The lawmaker representing Osun Central in the Senate and current Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Suraju Ajibola Basiru, spoke with Hammed Shittu on a wide range of national issues.
Excerpts The state of insecurity in Nigeria today is disturbing, what’s the Senate doing to address the problem?
The security situation in the country is very worrisome and has pre-occupied the Senate in the last one year. No less than 20 resolutions have been moved and considered in the last one year dealing with various manifestations of the state of insecurity and putting forward different resolutions to address the problems. One of the highpoints of the intervention of the Senate was the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges whose report was considered and approved in the plenary of Tuesday, 5th day of May 2020. The committee made wide-ranging recommendations that were also approved by the Senate.
As spokesman of the 9th National Assembly, will you say the current 9th Assembly has been living up to the expectations of Nigerians in terms of legislating that can add values to the people of the country?
I will modestly say that the 9th Assembly has been doing its best in delivering on its constitutional mandates which are: making law for good government and public welfare; oversight function to prevent corruption, waste and inefficiency and ensuring that only fit proper persons are confirmed to hold public offices in respect of which confirmation of the Senate is prescribed by the Constitution and other laws. In the one-year period of the life of this Senate, it has prioritised legislative interventions by enacting new laws and/or modifying existing legislations for the attainment of good governance. One of such interventions was the amendment of Finance Act 2019.
Perturbed by dwindling national revenues largely due to vulnerabilities in international price of crude oil, it took steps towards improving revenues from other avenues notably Value Added Tax (VAT). Accordingly, it passed an Executive Bill which proposed an increase in VAT from 5% to 7.5% in record time by invoking its powers under Order 79(1) of the Senate Standing Rules. This was an extraordinary step to take.
Another laudable and progressive intervention was the extensive work done on the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (Amendment) Act 2019 to repeal and replace Section 16 of the Act. A statutory mandate to review the Act was never complied with for decades and the country lost valuable revenue. Thus, the amendment passed by this Senate achieved four major milestones which are: It revised upward the regime of royalty payable on crude produced in deep waters, It deleted Section 16 of the Act which provided for the trigger for a review of the Act, It introduced Section 16(A) which mandated the Minister of Petroleum to cause the NNPC to undergo a review of Production Sharing Contracts every 8 years, and introduced Section 16(B) which provided for offences and penalties. The cumulative effect of this amendment is that the sum of N320 billion has been unlocked according to several reputable industry experts and it goes without saying that the injection of such huge revenue into our economy will catalyse several positive outcomes.
With a view to getting maximum return from the oil industry, the 9th Senate is committed to prompt consideration and passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill once same is received from the executive. Necessary training and sensitisation programmes have been organised and attended by Senators belonging to all the relevant committees of the Senate. Aside from its intervention to address economic challenges, this Senate also led the way to find a lasting solution to the perennial security crisis this country has been plagued with. It has extensively engaged leaders of our various security agencies on attacks by Boko Haram in the North-east, kidnaping and banditry in the North-east and North-central Zones, clashes between herdsmen and farmers all across the country, proliferation of light and small arms and other forms of criminality.
Its Ad-hoc-Committee on Nigeria Security Challenges made up of 19 Senators and headed by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi has offered 60 recommendations to be implemented in the immediate, short and long term. It is noteworthy that the decentralisation of the command and control structure of the Nigerian Police Force recommended by this Committee has now been adopted by the President as the official policy of the federal government.
Other sectors like the Power Sector also received strong attention from this Senate over the last year. Its 20-man Ad-hoc Committee led by Senator Dr. Gabriel Suswam has issued its report and implementation will find traction in the weeks ahead. The Senate is also working on other useful Bills that will impact positively on all spheres of the Nigerian society. The Senate has also set up the Constitution Review Committee under the Chairmanship of His Excellency the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and referred to the committee several constitutional amendment Bills aimed at improving governance in the country. Similarly, this 9th Senate has consistently acted proactively when required in the last one year.
On electoral reform, much work has been done to review the Electoral Act and the work of committees will be advanced to the next stage in the days and weeks ahead. This Senate has collaborated in extraordinary manner with the executive arm of government and this has significantly accounted for the calm in the polity over the last one year and tangible gains we see in several sectors. Overall, the 9th Senate will continue to provide the necessary legislative support to the executive arm of government to drive socio-economic development and ensuring the delivery of democratic dividends to Nigerians. This support includes expeditious passage of the Appropriation Bill and other executive bills that will reposition the economic on the path of sustainable recovery, growth and development as well as confirming key appointments of the executive.
What have been your personal achievements so far in the Senate?
Just as I promised while campaigning, I believe that, so far, I have been able to give quality and active representation to Osun Central senatorial district in the Senate, notwithstanding being a first timer. I will say without being immodest that the achievements recorded so far has been monumental. The first being my appointment as Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora, Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies, this is not an ordinary calling, because being a new entrant into the Senate and being made the Chairman of a very strategic Committee speaks volume of the attributes ascribed to me and the role expected of me as Senator. Such honour does not come easy to first-time Senators. As Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora, my immediate concern then was how to enhance the capacity of the Diaspora Commission which the Committee has direct oversight function on. I immediately, with the members of my Committee embarked on the task of reviewing the Law that established the Commission, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (Establishment) Act No.15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2017 and for related matters in conjunction with the Legal Unit of the Commission.
In my quest to properly harness the benefits accruable from Nigerians in the Diaspora, I also interfaced with several international bodies among which, is the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisations (NIDO Europe). In a meeting, held at my instance, with NIDO, I particularly hammered on the efforts of the organisation on diaspora registration and voting and I implored their representative to interface with INEC on how to fast track diaspora voting.
This meeting has culminated in a series of workshops that dealt majorly on the issue of diaspora voting for Nigerians and how best to overcome the challenges it portends. I also had a meeting with the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu and two National Commissioners of the Commission; Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu and Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola. At the meeting, I specifically raised the issue of the possibility of diaspora voting where the INEC Chairman stated that with about 15 million Nigerians in diaspora, diaspora voting will surely be a very big game changer for Nigeria. He also highlighted the challenges and the legal constraints thereto. This were deliberated upon extensively and it was agreed that the Constitution has to be altered and other laws amended in this regard with some sections of the Constitution specifically penciled for possible alteration while the INEC establishment Act is agreed to be looked into.
Another critical area where I look into and which I passionately pursued before I was elevated to the Chairmanship of another Committee is the Housing Initiative in Nigeria, through the collaboration of the Committee on Diasporas and NIDCOM to access the Housing Initiative funds. In the area of legislative advocacy and intervention, I am glad to say that I have fared very well. I have drafted some alterations to the Nigerian Constitution in key areas that affect our everyday life and existence as Nigerians. Some of the Bills that have been sponsored by me are: A Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for the establishment of State Police and to ensure effective community policing in Nigeria and for matters connected thereto; A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for the establishment of Political Parties Registration and Regulation Commission and for related matters; and A Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for the regulation of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, creation of State Court of Appeal and for related matters. All these bills have passed the second reading at the Senate and have been referred to the Constitution Review Committee for further action.
My uncommon passion for the growth of my constituency has also spurred me to lay a petition titled ‘Petition on the abandonment of the Osogbo Steel Rolling Company and the Nigeria Machine Tools Limited and an appeal for a drastic and immediate action to be taken on their rehabilitation’ before the Senate for consideration on behalf of Egbe Osogbo Oroki Parapo and the people of Osun Central senatorial district. While laying the petition before the Senate, I gave a picturesque highlight of the petition which prays for an urgent consideration and intervention by the Senate for the reversal of the sordid fate that has befallen the Osogbo Steel Rolling Company and Nigeria Machine Tools Ltd, both located in Osogbo, and the degeneration of the two hitherto foremost factories which are now in total states of neglect, disrepair and their inevitable obsolescence if the neglect continues in the hands of the new owners of the factories who came into their possession after the privatisation exercise carried out by the federal government through the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) several years ago. The petition was later referred to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions by the President of the Senate and prominent people from the Osun Central senatorial district have been invited on two occasions by the Committee to shed more light on the petition. The Committee has also signified his willingness to pay working visits to Osun State to see the actual state of affairs of the two hitherto foremost factories. But for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee would have visited Osogbo for an on-site assessment of the factories. At plenary, I have also been drowned in the various discourses as I am always contributing to issues analytically and pragmatically to issues. My address at plenary when the “Bill for an Act to repeal the Federal Road Maintenance Agency Act 2002 (as amended), the Federal Highways Act 1971 and the control of Advertisement Act 1986 and to establish the Federal Road Authority to provide for the Ownership, Regulation, Management and Development of the Federal Roads Network and for other matters connected therewith, 2019 (SB.89) was being considered is a reference point for legislative advocacy at its vintage best.
My address was so profound and far-reaching as I dissected the Bill and brought out all the salient points that were not even envisaged by the sponsors of the Bill. On the 28th day of April, 2020 the Senate President announced my appointment as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs after about one year in the saddle as the Chairman, Senate Committee on Diaspora, Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Societies.
With about 12 months in the Senate, I have impacted positively on my constituents. I have not taken the electorates for a ride. I have proved it in so many ways that I am not “an Abuja Senator” as I go home regularly to interface with my people every other week to interact with and listen to my constituents through the APC local and ward meetings. Less than two weeks after being sworn-in as a member of the 9th Senate, I embarked on my first project which is provision of potable water for people of my senatorial district. I have been spending my personal allowances on the projects, the excuse of “no fund” will never be my refrain to my people for not doing what is expected of me. I started with the sinking of boreholes in Osogbo, Ikirun, Ila, Okuku and Ilobu. The boreholes were situated at strategic places particularly in markets. Being a “town boy”, I feel the pains of market women who ply their trade at Oja Oba in Osogbo, one of the oldest markets in Osogbo.
The women were making do with local lamps. Besides polluting the environment, they also exposes them to a myriad of health hazards through inhalation of poisonous gases, thus I arranged for solar-powered streetlights to be provided and installed at Oja Oba in Osogbo.
Rural communities depend largely on agrarian farming. To make farming attractive and profitable, farmers yearn for motorable roads to ferry their produce to different markets. I picked up the gauntlet and started with the grading of feeder roads in Obaagun and Oke Ila in Ifelodun North LCDA and Ifedayo Local Government Area. Towards the end of 2019, I commissioned my senatorial office in Osogbo with liaison offices across Osun Central senatorial district. The liaison offices serve as points of contact with my constituents. Through the offices, complaints, requests and information get to me and the same are used channels for feedback from me too. With the senatorial office and the liaison offices, my bond with my constituents became stronger and I have forged a closer tie to my people and feel their pulse better. I have also empowered about 80 youths in Osun Central with appointments as Special Advisers and Senior Special Assistants and Personal Assistants. These are youths who are breadwinners of their families and responsible individuals in society. These appointees serve as my contact officers in their respective liaison offices.
At the outset of the lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, I reached out to the needy across my senatorial district in terms of cash and food items. As the lockdown bit harder towards Ramadhan, I also provided hundreds of bags of food items for the whole of Osun Central. This is besides sponsorship of programmes and jingles on radio and TV stations to enlighten our people and sensitise them about dangers of Coronavirus and how to keep clear of it. I equally provided thousands of nose masks for my constituents. I have just started a scholarship award initiative for deserving individuals in the Osun Central senatorial district irrespective of creed, tribe or political affiliation, the first recipient of the scholarship award has just been mobilised through my constituency office for Postgraduate Diploma programme at Osun State University.
Through my website; ajibolabasiru.com, I have continued to interface with the people and minister to their needs within my capability as a public officer.
One year on, my pact with my people remains as solid as ever, I have started to address issues within and without the pact to show that I am not a politician with bogus, unrealistic and unrealisable promises. I have proved that I a man of my words as I understand the gravity of holding people’s trust.