By Ismail Omipidan
In this concluding part of the interview with Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, representing Kaduna north, he explains why the senate during its first year experienced some political turbulence.
You have been in the National Assembly for ovber two years now. How has the journey been so far?
The National Assembly over the last two years, in my own opinion, has been a mixed blessing, mixed in the sense that the first year was a very turbulent one in the senate particularly. It was so because of the crisis that followed the emergence of the leadership of that senate. Having said that, on the other hand, to my mind again, not because one happens to be part of that chamber today, but the statistics of what we have seen, over the last 20 years under the senate, show that the eighth senate, to a great extent, despite all those challenges have been able to achieve a lot. The statistics which we have been opportune to have in comparison with the seventh, sixth, fifth and fourth senate, which was written the previous senates themselves, I think the eighth senate has done its bits halfway through and it is our hope that turbulent as the terrain may be politically within the nation, we hope it is going to be better than the years that we have left behind. That is my candid explanation of the situation.
Talking about the initial turbulence, at some point, the APC senators were divided into two camps and you were a scribe of one of the groups, how do you feel, what is the situation now, how would you describe the situation and what the party led some of you into at that point in time?
Well, you are right. But you can call that leadership tussle. At the onset there were mainly two groups gunning for the leadership of the senate. The group I belonged where I served as the secretary, under the leadership of the likes of Senator Akume Ahmed Lawan, to mention few of them, lost out in a way because it is leadership tussle. When you align as you said with the rules and aspirations of the APC as a party because we are all members and senators under the APC, you will see that it was that division that was responsible for the crack that brought about the fate today of the current deputy senate president who emerged from the PDP.
There were alliances; there were cross-border alliances between part of the APC as a group and PDP as a group in that chamber to produce the leadership. In my opinion that is a metamorphosis in politics to tell you that politicians are capable of achieving cross-border existence. There are other lessons to learn from it which the APC should take note of- that is if you divide your house you are likely to weaken your drive to achieving set goals. That is one huge lesson. Another lesson is to say, once there is an election within a process, component parts of that Electoral College or component parts of one of that electorate have the final say, not any other person. These are lessons to learn from all that have happened within that first one year.
As per the situation today, I will tell you now that to a great extent a lot of those problems have given way. Reason being that even after the emergence of the leadership, part of what kept the two sides of the APC apart was that APC as a party brought its recommendation and subsequent upon that recommendation told the senate leaderrship what and who they want to be part of the leadership stable, that is the senate leader and the senate deputy leader and the whip.
But somehow it was part of the rancour and it is pertinent now to tell you that, that implementation of what the party wanted ab initio has now been put in place. Ahmed Lawan is the senate leader while the senate whip is still Senator Adeyeye who was among the three that were recommended by the party, you could see clearly that a semblance of peace has returned to the chamber. That does not mean there might not be squabbles, there are other leadership issues that are likely to crop up, but at least the senate has been able to put that behind it.
In politics there is what we call reward. Some of us who know your politics believed probably if you have not served in the Unity Forum, you probably would have gotten a better committee to chair. How do you feel chairing the committee on national identity card?
I quite frankly will say with humility it is a job that has to be done by an elected senator, even if it is not me someone has to chair that committee, there is nothing wrong in me being given that committee to chair. And certainly, population issues, identity issues within our polity in Nigeria are very relevant, policy matter that one cannot wish away. Therefore, in my own opinion, it is a crucial committee; it is a crucial segment of our polity.
Today as you may know, the world over within developing countries are global issues that world bodies like the World Bank and other world organisations are so much interested in because they are part and parcel of the issues pertaining to existence and development of mankind within the globe and around the globe. I know people talk about juicy or non-juicy committees, but I find solace, I find reasons, I find satisfaction in chairing that committee.
So how has the job been?
It has been challenging, it has been eventful. But it would have been more challenging; it would have been more eventful if the country had agreed to hold its census in 2016, 2017 or 2018. Population matters as they relate to planning of the economy, as they relate to the planning of development of our own people within our own divide lines we call a nation, are very are fundamental. Unfortunately, efforts to make the Nigerian government to declare, so as to be able to do that census in 2018 has been put aside. I can safely say it is not realiseable.
Therefore, since we have not been able to plan and consummate some of the pre-activities within 2017, it is dominantly clear that the census in 2018 is not practicable neither will it be practicable in 2019 because that is election year. Election year has its own challenges, has its own issues, has its own demands as each an every one of us within our polity know that it is not likely that you are going to combine elections with population census. Therefore, if you we are looking at possibilities, maybe we should be looking at possibilities of conducting census in Nigeria in 2020 or 2021.
Lack of planning has been one of the major hiccups affecting our growth and development. Now you have also identified it in this case. How can we overcome them, especially in census matter?
In my own opinion, it is not only lack of planning but also lack of the ability as a nation to regularize some of those milestones. It is evidently clear to say that census is supposed to be repeated within developing countries like ours within the maximum of 10 years. Since the last one happened in 2006, we knew it should have happened 2016, so it would have been part of the evident milestone planning that it would happen in 2016, therefore from 2007 to 2009 and 2010, we would have been planning to put items within the budget, within the activity pattern, within the planning, within the training module of how to achieve a repeat census in 2016. Unfortunately, it is not. Planning is about using men and resources to put in milestones of time in trying to achieve a goal. In my own opinion we already have that. We know what is required to be done. We know who is required to do it. We have a very good idea from that 2006 what it would take to repeat a census in 2016. So it is not for a dearth of planning but for dearth of commitment of various administrations after that till now to decide that that activity should take place in 2016.
At the beginning of this interview you gave the senate a pass mark, and you are not the only one. However, Nigerians seem to have disdain for an average lawmaker. How do you think this negative image can be corrected?
In my own opinion, it is part of developmental history and political development of our nation. Disdain for the legislature or legislators and then legislative institutions in our own polity, for me, is for a good cause. For a good reason, it will naturally evolve. To criticize creates knowledge, to criticize brings information. People need information, people need knowledge and when they know better, they act better they behave better. Take for example, the three tiers of government, the executive, there is only one head, there is only one government, opposition to that government, what it does and what it does not do, is limited to the head and what the head does and issues like that.
For a legislature, opposition to that body is not limited to the head. He who is opposing Hunkuyi as a senator is likely to oppose the senate. And there are 109 of us, maybe 30 of us have issues, they have so many people who do not appreciate them as human beings, who do not appreciate their inputs, who so no appreciate them in their history and they will bring all their venom to bear on that personality and in the final analysis on that institution where that personality belong.
In the House of Reps for instance, it has over 300 members, whoever does anything wrong within the membership of that House is likely to attract attention to the institution itself, therefore, opposition are likely to be 300 fold the number of opposition you are likely to find in one government House in Osun, or in Katsina, or in Abia State as the case may be. This is the way it is.
That is to tell you that 300 and something people within the House stood election in over 300 constituencies. Nobody emerged because he didn’t stand election. They all emerged because there was an election. Nobody was returned unopposed. But even if more than half are doing their best, you would still find about half who have opposition out there and those ones would draw that kind of condemnation, opposition and the likes of such negative situation to the entire House.
In my own opinion, it is democracy. The expression that someone has done this or done that should be allowed. Nigerians must also understand that the 8th senate is an experience within our polity that we have never seen before.