While many legislators in Nigeria would get provoked by calls for a part-time legislature that should involve scrapping the Senate, Rotimi Olowo, the representative of Shomolu Constituency 1 at the Lagos State House of Assembly, gives reasons why he prefers both in this interview with journalists including Eromosele Ebhomele
Q: How would you describe the performances of the APC-led Federal Government so far?
We got into government not long ago and we met a lot of structural problems on ground. The President is not omnipresent, he needs to work with people at the ministries and departments. It is instructive to note that everyone is talking about how to reduce the cost of governance. It has nothing to do with what the legislators are collecting because if you have three senators from each state, that is 108 and one from Abuja making 109. What they are collecting is a far cry from the leakages in the system. You talk about duplication of duties and functions, where you have about three or four government agencies doing the same job. So, you have to look at the overhead cost, the personnel and running cost. Those are the ways money meant for capital expenditure is being spent on recurrent expenditure because of lack of plan. If such a man is coming in and you say he should name ministers immediately and that if he doesn’t do so, he has not performed, it is not true. You cannot build something on nothing. We are talking about re-alignment in government agencies, the rot and structural deficiency in the system, leakages and corruption. So, it is better for President Muhammadu Buhari to do the necessary things; he should re-align those agencies, and stop the leakages. The past government cannot account for about $11.9 billion and this is being argued by the governors and former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Okonjo Iweala. Let us solve the problems first, nobody has come out to say that President Buhari has stolen any money since he got to power. He came in and a lot of people that have stolen our money are coming back to return the money. He has done well so far, we should allow him to work so that you don’t build on that shaky foundation of the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Even if it is going to take him another one month to get the system working back so that the fortune of Nigeria would be reversed, it is better.
Q: There is an economic situations in the country where states cannot pay salaries in the face of heavy reliance on oil. What do you think is the way out?
It is so unfortunate that today, we keep saying that state governments cannot pay salaries. It is an aftermath of the work done; it is as if the states are doing businesses, which is not so. The other day, Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State said on a television programme that he is paying about N3 billion monthly as salaries. It is too much, but we need to look at the foundation. Why is it that it is only the government that has been employing people? It is not for the government to employ. Look at a country like South Korea and China among others, they are private-driven economy. If the nation can create the enabling environment, support the manufacturers, support the industrialists, and protect the country from foreign goods, it would be better. They have turned Nigeria to a dumping ground; we should protect our goods against foreign goods so that we could protect our money. I left an oil company some years back and I cannot enjoy my contribution to pension funds until I am 60 years of age, such money should be given to the manufacturers for investment and expansion so that they could employ people. It is high time the government stopped employment. Let it give support to SMEs, which are the largest employers of labour. The private sector is the largest employer of labour, but in Nigeria, it is the government.
Also, when we had the money from excess crude, liquefied natural gas and others, what happened to it (the money? The current government should retrieve those monies and the culprit should be brought to book if they don’t co-operate.
Q: How should we make our legislature more effective?
It is so unfortunate that this government is being infiltrated by the Peoples Democratic Party and its cohort. After the election of the Senate President and the Speaker, others would have to be nominated by the party. That is how it is done. This is the only country, where they make someone from a minority party the Deputy Senate President. It is never done. The quality of followers is the quality of leaders. I expect the mass media to support us. We don’t initiate or execute projects in the legislature; whatever accrues to us in terms of salaries and allowances is what we give to our constituents. Most of our constituents are illiterate and so they compare us to local government chairmen who have access to budgets. We rely on salaries and allowances, but we have a lot of requests from our people for children school fees, house rents and what have you. They believe that they elected us and we must pay them back. Until you know that these people have gone to represent you, we will continue to have problems. We ought to be the watchdog and the police of the executive, but sometimes, we compromise because the demands from our constituents are killing. The people don’t appreciate quality representation when money is not involved. Else they would vote you out in the next election. For us to have quality representation and watch the executive, we should educate our people not to ask us for money.
Why do you have bi-cameral legislature at the Federal level, it is a waste. What they do at the Senate, you still take to the Federal House of Representatives. If the Reps members are closer to the constituents, why do we have Senate again? Nigeria is not buoyant for that, let us do away with bicameral legislature at the centre. Why are we killing ourselves because we want to become Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Reps? It is because of money. Let us make legislature part-time job, everybody would go out to work and would only come around when occasion demands. But now, I cannot work, I am a full time legislator because it negates the constitution. When it is part-time and you get sitting allowances and what you get is not more than N500,000 a month, then I can use it for my family and nobody would come and ask me for money. If everyone of us does that, then we will look for quality people. But now, it is all about money, the lawmaker would look up to the commissioner or the Governor to make money in order to meet the demands of his constituents. But if that one is out of it, you would have robust debates, objective debates and quality representation. Then we will be able to support the government. Why do you need to steal, when you don’t know when God would call you? You steal billions of dollars. An average politician and follower is selfish. No follower has ever come to me to talk about our community-related development. It is individualistic development, it is just about ‘me’. When the children of the poor come together, they would overcome the children of the rich. Instead of talking about social welfarism, we talk about capitalism. When the children of the poor have no food to eat, they would eat the rich.
Q: Do you think Buhari can perform with the way APC has been infiltrated at the National Assembly?
It is a moving train; you know President Buhari is a performer, he is a disciplinarian, he was never found wanting in the positions he has occupied in the past. If he has Nigerians behind him, over 170 million people, if he is doing their bidding, nobody can stop him. The senate cannot stop him even where you have a Deputy Senate President from the minority party. So, new things would be happening, nobody can stop Buhari from performing whether PDP, APC or what have you. We politicians fear the masses and the mass media, so no one can stop him from working.