Senator Khairat Abdulrazaq-Gwadabe was elected Senator for the Federal Capital Territory Constituency, on the platform of PDP in 1999. In this interview with select journalists, she tells the story of how she was a very strong voice for the good people of FCT and women active participation in politics. She lost her second-term bid to return the Senate in 2003 due to her loyalty to the Late Dr Chuba Okadigbo at the time. Interestingly, good people of FCT have asked her to return to the Senate to represent them as she did nearly 16 years ago. EKELE PETER AGBO was there for LEADERSHIP.
When you were in the Senate from 1999 to 2003, what was the experience like?
Over the years, because of the way I’ve interacted with people at my job, coming to the Senate and having understood the nature of people from different places, I could easily understand their point of view and where their argument was coming from. But one thing in the Senate, in the very early stage that shocked me into understanding that this place is about knowing how to lobby your fellow people and not assuming that everybody is going to see things with you the same way, was when we were filling our biodata. We had to fill so many things and in one place, they left four spaces for children’s name and I was filling and I could hear one of my fellow Senators calling somebody and saying ‘ah, Distinguished, how many lines, there is not enough line here for us’. And the other fellow asked, ‘how many children do you have?’ One said ‘I have 13’. Another one said, ‘me I have 26. So, I turned my head just to see the faces of those who had this number of kids. What I took away from that was that I had to map my people there. If I need something to be done in a particular way, I will go for certain people that I know will stick with it.
You were very close to late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and even when they wanted to remove him, you were one of those that opposed his removal. What attracted you to Chief Okadigbo?
I would still vote against his removal even today. The Oyi of Oyi was of excellent mind. I love excellent, intellectual minds. The intellectual sagacity came with some form of arrogance that reflected in his charisma. When you are arrogant with your knowledge, you know what you know and you are not afraid to exude what you know and correct those who do not understand what you know and I like that. But a lot of those who don’t know as much don’t like to be told off. If you find a very intellectual person, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. So, that may be the only thing that was lacking in him. But nobody is complete. Okadigbo was a man of distinction who knew what he knew and was not bothered about what you said.
When we were to vote for the Senate President then, I was looking for somebody that had experience. We were all green coming from nowhere in 1999. They say in a blind man’s land, the person with vision in one eye could see better than the rest of us. So, I pitched my tent with him, as against the others who were running, and, at that time, it was zoned to the Southeast – virtually all those who were elected from the Southeast vied for that position.
After inauguration, we were cheated out of that game but we stood solidly with Okadigbo, that you cannot start a new democratic process with green horns. Eventually, when the time and opportunity came due to the Evan or Evans issue, we were able to impeach Evans and bring Oyi. From the day we brought Oyi, the debate on the floor became robust. If you don’t have anything up in your head, you will not even dare press the bell to indicate that you wanted to speak. You dare not press that buzzer. I enjoyed it because anytime I pressed the buzzer to speak, I would look to my right and the late Senator Wahab Dosunmu from Lagos, as I’m speaking, Dosunmu would be looking through his rule book to see how to stop me. It was quite engaging.
But by the time the politics came in to remove him, we tried hard because what we wanted was to build independence of the legislature quickly so that whoever comes will have an established order of doing things and the respect for that institution. Then, you must admit that once you hear the word Mr President and Oyi stands up to move, you know that power is moving. That was our experience.
The people you served at that time, how come it’s been some 15years now since you left the Senate that you’re staging a comeback, what happened?
One of the things I learnt then was that you should always ask your community what they want. Don’t assume that they are suffering. When I was campaigning in one of the communities, I discovered that the men complained that women take hours to go from their home, around 6am, to fetch water in the river; they walk long distance and before they come back, it’s by 11, 12 or even 1pm; and I felt that that was too much. So, I decided that we will attract borehole for them. We did that and I was so excited that we were able to bring borehole. The men were happy but the women were not.
Now, the borehole is right under their nose and I deprived them of such a nice social time. So, they wanted their time and that was it for them. I took away their freedom. So, you don’t always assume that somebody is suffering. Maybe he likes it in that particular way because it comes with some form of consolation which money cannot always buy.
When you look at what has happened in the last couple of years, what perspective would you want to present regarding your understanding of why things are the way they are now in the National Assembly and why they should not be this way?
It’s all about understanding how the legislature works. It works at several levels. The first level is the chamber and the chamber floor is usually about getting an opportunity to also play to the gallery there, because the spot light is on you and you get an opportunity to let your constituency know you can speak English or you can debate. You get an opportunity to bring up issues that are dear to you or your constituency or some group find in you a role model to push issues for them and that’s the floor. Now, in that floor, you must stop to think, how you reflect collectively that institution to the world. Because as you are seated, whatever you are doing, people are watching you and making an impression of our legislative house. That’s decorum.
The second level is the debate on bills that that come and one has to be prepared. To be prepared to make sound debate, you must have support staff and you are as good as your support staff.
Thirdly, you have the level of your committees and at the level of the committees, the work entails working in your chamber as an individual senator and working as a collective. If you are not the chair of the committee, your responsibility is still high, as far as the committees are concerned, which is bringing your wealth of knowledge or discovering and learning about the issues that are before you.
So, what’s with this comeback bid now?
I asked myself the same question. But honestly speaking, it’s different. We have watched quietly the system changing in the direction that I never envisaged. I came into politics with a lot of vibrancy. I really wanted Nigeria to be better than the rest of the world. Once you have a strong institution, it doesn’t matter who is sitting on top of the institution, it must be made to work.
But as you know, I did not technically lose the primaries in 2003. There was a lot of agitation from the National Assembly for the impeachment of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo at the time and we were the people pushing for it because we felt that he was very unconstitutional in his actions. Every constitution, particularly the Appropriation Act, was always flouted. We worked hard to put things in place and he messed it up.
At some point you moved to ANPP?
It’s good to stand for something. Whatever anybody says, General Muhammadu Buhari is standing for something. I was sitting in my house and watching the Congress of the ANPP on the TV and General Buhari emerged as the flag bearer then and the next thing I saw, he raised the hand of Chuba Okadigbo, the Oyi of Oyi, as his running mate. I said these are the people I’m going to follow. I think I can work with them to get the Nigeria we want. So, that was how I decamped from the PDP to ANPP. I remember the party was excited and they wanted to give me automatic ticket to run for the Senate. I said no. I didn’t come to run. I came to make sure that we tilt Nigeria in the direction that will yield the best.
How do you think your constituents will receive you now?
Mr. President is the Governor of Abuja. He is also our President. When the President visits any place, there is usually a lineup of party stalwarts, chiefs and the people that practice politics, eminent personnel in that area. But there wasn’t such lineup during the commissioning of Abuja monorail two months ago. Then we were ushered into the train. I was the only Abuja based person in the train. All the chiefs and everybody were sitting out there. They were prevented. These are people that practice politics here, they are the ones that keep the party buoyant. They are eminent personalities that should be recognized at all opportunities. So, I felt that we have to have better representation in the FCT. Politics must be better. If it is the quality of representation that is causing this, then I’m ready to run. Everybody knows that the senatorial seat in Abuja is occupied by the opposition party. So, the lacuna between governance at the top and the people, in the FCT, the highest office you can aspire to here, is serious. Even though it’s a legislative seat, you can use it to ensure you have better politics played locally. So, these were the things that really started agitating my mind.
What are you bringing to the table now, especially contesting against an opposition incumbent?
You must understand the FCT terrain because it varies. If you say you are going to Kuje for instance, the Kuje Council which is a local government is so huge that if you leave the metropolis and you want to go to a town called Kudun Kariya in Kuje, you have to go to Abaji first, you go to Nasarawa State, pass Nasarawa before you get to Kudun Kariya. Kudun Kariya is Northeast of Abuja. If we put road from Karshi, we open a roadway that will lead us to Kudun Kariya directly. But because it’s not there, they have to traverse Gwagwalada, Kwali, Abaji, Nasarawa State, then back to Kuje.
We still have to go to the primaries. We have six Area Councils and in each of the Area Councils, we have layers of Nigerians. As I said, all the area councils here, the Chairmen of the Area Councils are currently chaired by APC. There was one before that that was PDP but he decamped. All the area council heads are now APC. Nigerians as I have come to see have changed. They are not the kind of Nigerians we used to have. Their mindset has closed up. They can discern, at least I know in the territory, voting for a party and voting for an individual. The point is people are going to vote on issues. We are pushing them to vote on issues than personalities. The tendency is they will look at performance. I hope that we will clinch the ticket by the grace of God.