ADETOKUNBO ABIRU: I’ll Pursue Devolution of Power, Fiscal Discipline When Re-elected

ADETOKUNBO ABIRU: I’ll Pursue Devolution of Power, Fiscal Discipline When Re-elected

Chairman, Senate Committee on Industries, Senator Adetokunbo Abiru, has seamlessly transversed the private and public sectors. Formerly Group Managing Director of Skye Bank Plc and  Polaris Bank, Abiru served in different capacities in the banking sector before he joined partisan politics in August 2020 and was elected the Senator on December 6, 2020, In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi,  he speaks  broadly on his diverse interventions  for the people of Lagos East, credibility of the forthcoming elections and his plan if re-elected on February 25, among others

You left banking for politics about three years ago. Can you share your experience in the two sectors?

Banking and politics are two different sectors, but the same level of competence and exposure is required. My prior experience is more of what shaped me as a person. I spent about 22 years in the corporate world. It was immediately after I graduated from the university. First, that exposed me very widely; modelled my person and widened my horizon. I am saying this because I passed through all the stages of development. I graduated as an economist. Then, I worked for Deloitte, then known as Akintola Williams & Co. After this, I joined Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) at its infancy. When I joined in 1991, GTB only had one branch located at Ademola Alakija. That is where about 42 of us were operating as the staff of GTB. I grew up with the bank. After spending 10 years there, I joined First Bank and spent 15 years, bringing my banking experience to 25 years. Again, I spent four additional years as the Group Managing of Skye Bank Plc and at the same time Managing Director of Polaris Bank. I midwifed the process of revamping the bank from imminent challenges and ensured its stability in terms of potential ratios. Altogether, I had about 29 years in banking. With three years before banking, that is about 32 years. During that cycle, with all sense of modesty, one grew up within a structured environment and rose to the pinnacle of the environment. As you know, I got to the pinnacle of my career in First Bank Plc and left as Executive Director. During my 15-year stint in First Bank, I had a sabbatical leave of two years when I served as the Commissioner of Finance in Lagos State under the Babatunde Fashola administration. All these experiences shaped the mind of a young graduate from 1990 to date in terms of exposure to life, influence and widening of horizon. That speaks to the fact that one did not cut any corner. One grew up with the system. By the time I was retiring and came into politics, I brought competence, experience and goodwill to my responsibility as the senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. 

When you joined the senatorial contest, you campaigned on broad promises. Have you fulfilled all the promises you made to the people of Lagos East?

With all sense of responsibility, I have lived to the expectation of my constituents in terms of effective and quality representation. In terms of legislative role, I have been able to sponsor 13 bills and three motions in the last 25 months. Of significance among the bills are the Copyright Bill, 2021; Franchise Regulation Bill, 2022 and the Federal High Court Act (Amendments) Bill, 2022. If you look at the Copyright Bill and Franchise Regulation Bill, they tend to harness and strengthen the entrepreneurial ability of our micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Also, the bills will help our resourceful youths because there is a need to protect and help them take full advantage of their creativity. This is what the Copyright Bill, 2021 tends to achieve. The world we live in today is a world of creativity and innovation. That last time we improved on our copyright regime was during the military era. There are several developments that have since taken place in terms of creativity and innovation. There is a need to protect our upcoming and existing entrepreneurs so that they can get the full reward of their creativity. The same speaks to the Franchise Regulation Bill, 2022, which tends to protect both franchisee and franchisor. We use the word franchise loosely in the country. It will surprise a lot of people that there is no law that protects the parties that are involved. On its part, the Federal High Court Act (Amendments) Bill, 2022 seeks to protect creditors from debtors so that they get adequate compensation. It takes a while before you get proper redress when you go to court. As a result, there is a need to compensate adequately on what we call pre-judgment interest when it comes to litigation between creditors and debtors. 

Apart from the bills you sponsored, can you shield light on the motions you moved since you have been representing Lagos East in the Senate?

I have equally been able to move motions of high impact to the broad spectrum of my constituents. The first is the motion to accelerate and fast track the rehabilitation of the Ikorodu-Sagamu road. If you go there today, there is a significant improvement along that corridor. The second is the motion for the rehabilitation of the Ikorodu-Itoikin-Epe road. Unlike the Ikorodu-Sagamu road where there is significant improvement already, rehabilitation is at the initial stage on the Ikorodu-Itoikin-Epe road. The last time there was seemingly proper rehabilitation on the road was 1975 under General Yakubu Gowon. These are corridors that drive economic activities of my senatorial district. If you look at the corridor, you will see the linkage between Epe and Ikorodu. You will also see the linkage between Lagos East and other parts of Nigeria, especially the South-east and South-south. These are the link roads for those corridors. These are the high impact ideas that will improve the lives of my constituents. 

Beyond your legislative roles, what other interventions have you facilitated for the people of Lagos East since you have been in the saddle?

I anchored my representation to three major pillars – legislation, empowerment and endowment. I have already spoken extensively on my legislative role, which is my primary responsibility. The second pillar directly relates to empowerment. This, I admit, lies more on facilitation. But I have looked at empowerment from three broad areas – education, healthcare services and socio-economic aspects of our lives. In the area of education, with my intervention, we have been able to bring development of classrooms to 15 different schools across Lagos East. From Ikorodu to Epe, Ibeju-Lekki, Kosofe and Somolu, there are various projects in terms of school development that I have facilitated. In terms of healthcare services, I have facilitated the building and construction of three primary health centres in Agboyi-Ketu, Kosofe Local Government Area; Ikorodu North and Lagos State University of Science and Technology. Before the end of this administration, I will ensure that these facilities are equipped so that they can be opened for public use. In the area of socio-economic activities, I have taken different steps to improve the lives of my constituents. First, in relation to our youths, we have been able to facilitate the building of a 960-capacity stadium in Epe with a football pitch, volleyball court, long tennis court and other amenities. Second, we also redeveloped an ancient fish market in Epe called Oluwo Market. We have done complete rehabilitation of the market for the better use of our constituents. When we inaugurated it, we gave grants to over 250 market women to support their trade. Third, we have initiated a development programme for our MSMEs. Under this scheme, we have put together a capacity building programme for about 1,000 constituents. We brought in financial and regulatory experts that can guide them as to how their businesses can get better, particularly in this time of digital transformation. We went ahead to institute Constituency Revolving Loan to support the activities of our MSMEs. We have set up a N300 million fully cash-backed revolving facility at a single digit interest rate of six percent. You cannot find that in any part of the country. This is to strengthen the capacity of our existing and upcoming entrepreneurs. We are appealing to the beneficiaries for the judicious use of that facility.

We have not even left our vulnerable constituents, especially those who were affected at the height of COVID-19. That is the idea behind our COVID-19 Financial Relief Scheme I came in late 2020. By 2021, COVID-19 was still a major challenge for Nigerians. We then classified the vulnerable into five categories – aged people, women, widow, youths and people with physical difficulty. We collected data of about 2,500 constituents in these categories. We have been giving them N5,000 each monthly since that time to date. We have done that religiously via direct credit transfer. We have expended over N150 million on this scheme.

Now that you are seeking re-election, what will be your focus if eventually re-elected?     

Let me start by saying life itself is static. I have been appealing, canvassing and campaigning just like every other candidate. That means I will not take my people’s mandate for granted if re-elected. To the extent that life is not static, I also know I will continue to dream and think on how to make an impact on people’s lives. Speaking broadly, my key focus will remain on how we can continue to improve the lives of MSMEs if I eventually win the next senatorial election. They are very dear to me because of the role they play in any economy. They are the highest employers of labour. In Nigeria, they account for over 80 percent of the total employment. In terms of GDP, they contribute between 60 and 65 percent. They are a very important segment of the economy. To that extent, my focus will continue to sponsor bills and motions that improve the sector. We live in a world of innovation and technology. We have to find a way that will bring this into the consciousness of MSMEs. Also, I will focus on championing fiscal discipline. We must appreciate the Ninth Senate for coming up with a predictive timeline for the budget process. Every year, at least, we make sure that budget is passed before the end of the financial year. But that is not what fiscal discipline is all about. There are other issues that we need to factor into the budget. One of such issues relates to the mix of the budget itself. It is an arm of fiscal discipline that I will champion in the 10th Senate. When we talk about the budget mix, it is still largely skewed towards recurrent expenditure, which takes the larger chunk of the budget. We have to look for a way to reverse the existing budget mix. What brings about sustainable development is when the capital expenditure is more pronounced in the budget mix than the recurrent expenditure. 

This will be uppermost for me. In terms of fiscal discipline again, we must ensure strong compliance with extant laws whether it is the CBN Act or Fiscal Responsibility Act. The way we handle the use of ‘ways and means’ must now be put to check. We must deal with such issues. We have to strongly deal with it. The same thing applies to our revenue profiling and revenue accretion. We must work out how we will improve our revenue accretion to the government. We have to make sure that the government-owned enterprises up their games. They have to optimise their potential in terms of generating more revenue so that pressure on borrowing will reduce. Likewise, we have to find a way to moderate our expenditure. I am aware we have some documents such as the Oronsaye Report. We have to bring it out wherever it is kept and dust it to bring some moderation into our expenditure. If we put all these in place, what we will achieve is fiscal discipline. It will reduce the pressure on borrowing. There is nothing wrong with borrowing. I do not have any problem with borrowing that focuses on capital expenditure. But there must be discipline in all areas before we result in borrowing. These are the areas I will focus on when eventually re-elected. Again, I will be particular about how we will continue to support our present and past capitals. This is very important because our capitals remain the reflection of our entire country. Whether it is Abuja or Lagos, we have to work out a way to support our capitals so that they remain reference points. That is another area of concentration for me. I will also pursue issues around devolution of power be it police or how we can devolve more power to the sub-national governments. I am going back into this race so that I can join my other colleagues to ensure that we have a better country with respect to all these key areas that I have mentioned. 

In the forthcoming elections, what is the chance of the APC winning the presidential contest?

I have attended several campaigns with our National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I am impressed with the massive turnout of supporters everywhere we went to campaign. Whether it is Kaduna, Kwara, Jos or Akure, there was massive turnout. We are not taking the outpour of love and support for granted. This also speaks to the progressive politics of APC. It equally speaks to the fact that APC is a party that lives up to its promises. That is why I strongly believe that our chance is high in the next elections. Beyond, APC is a party that parades the best candidates for all elective competition. If you look at the profiles of our candidates, you will definitely agree with me. Let me start with our presidential candidate. Of all the candidates in the presidential contest, he parades the best qualifications for the job in terms of being tested, competence and capacity. These are not hidden facts. Competence and capacity are qualities he has built over the years both as a private sector actor and as a public administrator.

In the private sector, he gave very good accounts and rose up to the position of Treasurer of a foremost oil exploration company in this country. In politics, as far back as 1992, he was at one point Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Banking and Finance, which has today been separated into three or four committees. That speaks to his competence and capacity. It is obviously an attestation of his ability to deliver. In 1999, Lagos was at the lowest ebb of development when he became the governor of the state. The transformation agenda that he put up as a visionary leader is part of what has been built up today. That makes Lagos a livable and accommodative even for other candidates that are contesting with him in this presidential race. They cannot live in their own states which they have governed or which they have been part of. What do say about such a leader? He is a leader that is tested and a leader that has capacity. Also, he made Lagos to overcome ecological challenges of the Bar Beach that affected almost one thirds of the state. He has turned it into an asset that we proudly call Eko Atlantic City. That is another beautiful thing that has come to fruition under his watch. A lot of people have talked about how he grew the state’s internally generated revenue without knowing what he did to transform it. The automation that he brought in 1999 or 2000 into the state is what the successive governments have built on. This has enhanced the fortune of the state from N600 million monthly revenue generating state to N7 billion before he left office and N51 billion today. That is what leadership is all about. Leadership is about those thinkers who can deploy both human and natural resources for the good use of the society.

For these reasons, we are confident about his success at the poll. To let you know how progressive APC is, look at our governor in Lagos State. He also speaks to those who have a performance mentality to deliver on whatever they promised. Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu came in at the time of COVID-19 when almost all economies in the world were shut down with immediate recession after authorities relaxed restrictions. Nigeria was not an exception. In this country, there are states that are still struggling to meet the payment of salaries. Our governor here has not only met salary payment to all workers and pensioners, but also kept the state safe for us. He has built infrastructure. Proudly, he just inaugurated light rail (blue line) recently. In my district, he inaugurated the largest rice mill in sub-Saharan Africa. We have Lagos Deep Sea Port, which has the capacity to outdo the performance of the existing ports. On those performance indices, the governor himself has earned his second term. APC, being a progressive party, will always parade the best candidates that will lead the people. That is speaking to them. I am also a testimony to the kind of candidates that APC will always project. For me, the chance of APC is very high in the coming elections. We are set for it. We have campaigned very well. It is one of the toughest campaigns, and we have seen the outpour of love and support from the populace.

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