(VERY INTERESTING PERSPECTIVE … and some revelations too. Though I thinnk I know this bros o. he ‘hammered’ in the House, not before)
Published July 20, 2019
Mr Wole Oke, a five-term member of the House of Representatives representing Oriade/Obokun Federal Constituency of Osun State, is one of those involved in the minority leadership crisis in the chamber. He tells LEKE BAIYEWU about his role in the issue, lawmakers’ remuneration and the security crisis in the country
Why did you support Mr Tony Elumelu to be Minority Leader against Mr Kingsley Chinda, the choice of your party, the Peoples Democratic Party?
=Ordinarily, Chinda was the candidate that I was rooting for but we are 147 members (of the minority parties) and out of these 147, the PDP has 127 members and other political parties have 20 members. I am not the only one to elect or nominate the Minority Leader; it is the responsibility of all the minority parties’ members to nominate their leader. So, if the majority so decide to nominate Elumelu, as a politician who is in Abuja in the interest of my constituents and with my experience in this chamber, I don’t have to stand alone. So, I had to do the needful and the needful I did was to move in the direction of the majority?
How many were the majority of the opposition members you are talking about?
We were 111 out of 147.
Some people had expected you to fight for the interest of your party and not to follow the interest of other minority parties. Does the PDP, being the biggest among the minority parties, not reserve the right to have a choice candidate?
By convention, like in the case at hand, the PDP is the biggest minority party. We have other smaller parties and you have to look at the provision of the Constitution and the House Rules. In the past, we did extend courtesies to other parties but that is not the rule of law; that is not the Constitution and not also the House rule and what it says. Assuming without conceding, if any member is interested in becoming the Minority Leader, at least there should be a yardstick; there should be parameters to determine who such a person would be. And such a candidate who chooses or elects to lead his contemporaries and colleagues should talk to his colleagues.
Are you saying that Chinda did not lobby you to get your support?
He did not need to lobby me. I told you ab initio that Chinda was my candidate. Ordinarily, if Chinda had worked and warmed the heart of the majority of minority parties’ members, he would probably have emerged (as Minority Leader). Just like the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; even though there are 210 members of the All Progressives Congress (in the House), he went around this country. He went to the nooks and crannies; he went to governors, party leaders and members’ houses. He looked for the votes. He did not say because he had the party behind him, (he was) to sit down and watch. He did that in 2015 and he paid for it.
At what point did you switch your support from Chinda to Elumelu?
Like I told you, when I watched that the majority of the members of the minority parties were tilting towards Elumelu, I did not want to be the only person (left behind) because I was mindful of what and how my constituency would benefit from such an exercise.
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Considering that the PDP claimed to have written to the Speaker to nominate Chinda but he went ahead to read the letter by minority members nominating Elumelu, do you think Gbajabiamila was fair by that action?
Mr Speaker is a lawyer, a very senior member of this parliament, a ranking member of this parliament; who understands the rules and the provisions of the Constitution. He can interpret the Constitution offhand vis-a-vis the House rules. So, Mr Speaker acted rightly because we have eight minority parties but one party wrote (to the Speaker). Mr Speaker looked at the two correspondence before him, so I think. I don’t know when he received the letter written by our party and when he received the other. I knew when the minority parties’ members came together and presented the nomination (of Elumelu). So, Mr Speaker acted rightly in the eye of the law.
And the PDP suspended you, Elumelu and other leaders of your faction for one month…
How did you feel about the suspension?
It is sub judice; not that we are before a court of law but because there is a committee set up by the party to look into the matter, and we have met and appeared before the panel and the panel has yet to make their report known. So, because of that, I wouldn’t want to speak on the suspension issue. Aside from that, I am from a school of thought and what my leader taught me is not to discuss my party leaders and party decisions in the public. So, I’ll plead that we should shelve that until a future date when the panel must have made it recommendations and the party has probably decided on it.
Do you believe that the panel would be fair to both sides, knowing that the party prefers Chinda ?
I have no reason not to have faith in the committee when you look at its composition; when you see someone in the person of Senator Iyorcha Ayu, a former President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; ditto Senator (Adolphus) Wabara; Senator David Mark; former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu; and my leader, former Deputy Speaker, Austin Okpara, who is the Secretary of the committee. When you see such knowledgeable and experienced legislators, coming from my constituency as parliamentarians, honestly I have absolute faith in them.
You once mentioned that somebody might have raised a false alarm, leading the PDP to probe into the minority leadership matter…
Sometimes when you misinform people, people (will) misbehave. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how the party concluded that it should suspend me and other members.
Some people believe that it was due to the party’s invitation to you and others, which you turned down…
No, I got the invitation through my home help. I had left Abuja and tried to reach my party leaders – the National Chairman (Uche Secondus), and members of the National Working Committee – by call, SMS and WhatsApp, that this was my situation. It was the day that we (Osun PDP) lost (governorship) election at the Supreme Court and I had to go and pacify my people at home. So, I was not in Abuja. I thought it was my fundamental human right that I should be availed fair hearing. But like I’ve told you, these are the issues and I don’t want to dance within the arena. I will wait until the panel completes its assignment.
You also called the suspension double jeopardy for the PDP in Osun…
I expected that our party and our ‘parent’ at the national level should mourn with us; they should be sympathetic to our cause rather than inflicting pains (on us).
What is the state of the PDP in Osun State now, especially as Dr Deji Adeleke recently said his younger brother, Senator Isiaka Adeleke, would no longer accept the governorship ticket of the party as he was allegedly betrayed in the last election?
Nothing is going on, we are still together. Those are things to expect and you never can say, we are human beings. It (2022) is still some years ahead. They (Adelekes) might review the situation in future and change their mind; you never can say. But that is their position anyway, and I am not their attorney and wouldn’t speak for them. Dr Deji Adeleke is one of our revered leaders. I have a very wonderful relationship with him. He may have his reasons for coming to that conclusion. But then, it is neither here nor there. In the future, we’ll see how it goes. We are politicians.
Can you say the PDP is truly rebranded, considering how it has managed its affairs, especially at the House of Representatives?
Yes, the PDP is rebranded. From having 10 governors, we now have 16 governors.
But what about the party?
It is about the party. Who forms the party? Individuals who come together freely. It is a mixture of both. So, if an individual has followership and decides to use a platform, it is a combination of both.
Do you think that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration of the All Progressives Congress is leading the country on the right track, especially as criticisms are coming from former President Olusegun Obasanjo and others, even though the President believes that some of the critics are unpatriotic?
That is Mr President’s opinion and he is entitled to his opinion. From what I have read, he thinks that some people have taken undue advantage of the current security situation in the country to galvanise and advance their political position. But I am not inclined to agree (with him) because I don’t see what will politically advance Obasanjo, who had been Head of State during the military era (in the 70s) and President from 1999 to 2007. And they are best of friends; they are both comrades, they were both in the (Nigerian) Army, so they know each other very well. I don’t know what goes behind the scene; I don’t know whether they talk or discuss. In Yorubaland where I am from and where I grew up, when elders are talking, we are counselled not to dabble into what they are talking about.
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But the issue they are discussing, which is security, affects everybody…
Exactly! But sincerely speaking, I will admit that we should have a change in the area of security nationally. Yes. I’ve been privileged to be Chairman of the Defence Committee in this country for eight years and I can tell you a bit of the security architecture of the nation. So, I can tell you that, yes we have security problems; and to solve the problems, we need to have discussions. There must be dialogue.
Does that mean you agree with President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, that a national security summit should be held?
Yes, I agree with him. What the Senate President is saying is not different from what Obasanjo has said. We need political discussion; we need to bring people to the table. When we are talking about security architecture, a common labourer has a role to play, the traditional rulers have a role to play, and market women have a role to play because they can all help in terms of gathering security intelligence.
The Eighth Senate organised a two-day national security summit in 2018, which had all stakeholders in attendance, including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Nigerian Governors’ Forum but nothing came out of it…
You cannot say so.
But the security crises seem to have become worse between then and now…
The products of that engagement form part of what you see in the areas of motions, legislation, amendments, repealing and enactment of the laws. You cannot say so. And we shouldn’t be tired of dialogue.
But should the National Assembly be amending and making more laws when the existing ones have not been fully implemented?
Like which laws have not been implemented?
Many Nigerians strongly believe that there is impunity in the land, that there is injustice, that the criminal justice system is not efficient enough and justice is not dispensed as and when due. Are they not right?
That is subjective; that position is subjective. If I were in your shoes, if I held such opinions and I had examples of such, I would owe this country a duty to talk about it. Don’t also forget that even you as a citizen, you can approach a court of law and ask for an order of mandamus; that someone who has defied the Constitution of this country should be brought to justice. Don’t you know that you have that constitutional right? Don’t you know that you can approach a lawyer if you know that somebody is a criminal or somebody has carried out a criminal act? It is your duty to approach the court or security agencies to inform them. So, it is a collective work; it is a collective business.
If a new national security summit is to be held, should the country discard the report by the national confab held in 2014 which has recommendations that can address some of these national crises?
I did not say so. We are in a dynamic society. Former President Goodluck Jonathan has advocated that we should look at the 2014 confab report. For example, I can also fault such a report. I can say that why should we have a confab when we have a National Assembly. Why are you creating a body that will usurp the functions of the legislature? Don’t you think that the confab, no matter how rich the products of their discussions and deliberations are, is a usurpation of the functions of the National Assembly? Its delegates, were they elected? When you have lawmakers elected by you, to represent you, to make laws for you, and the executive is setting up another arm of illegal legislature. If you are my constituent, you are in a position to engage me, write to me, to ask that certain issues be looked upon. After all, we hold town hall meetings and it is the product of such town hall meetings and deliberations that form motions and bills that we present at the National Assembly. Why didn’t the confab report go into law in 2014?
Jonathan said his administration had no time left to do that as it was approaching the 2015 general elections…
(That is) because such discussions took place outside the precinct of the National Assembly.
So, if another national security summit is to be held, what will be the fate of its report?
If we are holding discussions and if it is led by the legislature, who, statutorily and constitutionally, has it as their duty to make laws, then you will see the effect because we will hold a public hearing. If the National Assembly had led the confab in 2014, we would have invited the people who participated in the confab to appear and make submissions at the public hearing. Then, we would take their submissions for further legislative activities.
With this legal argument that you have raised, what is now the fate of the 2014 confab report?
I still insist that the document was handled and done by a body (that was) unknown to law. It was unknown to law. Until that document is filed, presented or listed maybe as a bill or constitutional amendment or as a motion…it is like a group of friends coming together to have discussions. Then, we had a National Assembly in place.
What is the Ninth National Assembly planning to do differently to redeem its image in the eye of the Nigerian public?
What is the image?
Many Nigerians feel this is where corruption is headquartered and that the remuneration of its members is being kept secret.
The way to go is to operate an open-door policy. It is for the National Assembly to have their medium for information dissemination. In advanced countries like the United States, they have a television channel that is dedicated to parliamentary activities. We can have a radio station or a channel. Citizens must have access to information about the National Assembly. I will disagree with you that we have corruption in the National Assembly. I’ve been privileged to be here since 2003, I will disagree with you. What I earn as salary in the National Assembly is open. What I earn as running costs is open. And anybody who knows me too well will know that what I earn as salary and as running costs are peanuts compared to what I can earn from my private engagements.
Can you mention what you earn?
Why not? My salary, when you take away the taxes, is N606, 000. I have the payment voucher, I can publish it.
And the allowances?
Yes, I can publish everything given to me in the form of my salary and running costs. The running costs are retired.
What are the running costs?
The running costs amount to N8.5m. How much is N8.5m to me as a person? If you have to embark on research, looking at all the bills that I have sponsored in the House, you will see that those bills that I sponsored are not ones you can just come by anyhow; they are not bills that you pick on the shelve. I remember when I promoted the National Pension Commission Act, it took me out to Chile and other countries like Argentina, the United Kingdom and India. If you give me N8.5m and I have to go and find out what is happening aside from the information that I get from the Internet… Look at the tickets and see the flight costs even if I am flying economy class. So, how much is that? If I have to engage lawyers and professionals to prepare bills for me, to work on motions for me; and get researchers also. In the American Congress, do you know how much their running costs are? It is $1m. Do you know how much their salary is? It is $14,000 per month. Yet, you pay me $2,000 as salary.
So, I agree with you; we need to open up. And in the Eighth Assembly, we did open up. I remember a senator from Kaduna State (Shehu Sani) that stood up and declared what they earned (N13.5m as running costs).
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But he was castigated internally…
That is because the parliament is never popular in any democracy. What is the official car given to a member of the parliament? Peugeot 508 (for members of the last House). A director-general of a parastatal, what is their official car? Lexus! Lexus! Somebody that I prepared his budget, somebody that I oversee; somebody that I’m senior to in hierarchy rides bulletproof (Toyota) Land Cruiser or Lexus bought for N78m. Go and find out. I chaired the Committee on Procurement, so I see these things. And you gave me (Peugeot) 508 that I can’t even ride. I don’t use it. I use my personal car because I like Toyota products due to fuel economy. But somebody that I oversee, who reports to me, has one, two or three sport-utility vehicles; Lexus and Land Cruiser. He has more votes than I do, yet you are blackmailing me.
Apart from the salary and running costs, what about the other allowances?
There are no other allowances; everything goes into the running costs. Everything is in the running costs. I can publish it; everything is in the running costs. And don’t forget that some of us did not come here as poor people. I know how much I earn in the private sector on my own, in my businesses. I know the number of workers that I have and I know how much I pay as a wage bill every month. How many managing directors and directors-general can boast of such employees? Tell me about one director-general in his private endeavour that can boast of 600 workers. As lawmakers, we cannot engage in any popularity contest with anybody in the executive, because of the way they have projected us. Society and constituents are being misguided and misinformed. Besides whatever you get here in the form of salary or allowances, you have constituents with their numerous problems waiting (for you). Do you know how many scholarships and school fees that I am responsible for? Do you know how many constituents of mine who are ill; people who want to put to bed, people who have to undergo operations (surgeries) or need support? Do you know how many community projects that I have to support or celebrations and events that I have to support?