Introduction: It’s our pleasure to be here, to draw from your wealth of knowledge in terms of politics, governance and even the traditional sector, to see how we can also tell others how it has been. Though we call it courtesy visit but it also gives us the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with you
Question: Being a legislator, when you were at the National Assembly, we want you to recall with nostalgia some of those policies you were able to push through at the National Assembly, and looking back that you have left, what areas would you want the National Assembly to focus at, to drive good governance in Nigeria?
BM: Thank you very much, first of all, I welcome you to my modest office and I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you. 1999-2007, we were the first set of National Legislators in this Republic. The circumstances of us going to the National Assembly was different from what happened thereafter. We were babies of circumstance. Nigeria was transiting from Military to Civilian governance and of course, coming from the South West, the South West leadership of our party, the Alliance for Democracy, AD had to put their best material forward. We weren’t going to the national assembly because we were looking for money, but to go and represent the interest of the Yorubas. As a matter of fact in those days, if there were important policy matters to be decided upon at the National Assembly, we all had to come to Ijebu Igbo to meet the Afenifere leadership to table what was coming up, and we would decide there under their guidance as to what to take back. So we had… I don’t want to be immodest, but we had qualitative representation. But thereafter, party started taking people out there. Today, no.. except for Senate President, Bukola Saraki, no legislator has had the balls to take on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria like we did. And at a point, we were ready to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo because we still believed he was a military head of state and we said to him, “this is not a military government, this is representative government.” But, all of that has been thrown off board.
Secondly, we had no hidden money that we were collecting but today, nobody can put a finger as to what is being taken by members of the assembly. And that made me an advocate and I have been shouting it at the roof top for part-time legislative duties. The world is a global village now, if you have part-time where legislators meet maybe once in a quarter or a month. Pay each of them N5million for that one month. Accommodation, drivers, drivers salaries, drivers accommodation, all the wards taken care of. Not one additional dime, provide secretariat at the National Assembly. When you send the bills, if you have 4 to 5 bills, the most important bills always emanate from the executive, let’s face it. If you have private member bills, most of the time, they are not as important as the bills from the executive. And once you send them out by emails, and everybody receive them, you can go through them before you resume. And if you go through them before you resume, the first day you get in there, the bill can go through the first and second reading and then you can distribute them into committees and give committees two weeks to work on them. And then, you come back after two weeks to have committees of the whole to have a look at them and do line by line reading, so that by the end of the third week, it’s ready, you take it to Mr. President, and he assents to it and after four weeks, you go back home.
Question: Given the quality representation you spoke of, one wonders why you left so early.
BM: Well, it wasn’t a case of leaving so early. I wanted to go to the Senate in 1999. And this was very interesting, on the day Baba Adesanya, Baba Onasanya… May their souls rest in peace, came to Abeokuta, to flag off Chief Osoba’s campaign. Apparently, they stopped by at Senator Okunronmu’s house because he wanted to be Governor but didn’t get the ticket. So, to now appease him, they asked what would he want and he said he would like to go to the Senate for one term. So, when we got to Ake, the venue of the campaign. Baba Adesanya said I should go and see Baba Onasanya. Baba Onasanya said I should see him the next morning in his house at Surulere. So, I got to his house at about 10minutes to 9. You know Baba Onasanya’s daughter is married to Late Chief Tunde Osunrinde, who was Baba Obasanjo’s close ally. And so, as I came in, I saw Chief Osunrinde and Baba Obasanjo driving out of Baba Onasanya’s house. And Baba took me to his bedroom upstairs, and you know in Yorubaland, when an elder invites you, and begins to talk in circles and he doesn’t look at your face, you know he has some bad news for you. So, I just said to him, Baba, give me the bad news, let me go sir!. And he said ehmm, he gave me the story of what happened the day before and he said we have conceded the senatorial seat to Dr. Okunronmu and that he will go for a term. And I thanked him, as I stood up to go, he said “come back you didn’t even have any complaint?” And I said, who am I to complain, it’s about leadership. And he said “you will go to the House of Rep for 4 years and then you can aspire to the Senate thereafter”. And I thanked him profusely and I left. So, four years later, I wanted to contest for Senate but I was offered the seat to the House of Reps again, but that wasn’t what I wanted and because to me, it wasn’t about going there to make money, I wanted to represent. What has now become of the Police Security Trust Fund that was a bill I took to the National Assembly in the year 2000. It was my private member bill in 2000, and the reason being that I was not born rich. My father was a bloody Sergeant in the police force, I was a barrack boy and I knew how life was like in the barracks. I knew what policemen were suffering and I knew that if you want somebody to look after lives and properties, you have to make him comfortable, you have to provide for him the tools to work with. And there must be insurance that in case something happens to him, his family will be adequately compensated. So, to me I am happy I could achieve that at the National Assembly, the primary responsibility of any government is the protection of lives and properties.
Question: Osi Egba, Let’s look at it, having lived in the barracks. Truly, life in the barracks can be very humiliating. What would you say about State Policing System? Does that meet up with what you aspire for?
BM: Nooo, the problem I have with state police is… Let’s cast our minds back to the days of the ‘Akodas’. The government in power will abuse them. They will use them only to their advantage. Because, as long as they are being paid by the state Governors, the Governors will use them for whatever they want.
Cut in… Are they not being abused by the Federal Government?
BM: Then, the same thing is happening… If you look at it globally sir, Nigeria is the only federation with a centralized police system. Infact, Britain with 60million people has 44 policing systems. I know this because am also British. But the thing is, you are dealing with people who are ‘ with due respect to the words am going to use’ civilized and they are not brutish. When you deal with people who take advantage of situations they find themselves in, Why do people steal money when they are in office? Why do people intimidate others because they are in office? I do believe that we should have State Police, or we should have a decentralized police system, You bring a northerner here to come and police Ogun State, what does he know about Ogun State?. But, provided there will be special provision for the police force to be independent in the funding. If the funding is independent, then the force will be independent. And then, you can get the best out of them. And one more thing, when you talk about part time in governance, you will be shocked that you would say let me go and be a councilor in my village because I want to contribute. Either of you here who is retired, can say let me be local government chairman to serve. I have seen in the past where a butcher became a leader of a house in the council…I saw it live in this Ogun State. So, if you have independent state police, there must be way at which the top most person there would be interviewed by elders in the area to say this man is fit and proper to be there and it goes down the line. With that, and if they are independent, and in the process also, create a room for traditional institution to play quality role
Question: Earlier, you spoke about your time at the National Assembly, to the point that you were able to look at the President in the eyeball. There is a situation on ground, the Electoral Act amendment Bill. It’s being tossed here and there, and even now, we don’t know where we are. How would you have reacted if you were in the National Assembly?
BM: Well, the challenge here is very simple. The new electoral law, if the President had assented to it as it was presented abinitio, I have said it at several fora that I would have advised the Governors to go to court to challenge it. Under the electoral law, when you say a political party, its people who come together to say we want to be in this political party and they will decide the mode of selecting their candidates. We had AD, the elders sat in Ibadan and selected the Presidential candidate and nobody went to court. They selected those of us who would be representing the South West at the national assembly, those who were not taken, nobody went to court. So, every party has its own modus operandi. So, you cannot sit at the national assembly to determine for the party, maybe majority of them are now having issues with their Governors and they are now saying direct primaries because they have made enough money and think they can buy membership of the party. To me, that’s bullock. It’s a joke taken too far!. Right now, as it is, I do not even see any reason why that should have even featured in the electoral act. Every party will have its own constitution, and its own rules guiding its operations. Why put that in the electoral act?. That means you are shutting out independent candidature, and it shouldn’t. 1999 till now, is 23 years and i think we have gone that far to say we want Mrs Fadugba to represent us in this area as an independent candidate because she is part of us here, she has done this and this and she will give us quality representation. You don’t have to belong to a political party.
Question: Back to the electoral law, what if the President refuses to append his signature?
BM: What I see in all of these things is I see them as a charade. Very plain and simple. Because for crying out loud, what does national assembly got to do with dictating whether we should have consensus, or no consensus or direct or indirect… Is that enough for the President to withhold his assent?. It shouldn’t in a proper democracy. It should not because there must be respect for each arm of government provided one arm of government hasn’t sold itself off to the other arm.
Question: Are you trying to say like many believe that the National Assembly is a rubber stamp? However, from what has happened now, it doesn’t seem the national assembly and the President are on the same page.
BM: I will try and answer the later before the former. I am still a politician. I am a member of the APC. But, I will be 72 in March. I should begin to take the back sit and watch younger people come out there and go and deliver because they are supposed to be our greater tomorrow. When I went to National Assembly, I was 49. So, I think there must be room. In fairness to the Governor of Ogun State, he made me offer of appointment and I said no, we have younger people you can give positions to but if you give me a good position in Abuja where I can be Chairman and contribute, I would go. But I said to him no, because to me, it’s not about taking office. I run this office, I have another office you came to see me, so how many offices would I want to run? So, I come back to the former. I wouldn’t say an assembly is a rubber stamp. What comes out of the assembly in terms of output is fallout of the people who are there. If because the executive controls the purse, they always want to go to the executive to ask for money or funding. Once you take one, then you have played into their hands and they become your puppets , pure and simple. Rubber stamp or no rubber stamp, I will not use such language and I will not say such about people. I am a ranking member of the national assembly, so whatever I say about the national assembly also comes back to me. But, I just think that at certain point, you see…. there was a point I left out. How many people at the national assembly have called town hall meetings for people to say, “we have this matter, what do we do”?. All you see them do is I have constituency project. The constituency project is not their money. They can’t hoodwink us, I have been there. It’s not their money. How many of them have come to us during session to say this and this is going on, What do you people think?.
Cut In… Did you do that during your own time at the assembly?
BM: Yes! Even during our time, when we opened our constituency office and hired staff. ICPC came into all our offices when we didn’t expect, not once, not twice to make sure that every equipment that we said we bought were bought and to see that the staff we claimed we have were all there. They interviewed them. Secondly, how many of them do we see? But when elections are coming, they will come. When I was in the national assembly, In four years, except when I went to see my family in England, or we travelled from the House, I spent only one weekend in four years in Abuja. I spent my weekend right here in Abeokuta. By Thursday evening, I will go to my constituency office, see all the correspondences, see all the people that wanted to see me. I was not running away from the people.
Cut In… But the opposite seems to be the situation.
BM: Some of them, we don’t even know where their constituency offices are.
Watch out for concluding part of the interview on Friday……
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