Since becoming a lawmaker, Sanai Agunbiade, Chairman, Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Judiciary, Public Complaints and Petitions, has made himself one of the most important members of the House. He is today counted among the best six in the House. In this interview, he speaks with Assembly Matters on reasons politicians fail to meet their campaign promises
Nigerian democracy is 13 years old. How would you describe this journey?
I would start by saying the fact that we have enjoyed civil rule and have been able to send the military back to the barracks for 13 good years is enough to congratulate ourselves that as far as that is concerned, we have come of age. However, I want to believe, this is my personal opinion, that to some extent, we are still far away from the tenets of democracy in the sense that the yearnings and aspirations of the people being attended to without misgivings, ethnic sentiments and religious bigotry is still not there. We still have a problem of determining where the president or the governor of a state comes from on ethnic bias.
We are still looking at a situation where somebody is a Muslim and therefore cannot be paired together with a Christian even though they can work together as the president and the vice-president. We are still considering some primordial sentiments in determining who and who should lead us. We still see a situation where true federalism is not in place, a large sum of money is generated from a particular locality in the country and that locality is not enjoying a commensurate disbursement of their allocation. It should be to a people the size of what is gotten from them.
We are talking about federalism in terms of every state having the capacity to take some decisions on its own—the federating units being very strong and the units being very weak. We have the largest chunk of allocation going to the Federal Government which does not hold primary responsibility to the people at the grassroots.
These are the problems we still have, but at least that we can say we have political parties, we go out every four years to elect people of our choice is still a good thing- shows we have self-rule. It is already an aberration for the military to rule us and this has been put paid to for 13 years. It is not like we have not achieved anything because we have seen responsibility on individuals and certain states of the federation feeling accountable to the people who elected them.
We have seen development better than we had in the military regime. We have seen people marching to the various state Houses of Assembly as well as the National Assembly to protest the things they do not like. We have seen a more independent judiciary in this particular era than in the military era. We have seen institutionalised legislature which, of course, is completely absent in military era.
To this, we can say it will only get better. So, Nigerians should not give up as we will continue to learn every year. However, we must be very careful in the ways we administer the states, we must be very careful in our utterances, we must be careful in the way we play our politics so that we don’t bring to the fore those indices that led us to military rule of the 1960s.
How would you react to the rumour that President Jonathan may re-contest in 2015?
We should be guarded in our statements. I read in the national dailies recently where one person (probably referring to Mujahid Dokubo Asari) was saying: “We shall defend Jonathan with the last drop of our blood come 2015.” It is a very careless and unguarded statement. You are not talking about 2012 and you are talking about 2015. You are also not talking about assisting the man to deliver the dividends of democracy to the expectations of the people. You are not saying that you would defend the people to ensure that this man’s government sails through. You are not saying you are going to defend the man to ensure that when his administration comes to an end, he would be ranked as the best civilian president the country ever had. You are saying you are going to defend him in 2015 against an ambition. What has he done with the current mandate given to him?
We are not saying the man is not doing anything, but people should learn to stop patronising political office holders so carelessly and unguardedly in such a way that they would cause trouble in the country just because they want recognition and patronage from the person in office. What kind of blood? We are all condemning what is going on the country, we should not sectionalise or it. There are issues and there are issues; 2015 is a bridge ahead and when we get to that bridge, we would cross it.
If the man performs so well in office, by 2014, the people would clamour for his return and nobody would say he wants to lay down his valueless blood.
Democracy should not be an ambition to be in government perpetually. It should be an ambition to spend your time, resources and endowed talent to improve the lot of the people. So I want to say that all the things we are seeing, including issues with the Boko Haram, are within the areas of religion and ethnicity which we should have gotten over.
Therefore, all democratic actors should be careful this time. When they are making their statements, acting their scripts and gallivanting, they should bear in mind that some people laid down their lives for this democracy to be entrenched in Nigeria . Most of those that laid down their lives are not at the helms of affair today, most of those that laid down their lives are students some of whom are unemployed today. They should also remember those who were in the trenches doing everything possible for the military to go back to the barracks are today substantially not part of those who now run the democratic institutions we now have.
Therefore, we must not make the mistake of encouraging those we have been sent back to think that they can come in between our differences. Don’t forget that when some people were fighting, those that are today in government were wining and dining with the military. While some people were on the streets, they took cover. But I know that gradually, we would get there. We are saying we do not have effective electricity supply; some people are increasing the tariff. If you really want to do something reasonable, make the people see what they are paying for.
The situation of the country is already getting people angry, so we don’t need to just wake up from our beds and come up with some policies. We must carry out researches and have calculated analysis of what we are going to project so that we do not make the people feel that we are taking them for a ride. On that note, I want to say though we are learning democratic principles, we should not learn so slowly. If you must lead or take political office, you must sacrifice your time and resources to justify the people’s mandate. Anybody can occupy whatever position anyone is occupying today.
Be you the president, you are not the best in the country, be you the governor, you are not the best in your state, if you are appointed a commissioner, you are not the best for the job and if you are fortunate to get the mandate of the people as a legislator, you should know you are not the best in your area. You must therefore justify the trust of the people while you benefit, because there is no position where the occupier does not benefit.
You are all clamouring for true federalism where the states would be stronger than the centre. Do you think we will ever achieve that?
My own belief is that nothing is impossible. When you desire something and you work tirelessly towards it, you achieve it. With determination and the grace of God, we can achieve anything. We have seen people who have become presidents, governors, members of the legislature without them nursing previous ambition. There are some people who have built structures over the years with the mind of attaining certain positions, but the structures they built to win elections were used by some other persons that were preferred by their parties. That is to tell you that it is not how much you struggle, but determination, hardwork and the grace of God that puts one in a position. One thing we should realise is that Nigeria of 2011 is far better than the Nigeria of 2007. If you compare the conduct of elections in those two years, you would realise that we have improved in our democratic practice. If we have the same zeal and determination that went into the 2011 elections in 2015, you would see far more progress, you would see lesser petitions, you would see the judiciary marching very stronger.
New constitutional issues are being raised and when you make electoral fraud less profitable, people would be deterred from going into it. We would get there gradually, but what is bad is to take five steps forward and 10 steps backwards. I don’t believe Nigeria cannot be the best in the world, but it is a matter of time and the resolution between you and me to purge ourselves of all unfashionable democratic beliefs and practices.
Various bodies, including the United States government have said the level of corruption in Nigeria has increased tremendously. How do you view this?
As far as I am concerned, I don’t believe in any report by any analyst outside the shores of Nigeria . It is the same as a person just waking up and saying the rate of HIV in a particular location is alarming. At times, they just make unnecessary projections that do not represent what is actually on ground. And it is high level of degradation when a man tells you your own story. What is the parameter to show that Nigeria is getting more corrupt?
No doubt we have corrupt people everywhere; it is because the system is encouraging corruption. To say it is increasing, I need empirical proof for that. For me, as long as there is no proof, it is a fallacy of appealing to authority that if the U.S. says it, then it must be true. Did you not read also that fake spare parts are used in U.S. aircraft? Would you have expected that such things would happen in a place like the U.S? There is mess everywhere; it is just the projection that matters.
I am not saying there is no corruption in Nigeria , but it is our duty to purge ourselves of it. A journalist that sees corruption but covers it up because he is given something is himself corrupt, a policeman that is sent out to arrest anyone who infringes on the law and instead goes to collect money from that person is himself an offender, when a LASTMA official apprehends a driver for driving against traffic and those in the vehicle begin to insult the official, it means they are corrupt.
Corruption is not only in the area of financial indiscipline but when you are not doing what you are supposed to do the right way, when you are fond of doing the wrong thing at the right time or when you pervert the true course of things. People accuse the politicians of corruption and I keep telling them that the military spoilt this country, whether we like it or not. A true leader is not one who takes power through the barrel of guns. How many years did the politicians rule this country apart from this current democracy?
The level of corruption and the love of money could be trace to the military. So when a man is brought into a house that is spoilt to a certain degree, it would take time for the man to normalise things and for the mess to be cleared. Those who are even accusing politicians of corruption are the same people who would not vote without collecting some money, who would sell their voters’ card to the highest bidders, they are the people who would ask you to give them what you want to give them because when you get there, you would not remember them. Even if you have the intention to work, those sending you there would give you the impression that you cannot do anything when you get there because you are corrupt. In this case, they pre-empt your corruption even before you get there. So the electorate would get their own share of the loot upfront. The man therefore goes there to recoup what he had spent even though I am not justifying that. You can’t get to a particular position through a messy process and think of clearing up the mess, but when you don’t even attempt to clear the mess, you would end up further destroying the situation.
But whoever gets to a position through the mandate of the people and then uses the mandate against the same people is only asking for the wrath of God. God has a way of judging people. People have really amassed the wealth of the country to themselves, but the question: Where are they today? Where are their children? You cannot eat your cake and have it. The law of Kama is there. The only thing is when the law catches up with them; you may not be able to see them because they would have fallen out of relevance.
What is your advice to Nigerians especially at this trying period?
Nigerians must be hopeful, have faith in God and know that there are seasons. There are the rainy and the dry seasons. There is even a critically dry season called drought. If we believe strongly that Nigeria will be better, then Nigeria will be better. We must play down our ethnic sentiments and realise that our indigenship are only an accident of birth. That you were brought into this world by one man is even accident of faith; you could have been born elsewhere.
So here in Nigeria, we must accept ourselves without barrier. Let the president come from anywhere. If a Yoruba man becomes a president and he does very well and then another Yoruba man comes up, why can’t you vote him? Why must you leave merit for mediocrity in the sense of ethnic balance and the rest of such a thing?
The president of Nigeria is not a tribal or ethnic president and he is supposed to do justice to the oath he took while coming into office meaning that he cannot unreasonably favour his own tribe. But here you see people who would trample on individuals with merit and then pick someone who does not even merit it and that’s why the entire system is collapsing. Let us celebrate merit and discourage mediocrity and ethnic sentiments. God is one. Whether you are a Christian or Muslim, God is one. It is only our approach that differs. Moreover, God has not sent you to destroy another person. So face your own religion and let the other person face his.