I hope people’s voices are heard in Nigeria and they get results —Esther Agbaje, newly elected Minnesota Rep
Nigerian-American Esther Agbaje of Aramoko-Ekiti origin has just been elected into the Minnesota House of Representatives in the 2020 United States election. In this interview by FEMI OGUNTAYO, she talks about how her journey into politics started, why Americans voted Joe Biden, her thoughts about the EndSARS protests in Nigeria and other issues.
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in the State of Minnesota and also went to different parts of the state because of my dad’s job. So we went to other parts of the country, but I really call Minnesota home and my growing up was great. My parents were wonderful and my two younger brothers too. I’m so happy for their support in this process.
Ekiti State governor and Chairman Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, congratulated you on your victory, how do you feel about this?
Yes, I saw that the Ekiti State governor sent his congratulation; that is very nice (smiles). There have been so much congratulations coming in from friends, families and colleagues from around the world. So that is very nice.
Have you ever been to Nigeria? What are the things you miss most about Nigeria?
Yes, it is a really great country and the things I really miss the most, I mean, that I enjoyed the most during my visit was the food, hanging out with my family and just being able to move around for some sightseeing.
How grounded would you say you are in the Nigerian or Yoruba culture?
I won’t say I am relatively grounded, I mean living in the United States, obviously, I am an American but I also appreciate the culture, the food, the music and the values in the Nigerian and Yoruba culture. I am so glad that my parents and my other family members have instilled that in us.
Do you have any future plans to invest in Nigeria?
I don’t have any current plans for any investment right now, but I do hope that if any opportunity arises in the future, something could happen.
You winning a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives interests a lot of Nigerians; how did the journey start for you? Tell us about your political career.
The journey started for me as one of public service. So, I had previously worked as a foreign affairs officer with the United States Departments of State, working on rule of law programming, which was about supporting local organizations as they were seeking to make a change in our communities, particularly from the perspectives of protecting freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, protecting the rights of women and advancing youths access to capital for youth entrepreneurs. So when I returned to the US, I wanted to work on domestic issues, so I went to Law School. In law school, I also spent time doing legal aids, particularly in the housing contacts. So I think part of jumping into politics was to ensure that there were voices at the table that understood what working people needed, particularly from my housing perspectives and also from the living wage jobs, health care, education and making sure that we have those people at the table, making decisions for many of our vulnerable communities.
Do you think running under the umbrella of the Democratic Party had an influence on your emergence at the polls?
I am not really sure; I decided to run as a democrat because it is one of the parties that most align with my values and I didn’t know many of the voters here are also democrats, but it was a tough race during the primary.
With the current situation, Joe Biden is to be the next president of the United States; why do you think Americans voted massively for Biden this time round, denying Donald Trump a reelection?
I believe people actually chose Biden because he has a plan for this country, to help us get out of COVID-19, to help grow back our businesses. He is carrying an empathic soul; we had a very clear choice during this election. Here is someone like Joe Biden who had a plan, who was caring, who was empathetic, who understood the plights of many Americans during this difficult time and on the other side, we have someone who has proven that he just doesn’t have natural plans. That is why people are gravitating for Joe Biden.
What would you say is the implication of Biden’s victory on Africa/Nigeria?
I hope it means better foreign relations. I know Joe Biden is the right choice to help rebuild our relationships with our allies across the world, and so I imagined those will probably mean similar implications for our continued relationships with Nigeria and other nations on the African continent.
What is your take on the recent protests in Nigeria by the youths, tagged EndSARS? Would you say the government managed it well?
It seems like to me that the youths in Nigeria are organising to make sure that they have good and accountable government, which I think is a laudable effort. It was hard to see that the government responded the way they did on October 20th. But there are many uprising happening around the world, particularly started by young people and people who are poor, who need help and support from their governments and to hold their leaders accountable.
What would you like to see happen in Nigeria’s politics, come 2023?
I hope that people’s voices in Nigeria are heard and that they get their results and they organise well.
In Nigeria and even in Africa, we have very few women in power, what do you think is responsible for this and how do you think the narrative can be changed?
I think the issue with many countries struggling with having more women in office is just a paradigm shift of making sure that when women run we support them and that has been happening in the United States. I hope that for Nigeria and even across the whole continent that we continue to uplift and support our women because they have been doing a lot of hard work, particularly in a lot of these movements that the women led. So, I think it is time we trust them to be our leaders in the political arena as well.
Your words for the young people in Africa
I will tell them to keep striving, don’t give up. I know things are hard, they may be difficult. All of us as young people, we have power within ourselves, we should not let anyone diminish us and we should make sure that as we are moving up, we should also open the door for the young people behind us. So, my message is just that when we keep hope alive and keep striving, we will all reach our dreams in one way or the other together.
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