Posted By: OJO OYEWAMIDE
Hon. Afe Olowookere represents Akure South/Akure North federal constituency in the House of Representatives. He bares his mind to OYEWAMIDE OJO on the salaries and allowances of federal legislators, corruption, report of the 2014 national conference and other topical issues. Excerpts:
How do you intend to make your representation different from your predecessors?
I must say what the earlier representation was before I tell you how mine is going to be different. I am not going to castigate anyone but my observation is that previous representatives did not establish what we can call community relationship. They did not give account of their representation to the people. There was no synergy between them and the people. If you are representing a group of people, you need to create an opportunity of robbing minds with them. Doing that, you will know what they need and what they want which you will now present to the House of Representatives.
By the special grace of God, I am going to give our people very robust and quality representation. I am going to establish community relationship and I am going to use different platforms for this, including the traditional institution and the youth platform to reach our people. I also intend to use the community elite platform and the women platform. From there, one will be able to get information and inputs into what we need to do in Abuja. I will give account of my stewardship through these platforms. This will give the people an opportunity to assess me and to be able to point to me the areas I have not done enough or areas I need to improve.
People’s belief is that members of the National Assembly receive jumbo salaries and allowances and there have been calls for the downward review of these salaries and allowances. What’s your take on this?
What is called jumbo pay is not really jumbo. The problem is that legislators have not taken pains to explain to Nigerians. Only the activities of the National Assembly are done in the open. I don’t have problem with that because I think that is what democracy entails. The press and the public know everything about the legislature which is not the same in respect of the executive. I want to tell you that what a minister earns as salary is more than what a senator earns. The allowances accruing to a minister are more than what accrues to a senator. Can you see the area of unfairness?
For you to become a senator or a House of Representatives’ member, you have to spend money and go out to campaign. Somebody who has not spent a kobo for our party during the electioneering may be appointed a minister. What he earns, the number of aides he will have in his ministry will be more than those of a senator. How many people know how much these ministers collect as salary? But they know that of the legislators simply because it is these legislators they saw during the campaigns.
The minister may not even be called or approached to come and fix their roads, transformers and the rest. I think those managing the image of the National Assembly are not doing enough. That is why senators and Reps members are exposed to this ridicule. Activities of the legislators do not end at the chambers. Nigerians must appreciate this fact.
Considering his age, do you think President Muhammadu Buhari still has the capacity to perform and fight corruption the way he did when he was a military Head of state?
Age is not a barrier to performance or service delivery. We can learn from the experience of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. I think he took over the presidency of that country at the age of 74. He laid a good foundation for the country, after the end of apartheid regime, on which those that came after him are still building. The integrity of Buhari is already creating fear in the minds of a lot of people. I can tell you that civil servants are already adjusting because they believe that this man may not allow business to continue as usual. I don’t think age will prevent him from doing the best for the people of this country.
It is just a matter of leadership by example. If he does what Nigerians want and members of the National Assembly want to create any problem for him, the opinion of Nigerians will be against them. There are certain things Nigerians expect from him. If he decides to go in that direction, whoever wants to obstruct him will not enjoy the support of Nigerians. I do not see his age as a problem. To me, the older you become, the more conservative you are.
How do you think he can effectively tackle the monster of corruption, given the fact that we are now in a democracy and not military rule?
He must establish a good relationship with the legislative arm. He is no more a military Head of State. To really fight corruption this time around, he must get the support of the National Assembly. He cannot fight it alone. The legislature will assist him in bringing about laws or reactivating some of our existing laws that address the issue of corruption and corrupt practices. For example, there is this Public Procurement Act which tries to deal with the issue of corruption. But there are still some aspects of this Act that need to be addressed in order to really tackle the scourge.
Also, President Buhari must lead by example. He has done that in the past. Although I have not confirmed it officially, but I heard that only Buhari queried and rejected the amount of money being paid former presidents of the country as retirement benefits. I know that if he brings that to governance, that will tell people that this man really means business. He has to block all the areas of waste and leakages.
There are institutions that were put in place to fight corruption. Previous administrations only used them to fight perceived political enemies or opponents. These institutions like the Economic anf Ficancial Crimes Commission, EFCC, were not allowed to be independent in their operations. They only investigated persons that the President wanted them to investigate and prosecute those the President wanted them to prosecute. If Buhari will still retain these institutions, he must allow them to perform their functions independent of his government. He should make people of impeccable character the heads of these institutions. Our court system must also be overhauled and allowed to operate without interference from any quarter. Once the government can live up to the level of being impartial, not telling court that we have interest in this case or that case, to fight corruption will be very easy for President Buhari.
Some APC leaders have been saying the party took over power at the time the country’s economy has been crippled. Does it mean that your party is not well-prepared for governance?
There is no doubt that the country’s economy is in shambles. As we can see now, nothing seems to be working. The party has taken over when everything is at the lowest ebb, a situation that was not anticipated. But that is not to say that the party did not prepare for governance. Already, the government knows that the megawatts of electricity we are generating are not enough and it has a plan to improve on this. It knows that the high rate of youth unemployment in the country must be addressed urgently. Various programmes of the APC address some of these issues, meaning that the party is well-prepared for governance.
But what has gotten us nervous a little bit is the debt profile that the PDP government left behind. It will slow down the speed with which we would have moved to bring that change we promised Nigerians. The new government will have to find ways of reducing the effect of the debt profile and fulfill certain obligations to Nigerians.
What should Nigerians expect from the eighth National Assembly in respect of the report of the National Conference?
If the report of the National Conference will be considered by the eighth Assembly, then the new administration would have to represent it to the eighth Assembly. The constitution requires that what was done at the conference does not automatically become law until it is given that force of law by the National Assembly.
For the first time in the history of the country, an incumbent president was defeated. Were you surprised by the outcome of the last general election?
I am not surprised. Months before the election, one could feel that palpable air of change throughout the country. People were completely disappointed and disenchanted with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP-led administration, which had completely lost focus and direction, and was no longer adding value to people’s lives. Rather, it was causing intolerable hardship for Nigerians. The PDP had become exploiters and unfortunately they were doing all of this with impunity. They had become so arrogant that people were completely tired and frustrated. People were looking for not just an alternative but a good one. They saw a far better alternative in Buhari and APC.
Again, we can look at the divine dimension of it. Before the general elections, the so-called witches and wizards of this country gathered and said they had adopted former President Goodluck Jonathan. Any one that knows how God operates would know that was the day power was taken away from Jonathan. The circumstance that brought him to that position was God’s arrangement: from deputy governor to the Presidency. He did not contest; he didn’t spend a Kobo. For such a person to now rely on witches and wizards, you should know that the end had come.
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