Senator Khairat Abdulrazaq-Gwadabe is well known as the Chairman of Senators’ Forum, which is an amalgam of serving and former Senator. She represented the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. She recently indicated her intention to return to represent the FCT in the Senate on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She spoke with a select team of newsmen on her experiences in the Fourth Senate and the politics of impeachment of that era. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents the excerpts.
When you were in the Senate from 1999 to 2003, what was the experience like?
Over the years, because of the way I have interacted with people at my job, coming to the Senate and having understood the nature of people from different places, I could easily understand their point of view and where their argument was coming from. But one thing in the Senate, in the very early stage that shocked me into understanding that this place is about knowing how to lobby your fellow people and not assuming that everybody is going to see things with you the same way, was when we were filling our biodata. We had to fill so many things and in one place, they left four spaces for children’s name and I was filling and I could hear one of my fellow Senators calling somebody and saying ‘ah, Distinguished, how many lines, there is not enough line here for us.’ And the other fellow asked, ‘how many children do you have?’ One said ‘I have 13.’ Another one said, ‘I have 26.
So, I turned my head just to see the faces of those who had this number of kids. What I took away from that was that I had to map my people there. If I need something to be done in a particular way, I will go for certain people that I know will stick with it and those who will not stick with it and I realised that the number of children you have and that you’re taking care of will determine your strength in holding onto a bargain or a position on any issue. So, that was the first thing I learnt just by people filling forms and cracking jokes and that helped me throughout my term in that place.
The point is that when people have too many baggage – and we are all getting the same pay and allowances – would find it difficult to stick to principles when the heat really comes on because the first consideration for most (not all) would be that, well, this would be a way of solving part of their problem. Some of us who did not have as many children, still had to support people – those who had school fees to be responsible for and all that. These were the kinds of things that came to play when the executive needed to have some voices to disrupt the system within the legislative arm. Some of these things played easily for them to pick up. These were a few things I picked up very early. One doesn’t generalise, but I found that the cultural biases largely influenced the makeup of the person.
How did the people view your performance back then and how come it’s been some 15years now since you left the Senate that you’re staging a comeback, what happened?
One of the things I learnt then was that you should always ask your community what they want. Don’t assume that they are suffering. When I was campaigning in one of the communities, I discovered that the men complained that women take hours to go from their home, around 6am, to fetch water in the river; they walk long distance and before they come back, it’s by 11, 12 or even 1pm. I felt that that was too much. So, I decided that we will attract borehole for them. We did that and I was so excited that we were able to bring borehole. The men were happy, but the women were not. They said you don’t like us. I brought you water and you say I don’t like you. They said it’s because you don’t understand. What we had before paid us. I discovered that when they wake up at 6am, they take all their laundry and go to the river. They spend the day to socialise, do all their activities and they enjoy it. The husband and children are there at home and they have fun and when they are done, they now come home with their water. Now, the borehole is right in their nose and I deprived them of such a nice social time. So, they wanted their time and that was it for them. I took away their freedom. So, you don’t always assume that somebody is suffering. Maybe he likes it in that particular way because it comes with some form of consolation which money cannot always buy.
When you look at what has happened in the last couple of years, what perspective would you want to present regarding your understanding of why things are the way they are now in NASS?
It’s all about understanding how the legislature works. It works at several levels. The first level is the chamber and the chamber floor is usually about getting an opportunity to also play to the gallery there, because the spot light is on you and you get an opportunity to let your constituency know you can speak English or you can debate. You get an opportunity to bring up issues that are dear to you or your constituency or some group find in you a role model to push issues for them and that’s the floor. Now, in that floor, you must stop to think how do you reflect, collectively, that institution to the world because as you are seated, whatever you are doing, people are watching you and making an impression of our legislative house. That’s decorum. It must be top notch and walking and moving around aimlessly when members are speaking should not really be encouraged. I know people have to ease themselves and all of that.
The second level is the debate on bills that that come and one has to be prepared. To be prepared to make sound debate, you must have support staff and you are as good as your support staff. Thirdly, you have the level of your committees and at the level of the committees, the work entails working in your chamber as an individual Senator and working as a collective. If you are not the Chair of the Committee, your responsibility is still high, as far as the committees are concerned, which is bringing your wealth of knowledge or discovering and learning about the issues that are before you. If, for instance, you are in the Committee on Railways or Ports, you have to understand how the Ports work. You have to understand what are the constraints, how many ports do we have; do we have inland ports; the coastal ports. What are the agencies that operate within this sphere? What are the dangers of government neglect by giving jetties out and privatising it? Is it good for us? Is it not good? If giving these concessions out, you are not monitoring them, you have this proliferation of arms because anybody can engage any particular jetty and bring anything or take anything out. So, it is your responsibility as a member of that committee to do your research, reach out. There are many other things which are too numerous to reel out.
So, what’s with this comeback bid now?
I asked myself the same question. But honestly speaking, it’s different. We have watched quietly the system changing in the direction that I never envisaged. I came into politics with a lot of vibrancy. I really wanted Nigeria to be better than the rest. Once you have a strong institution, it doesn’t matter who is sitting on top of the institution, it must be made to work.
But as you know, I did not technically lose the primaries in 2003. There was a lot of agitation from the National Assembly for the impeachment of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at the time and we were the people pushing for it because we felt that he was very unconstitutional in his actions. Every constitution, particularly the Appropriation Act, was always flouted. We worked hard to put things in place and he messed it up. When he comes to do his budget presentation and state of the nation address, you will find that what he said never tallied with the budgeting.
For instance, that time, you can’t be saying my thrust is agriculture and then you are giving less than N100 billion to agric. You can’t tell me that your thrust is health and you are giving more to defence than health. That’s not your thrust. So, whatever you are saying in the state of the nation address must tally with what you have presented us. So, largely, we now look at your address and say this is where he wants to go and we will help him get there. We tweak the budget in a manner that will reflect the direction that he wants to go and we would want to see the system go and achieve that and we worked tirelessly to do that. But when it comes to implementation, he will now become selective as to which ministry he is going to give funds. If you don’t get money, you can’t do anything. We said, no, if we continue the process this way, we are going to get to a point where some of us that want to see Nigeria do well, we won’t get there. So, when it came to time for primaries, I said I won’t give them that pleasure of not seeking re-election, that I will go and I didn’t just want the people to ask in future that why didn’t I go for a second term, then I can tell them why. I’m a fighter, they will hit me but I won’t go out of the way. So, that was what happened. They just didn’t want me to return.
What are you bringing to the table now, especially contesting against an opposition incumbent?
You must understand the FCT terrain because it varies. If you say you are going to Kuje for instance, the Kuje Council which is a local government is so huge that if you leave the metropolis and you want to go to a town called Kudun Kariya in Kuje, you have to go to Abaji first, you go to Nasarawa State, pass Nasarawa before you get to Kudun Kariya. Kudun Kariya is Northeast of Abuja. If we put road from Karshi, we open a roadway that will lead us to Kudun Kariya directly. But because it’s not there, they have to traverse Gwagwalada, Kwali, Abaji, Nasarawa State, then back to Kuje. Abuja is a very beautify terrain – if you like lush green area, go to Kwali side. It’s largely waterlogged with lots of airyated waters. Farming is very good in that side. If you want where there is more waters or rivers, you go to Abaji. If you are going out of Abuja, once you hit Abaji town, there is a turning on the right that takes you to Kandagi.
By the time you get to a point during the raining season, I remember in those days, even up till now, the bridge is washed away. So, those who are there cannot go to school because the teachers are on this side for the duration of that period. They are cut away from us. How do you get development to them? It is effective understanding of the terrain, the needs of the people and how you budget for it for effective development.
We still have to go to the primaries. We have six Area Councils and in each of the Area Councils, we have layers of Nigerians. As I said, all the area councils here, the Chairmen of the Area Councils are currently chaired by APC. There was one before that that was PDP but he decamped. All the area council heads are now APC. Nigerians as I have come to see have changed. They are not the kind of Nigerians we used to have. Their mind-set has closed up. They can discern, at least I know in the territory, voting for a party and voting for an individual. The point is people are going to vote on issues. We are pushing them to vote on issues than personalities. The tendency is they will look at performance. I know the electorate will look at what has the incumbent done; what is the persons coming to take over, what do they hope to do. They are going to decide all of these and this will weigh heavily on the way they will vote. I hope that we will clinch it by the grace of God.