerian youths, many of who participated in the 12-day October nationwide protests tagged #EndSARS, with interest-free loans and other materials. In this exclusive interview with Executive Editor, SUNNY OKIM, Ajayi delves into some national issues and gives a clue to how the federal government can bring to a quick end the ravaging banditry and insurgency in the country, among others. Excerpts:
What's the motivation behind your ongoing empowerment programme for the youths in Lagos?
You see, as an American, there's something we do that I think Nigerians should emulate. It's called ecosystem. From Primary school, you start practicing it. If you want to get credit from your teacher, you help old people in the neighborhood. It is community service; at a higher level it's called CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
In America, they've trained us that as a citizen, you have to help somebody. Even the tithe we pay to churches, we get it back as tax credit. At the end of the year, we tell the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) that we've paid a certain percentage to a church and the church uses the money to help the community.
I'm used to that life. God bless America. We are trained to give. During Christmas like now, no child born of a woman will go without getting a present. Even if parents can't afford it, the community will donate.
What I'm doing in Nigeria right now is what we do in America. I've been doing it, everybody knows, but the one that really touched my heart was that #EndSARS period. Even my last born was there. Initially, I didn't let him. But when he sat me down and schooled me, I felt their pain. It's suicidal to have a brigade of unemployed children. What do these children need?
This is no show off. I'm empowering. What I'm doing is no big deal at all. After #ENDSARS - carried out by rich kids, "Ajebutter" and these are our children living in Lekki - as a mother, I was touched. I discovered that what those kids needed was love and attention. It's only a woman that can caution them. Women are powerful. Even as the president or governor, if their mothers say enough or looks at them with a bad eye, they would sit down. I asked these youths what their problem was and for the first time, I was close to these kids. On my birthday they even came here to sing 'happy birthday' for me. That was on 18th October. I have to give credit to God. God said 'go and empower them'. Empower? How?
He said go and give them money to start their business. My children said 'mama, are you bored or something?' You know all these American kids. I said it's God that told me to give them money. You see, I'm an American. 100 dollars is nothing to me. Not even enough for groceries shopping for me. I realised that 50 dollars can change the life of a Nigerian.
I started it and my children were looking at me like, 'what is mama doing?’ I told them, "God has blessed us. How much is 50 dollars? Let's give it out to empower these young people." Then my children gave me a lot of money.
When was all this?
Everything is within one month. Today is the third batch of the empowerment programme.
How many people have you empowered so far?
About three hundred, and still counting. My brothers and my children gave me enough financial support. They did it because they don't want their mama to be ashamed. You see what they call love? Then our people in Diaspora donated as well.
You've always been talking about women and youth empowerment. In Nigeria today, do you really think the women are occupying their rightful place? What do you think about women empowerment here?
You know, Nigeria is not ready yet. We don't know the meaning. Sorry to say, Nigeria is one nation that doesn't know the potentials of the power of a woman. Any nation that knows the relevance of a woman will prosper. Women are the faces behind the masks. Women are the policies behind the policy makers. There's no man that doesn't respect his wife. When we are talking of the home front, you know that the force behind you is your wife. Any child that succeeds is the mother. Why don't they allow women? It's unfortunate. Why do they call here motherland? Maternal is very powerful in the life of a child, in the life of a man and in the success of a nation. Take a look at China. China became China because they don't even regard gender or race or religion. I love China. Their own is just entrepreneurship. But here, there's no power for any factory to roll. When will the people working retire? I don't see people retiring. And we keep on giving birth to children every day. Where's the recycling? I thank God because people thought these children wouldn't return my money. But God used me to teach them entrepreneurship. That is what is happening right now with the interest free loans I am giving to them.
Are you saying you agree with the #NotTooYoungToRule motion?
Let's respect our youth. I'm a child and an angel of God. Let's say the truth. Gowon, at what age did he become president? Didn't he rule Nigeria? President Buhari. What age did he become military head of state? Didn't he rule Nigeria? Why are we then looking down on the youth of today? My children are my bosses. If they say I should sit, I sit because they are the ones feeding me now. My children help me seal deals. They made me honorary chairman in my company. They are now the CEOs. Two of my children are members of Forbes's council. Outside, the whole world appreciates Nigeria’s intellectual property. I'm begging the government, let's step aside for our children. The Minister could be 100 years of age, allow the Minister of State to be 36 years old. Oh, they are smart. We call them the millennial. They code and programme. Yet, not all of them can get a job. So let's make them entrepreneurs.
You are the Founder/CEO of Nigeria-America Empowerment Programme. Where is agriculture in all this?
I wish the government can listen to me. I remember when they gave me the key of IOWA caucus. I used my money to bring investors. We have land and human capital. That was in 2006. They didn't listen to me. 'Please, she's a dreamer,' they said. I used my money to buy 100 hectares of land and started agriculture on my own, but nobody gave me support. When Google called me the third most powerful person in the country, it wasn't an overstatement. Somebody was doing the documentation, others were looking down on me, saying 'is that not Jesus, the son of a carpenter?’
Today's agriculture in Nigeria? I call it room and parlour. They are not serious yet. This year, I brought Nano-technology in rice production which we suspended because of Coronavirus. I brought my partners. I said the intellectual property I'm going to use are graduates. We are going to reach them and teach them to be rice farmers. But there's the COVID-19. We should do less of politics and more of passion. Even my son, the spoilt brat, last born, I saw him opening a restaurant now. They buy a plate of food from him in front of my compound here in Lekki. You see, heaven helps those who help themselves. We have to be entrepreneurs.
In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan appointed you to the national conference. You represented the Nigerian Council for Women Societies. But none of the resolutions of that Confab has been implemented. Was it just a waste of resources, a jamboree? Have you made any moves to pressure the government to implement those resolutions?
You see, I'm on my knees answering this question. With all humility, I admire this government and respect it and support it. But they need to take a deep breath. Out of the whole resolutions, I think they made me a living legend with the Diaspora Commission headed by Abike Dabiri and the voting rights of Nigerians in Diaspora currently on the floor of the National Assembly. Those were two of my inputs at the Confab. History will never forget me. I've been Mama Diaspora since 2002. Those are the only two resolutions that have been implemented so far. Let's give government that credit.
Another resolution was commission for the physically challenged. Another was that of women inclusion, at least they have been appointing some women. I don't know whether the women are not enough, but I want these appointed women to be very outspoken. Let history remember them for the few hours they'll be in those positions. Let them make history for themselves. They tried, they helped women. We shouldn't blame the government. It's the women who will personally say that they want their names to be written in gold. We asked for 35 per cent of affirmative action. And to be fair to government, they have given us. Now we have to make name for ourselves.
I was thinking you were going to ask for an increase to 50 per cent for women?
You kidding me? In Nigeria? This is Africa, don’t forget. It can happen in America, but this is Africa. So let's just manage what they've given us. (Laughs)
What does Joe Biden's victory mean for us in Nigeria? Is it a good omen for Nigeria?
Yes, very well. Nigerians don't know their Diaspora potentials in America. Our president-elect, Joe Biden, is a slow and steady man. And you see Kamala Harris who I happen to know personally? I know her personally from San Francisco. We are from the same state. And she's a woman. And she’s really articulate. Those are the kind of women I need in life. When they give us this appointment, we strike the iron when it's hot. Use that appointment to change the nation because women appointment is very rare. We smile, we kneel down, but let's see what God has in stock for the whole world, not just Nigeria. Nigerians in America are all success stories. Do you know how many Nigerians made it to the congress, to the local and state senates? A lot of Nigerians. Egypt became Egypt, it’s because of those in Diaspora. India became India also because of those of them in Diaspora. I believe God will change Nigeria with the help of our brothers and sisters in Diaspora.
I encouraged Nigerians in Diaspora to take a second mortgage on their homes to get the bulk money to acquire houses here in Lagos. They still couldn't get that forty to fifty million. Then I remembered that seven years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan gave me this position to build one million houses for the diasporants. Bingo! With the federal mortgage bank, if not for the #EndSARS protests, many diasporants would have moved into their Lagos homes by now. There's something good about this government. They approved 15million Naira for every diasporant through my Silicon Valley Corporative Society. Do you know how much revenue that will bring?
Recently about 340 school children were abducted by insurgents in Katsina. It happened in Chibok and Dapchi too. It keeps happening. Where do you place the blame and how do you feel about it?
Something ain't right. As a mother, when you see your child destroying things in the house, they're bitter about something. We gave birth to them (Boko Haram and bandits). They are just knuckle heads. We have to find out what they are bitter about.
But they are not hiding their wishes. They have made it known that they don't want western education for Nigerian children. They also want to Islamise the country through implementation of Sharia. They are not hiding these things.
You know, if wishes were horses, many would ride. It's their wish, but it's dialogue we require. Love can melt a stone. Love can break a mountain. You see women are very powerful. Let them send women to talk to them. They wish, right? 'Okay, Mr Leader come. We will have Islamic schools and we will have the other schools.' So it's left for the parents to tell their children 'go to Islamic school or go to oyinbo school'. Has the government thought about that? And in every nation, everybody has a right to choose a religion. There are lots of churches all over the place. If they want mosques all over the place too, let them go ahead. You will tell them in a very nice way. They call it gentleman's agreement. We women, we’ll sit down and pray. Mothers pray a lot. And prayer changes things.
What are your thoughts about Igbo presidency? People are saying it is the turn of the South East to produce the president this time around?
Nigeria and politics! If they don't talk North and South, they will talk Christians and Muslims. Please, I'm from Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, we talk money, not politics. May the Almighty God choose a leader that will make Nigeria better. Today is the day I am going to reveal my full identity in this interview. My name is Amina. And my mother is Igbo from Orlu in Imo State. So, I will never see tribe or race, religion or gender.
In 1996, you moved to the US on self-exile because of the maximum rule by the military junta General Sani Abacha. Are you seeing traits of that period in this administration?
Number one, for me, they say, no matter how dark any tunnel may be, there's always going to be light at the end. No matter how dark the cloud may be, there will always be a silver lining. I am one of the people that fought for this democracy. I went on exile, being a June 12 survivor with my brother, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. We all ran away. The American government adopted me and my children. That's why in the history of all the Nigerians in the US, I'm the only human being that has six keys to six states in the US. I am an honourary citizen. Impeccable! When you talk of proven integrity, when you have that in America, you will succeed.
George Bush gave me a presidential award. Is that a joke? Politics in Nigeria almost made me lose everything I've ever owned, but look at the way God blessed me in America. They (America) were my parents when I needed one. God bless America. We should all sit down and smell the coffee.
There is surely light at the end of the tunnel. We complain a lot. We see God every time, but we still complain. No matter what we think we are doing right now, let's give God the glory. The problem with us is that we are paying attention to the wrong things. Let's focus more on commerce, surround ourselves with positive people and positive thoughts. That’s the highway to success of any nation.
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