Senator Babafemi Ojudu
Senator Babafemi Ojudu represents Ekiti Central senatorial district in the National Assembly on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria. He is one of the founders of the Independent Communication Network Limited, publishers of The News Magazine and P.M. News. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi, Ojudu speaks on diverse national issues and concludes that the issue of budget implementation, which has often caused friction between the executive and the National Assembly in the Fourth Republic, would be tackled if lawmakers rise up to their oversight functions and seriously apply the sanctions. Excerpts:
Nigeria is currently in a highly agitated state over the 2015 election, just two years into the four-year tenure of the present elected officials. Don’t you think this is a costly distraction to governance?
It could be, but you should not be surprised. That is the way of politics and politicians. This is why any elected official who failed to accomplish by midterm may not be able to do so thereafter. Let me also point out that this is not peculiar to Nigeria. The day Obama was elected was the day speculations began on who will be the likely person to succeed him among the members of the Democratic Party in the U.S. It was also the day the Republican Party members began reassessing their strategy to regain power. Of course, as this goes on, names will be attached to the discussions. So in summary, it is nothing strange, unusual or peculiar to Nigeria. It is the nature of electoral politics that once an election is over politicians begin to address their minds to the next.
What can be done, especially by the Independent National Electoral Commission, to make electioneering less expensive and acrimonious in Nigeria?
It is a very difficult thing to do. Most of the money spent on electioneering goes to logistics. Having said that, INEC is given the task under our laws to regulate electoral spending. This they have not attempted at all. I think they should begin to think of the modalities for carrying out this task. It is difficult but doable.
The issue of implementation of the Appropriation Act has been a major source of friction between the executive and the National Assembly in the Fourth Republic. How can the legislature ensure proper implementation of the annual budget and other legislations by the executive without courting bad blood between the two arms of government?
The problem you have identified can be tackled by rigorous oversight. If the lawmakers rise up to the task of carrying out their oversight functions and report back to the general house and seriously enforce the sanctions, all of this will stop or will be minimised. If you budget a specified amount for a particular project, and you indicated you are going to source the fund to realise the budget and you never got back to the parliament to inform it about the shortfall in your income expectation, then you have a lot of explanations to make on why you achieve only 40 percent execution of the budget. It is this process of budget defence, budget approval, and oversight of implementation that lawmakers should take more seriously to ensure that the executive achieves reasonable, if not 100 percent, performance.
The public seems to perceive the House of Representatives as more proactive in its oversight of the executive than the Senate, which appears just to play it safe. How would you react to this?
I think it is just that the Senate has not been as loud in its criticism of the executive. It is about the style of leadership. Some have also said it about how the leadership of each of the chambers emerged.
The National Leader of Action Congress of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, specifically charged the party’s federal lawmakers in 2011 to ensure that legislative bottlenecks against the proposed regional integration plan were removed. What progress has been made in this direction?
That mandate, I think, is for the state legislatures not the federal legislature. I, however, feel something akin to this is the issue of fiscal federalism. He has severally enjoined us to look at this and work assiduously towards ensuring fiscal federalism. I guess there is a way this could assist regional integration.
You have championed some causes in the Senate that caught national attention, like the attempt to resolve the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps employment scandal and the issue of allegedly phony roads listed by the Ministry of Works for Ekiti State. How many of these issues have been resolved to your satisfaction, or were they simply swept under the carpet?
It is a long process. The issue of employment scandal in the National Security and Civil Defence Corps not FRSC now is attracting the attention of the Committee on Petitions and Ethics of the Senate. It takes a while to resolve this at the committee level and the report of the committee will be brought to the plenary for debate and a decision will be arrived at for the executive to implement.
On the fake roads listed for attention of the works ministry in Ekiti State, after I raised issues on this I was called upon to bring a list of roads to be attended to and that has been done.
You were a member of the Senate Committee on Privatisation. Your committee has submitted the report of its findings. What is the status of the recommendations made by the committee?
It is still there with the executive. The Senate has done its bit in this regard. It is now left for the executive to do its own. More than a year now that the report has been submitted nothing has been done in terms of the implementation of its recommendations and nothing may be done again. So sometimes when people blame the legislature for not doing much I simply see this as a lack of understanding of how the presidential system works.
You made promises to your constituents while campaigning for election. How many of your promises have been fulfilled? And will you seek re-election in 2015?
I hate to grade myself but I believe I have achieved quite a lot. I promised to use the platform provided by the office to call attention to the problems confronting my constituency as well as the state. That I have done to the satisfaction of my constituents. I have been vigilant and I have ensured that the state is treated with respectability at the national level. I have participated actively in chambers, at committee levels and I am not lacking in my oversight functions. Examples of this are the roles I played in the committees that probed BPE and also pension fund administration. In my own core committee, anybody who is keen would have seen my role in ensuring that the civil service as well as the public service are put on their toes and alive to their responsibilities.
Collectively, we senators from Ekiti State have partnered with our state governor to tackle the menace of unemployment. We have used our position in the Senate and the opportunities afforded by the federal budget to draw attention to the state projects that will ensure that at least 1, 000 young people are taken off the street. By this I am referring to the project that will irrigate about 4, 000 hectares of land for mechanised agriculture. This year again, we are using the same opportunity to facilitate the construction of a tourist park on a massive parcel of land around a beautiful lake in Ado-Ekiti in furtherance of the tourism objective of the state government.
We are using the same instrument to get the MDGs to provide our rural communities with bore holes, renovate schools, and provide other essential services.
In our own ways, we have also attended to the personal and individual needs of our constituents. Although, this is not part of our constitutionally recognised duties and neither did we promise this in the course of our campaign. But when constituents come to you with their personal problems you cannot chase them away. So whatever we earn is also given back into the communities. Above all, we try to be close to our constituencies. We visit home regularly, give them feedback and listen to their problems.
How has the transition from the world of journalism to lawmaking being for you?
It’s been very tough but we have been able to strike the balance.
How would you evaluate the present federal government in terms of public confidence and ability to deliver the dividends of democracy?
We have a big crisis of governance on our hands in Nigeria. So much has been said about this. I think what is needed now is not further enunciation but walking the talk and I think those of us who want the progress of this country have started working at it by coming together to provide a strong alternative for change.