Hon. Abdullahi Bello is a former Speaker, Kogi State House of Assembly, and a former member of the House of Representatives. He speaks with TUNDE OGUNTOLA on some national issues

How is security situation in Kogi State under Governor Yahaya Bello?

This government is doing well in many areas, and security is not left behind. I’m sure you know that Kogi is a very strategic state in the country, over 28 states pass through Kogi on a daily basis and so the security challenges in Kogi regarding issues bordering on robbery, kidnapping, and assassination, are being tackled well since the coming to office of Yahaya Bello.

For instance, in Okene, where I come from, there were local kidnappers who used to go out there to kidnap people in town. The governor rose to the challenge and today, this menace has reduced drastically. With regards to the highway, you need to travel at night through Kogi for you to see the military check points at every 50 or 20 meters. And you know that, to maintain such, you must be spending a lot of money. And some of these policemen that are on our highways in Kogi are drawn from other states, they are on a special assignment and they have been there for almost a year now. You know how expensive it is to take care of such. I think, the governor is doing well.

Also, in terms of infrastructure, we went to Okene recently to observe the ongoing water works which is aimed at providing adequate water for the people. Politically too, there is stability in the state.

Your party just lost a senator to the PDP in person of Dino Melaye. Do you consider this a loss for your party?

Well, no party is happy when a member defects to another party. We are not happy or comfortable about it but I can assure you that the defection of my distinguished brother, Senator Dino Melay, to PDP will not affect the chances of APC in the coming election.

There is no doubt that Dino contributed immensely to the success of my party in the last elections. But then, I think he himself has a lot of blame in the entire crisis. You do not fight from all fronts. You do not fight the presidency, you do not fight the governor, you do not fight your party at the same time. One needs to be very strategic in any kind of activity that one engages in. I think that is where I fault him. He shouldn’t have engaged everybody.

He engaged the police and everybody at the same time. So, I think he was not strategic in his response to issues that involve him and I advised him but he has his decision to make.

In the last one month or thereabouts, your party has lost three governors to the PDP, you have lost the senate president, and some other lawmakers to the PDP. Are you not afraid that this may pose a great challenge to your party in 2019?

Well, we lost some members but we also gained some. When you look at the past when PDP lost some members to the APC, it had a very huge effect against the PDP then. It is not the same scenario now. I can bet you, in Sokoto, APC will reclaim Sokoto in the next election. And in Kwara, APC will win all its elections. The same thing will happen in Benue. And in Kogi, by the grace of God, you can measure it by the recently held by election. It was not based on violence or any form of malpractice. It was a very clean election. Issues were debated and campaign and appeal were made to the people and they all came out to vote for APC. APC is still the leading party in this country because, the party is seen as a party that has been led by a very honest and accountable leader, in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, and that is a huge plus for the party.

Yes, the defection of Bukola Saraki from APC to PDP is painful and it has revealed many things. The party he defected to is minority in the Parliament. So, it is a moral burden upon him, whether he can carry on as the president, having crosse to a party in minority.

The president is having an image problem, especially with the U.S. President Donald Trump, allegedly saying he is unfit. Do you see the president as someone whose not healthy or physically unfit to run another term?

I think that alleged comment from Trump cannot be said to be true because in these days of online news, it could be termed as a fake news because it’s not a policy statement by President Trump. It was a third party information which can’t be accepted to be a true position of the president of the United States, on Buhari.

Now, as regards to the issues of his capacity or his health, I think he’s healthy enough to run for the next election.

The president is in his 70s and with this clamour for generational shift for youths to come to coming to power, do you think we still need an old man to rule Nigeria by next year?

Wisdom, political administration, or effective leadership is not based on the number of age one has or less of it. We just mentioned the person of the US president now, Donald Trump. He is an old man too and he is doing well. He is 70 plus. Also, if we access the German Chancellor, she is an old person too and she is doing well. The same goes for the UK Prime Minister, she is not a young lady too. So, we have all those leaders that are old and are still doing well and when you talk of the issue of health, a young man could be sick. But one cannot equally forget the fact that a younger generation like Macron of France is becoming a shining model that one should aspire to get to but somebody must lay a foundation for good governance and this is how I see Buhari in Nigeria.

Recently, the National Assembly approved some money for INEC. Apart from this money, how do you access the preparation of INEC. Do you think it can give the nation a credible election in 2019?

Looking at INEC’s performance since 1999, one will not shy away from saying that INEC needs to apply adequate experience into the conduct of election. And to the question of budget, I am not too surprised that both committees of the two houses, that is the Senate and the House of Reps have approved the request of Mr. President over the 2019 election budget. We should not forget the fact that over 46 billion was earlier approved for them in 2018 budget and when you add that to this one hundred and forty plus that has been approved, it will still come to 189 billion that INEC is requesting for the 2019 election.

I just hope that INEC in the future, if not now, will employ the use of modern technology to reduce the cost of election. For instance now, if the innovation that have been brought to bear in the banking sector, is employed by INEC, it would lessen the cost of election by half, if not more than half. For instance, with BVN and your ATM card, anywhere you are in the world, you can make transaction as long as there is network.

So, INEC too can borrow from that technology. Information technology is the thing in this world now. Let INEC buy into information technology so that when election comes, you can stay in your bedroom, type in your data and you will vote your choice and the vote is counted. So, we do not need to be queuing up on the street to vote.

The fallout of defection in the National Assembly is taking a toll on governance. What is the way out?

I think one thing that is very clear and glaring is that collaboration is missing. There is a need for an improved relationship and collaboration between the lawmakers and the executive. But one should also not forget that the national assembly is on holiday for now, so, it is when they resume officially after their recess and we still have low key activity that we can say that there is crisis.

For me, as a formal member in that Parliament and as a former officer in the state assembly, I have not seen any crisis at the National Assembly. Those bridging the bridge between the legislative and the executive arms need to increase the tempo of their activities. You don’t expect Mr president himself to come to National Assembly to lobby. There are those designated for such.

There is no way you can carry out the day to day activities of governance while sidelining the legislators because legislature is the key arm in any democracy and without the legislature, there is no democracy and it is the only arm of government in Nigeria that is so much abused, so much blackmailed because it is the only arm over time that has been distinguished anytime we have anything to question in politics.

So, it is the same arm now that people should encourage to rate their inadequacies but they must do what is right at all time, they must lessen their budget, their own internal expenditure; they must try as much as possible to reduce corruption, they must review the manner and the way they carry oversight function.

Is there any law that says that the Senate President must come from the party?

If there is no law that states so, but in the beginning there is no way a minority party member would present a choice of candidate to stand in as presiding officer and he will be elected, that is the connection. And to my party, if at all they are not comfortable with this they should make less noise and be technical about it instead of making it as if it’s a headmaster/school children relationship. That is coming from the hierarchy of my party in Abuja.

So, are you saying that the way Oshiomole is going about it is not right?

Yes of course, Oshiomole is coming from the background of former executive governor, and labour leader. He thought he is in Edo state, and for me, it is wrong. Before now, the National Assembly had attained and fought really hard and won their independence, so you cannot just toss them anyhow, that is the culture in National Assembly. No matter how good you are, the moment anybody outside the National Assembly family points at you to be elected or to be put into any principal position they will reject you, they will believe that they are imposing somebody on them. That is what happened to Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.

He should have been a good material, but for the fact that somebody from outside said it should be him, members said no, they would rather choose their own team leader. So, having attained independence before the emergence of President Buhari, you have to be very careful the way you handle them because you can see the issue of Saraki now. It is not Saraki that is so powerful, it is the institution that is powerful, there is a binding relationship among all the national parliamentarians across party that they must not be abused, they must not be traumatised, they must not be blackmailed, because none of the National Assembly members now, either in the Senate or the House have come together and say what Saraki has done is wrong.

It is for my party that is making the noise which is not ideal, the minimum requirement for reconvening the senate if there is an urgent need, is just 30 senators signing a cogent reason to the senate president, calling for reconvening of the Parliament. That has not been done. No thirty senators, either from APC or PDP have come together jointly to request Saraki to open and he refused to open or the House of Representatives members from both parties meeting the minimum requirement of the house rules asking Dogara to reconvene urgently and he has not done so. So, there is no crisis at all.

2019 is ahead, what are your plans?

Well, we give thanks to Almighty God. I am a senior stakeholder in Kogi state, having served the twice as a member of the State House of Assembly, Speaker and acting governor briefly for three days and I have been elected into the eighth Parliament in the House of Reps to represent Okene federal constituency and the governor now coming from my local government, it affected so many of our political calculation.

So, I’m back leading the party, my party APC to stabilise, to be united, to win the next election. You know winning the national election is just like when you go into the forest to kill an elephant, there will much for everybody to take, it does not necessarily mean that one must be a Rep member, now I cannot be seen to be struggling to be governor when I had a governor from my home, the issue of senate cannot be in Okene local government where I hail from. We have to consider other local governments. Then the issue of House of Reps, we have gone beyond that level in life, I am not interested in going to House of Reps again because someone somewhere else can do better than me. So, if somebody is there and he’s doing it, so be it. This thing is not personal, it is about service to people, it is about service to community, to humanity, it is not personal.