By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Senator Ayo Arise represented Ekiti North Senatorial District in the 6th National Assembly. In this interview, he insists that nothing is wrong in anybody asking the president to run for another term of office even in spite of his health challenge.
Some interest groups within the All Progressives Congress (APC) are already flying the kite about the second term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. In fact, reports say that the group led by the SGF, Babachir Lawal, has already constituted campaign committee at various levels for grassroots mobilization. How do you see this development in view of the current health challenge of Mr. President?
One thing that is certain is that every person that becomes President wants to solidify his own achievements. And it is not unexpected that any incumbent will want to run for second term. The challenge here is the health condition of Mr. President. But the truth of the matter is that he is the only person that knows his own health. He knows his body, he knows how he feels. If he feels he is ready and prepared for the rigour, so be it. There is nothing that is new under the sun. A person that is so sick today can still become active and agile and even outlive many people. Because we do not have the barometre to measure the life span of individuals, this man that is sick and receiving treatment could live very long. That is in the hand of God. So, if he feels that he is okay, I think Nigerians will like to build enduring legacies which is what the president is doing now. If we are able to convince him to run for a second term, I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. At the end of the day, the people will vote. He is the one that knows how he is feeling internally. It is neither here nor there.
You talked about building on institutions and legacies. What major achievements would you ascribe to this administration?
I can see a lot of improvement in the area of agriculture as an alternative source of generating revenues for the country. The back and forward movement of price of crude oil has badly affected our economy and that is what brought about the recession. But now, the government has realized the need for us to start looking for an alternative revenue source. On the issue of corruption which I don’t even see anybody who can end it soon, some people are already sitting up. They now know that there is a new sheriff in town. People are getting more conscious because they know that this man is really against corruption. If we can build on it and start putting structures in place, Nigeria will be better for it because it will serve as deterrent for people who engage in looting government’s treasury. When you look at the area of recovery, I can’t remember any government that has recovered so much money as this present administration in the immediate past. I am hearing issues of modular power generation, I am hearing issues of 10000 mega watts, I am hearing issues of people generating employment. These are things that are in the pipeline. But it cannot happen overnight. Infrastructure has to be put in place. These are things we should focus on. If anybody has to come there tomorrow, that person has to start from zero.
Continuity in government has been a major problem affecting our growth and development in this country. The economy is improving gradually. It is now left to our people to begin to realise that it is not going to be business as usual. The free money that abounds in the past is no longer there. So, for us, we are beginning to gear our effort towards a productive economy. If we don’t allow all these things to take firm roots, it will not be too good for the country.
Before taking another plunge into the next election, don’t you think Nigerians deserve the right to know the particular ailment of Mr. President?
I don’t know the advantage of announcement of that health challenge. Disclosing what is worrying him does not mean people will cure him. It is between him and his medical doctor. Besides, he has told Nigerians that he is sick and he is not feeling well. I am sure, if it is a terminal illness, the man will not be planning for another term of office. To take you back a little to history, JF Kennedy was so sick that a Reverend Father had to administer last minute right on him because he was going to die. But with the help of his father, he was able to keep most of these things from the public and he remains one of the greatest American presidents.
Once the institutions of government are working and the constitution recognizes who takes over, if the president is incapable. For instance, at the last Federal Executive Council meeting, the President couldn’t attend, but the Vice President took over. So, the government is running. It is only unfortunate that some people want to hijack power and begin to do a few things. We knew he was not 50-year-old when Nigerians voted for him, we knew certainly; he would not be as agile as somebody who is in his 40s. But there is that quality and character people found worthy in him before they voted him into power. And that quality is still there unless he stops breathing. And nobody can tell whether the man will live for another twenty years or thirty years. Everything is in the hand of God. So, I don’t think we should focus too much on his ailments.
Age is also another factor in terms of capacity to meet the challenge of governance. Are you also saying that age does not matter in this quest for power?
On the day of the swearing-in of President Donald Trump of the United States of America, he was already talking of eight years in office. Don’t forget that Trump is also over 72 years now. Again, when you look at a person like President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, he is over 90-years-old. But we don’t want that kind of situation in Nigeria. I know of two people around 80 years old who still play 18 holes of golf. The way our bodies are constituted is different. I trust the man we voted for, if he knows he can no longer perform his function of office, I don’t think he will still be sitting down there. I don’t think there is anything wrong, if he still wants to run for a second term, if he feels is capable to govern.
You have the likes of Atiku Abubakar eyeing the 2019 presidential race. If he decides to slug it out with the president, will that not affect the fortunes of the party?
Why should it affect the fortunes of the party? They will both go to the primary. If Atiku is able to defeat him in the primary, then so be it. Don’t forget that he defeated Atiku, he defeated Kwankwaso in the last primaries and the party didn’t collapse because of that. If he loses election at the primary level, I don’t expect any untoward action because of that.
The issue between El-rufai and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, is still raging. What do you make of the face-off on the issue of transparency?
All I can say is that we are getting close to transparency. One just released his security vote, while the other released his pay slip and kept silent on allowances. If the salary of the Speaker is N346.577, then it cannot even fuel his car from his village to Abuja. The real question is about the allowances. The people have unhindered access to the legislators and there are a lot of demands from them. Money to meet all these demands comes mainly from somewhere. Ditto for the security vote for the governor. That is what they use to take care of political patronage. So, if they really want to go the whole hog, they should explain the detailed expenditure of their budgets. I know that security budget for some governors is in the region of N200 million. Some are as much as N300 million. Only a few will go below N200 million. In my state, Ekiti State, it is about N200 million. The functionality of the governor is different from that of the legislature. A person also sitting as Speaker will certainly have allowances to meet certain demands. Official figure is what they have both released. El-Rufai is not talking of his own personal security vote as a governor.
But if half of the governors are presenting their cases the way El-Rufai has presented his own security budget, then Nigeria will not be at this level. There is no accountability on security votes. I also know that there are constituency allowances and other emoluments which are packaged together and are being paid quarterly.
I don’t think we should be going back and front on this issue. Anywhere there is need for reduction; let people begin to look at how to reduce what is coming out of the budget for personal benefits. It is both ways. Nobody is interested in going to the National Assembly if there will be no pay. And if the salary is N300,000, I am sure, one brief a lawyer will get in court will be in the region of several millions or billions. It is the issue of corruption we need to face squarely. The problem with Nigeria is not the money the National Assembly is being paid or the governor is being paid. What is important is that the money they are being paid is used for the good of their people.