Sen. Gbenga Obadara represents Ogun Central Senatorial Zone in the 7th Senate and is the chairman, Senate Committee on Privatisation. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, he berates service chiefs for the way they are handling the Boko Haram violence. Describing the BPE as a charade, he also bares his mind on other topical national issues.
Would you say the 7th Senate has lived up to your expectations?
I can tell you that with just nine months in the saddle we have witnessed lots of thrilling events. We have been catching up with the art of lawmaking and I can tell you that, as a baby, you need to crawl before you walk. This is my first time in parliament and we are 73 in number who came in newly.
Are you worried with state of insecurity in the polity?
Any truthful person will tell you that it is becoming an alarming situation. We have tried our best in talking to the service chiefs and they keep reassuring us. But I can tell you that what we are witnessing is very abysmal. It is frustrating and sad. It means the Boko Haram is waging war on Nigeria and Nigerians.
Do you think your government is capable of handling the situation or do we have to seek foreign intervention?
I will tell you that in the present time that I do not see the present service chiefs capable of solving these problems. It is not a conventional war. It is a war that you do not even know who you are fighting.
When you talk of the militant in the Niger Delta, we knew they were in generals; there was General Tompolo, General this and that. But in the Boko Haram case, we don’t know who we are fighting. Imagine a situation where you buy a new car, wire it to go and kill innocent people. It means people are funding them, because these people don’t have this kind of resources to carry out this heinous act.
We will continue to beg this people to allow peace to reign. People cannot invest where there is no peace and our GDP is going down. Nothing is happening the present time because nobody will come here. The president really needs to work hard in caging these hooligans because the nation is at war with itself. We must stop this before it consumes all. We know the beginning of war but you can’t know the end of it.
What is the senate doing in stopping this carnage?
I can tell you that when Gen. Sale of Kaduna Central brought the motion on the floor, it was swiftly supported by all. We have been meeting with the security chiefs, northern governors and we are doing our best. People forget that we are lawmakers, not the executive. But as much as possible, we will make enabling law to support them. We want solution to this killings.
We have to take the bull by the horn and make concerted effort to wage war against the Boko Haram. They are not ghosts; they are people who live in the midst of us. People should be able to give information to security operative. That is why we are insisting on community policing.
As a senator of the ACN, I think that these people are impoverished and that is why they are angry. The government is not doing anything to create jobs for them. They are not doing anything to reduce the poverty of the people can tell you that a prosperous, happy person will not carry bomb.
Some Nigerians are beginning to fear that the nation could be heading towards a state of anarchy. Do you share their views?
We will forever remain one entity. We will not disintegrate. That is why we are advocating for dialogue.
But the National Assembly is opposed to a sovereign national conference?
We are not against it but it should not be called sovereign national conference. National Assembly has not taken a decision; we are representing people. There is nothing stopping a nation to sit down and discuss.
We must meet because the constitution we are running is an imperfect one. The military imposed the constitution on us. It is when we do that we will be able to know what the Ijaw man, Itshekiri, Berom Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba want.
Talking about the constitution, what are the amendments that the constitutional review committee is willing to release to the public?
By the time we will be in full swing, we will go to geo-political zones of this country; we will call stakeholders.
But Nigerians are beginning to fear that this could be another jamboree where tax payers’ money is wasted and nothing will come out of it?
The last one wasn’t a jamboree. I can tell you that if there was one thing the last senate did that really impacted Nigerians was the electoral amendment. That was what made people like us to become senators.
In the past, people will just do elections, sit down somewhere and bring thugs who will snatch the ballot boxes, go and sit down somewhere and stamp the result, they will tell you to go to court where you will spend four years.
But it was the reform that broke the strength of the PDP in this country. It has exposed their shenanigans, their rigging mechanism. You can see that, there is a semblance of transparency now than previously.
As a senator, which laws would you like to see amended or abrogated from the constitution?
If we give power to the traditional rulers because they know all the thugs, hoodlums and thieves there will be security because they will be able to deal with their people. There is community policing in UK and everywhere. Now even the electoral system, more needs to be done. We are talking about the power of the party; it is supreme everywhere.
We also have to look at the issue of revenue sharing; the federal is taking 51%. Who is federal paying? Imagine 36 states plus Abuja and look at the workforce. Look at the 774 local government and then look at the federal, it is too heavy. That is why the recurrent keeps coming to 72% while the capital is 28%. There can never be development like that.
What is your take on the agitation for more revenue for the north?
I think they are talking about derivation. There is nothing bad with any region asking for more revenue. But it all depends on their input. My party has not taken a stand. You can see that south-west has not involved itself in the agitation for anything.
Because the region wants to be self-independant, we want to be strong and take care of our needs without having to come to Abuja after thirty days to collect money. We want to make sure that our states are viable and vibrant. We want true federalism, if there is true federalism; the states will be self sufficient.
Are you advocating for return to federalism?
We are already in federalism, but it is not true federalism. The federal government is too powerful and so we want devolution of power so that the local government will be able to carry out developmental projects without waiting for anybody.
As the chairman, senate committee on privatization, were you surprised at some of the revelations that have been coming on the sale of government property?
Before I became the chairman of the committee in September, we were in the ad hoc committee that worked on the privatization from 1999-2007. Whatever you call what they did, it is just a charade. Because most of the companies privatized were either given to special interest, which is why the agreement were not there.
They just took it as a party patronage thing and nothing is done. As senate, we have given our recommendations which have been given to the president and I believe the president will act on it. We don’t want the president to sit on it and see it as mere expression of opinion.
Is the senate doing anything to make its laws and resolutions more binding on the executives?
Expect senate action soon. We appropriate and carry out oversight functions. You will soon see a new senate and the executive will know that we are not here as dummies. We will give a bite to what we dish out.
What laws or motions have you sponsored that impact on the lives of your people and Nigeria?
The issues of same sex marriage. You can see that all over the world, they abhor it except for America and UK where they said they will not give us aid because they want us to be dogs. That was the first one co-sponsored by myself and Senator Domingo.
We are looking at the roads of this country like the Lagos, Ibadan express way. It was concessioned to a person that doesn’t have the capability to do the work. We worked and made sure the federal government either revokes the job or the removes the contractor. The minister has assured us that this will be handled.
People are dying on that road everyday and something must be done on the road. On the issue of NITEL/BPE, NITEL told me that, they don’t know how much it is worth. They don’t know how much NITEL is generating and yet they want to sell NITEL. I invoked the authority of the senate and stopped that move.
The federal government killed NITEL; they owe NITEL more than two billion. They don’t pay debts; how can an enterprise survive when you don’t pay your debts? We are working hard on the issue of power to make sure it is privatized so it can work.
See what happened at the South/south meeting when Soyinka berated PHCN and the next minute, they took the light in the presence of the whole world. It was so shameful.
They have given us October when the privatization will be concluded. I have already opened the financial bid by a Canadian company. We are not ready to witness another pencom. We are given them a close monitoring and we will carry out our oversight functions.