After the convention, the Peoples Democratic Party has become a moving train ready to clear anyone who stands on its way, says Ahmed Salau Ogembe, the Senator representing Kogi Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly. He spoke with journalists in Lokoja. Yekini Jimoh was there and presents the excerpts:
What is your take on the recent 2018 budget presentation of Mr. President?
Mr President has done well in presenting the budget in good time and he should be encouraged. However, the entire budget approval process is not a tea party and I assure you that the National Assembly has commenced work on the 2018 Appropriation immediately. Federal agencies are ready to appear before the relevant committees for easy processing of their estimates.
What are your legislative priorities for the 2018 fiscal year?
I have been representing my constituents in the Senate well and I intend to step up my game by attracting more projects to Kogi Central Senatorial District, ensure that more of our teeming youths are gainfully employed by way of appointments, skill acquisition and empowerment programmes.
I intend to continue to push and lobby for the resuscitation of Ajaokuta Steel Company and the National Iron Ore Mining Company Itakpe. In the coming days, we will witness public hearing on my bills and sponsorship of more bills and motions that will be beneficial and critical to citizens and the economy of our nation.
What is your take on the economic challenges of the moment and do you think the federal government is addressing them?
Well, going by the report of the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria is out of recession marginally and we are still concerned in the Senate on how the nation can benefit from sound economic policies that will pull us through as our citizens are in serious hardship which is unacceptable.
The position of the National Assembly is that the current 2017 Budget should be funded to reflate the economy as government needs to spend more to boost economic activities.
The security situation of Kogi Central Senatorial District has worsened with incessant killings and alleged high handedness of security agencies, what is your view?
Remember that I was a former elected executive chairman of Okene Local Government and the import of that is that I have confronted similar challenges in the past with positive outcomes during my tenure.
From my experience, the duty of government at all levels is to guarantee peace and security of lives and property. In recent time, government efforts have been inadequate in ridding Kogi Central of crime because it takes a lot of experience and gathering of information which must be processed with due diligence and intelligence.
The approach needs to change to forestall a situation where the people will lose total confidence in government’s approach because the people I represent are not animals rather they are first class citizens and I won’t allow anyone to demean them no matter how highly placed. I commend the Chief of Army Staff on the recent Operation Lion Roar which was successful and professionally carried out. I make bold to say that the Nigerian Army and other security agencies have distinguished themselves by making sure that they didn’t act anyone’s script.
There have been cases of missing persons, extra-judicial killings and harassment of innocent citizens. These are detrimental to the objective of smoking out criminals.
My position is that no innocent citizen of Kogi Central should be harassed or killed unjustly for whatever reason and I urge government at all levels to know that the soul of an innocent person will always cry for justice.
We are not in a jungle neither are we in a war zone therefore I will not watch my constituents get killed because of their race, beliefs, religion or political affiliation.
I thank the Chief of Army Staff for stopping perceived planed genocidal killings in our land. Similarly, I sincerely commend the efforts of Mr. President in curbing breach of security particularly in the North East and his efforts in reduction of crime has been consistent across the country.
Mr. President has also ensured that security agencies carry out their duties professionally with less impunity.
I want to use this opportunity to appeal to all our security agencies that they should not allow some desperate politicians to influence their operations or be used to victimize opposition for selfish interest. The duty of the security agencies is to protect lives and property of all Nigerians irrespective of political or religious inclination.
I want our people to know that the rights of all citizens of Nigeria and that of Kogi Central Senatorial district is guaranteed under our constitution. Nobody can be enslaved or cowed. So, my advice to our people is that they should go about their religious and political pursuit without any fear of intimidation, irrespective of where the threat is coming from. As their representative, I will continue to ensure that my people are treated with all fairness and dignity.
President Muhammadu Buhari, believes in fairness and the freedom of all citizens irrespective of their religious and political affiliation. So no one should be intimidated, no matter where the threat is coming from. We are all free born and not slaves.
What advice will you give to the people of your senatorial District at this difficult moment?
The good people of Kogi Central Senatorial district are very hospitable and peaceful. Ciminality of this dimension has never been known with us. I advise my people to go about their normal businesses and they should have the assurances of the security agencies to deal with the security challenge once and for all. I equally appeal to the traditional rulers, ward heads, community leaders and everyone to support the military and police by providing useful information that will track these criminal elements. Most importantly, the local government administrators and their team should take issues of security very seriously. I make bold to say that a government that cannot protect her citizens is a failed government.
What future for your party PDP looking at the build up to 2019 ?
PDP is on ground and ready to move, once we are done with the national convention, I assure you that the PDP will be a moving train. Our party has the political and economic experience to project our nation to where we belong.
All the structures of our party are being nurtured and strengthened by reorganizing ourselves, holding meetings and a lot of political realignments will be taking place in the coming days. The paramount thing I always advise is to put the nation first and understand that internal democracy should be sacrosanct. I assure you there are greater days ahead for our party politics in Nigeria because without purposeful opposition a ruling party will have no one to check her excesses.
There is insinuation that you are interested in the Governorship, is it true?
By the constitutional provisions, am very much qualified to run for governor but honestly from the bottom of my heart am not interested. You should also check my antecedent, I have been contributing to my community even before I took to active politics and you can see my personal efforts in my constituency.
Secondly in all my political sojourn, I have always aspired to be in the Senate to represent my people in the hallowed chamber with men of integrity as my distinguished colleagues. I thank God that my dream has been achieved and I intend to consolidate on it.
Having said that, my Senatorial District has been agitating for power shift and by divine intervention power has indeed shifted to a young man from my district: Governor Yahaya Bello. It is my humble believe that we as politicians should support and respect constituted authority and by reason of tradition we are brothers from the same area. I want to be a legislator and to God be the glory I am already one, am not the best but I am here for my people now.
Some are clamouring that the position of Senate should be zoned to another Area of your senatorial district. What is your take on this?
The issue of zoning is just a tool being used by some desperate politicians to advance their political ambition. There is no binding agreement on zoning but there was previous attempt to have zoning arrangement which was jettisoned at every election we have held as aspirants and candidates emerged across the Senatorial zone. Here in the Senate, some senators have been elected three or more times, the constitution allows a legislator to be elected as many times as possible and there is no term limit. You can’t keep changing your Senator every four years in the name of zoning arrangement.
How will that help the Senatorial district? It will be an advantage to any senatorial district to have a ranking senator. A ranking senator will have more power to lobby, especially within the Senate leadership caucus. Ranking senators are given preference in committee chairmanship. In addition, they have the ability to push federal patronages in terms of projects and appointments to their constituency. What is obtainable in the field is fair contest which is open to every eligible aspirant or candidate with excellence.
I am in my first term and I am currently the Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Marine Transport. Experience counts in sustaining my modest gains for my constituents. This is the position we should canvass because zoning will only bring in a learner who will not be able to consolidate on the gains made so far.
Recently Sen. Dino Melaye moved a motion on the condition of Kogi Civil Servants and the Senate resolved to donate bags of rice, why were you part of that arrangement?
Thank you, I like to clarify that any decision of the Senate at plenary is binding upon me. Sen. Dino Melaye moved a motion under order 43 of the senate standing rules based on the appeal of the NLC President to Nigerians to rally round Kogi workers and donate relief materials to them.
The prayers of the motion were granted and donations of rice, fertilizer etc were taken at plenary, even those who were not around had donations by proxy and I don’t see that as a problem because the Senate was only responding positively to the plea of labour. Relief materials, empowerment items, food assistance programmes have been very common in our country and I believe it is to assist those in need, so the Senate was only assisting as responsible leaders.
I make bold to say that a government that cannot protect her citizens is a failed government.