Senator Smart Adeyemi represents Kogi West senatorial district. In this interview, he gives an insight into how the Senate rejected a request by President Muhammadu Buhari to delete the controversial Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act restricting political appointees from contesting party primaries while still in office. He says it is not proper to compromise the principle of fair representation on the altar of party affiliation. As 2023 approaches, he urges his party, the APC not to take Nigerians for granted. Politics Editor of The Trumpet, JOSHUA OMOLOYE brings excerpts.
Q: The Senate unanimously rejected the executive bill, seeking to amend Section 84(12) of the 2022 Electoral Act. In view of the fact that it was President Muhammadu Buhari that personally wrote the National Assembly, requesting for that amendment, don’t you think that your decision will cause serious problem between the President and the lawmakers on one hand and hierarchy of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC) and the National Assembly members on the other hand?
A: You know that anybody that is in the Senate must count himself as lucky to be so recognized to represent the people and defend their needs, their aspirations and their future. So, when you are in the Senate, there comes a time when politics on the basis of party affiliation will be secondary. In essence, you will be looking at issues dispassionately based on what you know is good for your country because whatever we do here is recorded and is going to become history. So, there are situations where it is so compelling that you need to speak your mind based on your conviction, which must be based on the tenets and hallmark of democracy itself. Democracy is the best form of government but you see, democracy can also be the worst form of government when there is injustice and inequality. Democracy can be the worst form of government when leaders fail to speak the truth. Democracy can be the worst form of government when at every point in time the people are compromised based on party sentiment. Democracy can be the worst form of government when people look at issues for their individual benefits and allow sentiment to becloud their sense of reasoning . Democracy can equally be the worst form of government when you deliberately refuse to speak at all. So, in essence, democracy can be the best form of government when those who have been elected speak their minds on the basis of what is good for the country; and party considerations made secondary, the people come first. The peace, stability, prosperity and economic emancipation of the people are of greater concern than the pedestrian sentiments of politics.
So, what we saw during the debate on the proposed amendment to the 2022 Electoral Act was a consideration of the fact that we took all the factors available into consideration and we stood our ground to say this is the best for our country. Maybe in some developed nations, the position we took wouldn’t have been taken but I want you to know that laws vary from nation to nation because in making laws, we take into consideration the people you are making the law for; their kind of life, their ways of life. You take into consideration their norms and value system. There are nations of the world that don’t have one-quarter of the number of mosques in Nigeria; there are nations of the world that don’t have one-tenth of the mosques and churches in Nigeria but they will not engage in fraudulent practices. They will not do anything that will be harmful to the peace, stability and progress of their nations. So, you will now ask, what do the Bible and Quran ask us to pray for our country and to that which is just and fair to all, irrespective of your religion. Both the Bible and the Quran have the meeting point of “love your neighbour as yourself”. Now, that can only happen where there is good governance. So, when a bill comes, you have to look at it from the angle of what will this portray for our nation.
Q: There are insinuations that beyond public interest, the Senate took that step in order to curtail the excesses of the State Governors, who use their aides as delegates during party primaries to overwhelm their opponents such as members of the National Assembly, who don’t have such advantage of numerous aides. Is this true?
A: Mind you, we are talking about politics in a democratic system. Now, if you are holding on to executive power, and you want them to go to the same field with people who do not hold executive power, is there justice and fairness? Don’t forget that because of lack of gainful employment of where people can make their livelihood, the unfortunate thing today is that many people who are compelled, maybe due to failure of the system or of the people in politics or problem due to economic recession, people now see politics as a profession. Politics must not be a profession. So, if somebody is holding on as executive member at whatever level the person is, and he is still telling you to allow him to have access to voting, who dictates the tune? The man who dictates the tune tells you what to sing. Somebody who has not worked anywhere, though not of his making, who probably out of frustration and no job, decides to go into politics, whatever his paymaster tells him is what he is going to do. So, ab initio he is already compromised. Such people cannot have the right frame of mind to decide what is good for the country. They will vote according to directives given to them. Now, let me say this, the incoming elections in Nigeria will not be a matter of party consideration. Nigerians are wiser; they will ask you who is the candidate, what is the antecedent, where is he coming from? That even explains why we made provision for independent candidates. One of the greatest things that can happen to any democratic society is to have platform for independent candidate; so that if you don’t get your ticket, you can go all out. So, we took the decision we took on the amendment bill to the Electoral Act because it was the best thing for our nation.
The President, Muhammadu Buhari, is a good man; the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is a good man. But good as these people are, they cannot be everywhere and do everything at the same time. There are people who bring memo to them, who make suggestions to them, who tell them this is the way to go. But don’t forget that we are 109 in the Senate, who are not push overs; people who have established their names in their chosen career, people who have held good positions; people who are well educated with many of them with PhD. There are many people who have PhD but they don’t display it or show off with it. There are many lawyers there whom people don’t even know that they are lawyers. In fact, there are law students there and you don’t know that they are law students. There are journalists there and many other professionals there. So, all of us cannot go wrong. That’s the argument; we can’t all go wrong.
Read Also: 26th NUGA Games open in UNILAG
Q: Was there no lobbying among members of the APC before you went in to debate the bill, to protect the party or support the President by not allowing the bill to die at the Second Reading attempt? Many Nigerians are actually curious to know what really transpired?
A: Of course, when the issue came up that morning, before the debate started, there had been a lot of talking and consultations (no, our party must be protected, no, our party must not be denied). But the President will be happier when we deny him because we are telling him that he didn’t get it right. Do you know that in some states, you have governors with five hundred special assistants? Do you know that in some states, already some commissioners are jittery now? So, what we feel what is good for our nation is what we have done. And when your nation comes first, the issue of party affiliation should be secondary. In anything we do, the nation must come first. For me, not just that the nation comes first, the man in the street also comes first. In anything I do and say, what is always on my mind is always what happens to the man in the streets. And I don’t play politics when I am talking about the man in the street. I don’t want commendation when I am defending the course of the man in the street. I do it because that is the right thing to do; that is why I am here. So, you don’t need to praise me for doing what is right and good for the people. If I take a position and you have a cause to disagree with me, by the time I explain the detail, you will agree with me that I have a good reason for it. I have sworn to God, I will never compromise what will be good for our nation and what will be good for our people. There are situations when we bend, it doesn’t mean the situations will make us to fall for those things, those visions we are committed to. Yes, I will not fall down for such things. In essence, I will not compromise in totality on those things I believe. So, what we saw that day was just a manifestation of the fact that we are statesmen. And that will always be done any time there are situations like that because there is no good democratic society where you don’t have a system that will guarantee the emergence of good candidates, devoid of any big man syndrome. But when you have governors come with two to three thousand people who will take instructions and answer, “yes sir, yes sir”, then there is no democracy. Then it’s worse than military government.
So, we came to conclusion that our nation comes first. Now, let me tell you, when I stood my ground and I opposed direct primary, I was the only one who stood up and opposed it. I opposed it because when you want to put a particular policy in place, you must look at it holistically. If that will come to play, I looked at it because in direct primary, all card carrying members are eligible to vote. If that happens, then the question will be how many members are registered in my senatorial district in my party. During the voting, there were people from other political parties that voted for me. But when you talk about the emergence of candidate, and it is going to be on the basis of direct primary, then you ask what is the strength of my party in my senatorial district? So, I need to work harder before I support such bill; not just in my senatorial district but across the country. So, when we take position, we take position on the basis of the nation and the people we represent. But when we do that, men who are not in politics cannot comprehend what we are doing. And when some people are talking, I just laugh because Nigeria is a nation where everybody has come to be a professor of politics. In this country, everybody thinks that he/she knows politics. I am close to twenty years in politics but I am still learning, despite my indepth tutelage in the Nigerian Union of Journalists because the more you are hearing politicians talk, the less you are understanding what they are really saying. When politicians talk, you think you are understanding what they are talking. It’s not true; you are not understanding them unless you go deeper. There are times politicians will tell you no but they mean yes and vice versa. The only time you can understand is when a man is standing up and he is making his submission.
Q: Many Nigerians including your party thought that you would support that bill because President Buhari was personally involved but you acted to the contrary. What actually happened?
A: Yes, I am fully aware that even the party leadership thought I was going to support the bill to amend Section 84(12) of the Electoral Act. But they forget that there is a moment when every man will answer his father’s name. When you stand up to make your submission on critical matters, you are writing your history; you are writing about your background, you are talking about your past life so that people can weigh you and consider who you are.
Martin Luther King Jr says that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in the time of challenge and controversy. That’s what defines a man. When you close your eyes to all other considerations and say this is where I stand, and that is what makes you who you are. Then you can say you are a statesman. But when you compromise because of party affiliation, then you are not the statesman. You are just somebody without honour and without integrity.
Q: Watching the unfolding crisis in your party, the APC, particularly as your national convention is still pending, don’t you fear that the party may nosedive into s messier situation?
A: The fear I have for the party is not about what is happening now. What is happening now is something that can be easily resolved. What I fear for the party is that the party must appreciate that the Nigerians of 2020 are not the Nigerians of 2015. The children who were fifteen years that time are now adults. In essence, my fear is that the party must not take the people for granted by just fielding any candidate. At all levels, whoever will emerge as our flag-bearer must be people of proven integrity; they must be people with great antecedents, they must be people who are unblemished. They must be people with vision, who are determined to write their name in gold; not to pack the gold of the nation, they must be people who are ready to utilize the resources of the nation for the good of all and not to pack the resources into their pockets. There are people who cannot come out to say, go ahead and probe me, and go across the world and check my assets. There is serious economic recession in the country and there is poverty as never before despite the effort of this government. We must give it to this government. Buhari’s administration has taken the issue of poverty more seriously than any previous administration. They have set up the Humanitarian Ministry. And this is the first time in this country that the Vice President is going round giving money to the poor. It tells you how committed they are, and I salute them for that. But you see, it must go beyond that. We must be looking at how we generate wealth; how we empower the people and how we improve the security and the general welfare of Nigerians. These are issues Nigerians will be asking us. So, my fear for our party is, I hope they will not make the mistake; I hope the APC will not make the mistake to take Nigerians for granted. You must bring in the best of the bests; people who are tested, people who are determined to move this country forward, and there are millions of them around. They may not have the means to win party ticket but we must draw the line and give the considerations. Who are we looking for to run? They must be people of proven integrity and I don’t want to ask for less. And the same thing should apply to other political parties. If all the political parties think that it is going to be business as usual, it will not work. You know the big men are not close to the people at the grassroots. It’s we who are in the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly who mingle with the people. We move round. We are the ones who will tell you the pulse of of our people; not those who are caged. We are not caged; we are the ones the people see; we are the ones people talk with. So, it’s not going to be business as usual where you just bring in any candidates and think that they will win election.