From Wole Balogun, Ado-Ekiti
Senator Fatimat Raji Rasaki is no new name in the nation’s political space. She was once First lady of both Lagos and Ogun states during the time her husband, General Raji Rasaki was the military governor of the states. Since then, she has remained in mainstream Nigerian politics before she emerged Senator representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District.
She spoke to Daily Sun during a recent empowerment scheme of N100 million to her constituents in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State capital, touching on issues of national progress and the efforts of the Senate and particularly the committee she heads.
How has the journey into the Senate been?
I thank God for His mercies that kept me standing up till today. Initially, things were very rough, in the sense that as a human being, I wasn’t able to concentrate because immediately after the election, I was taken to the court. And I had to be going up and down, because when you have a court case, you don’t take it with levity.
Even after winning the first court case, some people still took it as an offence and looked for ways to make me not have a peace of mind. They went to court for a pre-election matter that is supposed to be within the party. But in all these, I thank God for keeping me up to this stage and I believe He will continue to do it.
After that, I tried to settle down. Thank God I was given the chairman of committee on Trade and Investment which has something to do with the growth of our nation because all the investors are under Trade and Investment but the current recession is greatly affecting the functioning of the committee.
The committee, the Senate and the Executive need to work together but you all are aware that initially the leadership crisis at the Senate drew us back.
But in spite of all that, as we are settling down, as the chairman of the committee, I have met with some investors from Taiwan, Britain and others to rub minds and see what we can benefit from one another. And I have a pending bill which I intend to bring to the House. It is based on my findings when I went to Taiwan. The Tawainian government is willing to help us but due to the bureaucracy of the Chinese embassy and our ministry, there is actually something fishy in their system that makes our government not to fully recognize the Taiwan government. But Taiwan has so many things to offer us.
In the Committee, we have been doing over-sight functions which are our primary objectives. All these free-trade zones are under the Trade and Investment Committee. There are private trade zones, we have about two in Lagos and the third one is coming up in Lagos and Badagry axis. There is another one in Calabar, and another one in Onni in Port Harcourt. Like I said, the recession has really affected the operational system of these trade zones because investors actually go to zones where they enjoy concessions.
I have a bill that has passed through the second reading and it is that we should have all the trade zones come under a single regulatory body. We are working on that and I have four others that have already been passed for my committee to work on. We are starting the public hearing of the regulatory bill on the December 13.
How is you relationship with people of your constituency?
I have a very good relationship with the people of my constituency. They are people of integrity. The trust they have in me by voting for me, and giving me the mandate to represent them, still remains intact and strong. It is true that I have not been coming and that is because I have been very busy but my presence is actually being felt in all the five local governments that make my senatorial district. I have my offices there and if there is any issue, they send it there and from there, they send to me and I work on it.
There are accusations that you have not been close to the top hierarchy of government in the state and your party bigwigs, what is your reaction?
The governor and I, I think we have a good relationship. It is only because I am working in Abuja and he is here. It is just that like I told you, I have been very busy as my Committee is very key to the development of our country. I can be called upon anytime; even there are times I had to travel with the President but I wasn’t able to make it because I’m away attending to other official assignment and there is no way I cannot easily rush back and join him. And for me, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, Oba Adejugbe, our monarch, and the Ewi in councils are my fathers. We started this project. They nominated me before any other person. And I’m always part of anything they are doing. We also interact quite well on telephone when I’m not around.
What have you been doing for your constituency?
I have given five buses to the five local governments in my constituency, one for each of them. That was my promise before they elected me. I always like to keep to my words and I do not promise anything I cannot do. I have shared so many empowerment materials to my constituents which include motorbikes, sewing machines, refrigerators, hair dressing machines and rain boots among others, including cash gifts worth N10 million. The worth of all the empowerment materials with cash is about N100 million.
Some of the bills I have sponsored before the Senate are Companies and Allied Matters Act (Amendment) Bill 2016 which has reached second reading and Nigeria Industrial Development and Zones Commission Bill which has reached committee level.
I have used my position to bring the Bank of Industry to my constituency to organize seminars for 2,500 local investors to assist them with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) loans.
I have also facilitated employment opportunities for my constituents in paramilitary organizations while youths, women, aged, widows and indigent students are benefiting from my Fatimat Raji Rasaki Community Development Programmes.
What solutions is your committee putting forward to the government on the way out of the current economic recession?
While on the floor of the House recently, I did say that government has no business in doing business.
Government has put a lot of things on its head and this is not supposed to be so. We should allow private investors to do some roads for us, engage in transportation, build power, but the government is dipping its hands into all these. Unfortunately, the little ones we give concessions to are being given to wrong people. They are not giving it to the right people who know about it. That is just one of our problems. Everyone contributed towards this observation on the floor that day and we have articulated all these and our resolutions and recommendations on the way forward together and forwarded them to the executives so they can look at them and it is now left for them to do something about it, but we have done our own bit by giving it to them.
What has been the outcome of your role as the intermediary between Ekiti and the Bank of Industry (BOI) on obtaining some loans?
The BOI is indirectly under my committee and I approached them
that my people in Ekiti have not been benefiting from the loans and I asked them to come down to Ekiti State as we are also part of Nigeria and want to benefit also. So, they came here, but you know in Ekiti, we have no industries as we are predominantly a civil servants state. What they expected was that we would have large industries but what they found when they came was small number of people and they have to come down to their level to accommodate them and that is why it is taking a long process but I know that it will eventually come.
Why are you giving N100 million empowerment scheme to your constituents?
I am representing my people and one of the aims and objectives is to bring dividends of democracy to your people. And I think this is one of it, because when you are being elected to represent your people, they expect you come back home and take care of them. When I turned 60 about two years ago, I still came home to celebrate it with my people by giving out some empowerment materials. I’m doing this for them so that they can stand on their own financially without relying on stipends from me. Anyone I have given these empowerment materials to is expected to set up a little business of his own and be able to keep life going.
There is rumour that you may defect to APC; is that true?
I’m hearing such rumour for the first time. When you are in the Senate representing your constituency, you are indeed working for the generality of Nigerians. The question of party does not arise. May be any time, we just want to catch fun, that is when we talk about our party differences. But we are usually concerned about the overall interest of our country. So, that I am close to members of the House from APC does not mean I’m about to defect to their party. I haven’t nursed any ambition of defecting to any other party, I’m a PDP member and my seat still remains in the party.
How would you say the current economic policies have been affecting the trade and investment ministry which your committee is overseeing?
The government policies start from our laws. When you have a law that is outdated, of course it will affect certain things and that is why we are in the House as legislators to either repeal those laws or amend them. There are certain laws that have been enacted since the 1960s and are still in operation and that is wrong. So, if a country wants to move alongside the development of the current times, our obsolete laws have to be updated. We are working on reviewing those laws and our constitution.
What are really affecting our business environment growth are our utterances. When everybody in a country is painted as a thief, how can any sensible foreign investor come to such a country to invest?
Sometimes, it is not the way we see things that we say it. There are some we say to each other here but when we go outside Nigeria, we need to be very cautious of what we say about our country. And again, it is these investors that bring in the American Dollars, it is not that we are printing it here.
But because of the ugly picture we paint about our country, the investors stop to bring the Dollars here and are packing up their money and are going back. I’m fortunate to be a member of the Aviation committee, the airlines also want to leave and we are begging them not to go. We tell them a friend in need is a friend indeed, when things were good, you were with us but if we have this kind of problem, you should understand and bear with us so we can get over this problem. So, we have to beg them because for an airline that wants to fly, he has to go to Ghana and refuel before coming back and fly. And even their money, they cannot repatriate them because they are stocking in the banks in Naira.