Kenneth Udeh, Abuja
Senator Umar Sadiq representing North-central Senatorial District in the upper legislative chamber has said that the Southeast part of the country should be given the chance to produce the next president in 2023.
The Kwara North-born Senator in this interview with Sunday Sun cited equity and fairness as basis for consideration of the Southeast region.
Umar also listed the gains of President Muhammadu Buhari since 2015 till date, while adding that more is needed to be done. He bared his mind on the Kwara Otoge Movement, the Water Resources Bill, his book and other pertinent issues. Excerpt:
How is life as a professional pharmacist and an active politician?
Being a pharmacist and politician are two different services; as a pharmacist, you practice professionally. Incidentally I wasn’t in the core professional practice for a very long time. I moved early into the development sector where I basically initiate and implement projects sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department for International Development (DFID) in the areas of maternal health, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and health systems generally and, of course, that is a professional job, which involves engaging governments. There is also some level of “ politicking” during the course of the job. I was a senior manager, so it involved me discussing with governors, commissioners and other public office holders. So, there is indeed some level of politics in the job at the policy and programming level. Now, as a politician, it is a paradigm shift where I don’t practice pharmacy as a profession, but I practice the profession of engaging the constituents, politicians, civil servants, to see how we can improve our society, so in simple terms both careers (public health development/politics) are related. I have always been interested in the development of society via programming through donor agencies, but now I am interested in the development of the whole country.
So, in a nutshell you have always been involved in public service?
In July this year you launched your book titled “How I Became a Senator in 30 days” at a grand event held at the Nigerian Airforce Conference Centre Abuja, what was the inspiration behind the writing of the book?
What inspired me is simply that Almighty God has been very kind to me and with his mercy and favour. I felt the need to write the book so that people can understand exactly what transpired and maybe to also inspire other citizens who will be interested in contributing to society. I believe that anything is possible if God blesses it and if people understand the value you can add and you’re able to work hard to achieve that dream. That was why I felt the need to write the book which chronicled the events that led to my emergence as a Senator. I also wrote the book so that people can learn lessons especially people interested in joining politics and for them to also have a clear understanding on how you can move to a certain level in your political career in the manner I did , that is the basic essence of the motivation.
We just celebrated 60th anniversary of Nigeria, what’s your rating on the performance of President Buhari’s administration in different sectors of the economy?
I would say that President Buhari has done well judging by the circumstances that he found himself when he assumed office and the state of the nation. We argue this all the time because as a nation I understand where we are coming from. We were a country that was drifting downward and the president came into office at a time when the economy was so bad and unfortunately because we run a mono economy (oil revenue dependent) the oil prices plummeted to about 20 dollars or so and since then , our nation has been “crawling”. However, President Buhari with his prudence and discipline has tried as much as possible to keep the economy running for years. Recall the amount of bailout funds he had to give to states in the country and he did that regardless of the political party, I must say that it was very commendable. Furthermore, we can mention a lot of social intervention programmes to support the masses most especially the youths, like the N-Power programme, Trader-moni, The new “Survival Intervention Fund” for small businesses, just to mention a few. In the aspect of security, we can recall that at a time Boko Haram was terrorizing the whole country even Abuja, the federal capital, was unsafe and it was so terrible. At least since he came into office he has halted that to a very large extent . But as you know the more you defeat Boko Haram the more they evolve into other criminal activities by forming different groups and they hide under them and hit you in different forms. However, generally President Buhari has been able to contain the activities of Boko Haram because without the president’s decisions and him being in charge we don’t know where we would have been now if Boko Haram’s activities had continued. Unfortunately, insecurity is a whole web as we were battling Boko Haram other security issues started emerging in other areas like banditry, kidnapping, killings by criminal herdsmen, they started emerging from all directions. By the way I can also tell you that the resources we have for managing our security in terms of financing of personnel , equipment, and so on are still limited and not enough as we think. There is still a limitation of what we have and what we need. I think what is left is for the community and the society to contribute more through intelligence gathering and cooperation with the security agencies to manage the security. By and large, I believe Mr President has done well given the circumstances he has found himself, but he could have done better. There are other areas of improvement that I believe would have given him an A plus, but for now I will tell you he has done his very best.
How would you rate the performance level of the legislative arm of government under the present administration ?
I think the legislative arm has done well, but we are not at the level that we ought to be yet. Given that it is the youngest arm of government because of the incursion of the military in politics where they were always suspending the legislature and other democratic institutions . But the legislature has tried its best to defend the institution and carry out its functions in the making of laws, approvals of appointments, oversight functions of the executives, budget approvals and so on. So, the legislature has performed its very best, especially at the National Assembly level. We have tried as much as possible to cooperate and work harmoniously with the executive, especially the 9th Assembly. Previous assemblies usually had confusions and disagreements with the executive, but in the 9th Assembly there is more stability, more cooperation, yet we also try to keep our independence intact. So, it’s a growth and we are moving forward. The state Houses of Assembly could do better if they are able to attain some level of independence. The governors are powerful in the states, I want to believe that more still needs to be done at the state House of Assembly in terms of the control governors have over them. We are talking about 1999 till today that’s just 21 years, and in the life of an institution when you take into consideration the obstructions in the process earlier, it’s a very short period of time to expect so much.
Your party APC inaugurated a tripartite committee, which also includes APC members in the National Assembly, don’t you think it would interfere in the affairs of the National Assembly?
No, no, no! The committee is a party affair, the aim behind the creation of the committee is to strengthen the party. Even as a legislature, we all belong to a party. Our function as a legislature is different from members of the committee. The members who will be focused on resolving affairs concerning the party. I do not think our involvement as a legislature will interfere with our independence or our functions as a legislative arm of government. We clearly understand our functions as a legislature, these are what our roles are and you can’t have such a committee without involving the legislature. This is because the legislature is the centre of our democracy, because we are in very close contact with the people. So, how can you resolve party issues or make progress in a political party without involving the representatives of the people. It has nothing to do with our constitutional functions as lawmakers, they have no relation with each other.
How would you rate the performance of President Buhari’s administration in respect of youth empowerment in the country?
Well, so far our party has done well with regards to youth empowerment as spelt out in our 2015/2019 campaign manifesto. The youth is the centre piece of development in the manifesto of the All Progressive’s Congress and our mission is clear in the manifesto. When you talk about all the social intervention programmes like I mentioned earlier like the N-Power and so on, they have been implemented since the party came into power. Those who are not well informed can criticise that nothing has been done, but those who are well informed and have benefited from these programmes know the value of getting access to funds through any of these programmes; be it trader-moni, N-Power payments, 774,000 LGA jobs and so on. I can tell you that without these social intervention programmes one can only imagine what would have become of the youths in our country. The APC Government under Buhari has touched the lives of our youths in the country. I also believe that more can still be done because the youths are the most important in any society. I am 50 years old so, I am a gateway to both the youths and the elderly, I can be best described as a youth at heart.
How would you react to the recent increment in fuel pump price and electricity tariffs?
Personally, I don’t think the policies are bad, these are realities which we must face no matter how long we continue to avoid it and for this country to survive economically, we have to face the realities. When we talk of petrol price, we need to deregulate by doing completely away with the payment of fuel subsidy; because subsidy payment has been a complete wastage in this country. When we talk about electricity tariffs most people don’t pay their bills and we are having the difficulty of power generation in this country. But I have an issue with the timing of the increase personally; I think it is wrong if you ask me because we are in a crisis situation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has adversely affected the sources of many incomes and the government on one hand is also making efforts to cushion the effects of this pandemic, but with the sudden increment in the tariffs at this time of crisis I feel it is wrong. Though we in the National Assembly have been engaged in discussions on the tariff increments and the position of the National Assembly was very clear, that we should slow down its implementation until issues of metering, over estimated billing and other issues are resolved. Then we can explain to the citizens why there’s a need for increment.
What is your opinion on the water resources bill?
Fine economic decisions, especially in a developing country, are not always popular. It might not be politically correct to take some economic decisions, but we may have to take some hard decisions for the purpose of delivering better/sustainable services to the people. We can’t be enjoying a particular service, and still be finding it hard to pay for tariff attached to the service. However, such policies should be done with a human face, let’s ensure that citizens are not exploited, we also need to ensure that some people don’t suffer unfairly because of this bill.
As a member of the Senate committee on constitution review, what’s your take on the notion that Nigeria needs a brand new constitution, and not a review of the existing one?
Well, it is easier said than done, the truth is I don’t think we can have a brand new constitution in my own opinion, but I still think we can review our constitution and take care of all the contentious issues in the country. We shall listen to all the people’s concerns and make sure those concerns are well catered for to ensure stability, harmony and progress as a country. I don’t think our constitution is that bad in itself as it is, yes it has certain lacuna and weaknesses, but more than that it all depends on how we operate and interpret it, that is the major challenge. Summarily, I don’t think our constitution is that bad. The real challenge facing the constitution is the interpretation of the rules by the masses.
Some critics have described the postponement of the Senate’s resumption as a means of slowing down the various probes particularly the corruption investigations, what’s your take ?
Such notions are nothing but conspiracy theories peddled by some people who are trying to paint the present administration bad. Mind you, some renovations are going on in the National Assembly, which made the resumption doubtful within the week as planned. Basically, the postponement was to ensure the partial renovation of the National Assembly is completed, and other necessary structures and facilities are put in place to make it more conducive and COVD-19 compliant and other technological improvements are what led to the postponement of the resumption. Additionally, for this 9th Assembly, every corruption related issue is treated with the highest form of seriousness, irrespective of the individuals involved in it.
The next Presidential election is in 2023, with different agitations, do you align with zoning of the presidential ticket; if yes, which zone do you think should produce the next Nigerian president?
Thank you for that very difficult question, do I believe in zoning, yes! Of course, I believe in zoning , in fact, without zoning I may not have been sitting down here discussing with you as a Senator. Frankly speaking, I will tell you that, like I argued in my book that zoning is a very good tool. Though it has its weaknesses, but it is a very good tool in balancing and stabilising the polity. It is a good tool that can be used to accommodate and address the needs and aspirations of all interest groups in a multifaceted society both religious, cultural as well as traditional. So, I believe in zoning. Talking about the 2023 presidential election, the first question is zoning in our Constitution? The answer is “no,” it does not exist because that is the first supreme factor. So, for any argument we must refer back to the Constitution and it settles everything, that being said like I mentioned earlier it is a very good tool to ensure stability, if I am correct some political parties have inserted zoning into their constitution, but from what I know as at today, the All Progressives Congress does not have zoning in its constitution. However, if you ask me which zone should produce the next president I think that judging by the nature of the practice and the psyche in the society I still think we should encourage zoning. So, going by that logic it simply means that after the eight years tenure of the North under President Muhammadu Buhari, naturally I would expect the next president to come from the South. This is based on the psyche and the practice of the country. If you also ask which zone in the South do I think should be given the opportunity to produce the next president in 2023, I would imagine that because of that fundamental principle of all inclusiveness and for the need to stabilize the country, the presidential ticket should be zoned to the region that has never enjoyed the seat. So, if you zone it to the South we have the Southwest, the South-south and the Southeast and out of all the three Southern zones, to me I think the Southeast is the only region that has not enjoyed the seat of the president. With simple logic and sympathy and all of that we imagine that if any party decides to zone its presidential ticket to the South, the Southeast should be considered first. However, politics is a game of negotiation, numbers and all of these. Moreso, nobody gives you power on sympathy, but it has also happened where you try to consider certain factors and an unanimous decision taken by stakeholders and the leaders. The most important thing as far as we are practicing democracy is whoever that the Nigerian people want to be their president is who they are going to vote for. The parties as associations are at liberty to take a decision on where they want their candidate to emerge from. Additionally, if you want to toe that same argument the Northeast appears to be the only region in the North, which has not been lucky enough to produce a president. Coincidentally and as funny as it may sound, in the North, it is Northeast, in the South, it’s the Southeast that has not been lucky. But seriously, I urge our leaders to consider the issue critically to see how it can be all inclusive for the possibility of zoning because I believe it is good for stabilizing. That being said, in politics and power, it’s all about negotiation and how much you are able to fight for what you want and how much other people are able to trust and accept you.
You were involved in the Otoge Movement in Kwara State, which ousted the Saraki dynasty, would you say the people have benefitted from that movement?
Let me say that I am a beneficiary of the Otoge movement. Yes, the people of Kwara State have benefitted from the movement most especially in the aspect of freedom. People want to have the freedom to choose who governs them. If you achieve that as a people then you have benefited 50 per cent. I can tell you the people of Kwara are very happy they have taken a decision and they voted who they wanted to lead them. When we talk about dividends of democracy, unfortunately they don’t come easily, for a system which has not been working for years in an unexpected manner. It would take time to rebuild such a system for the benefits to start to emerge. However; there are some immediate dividends that the people of Kwara are currently enjoying, an example is the payment of salary. The civil servants were not paid at when due and they were paid some fractions, this continued for years. Since the current government came on board they have been paying their salary 100 per cent and promptly even before the end of the month. But you know in life as one problem is being solved and another one increases the civil servants are now clamouring for increment in salary, but it’s natural. Schools, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure were all dilapidated, but this government has been spending millions of naira to build and renovate schools. The government is doing its best at equipping the hospitals, including building of road networks in the communities . So, the dividends are there and they are witnessing it. The people have more freedom of expression which they never had before. Now that they have been liberated they can now ask questions and even challenge the authority which is a good development, so Kwara is developing. I can tell you for sure, the governor, His Excellency, AbdulRahman Razzak is a very hardworking, humble and focused man who is very strategic. He is focused on improving the economy of the state, how to uplift the poor people out of the poverty line. He is working on empowering the youths, the women. We at the national level are working cohesively with the state government to move our people to the Promised Land.