•Says Democracy Is Expensive All Over The World
SENATOR (Dr.) Abdulfatai Buhari, representing Oyo North Senatorial districts is the chairman Senate Committee on ICT and Cybercrime. He is also a member of Appropriation Committee and others. In this interview with select journalists in Ibadan, Oyo State, he talked about many issues. Excerpts:
Almost on a daily basis, the number of interested contestants for the Oyo State governorship position is on the increase. Sir, with your impressive profile and experience, don’t you think you need consider giving it a shot?
The truth of the matter is that with little experience I have in politics, three things are very important, if you are smart: one, you need to pray very well, you go spiritual and seek divine directive; two, you have to psyche up yourself and know if you come out the people will be able to accept you base on merit and accept that you have something good to offer; three, you need to assess your strength and weaknesses, particularly, your weaknesses. This is because when the time comes, journalists, the masses, people at the upper echelon, the lower echelon will ask you questions, such as: What do you have to offer that another people has not been able to offer before? What is the new thing you are bringing to the table? When they start asking you questions and you started blabbing, everybody will know that you are not prepared but when you were able to tell them, in clear terms, your plans and agenda, it may sound too good, but the intelligent people among them know that this person has an idea of what is called governance.
The Oke Ogun factors is the talk in political clime in Oyo State now, despite the fact that we a good number of aspirants that want to be governor in Oyo State. What do you think has been responsible for this, and this time around, could there be a departure from the usual thing?
Well, I must be honest with you. My personal opinion: aspiring to be a governor or a president or what have you, I have been looking for a day when Nigerians will elect their leaders based on merit; not on where you come from. I pray for a situation where individuals will be voted into positions of leadership based on their respective ability to deliver, just like I said earlier. Where you come from would not matter that time. You can come from Guyana or Madrid, what do you have to offer is the most important thing. Assessment of individual based on what they can do for this masses is key thing. The masses do not care where you come from, all they want is that you will bring to the table what will give them their three square meal. I read Lin Kuan Yu book entitled, “The Making of Singapore,” that power is not served a la carte, you don’t sit in your room and be waiting for people to bring you power. Mao of great China looked for it. Martin Luther, all of them, aspired for it. May be in the olden days, leadership emerged, but whether leadership emerged or not, you have to show your potentials before people even come to you. Having said this, Oke Ogun and Ogbomoso in Oyo State, 13 local governments, that is where I represent. You cannot push them aside in the equation of things. I will be honest with you, they have great potentials. You will be shocked when you hear the names of great personalities from the zone. The former Registrar of JAMB, professor Dibu Ojerinde, is a professor, and from Oke Ogun. Former Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja, is a professor, from Ogbooro; so also Professor Adeniyi is from Oke Ogun. One of the most brilliant lawyers we have in the country today, Ahmed Raji, SAN, is from Oke Ogun. So, there are great people like that. Let’s be honest with each other, the zone has got the fair share of brilliant and intelligent people. If today you see somebody from that area who has a potential and intelligence like all the people I have mentioned earlier who is interested to be governor, they will compete favorably with anybody from other zones.
What is your take on zoning?
Zoning won’t work, they will just be deceiving us. Let’s assume a particular party decides to zone to a particular area, it does not applied to other party because that is the zoning arrangement of that party in question. We can do what is called negotiation among the party hierarchy. It’s not an emotional thing, it’s not a sympathy thing that when people see that this person, despite where he comes from, has the qualities of a good leader, then we negotiate. Note, we are not running one party system nor two-party system. If you decide, some other parties can catch into that arrangement. What we need to move Oyo State forward and Nigeria at large, is the best man for the job. With due respect to my colleagues from the North, most people from the region believe that Presidency is their birthright. That is only possible in a coup arrangement, a Yoruba man is sleeping or igbo man is sleeping, but not in Democracy. If you remember, it was more or less like a negotiation since 1999 till today, each zone has had its fiar share in the presidency. Obasanjo, Yardua, Goodluck, Buhari emerged, even for destiny and God’s intervention, but the significant point that I want to make is that in 2015, the South West was a determinant of who won in the election. This are the potentials that we didn’t know and nobody came to us to tell us that this is how we were going to do it. It just came to us naturally and we were able to get the Vice President slot. That is the essence of power. It is not served a la carte. Negotiate and come with your best. If we should consider zoning in Oyo State governorship, Ibadan has done it, Ogbomoso has done it too, remaining Ibarapa, Oyo and Oke Ogun, among the five zones in the state. Unfortunately, based on political calculation in democracy which is called a game of number, Ibadan alone has 51 to 52 per cent of electoral vote, the remaining zones Ogbomoso, Oke Ogun, Ibarapa and Oyo have the remaining 48; even if the four zones come together as one, and Ibadan too is one, they can still defeat Ibadan when the game of number comes to play. However, when you have a very good candidate from any of the zones and people’s assessment of him is encouraging, he will get votes from Ibadan people who want good for the state. They will not vote base on where they come from, rather they will support people from other zones who have good potentials plans. That is one of the reasons I submitted that we should start having political debates for President and Vice President, Governors and Deputy governors in Nigeria.
There is a controversy about who did what on the issue of Ogbomoso-Oyo express road. Everybody is laying a claim to the project. Could you tell us the role you played on the project.
I remember Senator Abaribe that said when there is a federal project and you are three in your Senate and 10 or 14 in your house of Reps, in other to excel everybody who has played a role would be laying claim to the success. I am a member of Appropriation, while Hon Segun Dokun Odebunmi, and Ogunwuyi, are not members of our party. They were the ones who raised the motion on the floor of the House of Reps, after which when they informed me about their move and I said I wouldn’t want to be a copycat, because motion is just a resolution. As God Almighty would have it, Dino Melaye later raised a motion on Kabba-Ijumu road and I signified interest to contribute. In my contribution, I made them realized that it is not only Kabba–Ijumu road that needed attention, the impact of Ibadan–Oyo, Ilorin–Ogbomoso is as useless as anything, while the Ogbomoso-Oyo road which was started in 2003 is incompleted. Coincidentally, I was in the House of Reps at that time. I followed the House to where it was flagged off by President Olusegun Obasanjo in Ibadan, and 10 years later, the road is yet to be completed. That was what I said that day. When we are not doing the budget, Senator Monsurat also has a very good relationship with the Senate President, the road intersect between my own local government and hers, and the Senate President also gave her his consent and talked to Senator Kabiru Gaya who is one of us. She was fighting on her own, I was fighting on my own. She wrote a letter, while I also wrote on our different letter head papers and sent it to Kabiru Gaya who assured us that his committee will put something there but the appropriation may be problem. I told him not to worry that I am a member of Appropriation Committee and I will rather die there than not having the project approved. Senator Monsurat was also following the development, Skimeh, Hon Akeem Adeyemi also wrote a letter to the Appropriation Committee in the House of Reps, so its more or less like a joint work. My take on that is that the completion of that road is paramount and each and everybody is fighting to ensure that the road is completed. At that time, the money allocated for it, N5billion is finished. This year, we are asking for N3billion. I hope they will implement it, though the money cannot finish it, but our target is that no matter what happened in the budget of next year, we will be able to get more money to get it done. I am appealing that Nigerians and the youths on the aoxial media should not create a problem between us, it is a team work.
Do you think your party, APC, in Oyo State and at the national level, merit another term considering the perception of the people on the economic hardship and others?
It depends on the side of the divides you are. The truth of the matter is that I always appreciate when you look at something in an elaborate way. I will start with Oyo State because it’s my immediate constituency before I go to the National level. Let’s be very frank and honest, either we like it or not as of today, Governor Ajimobi has raised the bar of governance in the state in term of governance. Unfortunately, the money that comes in is not enough to take care of the needs of the people in the state compare to Ogun and Lagos that have good IGR to augment whatever they get from the Federal Government. That is why they are able to do as much as they are do. These are the only two states, probably, and arguably, that are with a lot of things that you are talking about. We need to do critical evaluation and be very sincere. When you go the extra mile like it is done in developed countries where everybody pays tax, in a situation where they don’t pay anything it became very difficult. In fact, that is the first thing they use to judge you as a wicked person. The culture of paying taxes is not good to an average Nigerian. Nigerians don’t appreciate it. But what they don’t know is that, with good people in government, the benefit of tax is enjoyed by all. However, there are other ways through which can generate revenues to take care of other aspects. Now on the national level, when one reporter said Nigerians are angry with APC because the government has not performed, I expresses my disappointment in him. I can forgive a man on the street for saying this, not an elite who is supposed to know better. We might not have performed up to expectations. Nigerians have probably forgot that democracy started 18 years ago when petrol was $140 even up till $150 per barrel, but oil today run between $27 -$40 per barrel. The incomes is not enough to address the reality of what is on ground and arguably rightly or wrongly we so much depend on oil that we are not looking inwardly, until recession hit us last year which underscored the need for us to kick our brain. The comparative advantage of that happened between Kebbi and Lagos states. Kebbi rice was all over the places in December Last year in Lagos and up till today the rice, Talata Mafara rice is taking over. That is what I am eating because it is more nutritious than all those plastic imported rice that we flooded our market before. Look at the potentials that we had but we didn’t ’t use. The rice, alone can feed the whole of West Africa, which means we don’t need to import any rice. Last Friday, I was in Ikere Gorge Dam, and I left there a sad man. The town can produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity. Lagos and Ogun tapped their water from that dam. Last year alone, $250million worth of fishes ware imported from Norway, when Ikere Gorge dam can produce more than what we imported and whatever type of fishes you want. What obtains there now is unauthorized. Fishermen only use the opportunity to enrich themselves. Ordinarily, the distance between Iseyin and that place should not be more than 30 minutes but it took us about two hours because the road was not good. So, what we need in this country is to maximally utilize the potentials we have. So, its not about the nation and the states alone, but about ourselves. I remember when I was younger, a Head of State once said, “Nigeria’s problem is not money but how to spend it.” We even went as paying Udoji, instead of using the Udoji bonus to invest in development, in rail roads, housing, you don’t doo bazaar, this are some of the thing. The situation in the country at large will make you marvel when you have access to some information.
Of what Implication is the University of Agriculture and Technology which you are proposing for Oke Ogun be for the area and Oyo State generally?
It has passed the first reading. It will go for the second reading very soon. Honestly, it is very sad that a zone like Oke Ogun with 10 local governments does not have any federal establishment. In fact, that was the first thing the people of my constituency asked for when I was campaigning and I promised them that before the end of my tenure I will make sure I influence the establishment of, at least, one federal institution to the zone. Then, there was a proposal that the Federal government wanted to establish University of Agriculture and Technology because everybody believes that we are going for Agriculture and Technology, hence used the opportunity, and there was a need for a law backing, hence I explored the opportunity. Thank God, that day, the Senate President approved me to pass the first reading. I am only waiting for it to be slated for the second reading, meanwhile, I am not the only one looking for such an institution in my zone, Senator Ogboona is also looking for one in his zone in Ebonyi, and John Enoh in the south South too. You can see that we have completed the three from the South South. My friend, Senator Bawa Gwacha, also wanted it for his own constituency, and someone is also seeking it from the Northwest. I have just given you an example of Ikere Gorge Dam, they also have another one, Okerete International Border Market, and the land is very fertile. The beauty of it is that they are happy to be farmers; all they need is encouragement which is very lacking. Develipment in these areas is zero. I will be happy seeing the federal government considering this people for infrastructure development.
In 2017 budget, about a sum of N95Billion was voted for Agriculture while the budget for the National Assembly is far much, so many people are of the opinion that you people in the Senate is insincere. Your take, sir?
For the first time since I came to the National Assembly, I was very happy, because the National Assembly decided that our budget is N125B, and that money , this is how we are going to spend it, 360 house of reps members, their salary and allowance, 109 house of reps members their salary and allowances, 3 aides for each of them their salaries, Management, their salaries, NILS, National Institute of Legislative Studies their salaries and this is how it was divided. Sometimes ago, it was published that we receive N35million per mont, Which is untrue. Our budget, allowances and salaries are reasonable when compared with that of the United States that we emulate. National Assebly is always at the batching end, but the only reason is that we are united, so attention is on us. I stand to be challenged, and with all sincerity, I will tell you two things: One, we were not the one who fixed our salaries. It was fixed by the National Revenue Mobilization Committee. If National Assembly members are earning N36million, each, then, how much is the President earning? How much are the governors earning? There are certain things that people say that do not make any sense. So President Buhari will be earning N2.7million and National Assembly members will be earning N36Million, each? You don’t need to ask anybody before you conclude that something is fundamentally wrong. For example, will Obasanjo as President from Ogun State allow lawmakers the state to earn salary more than him or Buhari? I absolutely agree that the cost of governance is expensive and that is how it is all other the world. Democracy is expensive all over the world. My basic salary is N709,000, less than N1Million. Oh, you ask me what about the allowances? With all the allowances its not up to N10million or N20Million or N30million or N100Million that people are talking about. At times, it is very painful. You see some people in the National Assembly may be living flamboyantly and that is why many people thinks everybody is like that. There are some people among us whose salary is insufficient to meet their needs in 13 local governments where people see you as the alpha and omega to meet their needs! I am so happy the National Assembly leadership decided to publish it and since they did nobody is talking, even journalists. When you compare with budgets, don’t forget that agriculture, works are have their budget in trillions of naira. Why don’t you ask about what the judiciary, which is the third arm of government, the executives, earn, then cumulate it and do vis a vis comparism with Britain and America that we are emulating. The best thing for us is to be able to deliver what is expected of us and take the country to where, ordinarily, we ought to be: where an average person will be happy that we have democracy.
Why is the crisis on who signs the budget?
At times I get angry because at times, we just create unnecessary problems where none exists. What is the basis of argument, a person wrote a letter quoting a section of the Constitution on transmitting power to the deputy, and you are now asking should he sign the budget? If the budget has not been singed, it’s the acting President that is not ready as far as I am concern, because he is in power. As I was told, we have sent it to him. Normally, the Presidency has its own team, which includes Minister of Finance, Minister of Budget, Director of Finance, Director of Budget, and two other persons from the president that look at the nitty gritty of the budget before the President sign it. If the acting President decided not to sign, that is his own. There is no any ambiguity at all. People should know that whatever the acting President does is the final. All what is has signes is a law because the Constitution that is greater than anybody stipulates. But it is wrong for somebody to now sit at a corner and say he cannot sign.
How far have you gone in passing the Cybercrime Act?
It is has just passed through the first reading and we are waiting for the second reading. A bill takes a longer time before it is passed. If you want to excel you have to do a thorough job.