*Says no rift between him and Gov. Ajimobi
By DAPO AKINREFON
Senator Femi Lanlehin represents Oyo South in the Senate. In this interview, Lanlehin dismisses the claim of a stormy relationship between him and Governor Abiola Ajimobi. He also denies nursing governorship ambition while speaking on the chances of his party, All Progressive Congress, in the 2015 polls and National Conference. Excerpts:
Why is your party, the APC, against National Conference in the first place because many Nigerians are not happy with this decision?
For you to get any thing right, the process and the substance must be right. If the process is right and the substance is wrong, you will get the wrong answer, you will get the wrong goal. If the process is right and the substance is wrong, you will not get something good. So, if you must get everything right, the process and substance must be right.
So, what the party is saying is that the whole process is right. The goal is laudable and fundamentally in demand by all and sundry especially by all genuine democrats in the country, who believe it will determine our future and the kind of democracy we want to participate in, but the powers that be, all the long, have not been sincere.
But having said that, I think we should give the dialogue a benefit of the doubt, in order not to be appear to be seen as against something that might augur well for the country. But there is no doubt that the whole process is suspect.
But since the advent of the fourth republic, leaders and elders from the South-west region, especially Awoists, have been in the forefront for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference but now that the opportunity has come, there seems to be division.
There is really no division because everybody believes that there is need for all the ethnic nationalities, all the stakeholders to sit down and talk about our togetherness.
To that extent, that means we must talk and come to an agreeable conclusion on the way forward. But of course, since we are all human beings and there are many shades of opinion, in respect of this process, people may not agree to the whole process as to how to bring this about.
But I am yet to see anybody, in Yoruba land or even in Nigeria, who does not think there is the need to tinker with the present system that is called Nigeria.
Are you saying that Nigeria’s unity can be negotiated?
There is no doubt that we have all agreed and we still agree that we should stay together as a country. But there is no doubt that we have various interests, various approaches, various priorities, various methodologies, various socio-cultural beliefs and backgrounds.
We are not homogenous, we are heterogenous and that is why we have to sit down and agree on how best we can live together. What we are saying is that since 1914, that we have been together, we could have gone further than we are now.
When we operated the regional government, each region developed at its own pace and that is why the bulk of the development that we have in Nigeria today was done during the existence of those regions.
We have to see where we have gone wrong because from 1966 till now, we seem to have lost it, we seem to be groping in the dark. Having discovered that it is all motion without movement, there must be fundamentally wrong, which we must find a way of doing something about it. There must be something we are fundamentally not doing right.
What steps, do you think, should be taken to ensure we correct the anomalies in the polity?
First of all, I believe we have too much of a centralized unit. The 1999 Constitution does not take into consideration our socio-political background. We are a diverse country and, to that extent, we must allow each ethnic group or unit to expand or to fly as high as they want to go without any constraint, in as much as it is done within the constitution of the land.
In my own opinion, I believe the best thing for us to do is to go back to the parliamentary system of government of course with some modifications. We must sit down and look back at our experience from 1914 and see how best we can put together a constitution that best suites us.
But if we want to have a system of government that recognises individual growth and effort, then we must not restrain the units from exercising their right.
The presidential system of government is too restraining, there is too much powers concentrated in the centre and this makes it worse because the source of income in this country, lies in the centre.
The spokesman for the Senate has hinted that the body will ensure the conference is funded…
The National Assembly has a central role to play in the outcome of the proceeding of the National Dialogue depending on whatever process they want to adopt. In order to bring forth a new Constitution, you should lay down the laws by which to arrive at the new system.
So, the National Assembly is key to the outcome of the dialogue. There must be a law that brings into life the new system we are craving for.
Does that mean the National Assembly will give the conference the needed legal backing?
Yes. It is either they give it a proactive legal backing or they let them do whatsoever is to be done and then it is brought to the National Assembly and then it is passed into law in order not to give room for friction. There must be certainty in the procedure and in the laws that we are expecting, so that from day one, everybody knows what to do and how to do it and when to do it.
Some people have predicted that your party, the APC, will implode considering the crisis threatening some of the state chapters.
The APC will not explode.
But don’t you see the tussle for leadership threatening to tear the party apart?
The things that are happening now are things that are normal. These are ordinary things that happen when two or three people gather particularly when there is struggle for political relevance or power. These things are bound to happen particularly when you have a merger of parties.
But so far, I think it has been good, although, there are occasional embarrassing situations. How well it is contained will determine how far the party will go. I have no doubt whatsoever that most of the things that are happening, if it is handled well by the leadership, at the end of the day, it will be well.
Are you not worried that if, at the end of the day, the crisis is not handled well, it might lead to aggrieved members jumping ship?
Anything can happen. If it is not handled well, obviously, you might find pockets of such forces all over. But that will be a local thing. The two parties, by and large in my opinion, have come to stay. APC has come to stay and I think it is good for the polity because a situation where you have one large dominant political party, does not augur well for the country.
How true is it that things are falling apart in APC in Oyo State?
Nothing is falling apart. Everything that is happening are natural things that happen when people are looking for political relevance. There must be bickering but at the end of the day, some people win, while some people lose but life goes on.
It was gathered also that you and Governor Ajimobi are not in good terms over the 2015 elections.
That is not true. He is the governor of the state and I am a senator, we are all trying to work for and in the interest of our state. There is nothing of such.
How true is it that you are nursing governorship ambition in 2015?
For now, I am totally committed to fulfilling the mandate that has been given to me by the people of Oyo South to represent them in the Senate. I am trying to do that to the best of my ability. What I do next is dependent on what happens at the end of my tenure. For now, I am not even thinking of gubernatorial ambition. Tomorrow will determine what happens.
Do you think INEC is prepared to conduct credible elections in Osun, Ekiti later this year and across the country in 2015?
I think the bane of our underdevelopment is the lack of freeness and fairness of our elections. INEC should improve upon what they did in 2011. I hope they have learned their lessons in Anambra State election and do better in Osun and Ekiti states.
With my own resources, I have sunk over 15 solar power boreholes for members of my senatorial district because water is very essential. I have also helped some communities in my district with transformers, electrical installations; ditto the construction and renovation of classroom blocks with boreholes to go with it.
There have been some intervention programmes where I have done some empowerment programmes wherein members of my constituency have been empowered to enable them stand on their own.
It is spread across members of my party and voters in my senatorial district.