The politics of Senator Roland Owie dates back to the Second Republic when he was a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria representing the old Bendel State. At the inception of the Fourth Republic, Owie was a senator of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Now a leader of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), he speaks on issues in the polity in this interview with Vanguard.
It is 58 years since we became an independent nation. How do you describe the current situation in Nigeria?
The current situation is pathetic; it is very unfortunate that we are in there but we created it because our founding fathers brought peace to this nation. I was a student at the Ahmadu Bello University between 1968 and 1971. At that time, when you come out to buy newspapers and the vendor is not there, you will pay and take your paper and put the money in one small earthen pot; if you need ‘change’ and there is no ‘change’ in the pot, you will write it and say your ‘change’ is such amount. When the vendor comes, he will settle everything, take his money and nothing will be missing. That was up to 1971. I experienced it.
When Muslims were fasting, when it is time to start the fast in morning, our Muslim friends will wake us up for breakfast. We were not Muslims. My own friend, the current Emir of Dutse, will wake me up and say ‘Roland, let’s go and eat’; it was two students to one chicken. That tells you the level of peace we had. There was no crisis.
Our founding fathers built Niger Bridge within one year and one month. It has taken 18 years of the Fourth Republic Federal Government to do a second Niger Bridge. All you see is ordinary pipes on the ground, yet billions of naira has been wasted. The Fourth Republic came and we met Aladja Steel, we met NITEL, we met Ajaokuta, we met several companies; even if there were deficiencies in the way they were being run, why don’t you overhaul them or possibly bring in some professionals to run the firms but they were sold. Today, NITEL buildings are dens for kidnapers.
In the civilised world, tolling is used to maintain roads after they have been built. Agreed that the tolling system was not efficient, what stops us from automating it? Instead of doing that, the President of Nigeria in 1999 abrogated toll gate system. That is why a week or two after he did it, I said Obasanjo should be charged with wilful destruction at the expiration of his tenure. He destroyed those toll gates, how will a responsible President destroy what he inherited?
The UPN (defunct Unity Party of Nigeria) (1979 to 1983) in then-Bendel State gave free education, free health; we were paying N4,000 to NCE students or Grade II teachers who were doing NCE; we were awarding scholarship to students to study in Europe, $3000, at that time. Nigeria’s 60 kobo was equal to a dollar and 90 kobo was equal to a pound. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, in spite of his government’s little deficiencies, built housing estates all over the country instead the ones that were built and the others that military regimes built for legislators, Obasanjo came and sold them. How can a responsible government turn a prodigal son? Legislative quarters is a meeting point for legislators, he sold them off because he was interested in getting third term and extension of his tenure beyond eight years.
In 1979 when Obasanjo handed to then civilian government, there was a provision in the Electoral Decree of 1978 which made provision for Electoral College in case there was no clear winner at the election and, when the result came out, there was no clear winner. It was Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo that came first and second, and we were getting ready to go to Electoral College. Members of the National Assembly of the NPP, GNPP, PRP and UPN were already meeting so that we could vote Awolowo at the Electoral College.
In between, Obasanjo removed the goal post as the match was going on. Electoral College was cancelled. That is how they came up with 12 2/3 judgement and we argued, can you have 2/3 of a human being? It was arrant nonsense, it was total rigging. If Awolowo was President of Nigeria in 1979, Nigeria today would have been better. This was a man who ran the old Western Region, he established the first television station in Africa, free education and others. I am not saying Shagari failed, he did his best.
Advent of impunity
We tried again in the Fourth Republic. Even though the guideline of the PDP, because I was a founding member, did not qualify Obasanjo to pick nomination form not to talk of running for election because the guideline was clear that, in the preceding council election of 1998, anybody that could run for governorship must have won his unit, and won his ward; anybody that is going to run for presidency must have won his unit, won his ward and won his local government. In that preceding election before the presidential, Obasanjo lost his unit, he lost his ward, he lost his local government, he lost his state, he lost the entire South West Zone, yet he was given nomination form by our party and that was the beginning of impunity in PDP.
The man became President without winning from his own zone. He got there and destroyed democracy. He took National Assembly as a department of the Presidency, there was anarchy, there was problem; he wanted to be sure who will be there. The Senate President that was zoned to South-East, do you know unfortunately too for south easterners who ought to know what they had, were ready to be instruments in the hand of Obasanjo and, within a short period, we had Evans Ewerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Anyim Pius Anyim and others whereas the House of Representatives Speaker was zoned to the North and, after Salisu Buhari fell because of forgery, Ghali Na’Abba became Speaker, no northerner made himself available to Obasanjo to be misused.
Do you see any hope of recovery from these?
Certainly, God is a great God, nobody can mock Him. He created Nigeria very well, this is the only country where you plant anything and they grow; no extreme weather. You moved at any time until these security challenges came. But I can assure you that it is going to be better provided our young men and women wake up to their responsibility in 2019. They should all go and take their PVCs. For those of us who are old, we pity the young ones. This is not a country that can be left for the young ones.
At a public function recently in Benin City, I was there and the representative of the governor came and was talking about how they were bringing Edolites who are abroad illegally and paying them. I told them ‘you are wasting your time; some of them are already going back’. Why were people not travelling abroad between 1979 and 1983? It was because the naira was better than the dollar and better than the pound, and there was a responsible government; when you finished from school, you got job but, today, nothing is happening. How will the jobs come when nothing is happening to create jobs? What can create jobs have been sold.
Obasanjo put governors in charge of states. How can a governor that collects N500 million a month as security vote and sits down in his house in the evening and watches television and he sees a person in need of help for medical reasons and that same governor goes to bed without anything? Are we saying in Nigeria that it is not time for us to have social welfare, social security for our people? Look at ‘Dasukigate’, look at what we are hearing of huge sums of money lost; look at a government that said it has abolished subsidy and privately paying subsidy.
Under normal circumstances, if the National Assembly was ready, by now, Buhari would have been impeached for irresponsibility and disruption of the system. He has committed a lot of impeachment offences and that same man will sit down with his own party and think he still wants to govern. The truth is what is not of God cannot succeed. Nigeria belongs to God and God will ensure that He cleans and those who are resisting, God will take them away.
What do you make of President Buhari’s comment that national security should take precedence over rule of law?
As soon as I read it, I knew that the leadership of this country should be in asylum. A responsible Nigerian cannot say that he is now higher than the law. After that statement, I realised that Buhari was back to 1983 when he was jailing former governors for 300 years and at the same time, he was allowing an Emir to come into the country with bags of millions of dollars; himself and the late Idiagbon decreed that people of certain age should not go for hajj and that same evening their underage children went to Saudi Arabia. The truth is that if what Buhari is sowing is of God, he will reap it; if it is not of God, he will reap it.
What are we expecting from the ADP (Action Democratic Party) in 2019?
By the grace of God, ADP is the third force. Benin people have a parable that when a woman marries two husbands, he will know which is better. The PDP came, we were there, I will not exempt myself, but we wasted our goodwill. For one governor to sit down somewhere in Nigeria and then they connived and then bring another person from another party to come and run their party, that is where they missed it. The day Governors Wike and Fayose brought my friend, Senator Modu Sherriff, I told them at the meeting in Wadata Plaza that they had sowed the seed of destruction.
A man declares for your party and that same day you make him national leader of your party? So you can see that PDP has not changed from its impunity, so for PDP it is out of the question. For APC, I call them association of angry people, there is no cohesion; there is no party. I am not even sure if the governors of the APC have the constitution of their party. All they are doing is dealing with hand bag consultants. So the way I see it, the two parties have failed the nation and that is why PDP at a point was trying to drag us into their CUPP and we said no. If a healthy man goes to a lepers’ settlement, he will be infected by leprosy. Going to CUPP that PDP will preside over is as good as you are finished. So we are the third force and our theme is very clear: Party supremacy, empowerment of women and youth and then inclusive government because a responsible government after winning election is to remove boundaries.
Shagari ran this country as a minority government, his party had less than 32 percent of the members of the National Assembly but do you know his budget never spent more two weeks in the National Assembly? He was clear headed, he had compassion; Buhari has no compassion. Buhari will be defeated and if they try to rig, there will be problem for him.
Does your party have the financial muscle to stand against the ruling APC and the PDP?
There is a Benin parable that says a widow’s child does not know his or her mother’s boyfriend. I can tell you authoritatively as the National Chairman of ADP National Contact Committee, one quarter of the good people in PDP are already in ADP, half of the good people in APC are already with us at night; you will see what is going to happen. APC will look back, PDP will look back while preparing for election and they will find nobody. People are just gambling with them, they are teaching lessons. We are going to bring out credible candidates; our presidential candidate will come from the North.
I have said it before; you cannot have peace when there is no justice. In 1999 after the constitutional conference when the late Alex Ekweme created the six zonal arrangement for Nigeria, it was agreed that the presidency should rotate from the North to the South every eight years. The South took the first shot through Obasanjo. The North took the second shot that went to the late President Yar’Adua, unfortunately God called Yar’Adua. If we had adopted the Abacha constitution which provided for two Vice Presidents, we would not have had the problem we are having. Abacha said where a President comes from, there will be one Vice President.
For instance if the President is from the North and the Vice President is from the South, there will be another Vice President from the North, that was Abacha’s constitution. If that had been adopted, as soon as Yar’Adua died, his Vice from the North would have taken over; so we would not have had the problem we are having today. But since we did not adopt that pattern, it has been eight years in the South, two years plus in the North through Yar’Adua, it came back to the South again for President Goodluck Jonathan’s six and a half years. By the 29th of May 2019, the South would have taken 14 years and some days while the North would have taken five years and about 200 days.
After that date, the North has eight years to complete their tenure; it is clear that when there is no justice, there cannot be peace. So when I read people say ‘South-East vote for us so that by 2023 an Igbo man will be President’, I disagree, it is not time, it is 2027 that presidency will go to the South-East. In our party, we are saying Vice Presidency will go to the South-East in 2019; by the grace of God, in 2027, presidency will still go to the South-East, anything outside this is not good for the nation because you cannot select justice, it has to be thorough, it has to be natural, it has to reflect the goodwill of the people.
You were in the House of Representatives between 1979 and 1983 and then in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. How you compare the process of law making and lawmakers of then and now?
Then there was brotherhood, there was party control; party control is no longer here since the Fourth Republic started which ADP wants to restore. For instance, in 1979, Order Paper comes out on Monday morning. The Order Paper will show us what we are going to be dealing with throughout the week. In the evening by 4 o’clock, all members of the National Assembly of the UPN will be in Park Lane, Apapa to hold meeting with our leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, including those in the Senate. We will all look at the Order Paper and take positions on all the issues, the party will nominate who will speak on the issues; there was order, there was party control.
But now, Order Paper comes out you and find a party person taking a position even against his own party agenda and many of them don’t even know what their party constitution and manifesto says because now, somebody just coming from Europe, the party will collect money from him and field him as its candidate whereas in the old system, you must have passed through the mill either having worked for the party in the past as party agent or party officer among others but, today, it is cash and carry. In 1979 before the ban on politics was lifted, Awolowo had directed that we should start working and identifying those that could represent the party and, once they were identified, we zeroed in on them; so when the time for primaries came, it was very simple to field candidates.
I tell you, by the first week of January 1978, our leaders already knew that the late Ogida will go to the House of Representatives on behalf of Oredo, we knew all those who will run. I wasn’t going to run. I wanted to be a commissioner but, along the line, Chief E. O. Imafidon sent for me and said ‘my son, don’t wait for commissionership, you have to run, your father was of the NCNC and three quarter of the people in Orhrionmwon still believe in that name and the role your father and myself played, if they hear your name that you are Owie’s son, they will be willing to vote and we defeated NPN with all their money’. We didn’t have money to share but our leaders had the courage to tell us the truth about what we will do. At meetings, Chief Awolowo will say better hurt me with the truth than placate me with falsehood.
But, today, there is no longer brotherhood in the National Assembly especially since Obasanjo sold the quarters. Before now when they close, members interacted in their quarters but, today, some are in Gwarinpa, and legislative matters need serious synergy which they no longer have. Two, when we were there, President Shagari was very compassionate. His then Adviser on National Assembly, the late M.K. Mbadiwe, about two weeks to the budget presentation, will bring slips. As opposition members, we will be asked to fill maybe two projects that would be in the budget then, members of the ruling party maybe three or four. For instance, myself, the late Iduwu of Ika from Ethiope, we jointly took a road; Agbor, Ewoyigha Ogharefe road and will come out in Sapele Road, it was there in Shagari’s budget, we did the road. I filled the present post office near the palace; it is for it to be done, not me. That is the difference between what you hear now as constituency project being done by members in our own time, we did it and then government will go and implement.
In 1999, my major campaign was Benin Outer Ring Road and the opening of the Gelegele Port; it was to be developed on private partnership investment. For the Outer Ring road, the first phase was done during my first term. There was submission of supplementary budget in fairness. I met President Obasanjo and told him that was my campaign and he said ‘put it’ and then asked if I had told Chief Anenih who was then Minister of Works and he agreed to put it and I defended it and it went through and it was done.
The second phase has not been done. You can now see what that Outer Ring Road has done for our people. When it was being done then, some Benin leaders went to address a press conference that I was going to destroy Benin economic life. Two days after, I went to the palace to see Oba Erediauwa, may his soul rest in peace, and I told him that some elders were against the project. He told me, ‘Have you forgotten that I was a Permanent Secretary in this country, have you forgotten that I was Secretary to Government of Old Eastern Region’. He waved his handkerchief at me and said ‘go and do what you are doing, I don’t know what they had said’. He said I should wait in the outer room and after about 30 minutes, a Benin chief came and brought me a carton of Schnapp and an envelope containing N50, 000. That was a royal gift and I used the money to open an account and the account has been running since then.
For the four years that I was in the House of Representatives, I was in Lagos for only three weekends. On Friday I will fly Nigeria Airways to Benin and will be there till Monday morning, I connected to my people. I recommended over 250 of my constituents who were travelling abroad for studies for their visas. When I ran for governorship in 2003, some of them came together and raised over N23 million to give to me. The duty of a legislator is to empower and develop people, stand for your people and fight for them but, today, a man is elected, after he gets there the door is locked. ADP will send men and women who are responsible to the National Assembly.
How do you look at the current crisis in the National Assembly?
Those who are saying Senate President Saraki must resign don’t know the law. The National Assembly has no party, it is clear when you are convening the assembly, you convene when there is a quorum then officers of the house can be elected. After they have been elected, in an attempt to remove them, it is not sitting, it must be two third of the members of the National Assembly. So until there is proper two third, Saraki remains. But those who are now saying he should go, when PDP joined APC, where were they? Why did they not say Tambuwal and co should go?