Senator Sola Adeyeye,
Senator Sola Adeyeye, a Professor of Molecular Biology, represents Osun Central in the Senate. In this interview with Omololu Ogunmade, Adeyeye, a former member of the House of Representatives, looks back at his days in the lower chamber and tries to draw comparisons between his experiences in the two chambers of the bicameral legislature. Excerpts:
In your days in the House of Representatives, your name rang a loud bell as a result of your radical disposition. But since you came to the Senate, not much has been heard about you. Could this be because you feel things are better now?
You are correct. I took a decision in the House of Representatives to make a lot of noise because at the time, the nation was facing a crisis, a crisis that members of the National Assembly could not solve alone. We needed to elicit the support of the general public to fight a monster who at that time was trying to subvert the constitution of the republic, the very constitution that we all swore to uphold. For that reason, I made a lot of noise moreso that membership of the minority caucus was almost microscopic at that time. We needed to make noise. And thank God, our noise reverberated not only throughout this country but far beyond it and we succeeded.
Are we better off today?
No. Actually, I believe that we are far worse today than we were under Obasanjo. But so far, the problems we have are political; they are administrative. They are not demonic problems like someone trying to subvert the constitution. For that reason, you don’t solve administrative problem; you don’t solve political problem by making the same level of noise that you made when somebody was trying to subvert the constitution. As far as I am concerned, what happened under Obasanjo was treasonable felony. If it were left for someone like myself, Obasanjo should have been impeached for what he tried to foist on the nation at that time. But if you look at what we have today, there is total large scale of insecurity. I also believe that there is large scale corruption. I also believe there is large scale incompetence.
But all these are not matters that you can equate with someone trying to subvert the constitution. Therefore, you do your best to influence what is happening in the polity. Of course, on four different occasions, I had approached the leadership of the Senate to bring motions on issues that I think are germane to the body polity. I was told not to bring them. And I know that if I bring them, the motion will either not be tabled and if they are tabled, they will be so hounded on the floor of the Senate. So, having done my best, I have chosen for now, to be quiet.
Are there anecdotes to illustrate these experiences?
I give you an example. Only yesterday (last Wednesday), when the matter of Kano bombing was brought up by Senator (Uche) Chukwumerije, I approached the presiding officer, our Deputy Senate President. I sought his permission to use order 45 of the Senate Rule which allows us to suspend the Rule so that we could have a full fledged debate on the matter. I told him that I did not think it was a matter where only two senators should speak. I believed that it was a national matter and where the Igbo are being slaughtered, the Yoruba must not keep quiet. Where the Ibibio are being slaughtered, the Yoruba must not keep quiet and where the Hausa are also being attacked, the Yoruba must also not keep quiet because God forbids that if the day ever comes where the Yoruba are being slaughtered, it will be my expectation that Igbo, Hausa and Ibibio must not keep quiet. That was why I wanted my voice to be heard that day on the matter.
The Deputy Senate President thought otherwise. He felt that if the matter were to be fully discussed, tempers might be lost. Intemperate utterances might be made and the consequence might not be my intention. He felt that instead of focusing on the government and proffering solution to the problem, we might end up aggravating it.
Did you try to seek support from other senators?
Again, I approached the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba on the matter. I also approached the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, who was my leader; he was the leader of the House of Representatives when I was in the House. Both of them independently expressed views that tallied with that of the Deputy Senate President. Despite that, I got on my feet and cried “point of order! Point of order!” but instead of recognising me, the Senate Deputy President said he had already allowed Order 43 which does not allow debate and therefore he was not going to take a debate. At that point, I had exhausted every legitimate avenue of airing my opinion.
Of course, the general public out there would not know that I took those steps but l did not have the prerogative of prevailing in all matters. And although I disagreed with the ruling of the Deputy Senate President, I must applaud his wisdom because he felt once you allowed debate on such matters, tempers might in fact flare and the consequence might not be what I intended but totally opposite to my intention. So, in such cases, you move on to the next issue.
Would you then say that the House of Representatives presented a better platform for democratic debate?
It will not be totally right. Number one, you did not know how many times that (former Speaker Aminu) Masari refused to let me speak. The world would never know. And in many of those instances, he would privately tell me: Prof., you are my friend, l’ve not allowed you to speak today because I’m protecting you. I know your feelings on this matter and the nation knows your feelings. And oftentimes, I would in fact thank him because you act in good conscience. You act totally out of patriotism, out of honesty, out of a desire for what is good for Nigeria. But in doing so, and unfortunately, you tread on some toes. You make enemies even if that is not your intention and people sometimes can come after you. In that regard, I remain grateful to Masari for the many instances that he allowed me to speak and for the few times he did not allow me to speak.
It is true that the Senate President on a few times has not allowed me to speak. After one of such occasions, as we ended the plenary session, I said to him:Mr. President, why did you silence the voice of the senator from Osun Central? And he said to me: these are very tough matters. I think I know what you would have said and I think I know that what you would have said would have heated up the polity and at this time, we cannot afford that. Of course, I disagreed with him. First, he did not know what I would have said. Nobody except God can truly know the mind of the other person.
Given these experiences, do you still feel fulfilled as a senator?
There are days I leave the Senate and I feel extremely frustrated. It was like that too when I was in the House of Representatives. In fact, there was an occasion that I was so much distressed in the House when I broke down in tears. I remember that it was Hon. Abike Dabiri and Hon. Uche Onyeagocha who came to me, put their arms around me and encouraged me to get up. In fact, physical strength deserted me that day. I couldn’t even summon the strength to get up from my seat. Sometimes, I wonder if I had a mild stroke on that day because I couldn’t find the strength to get up but mysteriously, the strength came back and I was able to get up.
So, it wasn’t that my days in the House of Reps were totally as glamorous as people will now remember. Yes, it was just because I had the gut to go to the press especially on the third term issue. It was because I had the gut to challenge Obasanjo when he was making life a hell for (former Anambra State Governor Chris) Ngige in total subversion of the constitution. It was because I had the gut to stand up for (former Governor) Joshua Dariyeand because I had the gut on important constitutional matters to say ‘hell no! the president must not be allowed to be so rascally in the treatment or mistreatment of the republic.’ People applauded me.
How would you describe your experience in the period immediately after your tenure at the House of Representatives?
I will tell you that after I left the House of Reps, I entered into the National Assembly only twice before I came back as a senator. In one of the occasions, I came to carry placards during save the nation episode; the second time, I came along with members of the civil society to serve a warning to Hon. Dimeji Bankole that if he didn’t stop the rubbish that was going on, we were going to come after him. Fortunately, we didn’t have to come after him.
He came after himself. So, all I can say is that for example, I have a motion that I brought against these incessant conflicts between cattle rearers and crop farmers and I believe that I have a solution to that problem. I don’t think it will be an instant solution but I believe that if reason were to prevail and we were to listen to each other and the ideas and suggestions I wanted to make, we would be able to solve that problem once and for all.
It was the view of the Senate President that once you brought such a matter up, it would degenerate into people entrenching themselves into camps that would have ethnic undercurrents and because of that, the issue should not be tabled. I don’t agree with him. And I have told him over and over and over again. In the end, he told me that the matter would eventually be tabled. Most of the laws of Nigeria are good. People often ask me: How many bills have you sponsored? I see many of the bills that we sponsor very frankly and I’m happy when I see the Senate having the wisdom to reject many of them because we are going to add to the cost of governance if we pass some bills that we should have an agency on this, commission on that.
Do we, therefore, say that the opposition is somewhat caged from asserting itself in the Senate?
To some extent, you can say that. You also have to realise that the opposition meets in the Senate every week. The (Action Congress of Nigeria) ACN caucus meets every week. We discuss issues on national importance. We discuss issues taking place in the chamber. The truth is that the vast majority of issues being discussed are not matters that are of partisan interest. For example, if you are discussing imminent collapse of River Niger bridge in Onitsha, regardless of whether you are from (All Progressives Grand Alliance) APGA, (All Nigeria Peoples Party) ANPP, (Democratic Peoples Party) DPP, we all have a responsibility to ensure that no bridge in any part of the country collapse. So, when we all speak with one voice on such matters, is it because the opposition has been caged? Of course, no.
But the crisis in Kano, those of us who are from the opposition may be more strident in our condemnation of what we perceive as the incompetence of the president in handling it. But if we also want to be honest, we must also admit that where there are terrorist activities all over the world, these issues are never resolved over night. You look at what happened in Northern Ireland during the IRA struggle. Despite the presence of Scotland yard, despite the presence of the most brilliant police apparatus in the world, it took decades before solution was found to IRA problem. That is why I’m a little much lenient towards the president because as I see what happens all over the world, I know that the issues are rarely solved over night.
There are opinions that the opposition in the Senate in most cases panders to the whims of the majority party.
On what issues? Give me such issues where we have pandered. On petroleum, we were totally against the government. Where we were not even allowed to speak on the floor of the Senate, many of us went to the press and spoke. In fact, when the issue was discussed by our party, it was senators who said on this matter that we were totally for the Nigerian people because we said to them that none of us would be able to go back to our constituents and face them and tell them that we had supported this irresponsible policy of government. Why should the Nigerian people pay for the incompetence of the Nigerian government? If the Nigerian government were alive to its responsibility and actually allow our local refineries to work very well, the cost of petroleum will be very cheap because the cost of local labour is very cheap here.
Unfortunately, the incompetence of successive governments has completely incapacitated our petroleum industry. Yes, we have crude oil but we don’t have petrol. More than 12 years of (Peoples Democratic Party) PDP government has not given us one refinery. It has not been able to restore any of our refineries to 100 per cent capacity. Go to to Ivory Coast; go to Libya; go to Algeria and see how many refineries are working. So, this we blame the PDP for. If there is any country that resembles Nigeria, that has petrol, take Venezuela for instance, because of decades of inter-ethnic conflicts, then ask yourself, how much is Venezuela selling petrol? Because Venezuela, no matter what it did wrong, makes sure that it makes the local refineries to work well because how much you sell your petrol is not controlled by (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) OPEC. It is how much you sell crude oil that is controlled by OPEC.
How much you produce for your internal consumption is not regulated by OPEC. It is how much you export that concerns OPEC. It is the irresponsibility of PDP successive governments led by Obasanjo to (Umaru) Yar’Adua and now (Goodluck) Jonathan that we have witnessed. They have run this country as if all we can do is to import petrol when in fact what we should do is not only to export crude oil to the world, but we should also be the one exporting petrol, the finished product to the whole of Africa, at least to Sub-Saharan Africa.
So is the opposition incapacitated in the Senate?
If you say the opposition is somewhat incapacitated in the Senate because they are in the minority, people will remind you of the frustration of the likes of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Enahoro in the federal parliament in the First Republic. Yet despite this, the dread of Awo alone would fill the chamber.
Yes. You are right but you are mixing two things together. You are confusing the presidential system with the parliamentary system. In the parliamentary system then, the prime minister was present in the federal parliament. The speaker presided and the prime minister had to face the leader of the opposition. So, where the opposition had the same view with the ruling party, no issues were made. But on every issue where the opposition differed from the ruling party, the ruling party did not only have its position, it in fact, had a shadow cabinet. They had a person within.
Somebody on the facebook once asked me, how many bills have you proposed? I asked him also, how many bills did Awolowo propose as a member of the federal parliament? As opposition, yes you can propose bills, but most of your bills will not fly because the ruling party is not going to allow you to set their own agenda. People forget that even right now, members of my party make up even less than 20 per cent of the Nigerian Senate. We are only 19 out of 109. 20 per cent of 100 is 20. We are still a tiny minority. So, whatever noise we have made, we have done well. And I’m not saying this just to give myself a pat on the back. You also know unfortunately, that the leaders we have today, cannot be compared with Awo.
You seem to long for characters like Awolowo in the Senate.
Honestly, we hope that the time will come when by the grace of God, we ‘ll have an Awo in the Nigerian Senate; we ‘ll have an Odebiyi again in the Nigerian Senate and we ‘ll see the difference. But at the time of Odebiyi in the Nigerian Senate, even the ruling (National Party of Nigeria) NPN was a minority government because if you added all other parties together, they controlled 12 out of the existing 19 states. In fact, if the (Unity Party of Nigeria) UPN, the (Great Nigeria Peoples Party) GNPP, (Nigeria Peoples Party) NPP and (Peoples Redemption Party) PRP had come together, they could still easily have removed the speaker or the Senate President. The NPN needed the NPP to be able to hold the steadfast majority in the Second Republic. That is not what we have had since 1999.
Since 1999, until recently, the PDP had had overwhelming control of the National Assembly to the extent that it had the majority to do whatever it wanted to do with the constitution. That was what deceived Obasanjo to think that he could subvert the constitution since his own party had over 70 per cent control of the then National Assembly. People have to be aware of this reality. The kind of number that Awo had to play with is not the same number we have today. In every legislature, it is a game of number.
How would you rate the present Senate in terms of maturity?
People have commended this Senate for obvious show of maturity. However, in the House of Representatives, the opposition has been perceived to be more vibrant. There, we had had opposition having the temerity to move a motion summoning the President and which became the House resolution; we also had the opposition moving a motion asking the president to implement the budget up to 100 per cent at a given time or face impeachment. Such vibrancy is said not to be found in the Senate.
On such matters, I want to say that my own temperament completely aligns with the sentiment in the House of Reps. For one reason, I believe that power concedes nothing until it is pushed. Power is always deeply mired in inertia and like the law of motion from Isaac Newton, you need an external force to push the inertia to get it going. But at the end of the day, you ask yourself, can any of the chambers of the National Assembly impeach the president alone? Of course, no. Can any of the chambers enforce its will without the other? Of course no. I will say to Mr. President that he has been an extremely lucky man because David Mark has always tried to cover for him. If l were the Senate President, even as a member of his party, by now, the president would have sweated a few times.
Do you think you could have done better if you were in the senate president’s position?
I would not have allowed the executive rascality that we have seen in the executive chambers in this country. But at the end of the day, quite frankly, David Mark has to live with his own conscience just as I live with my own conscience. I’m not the Senate President. I don’t have the wherewithal that he has to influence the direction of the Senate. In fairness to David Mark, I have witnessed the handling of national matters. The maturity that comes from his experience or that comes from inside knowledge, some of us do not have it.
Let me give you an example. This matter that you talked about that the House of Reps gave a notice to the presidency, I actually approached David Mark and I said ‘please, in the name of God, I want to make a motion on this matter and I want to make a constitutional motion.’ I was even willing to go as far as to say if we have passed the budget and he (the president) does not implement it, we should impeach him. I said it to the Senate President that we who were elected to defend the interest of the various constituencies that make up this federation, if we pass a budget in our good conscience and in the best interest of this republic and this man will not sign it and we veto it and he will not implement it, we should immediately begin impeachment.
I said 30 days have elapsed, what are we waiting for? If we don’t do anything, the public will perceive us as having betrayed them especially if we are saying the budget as it was passed was in the interest of the public. He said to me: Prof, give me 72 hours. If in 72 hours, the president does not sign the bill, I will give you a total go ahead to make your motion.
On the third day of that probation, I went to him and I said it is 72 hours today. He said I give you my word, if he does not sign it today, bring your motion tomorrow morning and mysteriously, I don’t know what happened between them. I don’t know what they spoke with each other. Mysteriously, that was the day the president signed the budget.
Honestly, you can blame him but sometimes, leadership chooses not to play to the gallery and by the way, I’m not implying that the House of Reps is playing to the gallery because they are not. But I’m saying that there are more than two ways of solving a problem. The problem was solved without creating a crisis of confidence between the National Assembly and the Presidency.
Do you think the problem has really been resolved because at the end of the day, the president threw the budget back to you?
Yes. I’m trusting and praying that men and women in the National Assembly both in the Senate and the House of Reps will have the spine to stand up for what is in the best interest of this republic regardless of what might be the views of the president because the president is not omniscient. He’s not God.
He doesn’t know everything and he cannot pretend that the power of appropriation was given to the executive. In any case, if the way the executive has run this country in the last 12 years is anything to go by, they can tell us that the National Assembly has kowtowed to the executive. Year after year, the nation has been mired in economic stagnation and paralysis and maybe, for once, let the National Assembly have its way, let’s say ‘okay, the amount we vote for education, implement it and see if there will be no transformation. What we vote for health, implement it, if there will be no change.’ Now, they are going round the nation, preaching good governance when everybody knows that what we have is bad governance.
But the opposition was trying to push a motion to override the president’s veto.
I would have had a motion that would veto the president. If he now refuses to implement that budget, I would have made a motion for his impeachment. I’m convinced that even from the South-south, we would have members that would say ‘yes, Nigeria is bigger than any of us including the president.’ You can’t just wake up one day and say let’s impeach the president. There must be an impeachable offence. For example, we hear endless rumours about the alleged corrupt acts of the president. Honestly, if I see the data and the data are convincing, l will make a motion for his impeachment.
But you don’t wake up one day and say ‘I don’t like the face of this man. He’s not from my party, let’s impeach him.’ When you look at mature democracies, how many cases of impeachment have you heard in American history just because of bad policy or policy you don’t agree with? That doesn’t constitute impeachment offence. You must find grievous lapses that show either total incompetence or dereliction of duty or misuse of power.