Segun Dokun Odebunmi is a member of the House of Representatives representing Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency in Oyo State. In this interview with GBENGA ABEGUNRIN, he spoke on the need for Senator Rashidi Ladoja, Adebayo Alao-Akala and others to return to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. He also spoke on why the party’s caucus backed Hon Yakubu Dogara as the Speaker of the House of Representatives . Excerpts:
Nigerians are worried about the take off of the 8th National Assembly, particularly the crisis that rocked the selection of leadership. What do you think was responsible for the crisis and what is the latest development in the House?
Don’t you think the bad beginning will affect the operation of the House in the next four years?Actually it is true that many people will not be happy with the development. That is why our leaders came out to openly apologise to Nigerians about what happened on the floor of the National Assembly. Having said that, I want to believe that it is still democracy at work. Democracy is all about agitating for the right of your people and your zone.
Whatever happened at the Assembly now is buoyed by the agitation for the right of the people. What really happened is about the zoning formula for those offices. Some people said a certain position should go to a particular zone, while some said ‘no’ it should be other way. That was exactly what happened at the floor of the House. But, I want to assure you that both APC, PDP, everybody are now working together to put the House in order. We will put the interest of Nigerians first in all that we do. We have put aside any private gains or ideology in the interest of this nation to make sure the House works smoothly.
No, I don’t really think it can affect us. It is only that the APC cannot manage the system. This is why people are saying success is even difficult to manage. You know, this thing happened in 2011 to PDP. The PDP’s plan was to install Hon Mulikat Akande Adeola as the Speaker. But, getting to the floor of the House, the game changed. They closed ranks and Tambuwal was eventually made the Speaker of the House. PDP did not fight back. We accepted what happened because it was the decision of Nigerians. Whatever happened on the floor was the decision and the voice of the good people of the country. So, PDP accepted the result and we went back to put our House in order. Nobody heard anything. We settled amicably. We did the consultation among ourselves and we gently introduce Hon Mulikat as the Leader of the House and everybody accepted her.
You know, there was need for us to make other members of the House to accept her because no party had the right to impose their candidate over the House. Whoever emerges as a leader is leading the whole 360 members of the Assembly.
Are you saying the APC leadership should be blamed for the party’s inability to manage its affairs very well?
Yes, directly or indirectly, I think they are to be blamed. It is good for one to plan for something. But when you play it out and it did not work, you accept the verdict. Look at the way President Jonathan accepted the result of the election. If it was another person, he would even challenge it in court. He knew that any contrary steps might affect the peace of the nation. So, he accepted the verdict in the interest of the people and the peace of the nation. So, the best thing for the APC is to accept Dogara as the Speaker of the House. You know, they are getting it wrong.
Zoning is good. It will lead to balance of power. But you are not zoning because of a particular person. When it happened that you are trying to zone position to a region because of a particular person, people will not accept it. You can zone position to a region. But, whoever is qualified from that zone should be allowed to contest and not that the party will be imposing or lobbying for a particular candidate. But for you to come out and tell us that you are zoning a position to a particular region because of somebody, it cannot work. For God’s sake, this is Nigeria. We are not talking about state or local government. It cannot work.
From the analysis, it is obvious some APC members worked against the interest of their party, which is against political ethics of respecting party supremacy. Where is the party supremacy in this game?
Are you saying people should not respect their parties’ directives any more?
Party supremacy is sacrosanct to political development. It is good and there is nothing wrong in it. But, the mistake our leaders always make is that before you zone, you wait until any elective positions are determined. The position of the Speaker is an elective position to be determined by all the members of the National Assembly. The Senate would determine who becomes the Senate President. So, you wait until that is determined by the members. When that is done, the party can now come in with their zoning arrangement for other positions in the House. Otherwise, it may not work. That is exactly what transpired on the floor of the House and I am sure, the parties must have learnt something from this situation, so that we won’t have re-occurrence of such scenario again in National Assembly
Away from the National Assembly, you party, PDP, is yet to put its House in order. What effort are leaders making in preventing the total eclipse of the party?
Don’t you think PDP is coming up? For us to be able to manage our members at the National Assembly, do you think it is an easy task? Many of our people sacrificed their ambitions and interests for us to manage the situation at the National Assembly and very soon, you will see the results of the movements.
Are you saying we should be expecting defection of the National Assembly members to the PDP as the politicians migrated to APC then?
Definitely, it will happen. Just wait and see. It will take time, but it will definitely happen. I am very sure it will be difficult for APC to manage their system.
Is that why PDP members in the House of Representatives supported Dogara and his team who worked against the arrangement of the party?
No. We are not part of APC, but we are bonafide members of the National Assembly. We determine who leads us. The APC can sit down in their caucus and determine who leads them. But for us who are members of the National Assembly, we have known each other. Some of them were members of the last Assembly. So, we have been together for long and we know that kind of person that we want as leader of the Eight Assembly. It really matters. That is why we decided to support the person whom we trusted. The relations with you and whoever leads you determines a lot. We cannot just sit down and fold our arms, while a party is trying to impose somebody on us.
Do you think Dogara is a more credible alternative to the APC candidate?
I can’t deceive you. Dogara is more credible. Dogara, Tambuwal are potential presidents of this country. We have been together and I know them. We know how accommodating they are. We know how they share people’s pain. Honestly, we know what we are out for and we know the kind of person we are looking for to lead this 8th Assembly. That is exactly what happened.
Do you think Dogara will do things that will move Nigeria forward?
Exactly. He will surely try his best and I am sure Nigeria will enjoy him. There won’t be any regrets having him as a leader. If you are going by the unfolding events in the House, you can see that Dogara is a potential leader with a sound leadership quality.
Back in Oyo State, PDP lost in the last election. What is the problem and what effort are you making to ensure that the party resurrects and come out stronger for future elections?
Well, it is true that our party is not doing well at the state level. For the past eight years, we are out of the government. It happens like this when leaders cannot put their individual and personal interest beside the collective interest. The party has produced a lot of leaders, capable and influential leaders, who can make things happen in the state. But, our problem is for all these leaders to come together for the sake of the masses. Come to think of it, the former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, was a member of the party, and the party made him the governor of the state. Otunba Alao-Akala was a member of the party and PDP made him the state governor. Senator Teslim Folarin was the Leader of the Senate through the party. All we need is for them to flash back to those days when they were nothing in politics and think of how they can work together to rebuild the party. With their political strength, I think very soon, all of them will realise the need to come together and give PDP a better chance in the subsequent elections.
One of the major factors causing economic crisis in the country is over reliance on oil. Oil is drying and is not yielding much revenue as before. Is there anything the National Assembly is doing to ensure that the Federal Government diversifies?
It is part of our legislative agenda to have a robust discussion on diversification of economy. It is not a new story that Nigerian relies on a mono economy, which is oil. There is no other time than now. The price of oil is sliding. Whether we like it or not, we must force ourselves or somebody will force us to think of other means of survival. We have a lot of things. We have a lot of sectors that can help rebuild the economy. Agriculture is there. It is one of the best alternatives. All we need is to add value to the agricultural products and a lot of things will be going very smoothly for us. Our mines are there too. We have not even tapped 30 per cent of the mineral resources available in this nation. The tourism sector can generate much revenue.
But, because oil is a ready-made money, we do not give adequate attention to other sectors. Now oil is drying. The problem now is that the price has fallen and has permanently remained at low price. So, we must force ourselves to ensure diversification of our economy and look for alternative way. I am very sure it will work.
There is need for us to liberalise the downstream sector. We should not be exporting our crude and be importing fuel for our consumption. Importation of oil alone is enough to have adverse effect on our economy. So, if we can liberalise the downstream sector, a lot of private refineries will come in. Our own people can also invest in the sector, and they should be allowed to determine the price of their product. With that, we will get over this situation of oil scarcity and economic crisis. In the process, we may suffer a bit, but at the end, we will enjoy it.
When Buhari came in, we bought petrol at between N250 and N300 per litre. If we allow liberalisation to take place, we can buy at a moderate price because all the stations will want to retain loyalty of their customers. There will be more employment and government too will generate more taxes. So, a lot of things should be done properly. But, we are running away from the liberalisation of the downstream. We are clamouring for subsidy to be removed. I won’t deceive you, we are only postponing the evil day. Last week, there was a report that government owes about N350 billion as subsidies to marketers. For God’s sake, who is deceiving who? Taking what are you saying that masses are the ones benefitting from this N350 billion, why are we deceiving ourselves?
The only advantage the masses are getting is the fuel that is available. That is all you can benefit from the subsidy. We are still making more money and the NLC will be fighting for them to be making their money. Let Nigerians agitate for the liberalisation of the downstream sector and see what will happen.
By Gbenga Abegunrin, DAILY INDEPENDENT