Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo is the chairman, Forum of first time members of House of Representatives that are elected on the platform of APC. The lawmaker representing Akoko Northeast/Northwest of Ondo State, in this interview with TOPE FAYEHUN, speaks on topical issues
Presently, about seven members are jostling for the Speakership. As Chairman of Forum of first time members, what is the position of your forum?
The position of the forum is not different from the position of the party. I am a party man. I have the blood of the party running through my vein. The leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari has spoken, the National Chairman as spoken, the NWC has spoken and all other organs of our party fully align with the choice of the party which is Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. On that position of the party is where we stand.
But some members of your party still ignored the decision of the party…
To me, I don’t think their agitations or their position is tenable and I will tell you why. One, the party has to zoned the position because of fairness and equity. It is hypocritical for you to say the party must zone the position again to the North. That is a peak of hypocrisy. Having said that, we all know that Nigeria is broken down into two different parts. That is, Northern and Southern parts.
The North has the Senate Presidency already, so it will just be fair if the highest position in the House of Representatives should go to the South. If you look at it critically, Mr. President is from the north, while the Vice is from the South. Likewise, the Chairman of the national assembly is the Senate President. The position has been zoned to the North. And the Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. And this has to go to the South. So that both divides can balance. There should be no marginalisation. I do not see any contestation or issues on that.
But their argument is that the position ought to have been zoned to North Central…
Let me answer you. Whenever politics on ground, we politicians play with figure and statistics too much. Firstly, Nigeria is divided into the North and the South. Either Northwest, North Central and Northeast. They all North. Southeast, Southwest and South-south are all South. The senate presidency, to the best of our knowledge, has been zoned to the North. In that instance, it has been zoned to the Northeast. It is just normal, just and fair that the Speakership should come from the Southern part of Nigeria. When it comes to the Southern part of the country, we have Southeast, Southwest and South-south, I think the party, maybe, looked at the strength of their party in various zones.
This, I don’t know. APC has only four members in the entire Southeast. In the South-south we have just seven members. I think we have about 39 or 49 from the Southwest. Apart from that, the party looked at the personality that is involved. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila has been in the House for about 16 years, and in 12 years out of the 16 years, he been there as a Principal Officer. He was the minority whip, minority leader and is the current majority leader. He has the leadership experience. It is just conventional when a party wins majority in the House, it automatically produces the Speaker.
So, this is just normal. He has the experience. No doubt that all the contestants are qualified, but even in the animal kingdom where all animals are equal, some are still more equal than the others. Gbajabiamila is much more qualified by virtue of his experience in leadership positions, by virtue of Bills, motions and his interpersonal relationship with all members of the House. For us as a forum, we are happy that the party took a right decision. We are happy that the party gave us somebody that can be a bridge between the executive and the legislative arms and not a wall.
Don’t you think that the way things are going with the APC, the repeat of the 2015 scenario is imminent?
Anybody that thinks that will happen must be day dreaming. The indices are not the same. Yes, the two scenarios might look similar, they might be identical but they are not the same. One, APC has about 225 members in the House of Representatives now and PDP has about 119 members if I am not wrong. With the crops of Representatives on the platform of APC that I see, I can bet with you that we don’t have legislators that will rock the boat. We are united in our quest to position the party effectively.
Two, in our forum, we are 156. Out of the 156 APC first term members, I tell you, we are united in making sure that the party’s position prevails. In any developed democracy in the world, the party is always stronger than the government. Because it is the party that has the manifesto.
Government is meant to implement the manifesto of the party. So, the party is in position to know among its members who is the best person that can implement the manifesto of the party to reposition Nigeria. Don’t forget that I was not on the ballot paper. My name wasn’t there, neither did my picture appear on the ballot paper. My constituency voted for APC and voted for the broom as a logo.
We’ve had Supreme Court interpretation saying that it is the party that wins elections. It means that people voted for the manifesto and they entrust the party with their mandate to be able to better their lives. If a particular can¬di¬date disappoints the people, it is the party that has disappointed.
The party has a lot to lose if anything goes wrong. The party has a lot to gain if everything works out fine. So, it is just the norm that the party must take centre stage and take charge of the situation like this, because the party is going to be affected either positively or negatively. For us, I want to assure you that we are all loyal party members and I want to tell you that even our PDP members will join us, because a lot of them want this government to go to the next level. A lot do not want constant confrontations between the executive and legislative arms of the government.
A lot of them are not happy with the delay of budget passage for seven months out of 12 months. A lot of them are not happy with unnecessary clog in the wheel of the the country’s progress. A lot of them are not happy that many of the nominees of Mr. President are not confirmed, which is the core responsibility of the National Assembly.
We have so many nominees for strategic positions that have not been confirmed. I believe that a lot of our PDP brothers are not aligned with that type of style. Most of them that genuinely love this country will join us in making sure that the leadership of Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila is properly enthroned for the betterment of Nigeria and above all to give a better country and future as a people.
What are you doing to pacify those that are not in line with the party on the choice of Gbajabiamila as the next Speaker?
I am not speaking for the party, but I know that we have very responsive leadership in the party led by our National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. We have a lot of confidence in his ability to trouble shoot. Don’t forget that he is a former labour leader and crisis management and crisis resolution is part of his call or his area of competence. I want to assure you that a lot of work is going on behind the scene. At the end of the day, you will be shocked that we will go into the election as a united family .
What kind of House are you looking forward?
An interesting house. A house that will do things right for the betterment of Nigerians, a house that will prioritize the interest of Nigerians and in all, a house that will be loyal to the people of Nigeria. Above all, we are looking forward to amonious relationship with the executive arm of government. To me, you don’t need to rubber stamp to have harmonious relationship. The executive should be able to complement the legislative arm and the legislative arm should be able to complement the executive arm of government.
Don’t forget, we are still talking about separation of power. We focus much on separation of power and we forget the interdependency of government. What makes government work is interdependency of government. That is, Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Although, we are all different arms of government, we are still one government. The ability to work together, putting the interest of Nigerians as a common force is what will actually move Nigeria to the next level.
So, I am looking at a house after four years that would be able to come up with bills and motions that will take Nigeria to the next level. We can’t continue to crawl as a country. If we can’t fly now, at least we should be able to run. Yes, criticism is allowed. Executive can criticise us, we can criticise them, but it has to be constructive criticism. Criticism that will bring out better result.
Nigerians are not interested in this petty petty fight, they are interested in having a better lives, they want the economy to be better, they want jobs to be created. They want secured environment, they want this country to be the country of their dreams and that is what national assembly should and will focus on.
Presently, the country is facing serious security challenges. Some people are of the opinion that the federal government is not doing enough. Do you have any plan to bring this to the House when it is inaugurated?
The federal government is trying to address some of these security challenges. We have to understand that Nigeria is a diverse and very big country. And the security situation, before this government came on board had deteriorated so much that we lost part of the territory in terms of local governments, to insurgent. The level of crime was at alarming rate before this particular government came on board. But now, we have no territories under the control of terrorists and that is a big plus for this government. Moreover, security is a continuum. Everyday of our lives we have to keep improving on security because the insurgents are also improving on their methods.
And I think our armed forces are doing very well in adapting to the new challenges of security. But nevertheless, there is still room for improvement. We can’t say we’ve gotten there but as a government, I think we are doing very well and I think the next national assembly will be able to collaborate with the executive towards bringing up innovative ideas that will give us a better result on our security challenges. The government is doing very well. We can do better but we are not doing badly.
What should the people of your constituency expect from you upon your inauguration in June?
I aim to give them a voice at the national levy which I think I have started doing, and I will continue to do, even better. Two, I hope to give efficient and effective representation to the people of my constituency. And to be able to facilitate developmental projects to my constituency. One of such which is very important to me is the road between Ikare and Oke-Agbe, to Oyin to Omuo. It is the road that links the Southwest west to the North Central. It is a death trap. Our people are suffering and it is a federal road. We want to ensure that government intervenes.