Senator Nicholas Tofowomo is a member of the National Assembly representing the Ondo South Senatorial District under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party. He tells PETER DADA of Punch about the leadership crisis rocking the South-West PDP, among other issues.
In recent times, your party has been engulfed in crisis with factions already existing in some States within the South -West. Some members are for Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State while others are for former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State. Where do you belong?
I don’t belong anywhere, I belong to the PDP. But the issue is this: the South-West PDP wants to hold an election. And in Ondo State where I come from, some people are showing interest in the National Vice Chairmanship position. The person from my State is Chief Eddy Olafeso and he is even from my Senatorial district, so I’m supporting him for that office. And if the election is taking place, we will definitely mobilise people to vote for him. Fayose is also supporting Olafeso. That is why you see some people associating with Fayose. I led a team of some people to thank him for supporting a candidate from my senatorial district. It doesn’t mean that I belong to any faction. I don’t belong to any faction, and I don’t see any faction at all. We are just working towards an election. And when an election is taking place, there will be groups. People will be jumping from A to B, as well as aligning. In as much as Olafeso who is from my senatorial district is contesting and Fayose is giving him support, I am being supported in a way. So, it is for us to work together. And I believe that a time will come when Fayose and Makinde will sit together and allow everybody to go for a free and fair election. After a free and fair election, all of us will move on together because we are Yoruba; we cannot afford to fight each other.
But the PDP in Ondo State viewed your visit to Fayose as a mark of betrayal and some members of the party who went with you to the Lagos meeting were suspended by the party leadership.
Yes, but the suspension has been lifted. Those people that are thinking like that are political illiterates; Fayose is a member of the PDP. He is not a member of the APC. Is it a crime if the PDP members move from their homes to thank a fellow PDP member who is not in the APC or other parties? In any case, the suspension has been lifted because they realised that it didn’t make sense. And the unfortunate thing is this, we had an opportunity to have a very good election in this state and we threw it away to the dustbin. The person who won our primaries did not embrace everybody. He embraced only his group that won him the primaries . The governor of Edo State, shortly after winning the primaries, embraced the two senators in his party. Jegede did not embrace us – the two Senators in his State. He saw us as nothing and it cost him his election. If I am defending 82 ,000 votes and you have just won your primaries, you should be able to hold on to me so that you can dwell on the 82 ,000 votes. But if you believe that the 82,000 votes have no meaning, then the consequence is for you to lose.
Are you saying that this factor was responsible for the loss of the PDP in the last governorship election?
Why we lost that election is that the candidate did not embrace everybody. If he had embraced everybody, all of us would have worked together as a team. We would have got a strategy of how to win an election. Look at the APC. The APC raised money and gave people during the election. If we had worked together, we would have looked for money too. When you fold your arms and you don’t spend money, you will lose election. Even ordinary primary election, you see aspirants running up and down, begging people with money. That is the politics in Nigeria.
Should monetising elections be an ethical thing in the Nigerian political system?
It is wrong. The fault is that of the electorate. The voters want money. We have to come to the point when voters will come back to their senses and reject money politics in Nigeria. They need to tell politicians they are no more interested in their money. But because there is poverty in Nigeria, some people will start jumping because of little money. But the electorate have to shun money and ask candidates to go and prove themselves. That is when things will be better.
How do we orientate Nigerians to do the normal thing?
The way forward is this: Let’s first of all sort out our internal security. We don’t have police in Nigeria. I can say it loud and clear that we don’t have police. When the internal security is properly arranged and the average person sees the Nigeria Police as functioning, then there will be sanity in the system. When you know that police will arrest you if you take money to buy votes, you won’t do it. It is the responsibility of the police to bring sanity to our political system. Look at the #EndSARS protest. It sent a signal to Nigerians especially the police. In Lagos State, 26 police stations were burnt. How many military barracks were burnt? None! Not a single military barracks was burnt. But 26 police formations were burnt in Lagos. Some officers were killed. It is because our policing system is bad, it needs total reorganisation. That is the first thing that can move Nigeria forward. Until we sort out the Nigeria Police, we are just wasting our time. Until the Federal Government reforms the police, we are wasting our time.
Do you think the police as an organisation can be sanitised without sanitising the political system?
The police should wake up and stop allowing politicians to use them. Look at the British Police in England, they are independent and are doing their job. If a politician is found culpable in any act, they will arrest the politician and take him to court. That is the angle we should be looking at things. The police should get their acts together and rise above the politicians. Don’t see yourself as a political tool. The 2023 elections are near and many people will contest. If Nigerians can open their eyes and look for a good Presidential candidate that has what it takes to move Nigeria forward, it will be better for us. Electing Muhammadu Buhari as our president is an insult – Buhari who had been a Governor in the 1970s, and a Minister about 20 to 30 years ago, is now managing Nigeria. It shows that we have not developed. When there is a crisis, Buhari doesn’t do anything. As a Senator, I am very disturbed. During the #EndSARS protest, I asked an APC Senator to tell Buhari to talk because I was scared that if the crisis was not managed well, there could be a military coup in Nigeria. Even when he talked, what did he say? He said nothing. So, our problem is leadership. If we have good President, you will see that things will start working and everybody will sit tight, there will be discipline and people would shun unnecessary wealth. Security votes should be scrapped. For instance, the security vote of a Governor is about N700m in a month. N500m every month can set up an industry in every State. So, all those conduit pipes should be blocked. There was a time the Ondo State Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, accused Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of making about N1bn every month. That N1bn can set up a good biscuit factory in my hometown. It will set up a good manufacturing company in any part of the State.
Still talking about money politics, can someone who doesn’t have money be a President or Governor in Nigeria?
Just look at my situation. I contested against two other heavyweight politicians and I had the least money. The former Senator who was my predecessor and a candidate from AA (Action Alliance) that was backed by the Ondo State Government contested against me. I have no godfather. It was God who put me there. And the people in Ondo South supported me. They saw me going round the state and they listened to me. Apart from that, the Presidential system of Government has failed. Because you want to be the President, you have to move round the 36 States. It’s expensive. But if it is a parliamentary system of Government, you just work with your Local Government and if your party has the highest number of parliament members, they will form a Government. It’ll be easy. We are not America. As a Senator, if I am asked what the best option for Nigeria is, I will say the parliamentary is better than the Presidential system of Government. For instance, if it is parliamentary, Buhari can never be our President because the party would have identified a good material within that locality. Our politics will become local. When our politics becomes local, we will identify good materials and all these materials will come together and form a Government. But in the Presidential system of Government, a moron will carry money from anywhere in the country to Ondo State to come and campaign and everybody will be rushing after the money, looking like fools.
What’s your take on the calls for constitutional review and restructuring because it seems many senators aren’t vocal on the issues?
I support restructuring, but at the Senate, you have to look at your party first. The APC is more than the PDP in the Senate. So, no matter the number of votes we hold, they will defeat us. But I believe in one thing, God has a way of doing things. It will just be like someone watching a film when things will change in this country. Things will change in this country and the way things are going to change will surprise everyone.
What is giving you that assurance?
What is giving me that assurance is that the youth are waking up. The youth used to be asleep, but now they are becoming conscious. When it gets to a point, it will spark and everybody will be conscious. The youth are talking. They should continue talking; they should not be tired.
Is it about youth taking over leadership positions or getting credible leaders?
It is not about a youth becoming the President that I am talking about, but they will be a part of the process. A youth cannot be the President of this country; they will not do well. There are things that are not even exposed to us in this country that people don’t even talk about. There is an imbalance in this country. If you look at the budget, 70 per cent of the budget is spent in the North and 30 per cent in the South. If you check the roads in the North and the roads in the South-West, it will appear as if we are in the jungle here. The Northerners are wiser than we are because their Senators are doing second, third and fourth terms. In the South-West, when you do one term, they will uproot you and put another person there. By the time you get to Abuja, you are just a novice. Let me give you an example, Senator Ajayi Borrofice is doing his third term. His last year budget was N1.4bn while I did N200m because I am new. Being a long-term member of the Senate, he was able to scout for the money. He can easily walk anywhere and say he is interested in this and that, but for a new person, it is difficult because you are not known. That is why America is stable; you will see a Senator spending four, five terms because there is stability, they have a process and things are working. For instance, look at our former Senator (Yele Omogunwa), who is my predecessor, he did not move a single motion in four years. Look at Kaduna, the number of higher institutions in Kaduna metropolis alone is more than all the higher institutions in the South-West. I had to do a reading that there is a need for a higher institution in my hometown (Ile – Oluji). I have done the first reading now. When I go back, I will do the second reading.
But there is a federal polytechnic in your hometown, Ile – Oluji?
As I said, Kaduna town, not Kaduna State, has over 50 higher institutions. And Ile-Oluji has only one which is still struggling.
Recently, Senator Rochas Okorocha said people should come together and form another party that will be like a third force against the APC and the PDP, ahead of the 2023 general elections. Do you share this view as well?
Senator Okorocha is an APC member, I am in the PDP. He has his own opinion. But what I know is this. There are two major parties in this country, the PDP and the APC. It is not the party that matters, it is the responsibility of the masses to choose responsible people. If Nigerians can wake up now and look for quality people who can hold offices as Senators, members of the House of Representatives and members of the Houses of Assembly, they will turn Nigeria around rather than their parties. It is beyond the party, it is the quality of people in those parties that matter. For instance, some lawmakers have not done a single empowerment programme for their people since they got to office. What they are doing is that they are just giving out money. They have their own style. They are just doing cash and carry. But if they are committed to their people, the money they are giving out to people would have been used to empower their constituents. So, it is not a matter of the political party. It is a matter of quality of the persons involved.
As 2023 elections draw closer, do you think new faces will still come out to vie for elective positions in your party?
The point is this, we still have two years to go. So, it is too early to draw the line. By June next year, we will start seeing faces. In the next one and half years, I am sure, there will be new faces.
How concerned is the senate about the rising insecurity in the country?
We are very disturbed. The National Assembly is very disturbed. We have met the President. We have held a conference with Nigeria Police. We have had a series of motions. No matter how loud we make noise, if the Executive is not ready for a change, then we are just wasting our time. If the way we are knocking the Executive is the way they are responding, Nigeria would have been moving forward. Senators cannot start recruiting personnel into the police, Senators cannot start recruiting military personnel, it is the Executive that would do all these. And our prayer is that God should open their eyes so that we won’t go back to the bush again.
Ondo State is also facing security issues. How would you advise the Governor?
What should be done is very clear. The Governor is our number one Chief Security Officer in the State. He should embrace everybody because this Governor has the opportunity of bringing everybody together. Either you are in the APC, PDP or Labour Party, he should bring all of us together and let us strategies together. When that has been done, people will put down different opinions, then we can forge ahead together and get results. But since he became the Governor, he has not invited Senators and House of Representatives members for any dialogue. Look at what is happening in Rivers State. The Rivers State Governor meets Senator, members of the House of Representatives and Assembly regularly. But this Governor has never done it. So, we are just on our own. There is no unity here.
Have you made moves to meet him?
I have made several moves. I have complained that the Governor should bring us together but I cannot do it alone. I have raised the issue with the APC members in the National Assembly and task them to talk to the Governor that he should call all of us so that we can discuss things from time to time. No matter how little, it will be on record that we are contributing. As we speak now, we are not contributing anything. Maybe he does not want us to talk about the N700m security votes.
But he has set up the Amotekun Corps to tackle the security challenges in the State?
The Amotekun is a lion in the bush. Are we a part of it? They did not involve us. When they were doing the groundwork, he should have called his three Senators. We are his Senators, he should have called the three Senators and nine members of the House of Representatives from the State. We should have held lots of seminars, strategies on how to get results and so on. Even the Senator from his party was not involved in the arrangement.