Senator Abdulfatai Buhari represents Oyo North Senatorial District in the Senate. He speaks with WALE OJO-LANRE on the proposed sale of national assets, how Nigeria can get out of recession and the roles that the National Assembly and telecommunications industry can play.
MANY Nigerians are of the opinion that the change they voted for is not bringing positive and productive changes to their lives and the country just celebrated its 56th independence anniversary, do you think there is anything to be happy about?
Well, the situation we have found ourselves in this country is really sad and unfortunate. The level we find ourselves in this country as of today, economically, is sad. It is true that people are expecting changes; the change that they are expecting they quantify in monetary terms but that should not be the only things they should look after or they should look for. The reality in this country today is that at the time the present administration came on board, there was a very serious problem. The only source of income we have in the country today is the oil and from $120 a barrel it has dropped to $52 a barrel; the different is so much that to sustain the economy becomes a very big problem. It will take time but the only thing I can assure the people is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
We are very impatient in this country, very impatient in the sense that we cannot say within one year, things should turn around and we should be back in the boom. You see, managing the economy either during recess, depression or the boom is not a guesswork; you need experts who can handle the situation to be able to turn things around. A country that did rely heavily on importation to the extent of even importing toothpick, rice and even things that are not necessary, things you can do without, ostentatious goods, until you are able to get yourself disciplined and reorientate your people like the way it happened in Singapore during Lee Kuan Yew’s era, things will not change.
There is also the insinuation that legislators have not done enough to contribute to this change. As one of the actors in the legislative arms of government, how will you assess National Assembly’s contribution towards achieving transformation and desired change?
One thing that we need to change and accept in this country is that many people, even the elite, do not understand legislature. There are three arms of government; the luckiest is the judiciary, nobody concentrates on the judiciary or ask for contribution to the government except on their judgments. People allow them to face their jobs; the same thing should be done for the legislature. The legislators should be allowed to do their legislative duties; it has nothing to do with the economy. It is a triangular thing; the executive raises the bill and sends it to the National Assembly, the assembly passes the bill and takes it back to the executive for assent and when it comes to the issue of implementation or interpretation, that is where the judiciary comes in. We should learn the way these three arms work. Now coming to our performance, you can only assess us based on how many bills, how many motions we have been able to pass and how many good or impacting motions did we pass during our tenure. You can only assess that after the four years of the tenure of the eighth assembly. You can only assess us vis-a-viz what happened in the seventh assembly, sixth assembly or the fifth assembly. You can do that comparative analysis after our tenure comes to an end on the 3rd of June 2019.
But the notion many people have about the lawmakers is that they concentrate more on constituency projects than their primary assignment of lawmaking because that is where the money is.
No, I disagree with you; the constituency project is a constitutional matter. In fact, it came to be during [Former President Olusegun] Obasanjo era. It is just a part of the situation that we are facing in this part of the world, where people will assess you not only on what you do on the floor but also on the projects you are able to influence in your constituency. And since the money is not available anywhere; by the time you influence a project, it is not only about one person. I think we need to reorientate the people about constituency projects and that is why the media comes in; we must be able to tell the people that they don’t give a legislator money for constituency projects. Since 1999 till date, there is no legislator who has been given any money to go and develop his constituency.
But who gets the money?
The money comes in from the budgetary allocations through the ministries. So you say ‘in one area, we are having problem of water scarcity, or in my area we are having problem of electricity, road network and others’ and it must be identified that I Buhari Abdulfatai was instrumental to these projects. What we need to concentrate on and that is where we need the service of the press, is the need to orientate people; legislators should not be the ones carrying their bills, my child is going to school, I want to get married, I want to pay my rent and other things. Ordinarily, it is their problems but the moment you don’t do it, they charge it against you.
What is your position on the proposed sales of national assets and what are the implication of selling national assets?
Well, my position on that issue is that no matter what happens, our national assets must not be sold, particularly our prime asset like NLNG and our refineries; we must not allow that to happen. Recession or trying period, the only thing that it requires is how we handle the situation and we can only handle the situation by facing the reality. For God’s sake, how can you say you want to sell your NLNG? It’s a pride of the nation, what will you tell the children yet unborn and it doesn’t even mean when we sell it we will be able to solve the problem. We are in recession now; there are a lot of ways through which we can solve these problems. One is learning from other countries that have gone through it before; hardly is there any country in the world that has not gone through recession and we have many that have gone through it and come out of it.
Take Ghana for instance, at times I laugh, probably because I was born in Ghana and I know the orientation of a typical Ghanaian. During the recession, the Ghanaians were going everywhere; the ones that could not get visa to go to London or America were rushing to Nigeria, Ivory Coast and other African countries. At a point, they called themselves together and faced reality. They looked inwards; fought corruption to standstill and took loan from IMF and they invested part of it on electricity and agriculture. We now see companies from Nigeria, most of the multinationals, moving back to Ghana to go and set up, In Nigeria today, since the time I was in the House of Representatives, we’ve been saying we generate between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts and we need 10,000 megawatts, imagine over 10- 12 years ago and we have not been able to generate additional 1,000 megawatts? Why can’t we just discipline ourselves and say ‘okay, in this year’s budget we are not going to do any other thing but solve the problem of electricity. It is solvable, let us sacrifice other things.’ Immediately we are able to solve the problem of electricity, people will see us as a serious country. There are some countries that can do it for us, China will do it very cheap, they’ve done it in other countries. By the time the issue of electricity is solved, 50 per cent of our problem is solved.
As the chairman of the Senate Committee on ICT and Cybercrime, how can we utilise telecoms in reducing the effect of recession?
I believe that this subject you just raised, we have a significant role to play at the National Assembly. Our laws are not forceful and impactful enough. Take for instance the mobile telecommunication outfits and all the service providers; they are not using our satellite on the flimsy excuses that we only have one. Patronise us either to use us as a backup or as one so that we will be able to get some sufficient money and inject it to get more satellites to make it stable but when you now patronise a South African country and you are now getting your profit here to raise other countries’ economies because our law permits it, that is not fair enough. I am now trying to lobby because it is the intention of the Senate President, as he said we should try to go and sit up in the telecommunication sector and call the stakeholders to get their inputs for us to bring a bill to the National Assembly that will make the service providers to look into what we have and patronise us instead of sending our country’s money to boost another country’s economy. It is capital flight, and we want to stop it; we want whatever is being generated from here to be reinvested in Nigeria.
Looking at the level of infrastructure in Oyo North Senatorial district, which you represent, and in other part of the country, what efforts are you making to put your constituency at par with others?
Let me tell you two things that if God permits and these things happen particularly during my tenure, the sky will be the limit for this country. If we are able to draw the attention of the Federal Government, the way we are trying to rush to get their attention on the Okerete project in Saki, I mean the international border market; it becomes a very great opportunity for foreign exchange. The Federal Government has asked the six geopolitical zones to identify areas where we can do agriculture and in Oyo State, the only place where we can do it is Oke Ogun where we have arable lands. I have talked to the chairman of Senate Committee on Agriculture and we are lobbying the Ministry of Agriculture so that when we are going round, we will follow them to see the opportunities in Oyo North. When they are able to see that opportunity, all that is required from us is to push to the ministry of agric and what they need to do too is to go over it and give it the necessary assistance and see if they will be able to feed this country through it or not.