“I Delved Into Politics To Give Back More To The People” …Sen Olalekan Mustapha

At almost 62 years of age and being a very experienced Nigerian politician, how far would you say the Nigerian politicians have succeeded in providing leadership given the challenges facing the country at the moment?

The fact that we don’t have jobs for the people today should not completely be dumped at the doorstep of the politicians. It is not only the politicians that have been at the helm of affairs since Nigeria got independence. It has been a cumulative level of decay from day-one, which, of course, the political class is part of. So, we would only continue to pray and work hard so that the level of unemployment in the country is seriously addressed. Otherwise, it would become a problem that we would not be able to handle.

Being a member of the senate, first from 2007 to 2011 under the PDP and now on the APC platform shows that your constituency has trust in your leadership; what have been your priority developmental programmes for the people of Ogun East that you represent and have you been able to achieve those objectives?

I have been able to make a lot of impacts in my constituency. If you come around my senatorial district as far back as 2010, I noticed that the Nigeria Police have a police academy in Kano, the Nigerian Army has an academy in Jaji but some of the paramilitary agencies have never had an academy. So I made sure that as a member of the senate between 2007 and 2011, I facilitated the establishment of the first prisons academy which is now called correctional academy in Ijebu- Igbo in Ogun State. For your information, that is the first prisons academy in the whole of West Africa. That academy, if properly funded and properly handled, I’m sure we would go places. Already, you can never go beyond the rank of Assistant Correctional Service without passing through the Ijebu-Igbo based academy. That is one of the major achievements as far as I’m concerned because it is an institution that must be attended by anybody who wants to get to the top in his or her career in the Nigerian Correctional Service. I have also been able to facilitate so many educational programmes especially school buildings across my senatorial district. The numbers are quite enormous. Like I said earlier, we are trying to put everything together in form of a compendium and that is better than making noise in the social media.

As chairman, senate committee on state and local government administration, you are competent to speak on the unending issue of local government autonomy. What solution can best be achieved within the frame of the constitution?

That’s a very big question. It’s big because you’re asking me to suggest what solution can best be achieved within the frame of the constitution. The constitution is actually the issue now because before the constitution can be amended, you would need the national assembly to first of all deliberate and approve of any amendments to it, and when the two chambers of the national assembly approve of it, they would need the concurrence of 24 states of assembly before that amendment can be deemed to be approved, after which it would be taken to the President for assent. But the problem is that, it might be difficult for us to achieve this, especially when the state assemblies are not free from the firm grip of their governors. So, the moment the governors are not interested or the moment they are not really comfortable with whatever it is that you’re trying to amend in the constitution; all they need to do is to ask their respective states of assembly not to accept or not concur with what the national assembly has proposed. That is the end of it. There is one example that comes to my mind. There was an amendment that we approved at the two chambers of the national assembly during the constitutional amendments of 2010. There were so many complaints about the state assemblies being tied to the apron of the governors that they couldn’t even do anything without getting approval from the governors. For them to even spend One Naira, they need to take their files to the governors and queue to see the governors like any other person, like special assistants, would wait to see the governors. There is even no difference between the state assembly, speaker and the leadership. So, the assembly was more or less a part of the executive at the state level.  We proposed that the state assemblies should be on the first line charge to get their allocations straight from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) just like the state government, and it was approved by the two chambers of the national assembly. But when it was sent round for the concurrence of the 36 states of the federation, initially we were able to get the concurrence of 24 states which was the required number that we needed at that time to get that amendment approved, unfortunately, almost immediately, one of the 24 states reconvened and withdrew their support for the amendment. So, the number became 23. This was an amendment meant for the benefit of the state assemblies. What can be worse than that? If people say they don’t want you to free them from the control of the state governors, why do you think they would support that the local governments should be allowed to be independent! That is where we are, that is the challenge we are facing.

What do you think can be done to resolve this stalemate?

Maybe we need to appeal to the state assemblies to support our position by supporting the amendment to allow the local governments to be free so that they would be able to perform their functions optimally. It is only when the local governments are able to perform their functions optimally that those things we are complaining about like lack of jobs and so on would be taken care of because a lot of people would be engaged. As it is now, councilors in the local governments are not doing anything. I know of some states where salaries of the councilors are being paid directly from the state coffers. Meanwhile, local governments are supposed to be getting their separate allocations. I don’t even know whether it gets to them directly or not. All we hear from the local governments every day is, ‘we don’t have money’. Yet, they won’t tell you why they don’t have money. I don’t know who is supposed to give them money (laughter). That is the problem. It is a national issue. Until something drastic is done about it, I’m afraid the local governments would remain incapacitated and they would continue to be non-performing and that would be to the detriment of people at the grassroots. It is when the local governments are performing that people at the local level would be gainfully engaged.

You were known as a shrewd businessman, what inspired you to join politics?

Well, you have captured this very well. I was a businessman. I am still a businessman even though politics has taken away so much of my time and so much of the opportunities. You know, when you want to really do business, you need so much time to do it. Because I have really got so deep in politics, it has in a way affected my being able to perform very well as a businessman. But the little I am able to do, I thank God that I am able to keep body and soul together. It is not possible to get everything that you need from politics except you want to soil your hands in bad things. And if you do that, you become a leper in the society. It is always necessary for whoever is in the public office to be very careful with what you get yourself into. Because of that, I try to maintain a very reasonable level of involvement in business and I make sure that whatever business I want to get involved in does not affect my image in a negative way.

Have you ever had any regret joining Nigerian politics given the high desperation for power by the politicians?

It is neither here nor there. I would honestly want to say that it has not been bad. And it can be better. First of all, my joining politics is about serving the people. At some points in the early part of life, I was very open and close to the people, whatever I had I shared with them. But I felt sharing all those personal stuffs might not be enough to cater for as many people as possible. So, I felt that using government opportunity might be a better way of supporting and assisting our people more. And, given the high desperation for people to get to power, it is really very unfortunate that in our part of the world, it is considered as part of the game. It is sad for people to fight dirty, blackmail others and create things that don’t even exist, just to get to power. And sometimes when they have little opportunities, they would want to create an impression that those who don’t have those opportunities are not doing well. By and large, it has been a 50-50 thing, not regrettable for being part of the political struggle. Looking back, I want to say that it could be better.

You actively supported the creation of Ijebu State from the present Ogun State. Is the agitation still on course and has the issue of where the capital should be located been resolved?

In everything we do, there’s history. At some points, Nigeria had 24 Provinces. Ijebu Province was one of those 24 Provinces. If, at that time, in the wisdom of those who created those Provinces the Ijebu Province was created, anyone who is not parochial would want to wonder why a set of people who were qualified to be one out of the old 24 Provinces suddenly would become unqualified to be one of the present 36 States. That is the puzzle nobody has been able to solve. This, to me, is most unfair. So, the agitation is still very much on course. I want to assure you that if states are going to be created in Nigeria in the future, Ijebu State would be one of them.

As a family man who is caught in the web of politics that keeps you away from home most of the time, when exactly do you have time to be with your family?

I am not too far away from home. If you want to talk about the children, they are grown up and they are doing well at their different levels, some of them with their own families. It is my wife that I am together with most of the time. I really don’t have any problem getting close to my family because we are not too far from one another. This is a technology era, so we are in touch almost every hour.

Do you discuss politics when you’re at home with the family or you leave it behind until the holiday is over and you’re back to Abuja?

We discuss politics, of course. Even people who are not politicians do discuss politics. Let alone those of us that are in politics. I share politics with them and there are suggestions that they make. Even the children make suggestions. Sometimes, they would call my attention to some of the problems the party was going through. They offer suggestions and they do advise. You know, children of today are very intelligent and they are alert to what goes on within their immediate environment. So, they contribute to whatever decisions I take politically. I’m happy that I have people like that around me who know what to do and what to suggest if anything is happening within our environment.

With your experience, do you think that majority of Nigerian youths are genuinely interested in going through the normal process of climbing the political ladder from the bottom?

There are quite a number of our youths who are interested in politics. You would be amazed when you see the number of youths that are interested in politics. Most of them are very intelligent. They only need to be encouraged by the older ones. The older ones should also get prepared to quit the stage as soon as possible so that younger people can participate and take their own positions within the political space. I got elected into the office as chairman of Ijebu North local government in 1996 when I was 36 years old. I want to believe that people who are younger can also take those positions of responsibility and we should encourage them. The older ones cannot continue to dominate the space while we leave the younger ones wandering when it would be their time. If I have my way, it is one of the things I would want to be part of our constitution, that when one gets to a certain age, he or she should not be allowed to contest election. I would want the youth to fight for these things because it is their right and they are more in number. I would want them to be united so that they can

You have always won on the ruling party platform but in 2011 you joined a minority party, Labour Party and you lost the senate race to another candidate. What was the experience like?

It wasn’t anything unusual. In fact, what we did at that time was done for a purpose. I thank God the purpose was achieved. The details of this would come when by the grace God I’m ready to release my memoirs on my experience in politics. Some people wanted to play god but we used that to tell them that there’s only one God. And probably if we didn’t do what we did at that time, we wouldn’t be where we are today in politics.

You have been in lawmaking for most of your time in politics, are there plans to go for governorship or even a higher office?

Well, as it is now, the politics that we play is more of politics of zoning. If you have someone in an office now, after some time, the people from another part of the country would begin to clamour that it is their turn. As a result of that, you must also moderate whatever you do. You must take all those factors into consideration so that you don’t just waste your time. That is not to say that if the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to shy away from it. I will not. But as it is now, I want to be more realistic by facing whatever comes my way.

-Culled from Global Excellence

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