Senator Gbenga Obadara is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who represented Ogun Central Senatorial District in the last National Assembly.
In this interview, he expressed concern over Nigeria’s rising debt profile, threatening security situation in the country and strongly advocated community policing as a way out of the quagmire.
Some people are calling for national discourse on a workable electoral system. Do you subscribe to the idea?
If you look at elections these days, even if you are the most popular candidate and people are following you, you are not sure of getting the best result. Things are getting increasingly funny. Even if you win, you are not sure of getting your mandate at the tribunal. A lot of things are happening in the judiciary these days which call for concern of everybody. We need to work on our electoral system for us to be seen to be electing the right candidates.
But can you exonerate politicians from the specter of violence, ballot snatching and ballot box stuffing that has always characterized the general conduct of elections?
It’s all about our value system. The people the politicians are using as thugs are human beings. If we have good value, why would you allow yourself to be used as political thug? If we have a good value, why would you want to be on the wrong side of the law? The truth is: our value system has collapsed. This is not only about politicians, it is everybody. Is it politicians that go to the polling booths to pick ballot box? Is it not somebody that will go there and pick on his behalf? It is the collapse of value system in the country. And the judiciary has been lenient because these thugs have not been jailed. If the law is very tough on them, nobody will use somebody’s children to foment trouble. The problem is about our value system and our laws are very weak.
You have already admitted in your statement that politicians are the ones instigating thuggery during election. Aren’t they culpable?
I am not absolving the politicians. But whether you are instigated or not, why would you want to do what is bad? It involves everybody. It is worrisome.
Then, what is the way out of the quagmire?
If the law is applied very well, everybody will sit tight. He who bribes, he who foments troubles, he who goes to polling booth to carry ballot box, he who goes to court to go and seek redress, if the law is properly applied, everybody will sit tight.
Why has it been very difficult to apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes and bring them to book?
It is part of the value system we are talking about. People who are supposed to do their jobs don’t do their jobs. We need a thorough reorientation. If somebody is caught manipulation election and the weight of the law is brought on that person, elections will get better. And it has to be prompt without using court process to frustrate it.
Since the conduct of the last election, the judiciary has been very busy grappling with loads and loads of litigations. How has the judiciary fared in its role as an unbiased referee?
Our last hope in resolving this logjam is the judiciary. They are doing their best. Let’s give credit to them. But as we give them credit, don’t forget that they are also human beings. So, there could be lapses here and there, but then they are doing their best. We can only encourage them to improve on their performance. Let them be guided by the principles and dictates of the rules of law.
The National Assembly has said that reform of the electoral bill is going to be one of the priority agenda for the new legislative session. What areas of the Electoral Act would you want to see amended?
What we need is a single tenure of six years for governors and president. We did it during our time, but it was not signed. Let them be there for a single tenure, do their job and get out. I am totally for one single term of six years.
What is the merit of one term of six years because some people may end up not doing anything, knowing full well that they have nothing at stake at the end of their tenure?
The law is there to catch up with him when he loses his immunity. Have we not seen governors that have been jailed? Everybody wants to leave a legacy, everybody wants to leave good name. Should we allow people to be there unnecessarily because they have nothing to lose at the end of their tenure? In their bid to secure second term, the governors will be there to do everything to win; the president will do everything to win. Six years is enough for anybody to perform as far as I am concerned.
Are you suggesting that there will be no electoral manipulation again, if the system is changed to a single tenure of six years?
I am telling you, the governors on seat will not want to perpetrate any rubbish. But it is not only the governors that perpetrate electoral manipulation. By law and globally, the legislators can be there for as long as people want them. If the weight on law is put on those who manipulate elections, they will sit tight. By the time they jail as many as possible, everybody will sit tight. There must be an electoral court where decision can be swiftly taken. Nigerians are law abiding citizens, but when they see lapses, they capilatise on it. There is nothing in this country that is not contained in law already, but there is not enough political will to implement them. We need the nerves to implement the law to deter the people from doing what they like.
And you don’t see the absence of political will to enforce law as an institutional problem?
That is why I am telling you that the seriousness is not there.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in his recent statement said Nigeria’s security architecture has failed. Is that not a good reason to justify the launch of Amotekun, the Southwest Security outfit?
We must localise our security. Whoever is fomenting trouble, the people of the locality know them and they know how to apprehend them because nobody will come and foment trouble from another town or another state. If security is localised, criminals will be apprehended almost immediately they commit their crimes. But we need the framework, the command structure and training to make it work. We need community policing and community policing has never failed. It is everywhere in the world. Go to the UK, go to the US, we have community policing. So, what is happening in Nigeria is not new.
Some other regions are also contemplating a similar security outfit. Is that the way to go?
I do not blame them. It is part of the reason we are calling for community policing. But the state assemblies must pass the law and it must be well funded. I do not have anything against anybody having community police.
Is this a step towards state police which people have been clamouring for?
I do not see it as state police, I see it as community policing.
But as more and more people are embracing the idea, will it not lead to agitation for state police?
Let us have community policing first and see how effective they are going to be before we start contemplating on state police.
The National Assembly is proposing another round of constitution amendment. Would you recommend an amendment in favour of state police?
We have done it before when I was in the Senate. There is nothing bad about state police. The problem and the fear of everybody is the possibility of the governors using them to terrorise the opposition. But having said that, are we going to say because one governor is doing it others will follow suit? I do not see anything bad about state police, but let us start with community policing first. Thereafter, we can graduate to state police.
How would you respond to the fear already being expressed by some people that regional outfit like Amotekun could also be used to terrorise the opposition during elections?
I do not see that happening. It is not within their purview to monitor election. People who are insinuating that are not being fair to these governors. How do you deploy them for election duties? I do not see that as part of their responsibilities.
How sustainable is this security outfit, bearing in mind the enormity of financial resources required to sustain the operation?
Are the state governors not having security budget every year? Security is not what you discuss on the pages of newspapers. Are the governors not donating money for security every year?
The Federal Government now has a budget that will run from January to December. What is your outlook of this year’s economy?
We can only pray the economy improves. But I can tell you, for now, the economy is not buoyant, if we must tell ourselves the truth. I believe that in the course of time, money will come into the system and things will get better.
The governor of Central Bank in his recent address also expressed concerns over Nigeria’s rising debt profile…
(Cuts in) Any sensible person in this country will know that our borrowing is getting worrisome. So, we need to get it right. Before it gets to another abysmal situation, I believe government must rise up to its responsibilities.
How has this government fared in its efforts to diversify the economy away from over dependency on oil revenue?
If what you are consuming is more from outside than what you are sending out, there is a problem. We must eat what we produce. We need to work on our balance of trade. We are blessed in this country, but what are we sending out? We are blessed in mineral endowments, but what are we producing? Government must not pay lip services to these things; they must get their acts together and make sure we get more serious in those areas.