FORMER Deputy Governor of Ekiti State, Senator Abiodun Olujimi, is representing Ekiti South Senatorial District. Being a member of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP Caucus at the beginning of the 8th Senate, she was the deputy minority whip. She is now the Senate Minority Leader, the only female among the principal officers of the Senate. In this interview, Senator Olujimi speaks on the 2019 budget, why the National Assembly did not override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act amendment bill, and why PDP will win the 2019 polls among other issues.
By Henry Umoru
Your take on the 2019 Budget as presented by President Buhari amid what happened during the joint session?
For me, an economy cannot improve when people cannot put food on their tables. Christmas, a festive period has just taken place, a period enjoyed by both Muslims and Christians but nothing happened. The measurement of any good government is the way the people feel. The people are not happy, the economy cannot be said to be working well. When an economy is working well, people would be able to put food on their tables. Many people cannot pay their children’s school fees. Many people are afraid, they cannot even travel to see their loved ones, which they do once a year. So, I don’t share the sentiment that the economy is doing well.
We are still in the woods and we hope when we study this budget, we will see a ray of hope because the deficit is high, everything is not too clear. He promised that there won’t be more loans, and that is a welcome development because we are already indebted heavily and I believe that by the time we study the document properly, we would be able to apply our minds to the issues involved.
The budget presentation was rowdy, what does it connote?
I have never seen it this bad since democracy started and I think there is something we have not done well. We need to resolve all issues before we put politics on the burner. What happened was that we put politics before human management and without first managing humans, politics cannot thrive. I don’t think what happened was the best for our democracy.
How has it been in the 8th Senate?
It has been turbulent but we have been able to achieve a lot. Whether you like it or not, we have passed more bills in this Senate than any other Senate and we have been more focused because we have decided that we are going to look at bills that will do with ease of doing business which we have really worked on. We said we are going to work on issues of the economy, money bills, that we are going to make life easier, which we did. Application is not ours, so we cannot talk about application.
What has happened is that this is the first time I will see bills declined in such magnitude since I have been reading about the legislature and have been involved in the legislature.
What has happened shows clearly that both arms of government are not working in synergy. When there is no synergy, there are bound to be frictions. When an arm feels superior to the other, this is the kind of thing that happens or when there is no mutual respect between two arms. I believe that is what has shown up in what we have done because if there was synergy, there would have been a meeting of minds on the bills before they were passed.
For instance, the issue of the Electoral Act, an executive bill, it went back and forth only to be declined again and again because T’s were not crossed and I’s were not dotted; that does not speak well of a government that is maximizing its authority and using the tools available to get the best for the people. We have lost some precious time; we have lost money because these things take time and money.
I can even say that legislators are losing interest in the process of law-making and that is not what the system is all about. If something is wrong, we work on it together and get the best out of it for the benefit of the people.
Declining assent to bills also speaks volume about the government because it also means government is not up and doing because it has a liaison officer that is working with the legislature, in fact they have two. If you have two liaison officers, you should be able to get the bills through and of course to know what and what are going on with public hearings.
It is not until the final stage when money has been expended, time used up and people made to work, then you decline the first time, the second time, the third time, I think we need to do a lot better. It also means that people are not up to their responsibility. I pray this will change immediately because without it, appropriated funds will just go down the drain for work done, but jobs not accomplished.
On the electoral bill that was rejected, why did the Senate not override Mr President’s veto, are you still thinking of that?
You know they came up in arms, they kept on saying to everyone, don’t try it, we will do this, don’t try it, we will do that. We didn’t override the president because we felt the Nigerian public should get to know the sort of things we do with power.
The truth is very simple: the government wanted the amendment for good governance, free, fair and transparent elections. Now, if it is government that is fighting that it should not be passed, it means they have something to hide. We are leaving everything now in the public domain, let them be the judge, let them see that there are people who swore to an oath that they would uphold everything good that have to do with the unity, oneness and development of Nigeria but are now putting party before the benefit of the people.
We have decided to allow the public to take their initiative and take a decision on who is wrong and what is wrong because if you brought something up and you waited until the dying minutes to now say no to it; saying you won’t sign it and the same people who said yes are now sitting down saying don’t try it, then I think the public needs to be the judge. Let the public hold all of us accountable to whatever we say and do.
On alleged plots to remove the Senate President Bukola Saraki
We heard it too; even at Plenary before we went on break, one of the senators was screaming, remove the two of them while the budget was being read. But you see, they are just threats, we know ourselves, we know certain things that will never happen and we know people who are playing to the gallery, who want to be seen by their party that is why you see people jumping up, wanting to be seen on television so that the party can say yes, this is the one fighting for us. That is playing to the gallery, not legislation. That is jeopardizing the development of Nigeria, bringing ridicule to the institution, ensuring that sycophancy thrive rather than good interaction which will bring about mutual respect and absolute development for our people.
How serious is PDP to take over power and if you are to advise INEC ahead of 2019 general elections, what would you tell INEC and the security agencies?
I believe in my inner being that the PDP will take over power. The truth is when you make too many promises and you cannot deliver on your promises, Nigerians are in a hurry for development, they cannot wait forever and so they have seen both sides of the coin.
In my place, they say until you get married to two men, you won’t know which is better. Now, we have seen both sides of the coin and we now know the one that has the wherewithal to govern well.
What has happened is that we have pursued corruption and left economy behind and in doing that, we have ruined the major component of governance. Now we are struggling to go back and recover the economy while leaving people in government to do what they like and so we are back on the same pedestal. With a PDP government, we have learned our lessons, we know what transpired, we know what to do. The PDP government will be a better government because we know what the people want and we are going to do it.
The people want education, they want good health facilities, they want good infrastructure, they want agriculture to grow, and they want their children to get jobs to do. Entrepreneurs want loans that are payable, not with interest that are out of the roof, everybody wants a life that is worth living, not someone breathing down their neck and telling them it is not possible.
We need an energetic man, who knows the ropes, that is why I believe the PDP will win this election because Nigerians are now discerning, they know what they want, how they can achieve it, and they now know they have the power of the PVC and their vote.
On INEC, I just want to admonish them that history will be replete with stories of how the 2019 elections will be fought and won and INEC’s name should be allowed to be written in gold so that future generations can honour the people who are currently in charge of INEC. Anything other than free, fair and transparent elections, devoid of rigging and violence will mar their name and I know they won’t want to go into history that way.
I believe they are honourable men and women, we must not have an inconclusive election, all elections must be concluded and nobody must be held up for another, all votes must count and we must eschew violence. INEC should not be used as a tool in the hands of politicians because history beckons.
On the security agencies, I think they should have learned their lessons with all that has happened because at every turn, every problem is put at their doorsteps. I believe the police especially should be wary of being used to cause confusion.
Ahead of 2019, how has it been in the area of campaign and what are you telling your people?
Tough, we are asking them to look at what we have been able to do, the little we have been able to achieve with the meagre resources. We are saying to them, it is the person who loves you, who believes in you, who is thinking about you, who puts you first before anything else that can make things work for you and that is where we are.
Can you give an insight into some of the major things you have done that you can improve on, if re-elected?
I have been able to do a few roads for my constituents because most of them have very bad roads. In Ekiti, we have very bad roads, our terrains are not very good so government is not always able to do so much, but the little resources we had we were able to construct roads. Most people have been driven out of their homes because of flooding; we were able to do drainages, major canalization for communities, we have been able to re-electrify communities, like my community we have not had power supply for about four years.
We have provided transformers, changed all the wires, and we are just waiting for the electricity board to ensure that we get back on the national grid.
We have been able to empower so many people; we have done a lot of trainings for our people, most of the ICT people have computers, they have laptops and desktops, we have been able to help schools by coming to their aid, providing them with water because most of them don’t have potable water, providing them with past questions and answers so that the students can do well in their studies.
Don’t forget that ours is basically middle class economy, there is still so much more that can be done. We believe that if in this short period when the resources are very meagre we have been able to do so much; the sky will be the limit if one is returned.
I have given at least four ICT schools to various tertiary institutions, we are just struggling to ensure that our people have the dividends of democracy. We have made about 114 solar boreholes and about 20 other electrical boreholes, so our people now have good water. Whether you like it or not, the spate of illness has dropped sharply because the problem has always been fetching water from the streams. Even the villages, all were provided solar boreholes.
How are you settling down in your new office as the Senate Minority Leader and what are the challenges?
Well, you know it was not such a big transition because I was already graciously put in the leadership of the party in the Senate before then so it was like just stepping into something one had been doing.
But beyond that, the PDP senators are the most cultured people I have ever come across, they are very dutiful, they are very calm, they treat me as if I am larger than life which I didn’t believe would happen, they don’t even treat me the way I thought they would. They ensure they take me through whatever they are doing and I appreciate that greatly. They are very well behaved.
If we call for meetings, they are always there, whether we are able to put them in a comfortable place or not, they are just willing to be part of a process and there is always cohesion, they speak with one voice which is the most important in almost everything.
The leadership led by the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President has also been wonderful because always, they call and they ensure that I am carried along on every issue that is of importance to the caucus. I am grateful to all of them for the support.