Lasun Yusuff, represents Osogbo/Olorunda /Irepodun /Orolu Federal Constituency of Osun State at the National Assembly since 2011. He is a member of the Appropriation Committee in the House. In this interview with Olusegun Adeosun, reporter and Paul Kuyoro, photojournalist Yusuff, who is also an engineer, bears his mind on why the country has not attained the expected level of development in the last four years. He also explains why it will be difficult for the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP to either unseat Aminu Tambuwal, the embattled Speaker of the House or for the party to get back its majority in the National Assembly at the next election.
How has the House been since that 2011?
Generally the National Assembly has been very active in the last three and a half years. I‘ve enjoyed it in terms of contributing my own quota and interacting with others from all over the country to know how they think and their opinions about Nigeria; how Nigeria can work. If you want to know anything at all about Nigeria you have to be in the parliament. That is where you will know all the secrets, I tell you, and I mean it, I can tell you how Nigeria is being run, I can tell you why certain things are not working and I can tell how things can work if we are ready to make things work.
You said you know why certain things have not been working in Nigeria, can you dwell more on that?
It is simple. One, Nigerian budget does not work, that’s the first and the most important thing. Aside the fact that the preparation of the Nigerian budget in my own opinion has never been backed up by any developmental policies that would translate to development and welfare of the people and I always laugh when people say ‘President has made the budget you have not considered it, go and consider it.’ The budget that I know is not going to contribute anything to the welfare and wellbeing and the development of Nigeria. So that is the first thing I first noticed when I got to the National Assembly. That our budget is no budget at all because of the facts I’ve just stated, not backed up by developmental policies and they make sure that itself doesn’t work…
They make sure… who are the ‘they’ and how do they make sure?
The executive arm of government and how they make sure? Let me give you a simple example, if you are asked to construct a road for say N10 million, this is road construction that is important, it is only in the Nigeria’s budget that you will find the N10 million allocated in the particular year, by the turn of the year may be the total amount of money released for that budget will just be N500, 000, and by the time they’re bringing the budget the subsequent year, two things are likely to happen: The project itself might be found missing and you don’t see it again, by that alone it becomes an abandoned project or you allocate another N10 million to it and at the turn of the second year N500, 000, is released so for a project of N10 million, the releases will be done in such a manner that the project can last 20 years. Is that budget? No political will, and you will find that in every facet of that budget and in every sector of the economy and so the question I normally ask, I’m a member of Appropriation Committee, when we come together every year to appropriate money for all sectors of the economy, ‘what are the reasons, what do we have in mind?’ Because the way I feel is if you appropriate money for a particular project you must have certain things in mind; one, do you want the project to be completed at all? When it is completed, do you want it completed on time so that it may be able to serve the purpose it is meant to serve? Or you just want to appropriate money to sectors of economy to look like you are doing something? And so we’ve asked this question several times and that’s why this 7th Assembly sometimes in 2012, we had a retreat between the executive and the legislative arm of government to find a permanent solution to why the Nigerian budgets generally don’t work. We all know why and the why is what I’ve just told you. That we are not putting in effort, we’re not making concerted effort to make sure that whatever we write in paper is achieved on the field. Again we don’t know the system of government we are actually running whether it’s a capitalist system of government or a socialist system of government or a welfarist government. How do I mean? Even in the capitalist world, when they begin to have problem, in any sector of their economy if the sector is important to them, they go out and bail out that sector. [US President Barak] Obama did it when the foreclosure started; he started giving money to banks and the rest of them. Although there might be corruption there but at least you have to make sure that you are defined on the kind of economy you are running. In Nigeria you can’t tell whether you are running a capitalist system of government; you can’t tell whether you are running social system kind of government. It’s just a system that does not have any root. Anybody who is the president or governor just decides to do whatever he feels is right and that’s all. And if you look at it we have to be specific. I will give an example: I am the deputy chairman Committee on Water Resources and everywhere I go people will always ask me, where is the water to drink? Because we are in the part of the world where you have about seven months of rainfall every year, there are rivers; there are streams yet you can’t get water to drink. The reason is simple, and I’ve always told them, the status of water as a product must be defined, if you don’t define the status of water and you think it’s something that anybody that gets to government either as a governor or president can just give water to people it is a lie because the investment that will make the water you see portable, when I say portable, drinkable, the investment is huge, heavy and so, if you as a government now wants to invest money in a sector where you have to invest heavily without getting anything back then it’s going to be daunting and is going to be neck-breaking and so all over the world you have to correctly define the status, is it a social product, where you have to provide for the people for free which is not possible anyway. So it has to be a product that people must be ready to pay for. So that is an example of few things Nigerian government at any level has never succeeded in defining and it’s important to our lives, important to that extent that 80 per cent of communicable diseases that we have are from water. So these are the things that don’t make government work; when you have to define all sectors of your economy and see those ones you can put under the social system, the ones you can put under the capitalist system, the ones you can put under the welfarist system. And that is how it’s being run anywhere all over the world, there is no economy that is specific, that is either extreme capitalism or extreme socialism… you have to mix and the mixing is what I’ve just given as example of America when they started having their foreclosure, the government came out to bail out banks, In a pure capitalism you can’t do that, you have to leave whosoever wants to fail to fail but you discover that that is not human and that is not the way this world is created. When you see that something is going wrong you have to put a stop to it. So that’s another reason why Nigerian government…. Again what I’ve seen there, all of us we try to dodge it, one of the major problems of the Nigerian system is ethnicity. We all know but we don’t want to discuss it because it’s a time bomb. Ethnicity is…the way it is applied in Nigeria is … it is terrible; I’ve seen that, I cannot discuss much about that because it’s a time bomb for everybody because we’re at different level of development in each zones; in this case I will not be specific but what I know, whosoever that is interested in what I’ve just said should go out and do research on different zones of Nigeria and you will discover that we are at different level of development where in Anambra, almost 500, 000 plus students would go to do WASCE and in some states you have less than 1000 doing it, or you have in Lagos where more than 100, 000 will go and do Joint admission and matriculation board examinations and in some states you have less than ten doing it. So we are at different level of development and so because of that again we can never be on the same page when we are talking about national programmes; we cannot unless you are deliberately asking some people to wait for some time and try to let others catch up or you have different programmes for different zones of the country. These are options but these options are not pragmatic and are not feasible because there is no way you can ask one section of the country to slow down so as to make sure that the other one catches up with them, that’s another problem. Another problem is, when you look at Nigeria in entirety people don’t know that governance generally belongs to the intellectuals. Intellectuals here do not mean the professors or the man in the Ivory Tower, but that person, who is deep and is able to conceive ideas, programmes that he can directly relate to welfare and the development of the people. But most people who run government in Nigeria are intellectually lazy and when you are intellectually lazy, there is no way you can move a race or a nation forward, because it demands your utmost best. Behind the door, you must be able to do some thinking, you have to know how you will lay down your thinking in such a manner that when you turn them into policy, they will be able to transform into the welfare and the development of the people. That, we are seriously lacking in. You and I don’t need the same amount of money to start in life. Where I will need, say N100, 000,to start a decent life, another person can start with N5, 000 and still be able to catch up and live the same life and we have other people that will have to start with N1000. So we are created differently because of our intellectual ability. So you have to be able to provide a platform where people can have that opportunity to start a decent life. Governance is about intellectual work, you think and think and think, turning your thinking to people-oriented policies and programmes.
We have been doing a lot. I just came back from oversight in some part of south south and southwest, as chairman of House Committee on Water Resources. Between October and November every year, we go on oversight. For two reasons: To see how far ministries and agencies have gone in terms of executing the current year projects. Because by October, we expect that all your quarterly releases must have been made and that if you are executing any project at all, you must get up to between 60 and 80 percent and in fact you must have gotten money up to that level, to execute the project. So I started from Uyo, to Calabar, then to Owerri, Owerri to Abeokuta, it took one week, and these are normal routine and other chairmen will take other parts of the country, when we come back from the first round, we discuss our findings. As I am talking to you, all the places I visited, the capital release for all the projects of 2014 has not gone up to 35 percent. And we are already in November and so by December, if the executive arm will release any money at all, between now and December, may be they will release some paltry 15 or 20 percent and at the end of the day, the total release will amount to between 50 and 55 percent and yet these are projects that must be completed in a financial year. If you have a N10 million project and you made 55 percent release, (N5.5 million), of what use is that N5.5 million to a N10 million project, which is supposed to be completed in a financial year. I told you in 2012, we had a retreat to find lasting solutions to why budget; particularly the capital side is not being implemented. Part of what we resolved that time; we have what we call Fiscal Responsibility Act. That is what guides the process of awarding contract, now it has become a Draconian Law of a sort. We made the law, people who made it thought they wanted to protect how money is being dished out in Nigeria, but the law ended up being a Draconian Law.
What do you mean by saying that the law for the implementation of budget became draconian?
When you get contract in Nigeria, after you have processed your document, you will be mobilized with 15 percent. For instance, if you get a N1 billion job and you will be given 15 per cent, how much is that to a N1 billion job. Whoever that processed the document for the contract, must have spent some money. So when collect the 15 per cent, you first of all deduct the money that you have spent. You can’t go back to site, and they will say, if you don’t do the job up to 30 per cent you can’t come back to collect money. Again the same Law says you must advertise your tender, which is good as everybody knows that a job is going to be undertaken, that will last for six weeks, after the financial bidding, which also lasts for six weeks, they will pre-qualify the contractor, and they will now ask the contractor to come and quote, that will last for another six weeks, and in Nigeria, they don’t begin this process until July of every year.
That is what the law demands. That is how our institution is being run. Nowhere in any of the ministries, department or agencies in Nigeria, that will start that process before July of every year. So if you have a process that is going to take at least three months, before the letter of award is ever collected at all and the law says that in any financial year, by December 31,you have to mop up all the unspent money and it will go back to treasury. That means if you start a process in July, it will take the first six weeks before you get through that is mid-August, before they complete the documentation that will be end of August. They will now ask contractors to come and tender, that will last for another six weeks, that’s mid October, before letters are issued will be first week in November. A job that is supposed to be done in one financial year, letter is just being awarded by the beginning of November. And you will now go back to such ministry or department to ask for mobilization fee, which is just 15 per cent. So between first week of November and end of December, you are not likely to get that 15,and when you get it the contractor goes to site, deducted his expenditure and by December 31 all money go back to treasury and you start all over again. And just like that, some of these jobs, you will not find them in the subsequent budget, when you find them, you will have meager amount allocated to such budget. Again when an indigenous contractor is given job, he is not paid, but when a foreigner is given job, he is paid, so you have abandoned projects, you have debts. Why I dwelt so much on the budgeting process is because people think Nigerian budget determines their lives, but I can tell them that the budget don’t determine their lives, because what is written there is not being done. In other clime, the budget will be relevant to people’s lives, but here, year in, year out, you pick up Nigerian budget, you read, whatever you read there does not have any meaning than the salaries and wages.
So, what were your resolutions at the 2012 legislators and executive retreat?
We agreed that we were going to look at the Fiscal Responsibility Acts. We also agreed that we will begin to prioritize the capital projects, because what ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs always do is giving you money. The term they use for that is ‘envelope’. They will say your envelope for this year is N2 billion. Another thing we agreed on is if you have thirty projects, you don’t have to spend all your capital money on all the 30 projects prioritized. If you think you can finish one or two this financial year, put all your money there. Even at that, the money will not be released in time. Again, we agreed that we still need to come together and look at our budgeting processes. I must tell you this: Nobody in Nigeria, dead or alive knows the exact amount of money Nigeria generates at the end of every financial year. It is all approximations.
Perhaps if legislators had been persistent in efforts to ensure that things are done properly there would have been a change for the better?
There was a time we invited all the revenue-generating agencies to come and tell us how much they have generated up to a particular period in the year, and how much they are likely to generate in another period. Ministry of finance was there, Customs, Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, FIRS, were all there. All agencies of government specified different exchange rate for their transaction within the same government and you begin to wonder whether we are actually running a country. During the meeting somebody asked the Customs officers whether they actually supervise the loading of the crude oil in the terminals and they said that since 1958 they have never allowed any Customs officer to get near the loading bay. Then, how do you record? They said they would just bring whatever paper they have in their offices for them. These are some of the things we agreed on. But sadly, after that retreat everybody went back to the same old methods. That is why this 7th assembly, if you go to anywhere in Nigeria today and you see any job being done from Abuja, that job is either facilitated by a senator or a House of representative member to that constituency, the executive arm of government doesn’t do anything.
But we see other major works like road constructions, for instance the Lagos-Ibadan expressway?
We all know how many years Nigerians have been shouting on the executive arm to do the road. It took the six governors of the southwest to go to President Jonathan to say come and do this road for us. That is the most important road in Nigeria. If you use N3 billion to do that road, I am assuming now, you can make that N3 billion in two years if it is given to a good management to toll it. They know so why are they not doing it?
Don’t forget that there are projects going on in Abuja too?
Abuja is a beautiful city because it is our collective thing. We still believe we must have a capital that befits Nigeria. Nobody is going to grudge that. It is even to their own benefit. That something is happening in Abuja is not part of what we are saying here. How many people are in Abuja. What we are saying is, if you go all over the country today, almost one-third of every state has become urbanized and in that situation, you have to make sure you direct development to those areas.
What is your view on the crisis rocking the House?
We don’t have a crisis. I can only tell you what is going on in the House. For the first time, this House since 2011 election has improved in terms of having more parties, more representation in the House. This is good for democracy, unlike 1999, and 2009 when it was almost all a PDP affairs. When we started this 7th Assembly, the PDP zoned their positions and they said the speakership belongs to the southwest and incidentally, from Oyo that has 14 seats in the House, four are Accord, 5 are ACN, and 5 PDP and that is the highest for PDP and they are from Oyo. The only place they have seat again is in Ondo, out of the 9 members they have one seat, totaling 6 seats from the southwest. And southwest has 71 seats in the House, so out of 71,PDP had 6. And they want to produce a speaker from such a region where you have 6 seats out of 71. So it became very difficult for them. Though the one of the eight Labour Party members from Ondo had always been a Tambuwal person. That is Ifedayo Abegunde, who represents Akure-south and Akure –north who later decamped to APC. So PDP started the issue of who was to be speaker from a wrong angle, by not considering the sensibility and sensitivity of that issue to the people from the southwest. They thought they could do that without carrying us along, it is not going to be possible. Unfortunately for them, the number of PDP in that House divided themselves in to equal halves. That was the major problem. It was a combination of ACN, CPC, APGA, PPN and the other half of PDP that produced Tambuwal. So they started grumbling. Don’t forget that Northwest where Tambuwal comes from has the highest number of seats in the House, that is 92, followed by southwest, 71,then North central, Northeast, south south and southeast. And since then, PDP has never deemed it fit to call Tambuwal. If I were the president, I would have called him, saying young man you have won, but this is your party therefore we have to run this government together. Democracy is designed in such a way that you have your own freedom. But you must not use your own freedom tyrannically against others, which is what Nigeria’s executive arm of government has been doing. The executives have always assumed that they are the government and they are not. The government is the combination of the executive, the legislators and the judiciary. So, when the speaker crossed from PDP to APC, there is nothing you can do about that, what you can do is to go to court, which will determine if to remove him or withdraw any benefit but not by fiat. If you do that you have assumed that it is only the executive arm of government that is the government. Now where the IGP will be interpreting the constitution, if that be the case all our court should be locked up and the judges should go home.
Even as legislators we can’t interpret the constitution, we can only quote it . So I am not seeing any crisis there it is just people who have not come to terms on what democracy is and what powers other arms of democracy have. I must add this: The first House member to cross over from APC to PDP in this assembly was Steve Karimi in 2012, did anybody ask him to leave the House? And immediately Ifedayo Abegunde from Ondo, moved from Labour Party to APC, they went to court. The state is still in court today. Now there are about 12 APC members who have moved to PDP, nobody is saying anything about it. Yet if it is from PDP to another party, hell will let loose.
Do you see this issue having any effect on the general elections”?
Yes. It’s going to have a lot of effect. Now things have changed. PDP is not going to have the kind of majority they are used to. That has been cut to a reasonable level now a major chunk of that is going to be cut completely in the election, in House of Senate and House of Representatives. The House has opened Nigerians eyes. We have done very well where we felt intellectual input must be made into governance. So because of this, people have become interested in how people who represent emerge, perform and present themselves to the society. They have understood that when the House is not heavily tilted towards just one party then you are likely to have more parties.
How certain are you?
I am so sure. Because Nigerians now understand the importance of the national assembly. They can now see the importance of legislators. Without the legislators, the executives would have turned themselves to something else. Everybody knows that the only problem we have in Nigeria is that we don’t come to terms with the truth. Jonathan won 2011 elections may be because God destined him to become a president, but if the [Congress for Democratic Change] CPC had taken the national assembly election seriously the previous week, there was no way Jonathan would have won the 2011 election. The people thought, ‘it is not Buhari’s election now, it is national assembly election’. You must know that the legislative arm of government is so important and that is the only arm of government that is so derided since the advent of this democracy, whereas if they are not there so many things are going to go wrong. Since 1958 when we started exporting oil, nobody in Nigeria has been able to probe that sector. This House did.
What is your opinion about the Muslim-Muslim ticket speculations of APC?
Everybody knows that religion is a factor in Nigeria, unless you can get a candidate or aspirant in the mode of [late M.K.O.] Abiola, which is difficult to get these days. This Muslim-Muslim and Christian-Christian ticket has been tried in the past. Abiola and [Babagana] Kingibe won the election in Nigeria, in 2003; in Osun state, a Christian-Christian ticket won election- [Olagunsoye] Oyinlola and Erelu Obada. So it is not that such thing has not been done in the past but it is because we have become so sensitive to things now. So nobody wants to court controversy. My party does not want to court controversy, we know that the President is either going to be a Muslim while the vice is going to be a Christian or vice versa.
How prepared is APC in the face of the efforts of PDP to unseat Tambuwal?
Nobody can unseat Tambuwal now. One, it is a Herculean task. You need 240 members to remove a speaker. So, you first of all remove 154,which are APC members from that 240. Again, the northwest part of the country, believe that is their own slot in this government, so all the 92 members from that northwest I don’t think PDP can get 20 out those 92 to say they want to remove the speaker, because it is their slot. When the House was about to remove [former president Olusegun] Obasanjo in 2003,as critical as southwest was of Obasanjo, did AD not support him? They went there to support him. So it will be hard for PDP. That alone tells you a lot of story. It is very difficult to get those 240 members that will unseat Tambuwal. It is near impossible unless they want to use arm-twisting method and that cannot work in the House. Because in national assembly there are interest and those who have those interests are too many and are too complex that nobody can just wake up and say you want to remove the speaker that is so popular. He came to that seat by deliberate efforts of those who felt that Nigeria must work. It is not a day job. So to dismantle that deliberate effort, it will be difficult. So what they are just joking. By removing his aides unconstitutionally, they have even shot themselves in the feet.
You are running for this seat again in the coming election. Why do you think you should run again?
Because in the last three and a half years I have tried to do my own bits in terms of bringing services closer to my people in many areas. In constituency alone I have drilled about 30 solar-powered boreholes, 10 hand-pump boreholes. Again I did a N400 million worth water pipe network in Ilobu, my town. I attracted Model College to Ilobu; I have installed about seven 5KV transformers. I took 20 persons from each ward of 47 constituencies; I empowered them by giving them money to support their businesses. The same I have done for the youth leaders and women leaders of my party. In legislative job, ranking, that is seniority matters a lot. When you stay longer in the House, you get better in terms of being effective, performance and attracting welfare programmes to your constituencies. The two reasons why I am running again is one, to get better there and be more effective in doing the job and secondly, by becoming more responsible to your people by attracting more welfare programmes and facilities to your people.
How many bills have you been able to propose in the House?
I have a bill that is currently running. That is my only bill and it is called Engineering Infrastructures in Nigeria.
What is the scope of the bill?
Don’t you think we need engineering infrastructure? We need good roads, hospitals, and good water to live a normal life. You need regular light.
Everybody knows this. But the man on the street needs to know how this bill can affect his life positively?
It is just to let the government know that if you don’t provide all these, there can never be development. You must know that governance has become so difficult. The ability of the man to think about an idea, execute the idea and the relevant or direct benefit to the people is a big job. When I tell you road, to some people road is just to move from station A to station B. But you will not know the importance of road until somebody gets involved in an accident and you need some few minutes to get to the nearest hospital. At that moment it will be so critical that you will now be lamenting for poor road infrastructure. You feel it when you are supposed to have an interview and somebody texts you on your mobile phone, when you are in Lagos that you must be in Osogbo by 12 noon for the interview and you don’t even get the message until 10 am in the morning, then you will know what it means to have good communication system. It is not that government does not know, but they must know the implication of not having those things in place. Those are the things the bill is going to bring out. You can never tell the extent of the benefit that a farmer will get from a good road.
How far has it gone?
You know it is not about bill, bill every day. It has just gone through first reading. If you are able to do one or two, three bills, you are okay. It is not a place where you go everyday and say you want to be proposing bills.
What do you think are the selling points for the APC presidential flag bearer come 2015?
We are going to bring change in a form that has been noticed in some few APC states. Those states where people can see deliberate changes. We have seen the performance of [Babatunde] Fashola, [Rauf] Aregbesola, and so on. Not an executive arm of government that cannot account for the sectors of the economy in a manner that will show that they understand that they are running a government. We are going to run a system that is going to be proactive that is why all over the world today, there is no APC state that is not credit-worthy in any financial institution. Those are the changes we are bringing and people will see it.Follow Us on Social Media