Senator Ayo Arise represented Ekiti North Senatorial District at the upper chamber of the National Assembly between 2007 and 2011. He believes that his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) would still win the 2019 general elections despite the challenges facing the nation. He spoke on various issues in this interview with WILLY EYA.
There is tension in the land with echoes of disintegration from one end of the country to the other. What in your view are the causes of the problem?
When you look at it critically and you look at the structure of our country, you would not be surprised about the agitations. And most people who are in positions of authority use them to stupendously enrich themselves. It is not even so much about people enriching their people but themselves. Yes, there is tension in the country and there are so many reasons causing the tension in the country but they are not things we cannot deal with. The various people in the country need to respect one another. And we should structure the country in such a way that we encourage industry and innovation. We should first of all ensure that no matter where you come from, anywhere you have stayed in this country for many years, you become a citizen of that place and you can become governor, president or whatever you aspire to be using that place as your base. We should also not set parameters for division. For instance, we need to do something about the issue of local government creation and it should be removed from the Federal Government. Every state should create the number of local governments that it can manage. One of the anomalies that we have seen in this country is the issue of the number of local governments that Lagos State has. For instance, up till now, Lagos officially has 20 local governments whereas a state like Kano has 44 local governments. This is the kind of thing that causes tension in the country. So, first of all, let us remove the local governments from the control of the Federal Government and give the power of their creation to the states. Every state should determine the number of local governments that it wants and it thinks it can sustain. More powers need to be given to the states.
The 2014 National Confab organized by former President Goodluck Jonathan is causing ripples in the polity with many calling for its implementation. Even the Senate has asked the presidency to send the report to it. Do you subscribe to the argument that its implementation could be the solution to our problems?
I think it should be considered. Let us see the areas that are okay and begin to implement them. The problem we have in this country is that to change the constitution requires the National Assembly. If you suggest that we have a Sovereign National Conference, how would that happen when we have a president in place, the National Assembly and the Judiciary. So, let us evaluate all the report, areas of shortfall and let us see how we can sift opinions from different groups and add to what we already have and see how the National Assembly can deal with it and ensure that we have a constitution which treats everybody fairly and ensure that nobody feels marginalized. So, let us try and see what we can do to avert the disintegration that we are all worried about.
Do you agree that the style of the present administration is the cause of the tension in the country? Some argue that the policy of exclusion by the APC–led government is stoking the tension.
How do you look at it? I do not think that the present administration is doing anything remarkably different from the previous administration apart from the fact that they are trying to sanitize the system which makes them better. A lot of people that were always depositing money in the banks are no longer getting it and there are bound to be complaints. This present administration wants to end corruption so that we can grow. The kind of roads and infrastructure that we have in Nigeria is a real disgrace to us as a nation. We want to make our country really great. If we are able to have good roads, trains, standard airports, stable power and other infrastructures, we can become really great. Look at our population and the power we generate. We are still struggling with about 5000 megawatts but South Africa with a population of more or less like the South West is generating about 45,000 megawatts. However, I think the situation would change with the sanity that this government is introducing in the administration of this country.. I do not think that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is doing anything to cause tension in the country. After all, in the Jonathan government, the South West was totally marginalized but nobody talked about moving away from the country. Look at the last government; it certainly favoured the South East more than any tribe. The Yoruba were complaining. They were complaining that they were not considered for appointment and all that. That time, the people from the other side who were benefitting did not feel anything was wrong. The same thing, those especially from the North who are benefitting, they do not see much that is wrong now. But when you look at it critically, the North has benefitted more than any other part of the country. The issue of these ethnic feelings would be corrected gradually. We cannot erase it overnight. If we get to that stage where if you steal money, they put you in jail and everybody knows that it is no more an issue of going to the president and getting exonerated. Once we learn to do things normally, all these feelings of ethnicity would go. People would no longer bother about where they come from as long as they do the proper thing. If they want to give you contract, it must be through a transparent process. There should be a process that everybody can participate in and if you are the best person for the job, you get it. You look at it that until we are able to resolve all these by ourselves, and we crave for the country to grow and we continue to support those who are working in that direction, then you would find out that these ethnic tensions would always continue. If tomorrow, you put a Yoruba man there and he decides to put just Yoruba in power, then you would see that the North would be agitated, the East would be agitated, the South-South and so on. Let us find a solution to the problems. I think that part of the problem now is that the appointments did not favour some sections of the country. The problem is that as a people, we are so dependent on the government. Let us begin to work and create industries. We are now exploring agriculture and I heard that the nation’s export base has gone up. Nigeria is now exporting more to other countries. So, with some indices, this economy is beginning to look up but we feel the way we do based on where we were coming from. For me, the way we are trying to reengineer our ways and the economy, in about five years time, we would see and feel the impact.
With the Supreme Court victory of the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), it seems the crisis in the main opposition party is over; do you agree with those who think that beating the PDP in the 2019 general elections would be a herculean task?
I have no reason to deny that with that judgment, the coming election would be a bit more challenging but I still believe that at the end of the day, the APC would still be on top because they would have some things to show the people. Some of the programmes of the APC have started to have impact. For instance, the N-power, a form of social scheme for the unemployed people is beginning to have impact. Regardless of the problems, the APC has done well and is going to do more. In my own state for instance, I am running and I have no doubt in my mind that I am going to win regardless of what the PDP does. I have my antecedents. They know me and they know I would lead with the fear of God. I know that there will be a challenge but the APC would still be on top at the end of the day.
The victory of Senator Ademola Adeleke, the PDP candidate in the recent senatorial election in Osun State, how did you receive it? Don’t you think it shows what to expect in 2019?
I was not surprised at all. That was a very practical election. There was no reason why Adeleke could not have won that election. His victory did not come to me as a surprise at all. It was a question of whichever party Adeleke was contesting on. If he had contested on the platform of the APC, he would have won also. Their antecedents are there and the people love them. So, his victory does not mean that the PDP would do better than the APC in other elections. There is going to be a level playing field and the APC will still be on top because it has things to show the people.
What is your reaction to the incessant face-off between the legislative and Executive arms of government even though the APC is controlling the majority in the National Assembly? At the moment, the presidency is contemplating going to the Supreme court to seek interpretation of its powers with regards to the appointment of the chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.
First of all, there is no nation’s democracy that is perfect. That means it is not peculiar to us and these things are not strange. It is a learning process. Any of the arms of government can go to the court to seek interpretation of any law where it is confused. On the issue of the appointment of Magu, the Supreme Court would have the solution to what appears like a confusion. There is no doubt that the most contentious one is the issue of the budget. If the presidency makes a budget, it must give it to the National Assembly and that is why they must always work together. The presidency presented an oil price benchmark and the National Assembly also presented its own. That is not supposed to be. They should have during a joint meeting agreed on what the benchmark should be. On the issue of the constituency projects, everybody coming to the National Assembly, must be able to say this is what I have done for my constituency.