Honourable Olumide Abiodun Ojerinde represents Irepo/Olorunsogo/Orelope Federal Constituency of Oyo State in the House of Representatives. In this interview by SAM NWAOKO, he speaks on some of the policies of the government and how he has represented his constituents so far. Excerpts:
The National Assembly has been one eye-opening experience for many new lawmakers. How has it been for you?
For me, my one year experience has shown me that a lot of Nigerians are not properly orientated about the process of democracy; the arms of government, their duties and the powers of each office which they voted for. I knew what legislative powers there are before I got to the National Assembly, but I have come to know it better than what I used to know.
You must have gone there with certain expectations. One year after, you may have not met some of these expectations. What are those things you thought you would have done in one year which you haven’t been able to do considering the legislative processes which many people don’t understand?
I went there with the expectations of what I could get for my people, to lobby for my people. But getting there, I’m exposed to know that the problem is not peculiar to just my people. We have 360 members in that House and I found that we all share common problems. Another thing is that legislative process is totally different from that of the executive arm and that is why I mentioned understanding the offices. It’s a process that is continuous. It’s not something you can finish once or in four years, laws are made and amended on a regular basis. A prevailing situation determines how a law or laws would be amended.
Your constituents would already have an opinion of you. What have you been able to do to shape these opinions?
What I used to say during my campaign was that whatever is due my people, I will always make sure it comes to them. Before getting there, I noticed that we had been deprived of lot of things because of incompetent representation in the sense that we lost lots of opportunities that came on a silver platter. But in the last one year I’m privy to the fact that there is the implementation of a lot of constituency projects, which is even unusual to my people. I say this because when we wanted to do our first empowerment programme towards the end of last year, the question that came from my constituents was ‘why are you doing this so early?’ They didn’t know that it is their right. That means that they had been so disoriented that their rights have been turned into privileges for them. For me, one of the things is to educate them to know what belongs to them, let them be aware of their rights. It’s one of my primary objectives to educate them on things like this and open their eyes to opportunities available to them.
You said there are common problems among the 360 constituencies in the country. What are these ‘common problems’?
The common problem is infrastructure. We have huge infrastructural deficit and I think to correct this, we should make the system autonomous. Let’s go back to where we got it wrong and the first thing for me is financial autonomy for the local governments. We saw that when they had financial autonomy that was when we saw a lot of infrastructure being done. The moment the autonomy was removed from the local governments we began to witness a deficit in infrastructure. So, we need all the legislative arms to look into that financial autonomy for local governments and I believe this will change the face of governance in the whole system in the country. For now it’s not balanced and this is not right.
There is no balance in the three arms of government you say, but the contention is that it is the governors that usurp the powers of the local governments through political manipulation. Even efforts to change this are thwarted. How do you think the National Assembly can help wean the local governments from the governors?
I think we should start with the conduct of elections. Let the elections be conducted by the national electoral commission. Let the elections be conducted at the same time when all other elections will be done. By the time we have all the elections at the same time by the national electoral commission, you’ll find that it will be balanced in the sense that you will not have a state that has 40 local governments having local government chairmen from the same political party. That is when we will be able to check ourselves. The governors will be from party A and the local government chairman could be from party B or C and the overbearing alliance won’t be there. This will be a way of curbing corruption. I’m not a governor so I don’t know how they do their money, but from the information we have we all know that the autonomy is not being implemented. But if it is being implemented, what is due to my local government, if it is N10 and we are not in the same party, will you be able to touch it? Or will you be able to tell me to perform certain corruption acts? There will be conflict. That is when true democracy will be practiced because at that point in time, everybody is checkmating everybody.
The National Assembly gets vilified a lot. This institution gets called names a lot. Does this bother you or you take it as one of the effects of lack of education?
It bothers me. It bothers me because I know for a fact that, I don’t know of other assemblies but the assembly I am today, is independent-minded. All sorts of names have been called. As a spectator too, before I came into office I criticized the past assemblies but I wasn’t privy to be part of them then, but mine, I can say for a fact that we are independent. We are independent assembly of the time. I can even say that a lot of times when we’ve criticized the government, we will manage the situation. For instance, within the period the Labour wanted to go on strike, the people’s assembly, I prefer that to National Assembly, was up to its toes. This is because we are for the people; the Labour is one of us. So, I think people should look deeply into the roles the National Assembly, especially the current assembly is playing before calling names.
If it’s a ‘people’s assembly’, the people are worried that there is hike in the price of commodities, especially petrol and electricity tariffs and their assembly didn’t speak up. They lament this is coming when they are still smarting from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. What do you think?
I’m not in a position to speak for the National Assembly but speaking as Olumide Abiodun Ojerinde, my opinion is that the level of corruption in the subsidy regime is massive. The president tried to get rid of the loopholes when he got there but it’s beyond the ordinary. This is my opinion. Subsidy should be removed. Only when subsidy is removed, as it has been removed, that the businessmen, major importers and those beneficiaries of the subsidy would sit up and think inwards. I see it like a ATM. They bring in products and since they know it is subsidised, they just sit back and painfully, sabotage the system. On the other hand, products are also smuggled to neighbouring countries and end up making money both ways off Nigeria. So, let the subsidy go.
On the electricity tariff, where I think the system as a whole has failed is that there is no sensitisation to whatever we do. There is poor orientation. Did you sensitive Nigerians on what you want to do? Were Nigerians enlightened about the agreements signed by the previous governments and also enlighten them on the sabotage in the system and open their eyes to the clauses in the agreement? We really need to let the people see the agreements that were signed with the DISCOs and GENCOs. Let’s review those agreements because they too seem to have turned it to another money-making machine. That’s what I see from the little experience I’ve had through the oversights I’ve done in the last one year. Are the DISCOs and GENCOs meeting their obligations in the contract? Who are those not fulfilling their obligations? Is it the GENCO? Is it the transmission? Is it the government? Everybody has a responsibility in this. We all have a role to play. We all are humanly reacting that it is coming at a wrong time, but when will it not happen? We must face reality, we seem to be too attuned to one-way kind of life but the genesis of the matter is that the orientation was not there. If we are privy to certain moves that had been made by the government, we might think differently.
Some of these policies have affected people in very many negative ways. Add COIVD-19 to it and we all see that people’s spending power has been so weakened including your constitutents. What are some of the things you have done for them, bearing these in mind?
During the height of COVID-19 pandemic, I sent palliative to my people to cushion the effects. Recently, I was also at home and I met with women traders and with farmers as well. The challenge the women have is that, due to this global issue, a lot of them have to change the dynamics of things. Things are more expensive and they need palliative or support to boost their businesses. The farmers’ value chain has been slowed down. So, we know some of the areas in which we think we should come in with some measures to give them a shot in the arm. I’m not privy to signing cheques but we are talking to some financial houses to see how my constituents can also get the COVID palliative government is giving to the people.
In terms of empowerment, what have you been able to do?
In the last one year, we’ve been able to empower over 400 people. The first empowerment which we did was applied for by my predecessor. He wrote for the project, which was a training of women and youths on agriculture and empowering them with inputs, fertilisers and so on. We did that last year. We also empowered over 200 market women with cash for their businesses. We have started a phase of the next one, which is training of women in cosmetology. We’ve trained 250 of them already and we are going to empower them with starter packs. Some were trained in body cream-making, some in sanitiser and so on. For those trained in sanitisers, we are working on how we can form synergy with the state government to see how the government can be the off-taker of what they produce. We need to create a commerce environment. The training has been done by the federal government so how do we make the best of it? Being in the rural area, I know sanitisers would be needed and we want to take advantage of that to the schools, hospitals and sundry public places. We will be meeting with the Commissioner for Women Affairs to see how we would work out that relationship.
How do you advice your constituents and the people of the state who saw it as wrong for the Labour not to have gone on strike?
In life, we must always leave room for dialogue. I advice that we do not to see everything from their own perspective alone. Rather, we should look at things from the bigger perspective. We are complaining of an economy that is just about to kick off and now we are about to shut it down again because we are not happy about certain things. What has the government done? They called the stakeholders to the table and they dialogued. It shouldn’t be all fight and fight alone. So for my constituents, I want them to know that what the Labour did was right. They are fighting for their rights. As a legislature, we are in-between the people and the government and as a people’s assembly, we are conscious of the demands. So, I guess we should wait for the outcome of the dialogue between Labour and the government and we should always give room for dialogue. I expect my constituents to also show their grievances, not violence and then we sit down and talk.
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