Unknown to many, the immediate past Senator for Oyo South Senatorial District, Olufemi Lanlehin, is still funding many of the projects he facilitated in his constituency 15months after he left the senate to the tune of N100million sourced from his private legal practice. He told Ademola Babalola how execution of constituency projects can be more effective and the need for restructuring for better delivery of democracy dividends to the people. Excerpts.
Nigeria is in recession, what do you now think as the way out?
I think the way out now is for the president to hands off the economy. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The bulk stops at his table. At the same time, I believe the economy needs to be handled by the economists; people that understand the method, process, the undercurrent and nuances of the economy, as well as people that have the experience and ability to manage what we are into now.
To that extent, I believe we need the cooperation of all the arms of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary. In interpreting the laws of the land, it must be interpreted in a way that is reasonable, realistic and in the interest of the nation. Laws are meant to guide the affairs of men towards peace, prosperity and progress.
Particularly, there is a need for cooperation between the executive and the legislature. The executive runs government on a day-to-day basis, guided by the laws of the land, and oversighted by the legislature. The way it is now, apart from the intra-party squabbles, there is a lot of muscle flexing. So, I believe they should sit down to do the work they are meant to do. Then, there is also a problem between the executive and legislature as a body.
So, they must put all the squabbles, the muscle flexing aside, and work together. The executive must take the legislature into confidence on what they are doing. And the legislature must also give their support to the executive in order to move ahead. At the end of the day, it is the common people of Nigeria that are suffering. Gradually, the thing is coming up. We should not think Nigerians cannot do anything. Now, things are getting to head and I want the powers that be to do something very fast.
Many of your supporters felt you defected from the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to Accord Party to pick the gubernatorial ticket. But it was not so. So, do you have any regret?
No. I am a party man. When I take decision, I take it in the interest of the community that I live in, interest of my political constituency and the party. I have no regret leaving the ACN at all. Sometime, you find yourself somewhere you just cannot flow. You are static. It is either you speak out or you keep your mouth shut. I felt the best thing to do at that time was to decamp.
It was said that you had a running battle with Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, during your four-year stay in the senate. How would you respond to this?
I did not have running battle with him. We had a governor who thinks he knows everything, and who seems to think he got there by virtue of his strength, power, strategies and imaginations. Political party is about people, and common strategies for operation of leaders. Unfortunately, the man who’s the governor thought he’s a superman. Unfortunately too, the governor’s power is too mighty.
In 2014, you left the then ACN, Senator Ayoade Adeseun, who represented Oyo Central, also defected from ACN to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and many members of the House of Representatives at that time also deserted the governor. There was an argument that the governor would not have won the second term, but for the ego you people displayed. What is your take on this?
That is a story for another day. There’re so many things that happened. We need to have an electoral system that really reflects the wishes of our people. People think they win election because they have money, the violence that goes with it, the undercurrent and the manipulation of the INEC that they need to do. They just add the window dressing. To that extent, when they get there, they would say they got there by virtue of their knowledge and power. The people are the least on their contention. So, they don’t really think they owe the people anything.
In other climes, even in war-torn areas, they still conduct elections. Democracy is about the wishes of the people. They might be ruptured these days, but let them make their choices. But here, there are so much manipulations such that at the end of the day, the wishes of the people are not brought to the fore. The presidential system that we are operating puts so much power in the hands of the president and the governor. Obviously, anybody that wants to confront them would just knock his or her head on a very hard piece of rock.
In that wise, are you suggesting a change of the presidential system that we run to parliamentary system?
I have watched both systems in action and I know that in the parliamentary system, not only are you representing your people in government, you are also representing your people in the parliament. To that extent, you cannot be a minister or hold any office of major substance without being elected. To that extent, you’ll know what your people need, when they need it, how they need it and how what they need will get to them. In asking for their mandate during campaign, you have gone round every nook and cranny, gone up and down the streets, knocked on their doors, talked to them and made promises, appealed to them and they asked you questions. I used to think I know Ibadan until I went round for campaign.
I saw the inner city. I was marveled. I saw crumbling houses and people are still living there. They did not have water. It is painful. But in a situation (presidential) where you have people that run the government that don’t have any connection with the common people, how will they deliver? The minister is just somebody who just gets there because he knows one godfather; probably he’s living abroad or he just live in the town and does not know the name of the next street to his residence. So, how does he deliver what they want, if such person is appointed? In a parliamentary system, before you are made a minister, you must first of all seek the consent of your people.
How do we go about this? Is it by the way of restructuring or through the National Assembly?
What we have is far above what the National Assembly can do. The National Assembly has been trying to amend the constitution of Nigeria since 2003. They tried in 2007 when ‘Baba’ wanted to inject what I don’t know in the constitution. It was also tried in 2011. Now, there is another constitution review committee in the House of Representatives. So, they have always been doing that. But what Nigeria is facing now is so major that it has gone above tinkering with the constitution. We need a major restructuring, or at the end of the day, we would have no Nigeria. So, we must restructure very quickly because things are just falling apart.
Even if Nigeria is restructured in the way of regional autonomy, is there any guarantee that the problems besetting the country would no longer be there?
It depends on how you restructure. Basically Nigeria is where it is today because we have become very lethargic. We have become lethargic because we are being spoon – fed. What we are being spoon-fed with, we got it without effort.
Look at the political and economic landscape of Nigeria and tell me where you can find the dominance of the children of the powers that were, except probably a few like the Obafemi Awolowos? When you are being spoon-fed, there is tendency that you will take so many things for granted. Unfortunately, we don’t have institutions that can back such attitude. So, I believe we must restructure in a way that we will go back to the basics. We want to look at the conventional wisdom; what was it that worked for us? What did we have when things were working for us? We had a situation where you must prove your mettle before the goodies come to you.
When Nigeria operated the parliamentary system, an elected official would represent his people in government and in parliament. But has that not been taken care of in the presidential system with the constituency projects to the National Assembly members, which has been incorporated into the budget?
That’s a drop in the ocean. The constituency project constitutes a small percentage of the budget. The money that was voted for constituency projects in the last budget was less than N3billion in budget of N6trillon. Each of the six zones in the country got less than N500million; and each senator got less than N180million. It’s very inconsequential, and some of us found it very useful. When you are campaigning, you are telling people the kind of things you can do.
You make so many promises in which some are achievable and some are unachievable. Even till date, my constituency projects monitoring teams are still in place overseeing that the projects that were not completed while our sojourn lasted in the senate are completed while the ongoing ones and the commissioned ones are still being serviced to ensure optimal performance for the good of my people. As at last count, we have expended over a N100million sourced from my private legal service for all these and we intend to do more, God help us.
So you can beat your chest on how you spent the funds you received for constituency project in Oyo South senatorial district?
I can beat my chest and why I can do that is because I spent every kobo of the funds for the constituency project I received on my constituency, and I went out of it by spending more from my personal money. When I was elected on April 11, 2011, immediately we were sworn in, I commissioned 17 solar-powered boreholes. They were completed before I got my first salary in the Senate.
I went around, and saw that water was so much the people’s priority. In doing it, I discovered that we must do something that’s practical, workable, and again sustainable. I made them solar-powered because if I had made them electrical, they would have to be connected to somebody’s house.
The person might commercialise the project. Again, therein lies the need for you that there must be a connection between you and the people. So, we must go back to the system where the leadership must stay connected and at all time; they must be accountable and answerable to our people. I believe that the parliamentary system is about the best. Then, we must reform our electoral system. It is so important. A situation whereby the president chooses all the national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners should be reviewed.
Constituency projects are generally known to die after the executor leaves office, what is the state of your own project?
The constituency project in the context of the present presidential system is a very good thing. It is the only way the lawmakers can re-assess, evaluate and listen to the need of the people in significant terms. No matter the amount of grammar you speak on the floor of the House, no matter the importance of the legislation you introduce, it is not the primary concern of your people; their primary concern is bread and butter. They are concerned with their day-to-day survival, housing, water, food and health, which the executive is supposed to provide at the national, state and local government level. So, it is a very good opportunity for parliamentarians to be relevant.
I found it very useful in the sense that I touched lives in all the nine local governments and 99 wards that constitute the district I represented. I listened to everybody. I was able to build boreholes, schools, health centres, solar-powered street light. We did 54 streetlight and another 50 from our pocket. Everywhere we went; people would ask us for solar-powered streetlight.
I ensured that what we were given was used. The money for constituency projects was not given to the legislators directly. They passed through the appropriate Ministries, Department and Agency (MDA). If you don’t follow through, they would just do something not worth it for you. By the time I left office, there were some projects that had not been completed. I went back to complete them from my pocket.