What inspired your shift from activism to lawmaking at the Senate?
Nigerian democracy is not a gift given to us by the military; it was not a lottery that we won. It was a product of struggles and sacrifices. I and other Nigerians fought for this democracy. Many were killed for democracy; many were jailed for democracy; many were forced into exile for democracy. I belong to the category of those who were sent to jail during the era of military rule. It is unfortunate that after 16 years of democratic rule, the expectations of our people have not been met. I was deeply concerned by the deterioration of Nigeria; the decadence that has plagued our democratic process and the massive level of corruption and underdevelopment that have bedeviled our country despite the enormous resources we have accrued over the years. I decided to shift from activism into politics to take the masses to the Promise Land. My people have suffered enough in the hands of corrupt, inept treacherous politicians. The political establishments in Nigeria have not committed themselves to liberating our people from poverty and uplifting their living standard. I have chosen and accepted, as a revolutionary, to seek for an elective position which I won, and I am now in the process of leading that idealism of revolutionary transformation of our society and our country as a whole.
Some people feel that most ‘good’ people who become part of the system usually end up becoming part of the ‘bad’ politicians they had criticised. Do you think you can maintain your principles in the midst of other lawmakers in the Senate?
For someone like me who has spent many years in the trenches and on the streets fighting and struggling for the common man and for Nigeria, I have my asset only in my honour and integrity. It is what we are going to utilise in terms of running the affairs of the country. The Nigerian state, in the last 16 years, was pallid, looted and paralysed by very rapacious, crude political elite that have stagnated the development of the country and they’ve also dehydrated our people. I will not be among those who will betray our people; I will not be among those who will capitulate; I will not be among those who will forget the root and pedestal that delivered them to power.
The perception of the public is that the National Assembly is a hub for corrupt people. What change will Nigerians see in their representatives in this dispensation?
I come from the civil rights movement and we have led a lot of protests against parliamentarians and against their political misgivings. But today, I have found myself in the Senate. I am very much conscious of the fact that Nigerians are concerned with the way and manner in which the activities of parliamentarians go on in the Assembly. I am also aware of the concerns of Nigerians over the fact that there are questionable characters that have won elections at all levels. I am in the Senate now and this Senate, as much as it has people for whom the public has reservations, also has people who have proven themselves over the years as men and women of integrity. I can fully assure you that the 8th Senate will not be like the previous Senate. It is going to be a Senate that will be sensitive to Nigerians; that will execute programmes and policies that will meaningfully impact on Nigerians. It is not going to be a den of corruption or a nest of fraud. And it is not going to be a theatre of choristers and supporters of the Executive. We will do all we can to the best of our ability to see that the concerns and yearnings of Nigerians are taken into consideration. The leadership of the Senate under Senator Bukola Saraki has started on a good note by setting up two committees; a committee for legislative agenda and a committee to review the financial remuneration of legislators. We are there to ensure that legislators are paid monies (salaries and allowances) that will not be outrageous and insensitive to the reality and situation in which we have found ourselves in Nigeria today.
Do you think the National Assembly will achieve these goals under the leadership of Saraki, with the controversial way he became the President of the Senate?
If you check the records, you will see that Saraki has the majority of the votes by those who attended that very sitting (inauguration of the National Assembly). I was not among those who were there when the election took place; I was one of those (51) who went to the International Conference Centre that very day. But the situation we have found ourselves is the reality. He has the support of the majority of senators, even though his emergence is against the position of his party. The problem we are having here is that the party only has authority over its members; it does not have authority over the National Assembly. Except if the constitution of the country changes, then, the party can also have influence in the National Assembly. But those who voted in the National Assembly are those who won elections, and they are already there. They only answer to their party when they are outside the National Assembly but when they are inside, they can decide to do away with the party. The precedence of disobeying a political party was set by the (Aminu) Tambuwal doctrine of 2011—breaches of party positions and recommendations.
…but in the case of Tambuwal’s emergence as Speaker of the House of Representatives, his election was not held behind some members of the House, unlike the case of Saraki that seemed like a coup against a group of senators loyal to the APC.
That is left for the legal minds to interpret what happened but I can tell you now that if we continue to bring up the issue of the election of Bukola Saraki, it may take us four years without us being able to complement the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in performing his duties. For now, it has happened and President Buhari has publicly endorsed it; the party has publicly endorsed it; if anybody is going to challenge it, they can do so. But we are concerned that if this issue is not buried once and for all, the programmes of the President Buhari-led administration will continue to be impeded or delayed by the issues in the National Assembly.
Are you saying the rebellious APC lawmakers should go unpunished for flouting the instructions of their party because Tambuwal set the precedence and some party leaders have accepted the outcome of the National Assembly leadership election?
I do not know how the party will do it. If the party’s rule is violated and it accepted the outcome, and then the President accepted the leadership (of the National Assembly) and promised to work with them, who are they going to punish? Are they going to also punish the Senate President or those who voted for him? I don’t know what is going to happen. You cannot say I have accepted, I am going to work with you and at the same time I want to punish you.’ This is the situation the party has found itself and whatever the party does will have its repercussions.
Some political analysts believe that President Buhari should have been more involved in the election or selection of those to lead the legislature so that he could have people of like minds to support his vision to deliver good governance. Do you think his non-involvement stance won’t backfire eventually?
As a President, any member (of the House) or senator from the party is supposed to work towards his success. What matters most is that we should all position ourselves that, as senators, we are there to make laws and perform our oversight functions, and assist Mr. President who is from our party to succeed. He has said he is for everybody and he is for nobody; he cannot espouse that kind of philosophy and at the same time say that some people are for him and some are against him or that he is for some people and against some people. All that matters is that the President needs to, for the first time, invite all factions and sit them down – all under one roof – and tell us what he wants and how we should all work together towards the success of his administration. I think one of the mistakes that have been made up till now is that there is still a communication gap between the Legislature, the party and the Executive. And these need to bridge as early as possible on our resumption to office.
Would you agree that APC lawmakers have disappointed the electorate with the protracted crisis that seems to be affecting legislative duties?
I have said it on several occasions that the Senate is not an arena for display of skills in judo, karate, taekwondo, boxing or wrestling. It is a place that is supposed to inhabit responsible men and women of integrity. What is happening in the National Assembly is quite unfortunate but I think it is also the time for the legislature to know that Nigerians are very sensitive to what is happening in the National Assembly. And those who have engaged themselves in that act, they need to publicly apologise to Nigerians. They are already on camera for what they have done. There is the need for them to apologise to the public, their party and members of the party. We should also take it that fisticuff is not peculiar to the Nigerian National Assembly. In other assemblies and parliaments worldwide, we have seen their legislators fighting too.
One of the arguments raised by Saraki’s supporters is that the rebellion by some APC lawmakers was not against the party but against some godfathers and acts of imposition in the party. Is this argument not valid?
When you look at the whole scenario, there are two contending factions – the Like Minds Senators led by Senator Bukola Saraki and the Senate Unity Forum led by Senator Ahmad Lawan. The two personalities are seasoned administrators and parliamentarians. There is nothing bad to say about any of the two. But, we must be very frank to tell ourselves the truth that parliamentarians must be given the free hand to elect who they want and there should be no interference or manipulation from any quarters. Also, the party ought to have at the earlier time brought all senators and reps together to tidy up areas of differences to avoid us getting into this level of a divided house. This did not happen.
Godfatherism is inimical to transparent democratic processes. Also, we should understand that this party was founded not on ideology and principle; it was founded on the common need to exit a common enemy, the PDP and the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration. The crisis we are facing now is more of a post-election crisis between the divergent strange bedfellows that came together to found the APC. There is no doubt about it; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu built the APC from the foundation to the top. And we should also say it very well that members of the PDP camp, the New PDP that decamped to APC, also roofed the house. Without Asiwaju’s initiative, there couldn’t have been the APC. But without the Bukola Sarakis decamping from the PDP to the APC, we could not have won the election. It was just the five states of the PDP that (their governors) decamped that made the difference. For now, the peace between all the contending factions is very critical to the success of the party and the success of the administration of President Buhari.
Does your assertion confirm the feeling that the rebellion was actually against Tinubu’s interests in the party?
I will not be able to say it was against Tinubu because it would be wrong for anybody to move against him. Tinubu has invested so much in this process. What could be said is that it is a battle between interests that formed the APC. And now with the exit of the common enemy (the PDP), they are now fighting each other. The battle is between the legacy groups that came from the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) and those that came from the PDP, with Buhari from the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) at the centre of it and in-between the two. It is natural for any politician to have control but if you lose the control, you should simply accept the fact that you have lost. If you lose the game, you should accept that you have lost and plan ahead for the next. But the malice, bickering and feud within the party will not help all sides. We must also accept the fact that the APC now stands on the tripod – Buhari, Tinubu and Saraki – and it is on this tripod that the party will stand either to succeed or to fail as a government.
How true is the allegation that those who came from the PDP are causing the crisis in the APC?
I don’t know the kind of problem they may be causing because, like I said, APC is a coalition. It is a merger of people from different political orientations, tendencies and backgrounds. Even if the problem is from the PDP people who joined the APC, the reality remains that without them, we couldn’t have established a government at this time. Don’t forget that those (governors of states) who decamped to APC are Kano, Sokoto, Kwara, Adamawa and Rivers. But we have gone beyond that and we must find a solution to the crisis.
Some people believe that the Buhari-led administration is moving at a very slow pace in governance but you once said the pace is deliberate and calculated. Don’t you think he could have been more prepared such that he would hit the ground running immediately he got into office?
You can do your research but when you don’t have the inner details of what is happening inside, you cannot do anything about it. It is from the handover notes that he is able to get the details of the rot in the system. And he has seen the rot and, certainly, he is going to work. It is better to take a slow step that is right than to take a fast step that is wrong.