Former Peoples Democratic Party senator, now a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ekiti State, Senator Ayo Arise, in this interview by KATE ANI, shares his opinion on the state of the economy, relationship with Governor Ayodele Fayose and the controversy surrounding the APC primary in Ondo State, ahead the state’s governorship election in November.
Why do you think your party has been unable to deliver the promised change to Nigerians ?
Well, without necessarily continuing to make more excuses, we all know that there is hardship in the land and we that are literate enough to understand many of the reasons for this. The fall in oil prices is the major one and the one that is even more compelling is the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers and militants in blowing up oil installations and pipelines which has now reduced our production to about 1.3 million barrels per day. This is less than fifty percent of what we used to produce two years ago. Nigeria is a monocultural production country, our source of generating revenue to shore up our external reserve is through oil, if we are fifty percent of that production or less than that and the population continues to grow, the demand pressure of the declining resources that we have will continue to increase. Even if we are stagnant, what we have now cannot handle fifty percent of our needs as a nation. The president has asked for special powers, which I support that he should be granted because we are in an emergency.
The economy is almost in a state of coma…
(Cuts in…) sure! I must tell you that even if you bring the best economist to run this economy, it would still fail; it is not about President Buhari, but about the harsh reality that is striking us on the face. The government has seen this and has come up with proposals to diversify the economy. There is no economist that will advise you on anything other than that.
Do you think the minister of finance is overwhelmed by this sudden downward spiral of the economy, can she handle the heat?
I believe the minister and the economy advisers are technocrats and are doing their best. Yes, they may be overwhelmed because the resources to boost the economy are just not there. The population of Nigeria keeps growing and as such, the demand of Nigerians would keep increasing. We are now more civilised than we were in the past, Nigerians now ask questions, they want good things of life but the resources to keep up with their ceaseless demands are not available. The whole budget of this country is not up to the budget of one corporation in America but we can be assured that Nigerians are managing serious and big corporations close to that. The demand is not fitting the reality that is on the ground in the country.
Talking about budget, as a former senator, what do you make of the budget padding drama at the House of Representatives, especially Jibrin’s claim that he, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker, Yakubu Dogara and Honourable Leo Ogor have all collected money fraudulently?
It is clear that the capability or the rights of the national assembly to veer money from one point to the other is covered under the constitution. But when they use that privilege for personal gains and enrichment, that is where the issue of illegality sets in. What Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin is saying is that their intention was far from noble and was to corruptly enrich themselves. If that is the case, that is not the kind of experience I knew when I was in the Senate. Again, I was never in the leadership, I was merely chairman of a committee, so I wouldn’t know if that also happened during that time.
Most senators have argued that budget padding is not a criminal act…
I would have looked at padding more when they add a whole lot of money to what the executives submitted, that would certainly qualify for padding. But until the Honourable Jibrin allegations are proven, in my understanding, the national assembly has the power to move money around.
Let’s talk about the controversies surrounding constituency projects, where senators are accused of siphoning money and the debate on whether to abolish it or not…
I still plan to go back to the Senate, hence I am going to speak my mind on this matter. I am of the position that the business of a legislator; when it comes to erecting projects into constituencies, is to lobby the executives so as to include it in their budget. How they are going to fund it is not my business and also, awarding the contract to the executor of the project would not be my concern but I would have influenced the erection of that project for the good of my people. During my tenure as a senator, I influenced the erection of a federal university in my hometown, I lobbied the president to ensure the project was executed and completed. I didn’t know any of the contractors that executed the constituency projects. The constituency projects I influenced was awarded to the River Basin Company. The first project was to provide generators for the dams in my constituency and senatorial district. The second project was to repair a dried dam in my local government; I donated some money there through the River Basin company as well. If they didn’t execute it, it is their business, they can be probed and it doesn’t concern me because I didn’t know the contractors.
Do you support call for part-time legislation?
We have opted for a presidential system of government, hence there is no room for part-time legislation. If we go by the Westminster type of government, then we can have part-time legislators. These are some of the challenges that can be faced in trying to make anything part-time and besides, the problem is that we are constrained by the fact that the senators and the legislators change and amend laws, which one of them would want to be part-time? Some things are just not possible.
You used to be a PDP chieftain in Ekiti state, why did you defect to APC?
When I ran for the position of a governor under Alliance for Democracy (AD) that later metamorphosed into Action Congress of Nigeria (A CN) and now All Progressives Change (APC), then, former governor and now minister of Solid Minerals, Dr Kayode Fayemi was my biggest competitor. Then, I had just resigned from the corporate sector and fresh in politics; I didn’t know the powers that be in the party. Fayemi had the strong backings of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Otunba Adebayo. Somehow, Fayemi got the ticket, despite me being more popular and having better funding. It then dawned on me that things were a little bit shady in that party and I left to join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They did me a whole lot of favour by giving me a seat in the senate because they knew I could deliver during the general election. I was grateful to the fact that PDP gave me the ticket to be a Senator and to contribute my quota in this country. Of course, if you listened to my debate in the Senate, you would not have thought that I was a PDP chieftain because my position had always been a little bit more into the progressives’ line of thought. But having said that, I still would not have left PDP if not for our governor, Ayodele Fayose. You see, I don’t mind the person using whatever weapon he has to win an election, but having won the election, I wouldn’t want to have an agreement with such a person and at the end of the day, the person fails to honour the agreement. When I discovered that Fayose and I would not be able to get along, it was easy for me to immediately pack my stuff and leave for APC
You have been engaged in war of words with Governor Fayose over his criticisms of President Buhari’s administration, could this be a way of preparing the ground for 2018?
There are two things that my governor got wrong, you see, if he is providing criticism that is legitimate and that people can relate to as fact, fine, as everybody, including agrees that things are tough in Nigeria today. Besides, me, have only spoken against him once in recent time and since then, I have allowed him to continue with whatever he feels is right for him to say.
But why is it that APC can’t accept criticism but was ferocious with former president Goodluck Jonathan during his administration?
I agree with you, APC was constantly keeping the PDP administration on their toes, which is the work of the opposition but not to start creating deliberate lies that does not hold water. Anybody can criticise the government, any government that is not criticised is a dictatorial government and I don’t think Nigeria can stand such.
What do you make of the APC crisis in Ondo State?
One thing I know for sure is that if APC does not get its act together as a party, we will lose Ondo. Yes, that I can say without any fear of contradiction.
You mentioned earlier that you are nursing the ambition of going back to the Senate, have you lost hope of becoming the next Ekiti governor?
(Laughs…) well, by all measures and without sounding immodest, I think I am very qualified to be the next Ekiti State governor but I am still consulting and discussing with my members. We are looking at reaching a consensus on who will be placed there, without necessarily wasting so much money in the primaries. If our calculation goes the way we are planning now, then my best option will be to go back to the Senate. There some options that we are weighing now but that is not to say that I have shelved the idea, if the opportunity comes, I wouldn’t mind. We have suffered public injury from Fayose’s actions and utterances, I think Ekiti people deserves better.
Will you ever be friends with governor Fayose?
We do talk, greet and exchange pleasantries. What we have is not a personal quarrel; he has not taken my wife and I have not taken his. I don’t believe that because you don’t agree with a political opponent, you shouldn’t greet him. It doesn’t show maturity or civilisation and if I am in any party that says I should not talk to Ayo Fayose, I would leave the party! There is nobody that will gag me from talking or being friendly with anybody that I want to be friends with. Of course, I will engage him when his utterances and actions are not okay; it does not mean I shouldn’t be friends with him. He is still the governor of Ekiti. But again, that does not mean that I don’t desire to unseat him or resist for Ekiti people any puppet that he wants to bring in to succeed him. That is the only thing we are working on now because if he succeeds himself, then we are in trouble in Ekiti State.