By Kemi Kasumu, General Editor
Senator Sefiu Adegbenga Kaka, a former Deputy Governor of Ogun State, was Senator in the Seventh Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria representing the Ogun East Senatorial District. Also a successful farmer, Kaka, who will be 65 on May 14, started off from Pfizer where he was Business Development Manager, left on sabbatical to serve as Commissioner for Agriculture and later Commissioner for Lands and Housing in Ogun State (1988-1991), returned and finally left Pfizer in 1992. He became Deputy Governor (1999-2003) during the administration of Chief Olusegun Osoba. He speaks in this interview with The DEFENDER on several issues with bothering on party politics, executive/legislature relationship and others. Excetpts:
What could your Excellency share with us about your life as you clock 65 this month?
I will just start from the point where I worked with Pfizer. I was voted best sales officer of the years twice. But just because I was picked to be Commissioner and after three years that I returned, there was a gang up against me: The chairman of the company wanted me to come back from my commissionership and become executive director but the managing director had somebody in mind. I however left Pfizer in 1992 as Business Development Manager and was doing business on my own until I became Deputy Governor eight years after in 1999. I worked for four years having not much to show in terms of finance but I was contented with my life. But somehow the Ogun State Government under Otunba Gbenga Daniel decided to do pension for former governors and deputy governors and I started getting pension.
But why would you think that politicians want to live beyond their earnings and would be restrained by nothing in continuing with it?
It is not politicians, it is Nigerians. You go to civil service you see people undermining their colleagues; the inferior ones undermining the superior ones. It is in our blood. You go to schools; among the teachers somebody becomes principal, he becomes a win-all take-all. He takes everything to himself and say to others, “Go and wait for your turn. I have been waiting for my own and this is my chance.” All the monies that come he mobs alone. You want to build a house and send your children to school but you don’t feel that others too deserve similar achievements. You won’t even recollect that ordinary teachers too have to live.
I watch all these so much that some will go to the extent of selling school’s land colluding with so called omo’nile, selling properties belonging to their schools.
So, the thing is there in our blood as Nigerian people and not only politicians. The civil servants are worse. As a civil servant, you know that you are going for 35 years, you get there and copy the bad traits from your superiors and every recurrent expenditure therefore becomes yours. I was able to see it because when I was appointed as Commissioner for Agriculture, the mentality in the private sector I attempted bringing it in.
And how did you apply that?
Any money voted for us, let’s say the governor approved N15,000 for may be reception or so, I naturally would make sure that we didn’t spend all the money. If it remained N3,000 we didn’t spend but keep it. And I instituted an award programme for the best junior staff, the best driver, the best of each of the callings and I was saving money to execute the award programme.
As a member of the Seventh Senate, what would you say about the attitude so far of Senate against the Federal Government?
First and foremost I believe it will be unfair for anybody to ask me to compare Seventh Senate to Eight Senate. The reason is so simple, though I am very proud to be a member of Seventh Senate, but we have completed four years. They are just about completing second year. So, if you want to compare two things, you have to place them on the same level except you want to use one as control. Even if you are using one as control, you will be able to do comparison after the second one has completed the same period of time.
So, I believe that we should give them the benefit of doubt to complete their four years term before we start comparing. And if we must compare, the electorates, who freely gave their mandate to the Seventh Senate members and those of the Eight Senate are in better position to do the comparison, not me.
What I was trying ask to know is that, looking at the kind of threats that had come from the Senate President to the Federal Government, which some people view as trying to frustrate the government’s fight against corruption, were you to be there, would be comfortable with yourself considering the type of person you are?
Excuse me! Whoever is the Senate President is not to blame.
Who then is to blame?
Okay, look at it this way, just like you have members of the executive, members in the legislature, members in the judiciary and members in every sphere of our lives that are corrupt. I am sure you won’t say your son, who has just got employment with a bank, should not go there because most of the directors in the banks are corrupt and they are running all the banks aground and because of that you are not going to make transactions in the banking hall on the account that the directors of the banks are corrupt. You still continue.
Continue to have the kind of Senate that Nigerians are calling to be scrapped for frustrating their development and moving forward?
It is the system that should have institutions that would prevent all these occurrences. The same institution that we are talking about allows all these characters to emerge.
In the first instance, there was a time if you didn’t have tax clearance you could not contest election. And another time the INEC was allowed to act on security reports to prevent some people from contesting. But through maneuvering and everything all these became waved.
Are you saying that INEC should have prevented this from happening?
Not necessarily INEC. If the system had made provision for that screening and not leaving everything to the party, some of these characters couldn’t have emerged.
Mind you in the Senate we have 109 Senators and 360 members in the House of Representatives. They are supposed to be equal representing their various constituencies. What is spice for some people may be poison for others. So, in some constituency they may have good value that they would make sure that it is their best that emerge. In another constituency, they may bother less about good value.
We have, for instance, a situation where community celebrate the corrupt people among them and they will say; “Yes, go on. You are the one and the only one.” So, in that community, he is the best. Whereas, in another constituency, that act alone is enough to stigmatise and then prevent him from ever showing in the public, talk less of contesting election again. So, it varies.
With what is happening in the National Assembly, you are individually there to represent the interest of your own people. You know what value you are bringing forth into the Senate or to whichever chamber you find yourself and you know the minimum expectation of your own people. So, if you are comporting in a pluralistic Assembly, then another person is also misbehaving and is acceptable to his own people; you cannot remove him and you won’t say because of him you are not going to serve your own people.
Then beyond that we have a party that is in government as executive. The same party is controlling the National Assembly.
And you don’t think that it is about some members of the party in control appearing in the toga of the governing party but actually acting the script of an opposition?
The governing party failed ab initio in their responsibilities. They may give excuse that they were incapacitated by the executive and the legislative powers because they have surrendered their power for possible or anticipated patronage. If not, the party is supposed to be supreme. The party supposed to whip the executive members including Mr. President and whip the legislative arm including Mr. Senate President and the Speaker to order, once they go against what the party set out to achieve. And that was the reason why some of us are feeling bad.
If some of you are feeling bad, it means you have a solution in mind. What suggestion do you have?
Yes. We are feeling bad because we should be conversant with contemporary history especially the recent history. We knew when Baba Awolowo was the Premier of Western Region. In his wisdom and the wisdom of the party, they combined the chairmanship with the leadership of the party, that is, you had solitary control; ditto at the state level, ditto at the local government level.
Then where did things go wrong?
With the advent of the NPN, National Party of Nigeria, they decided to separate the Awolowo arrangement of merging chairman with the leadership of the ruling party and after separation the politicians danced round that separation of responsibility and authority and they realized that with the executive in power, they had unlimited room for patronage. For a wise one, all they needed to do is to buy over probably the chairman alone or the chairman and the secretary and render the party useless. And that was what has been happening.
That was why it was possible under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for Mr. President to remove not one, not two, not three, chairmen of the party unilaterally with nobody blinking an eyelid.
So, it is the same thing that is happening now because, more or less, the party has become lame dog that if has been wielding any power at all, it could have been facilitating what is called parliamentary caucus meetings where things are ironed out before getting to the Senate or any of the chambers. But they fail in their duty either out of deference to the President or because they are looking anticipatorily for patronage, which may never come. But meanwhile, they subjugated themselves and we are having the mess.
When you control the executive and the legislature together, it is the party working committee and the chairman that should bring the executive and the legislature together. Any appointment, any issue of national public interest would have been ironed out at that parliamentary caucus meeting, so that when it gets to the chambers they will simply use their majority to overrun the minority. And then the minority will only have their say while the majority will have their way with ease. But they fail in their responsibility as a party.
Remember that the party does not have the powers of the armed forces. How does it achieve that?
Yes, this can work if and only if the executive submit themselves to the control of the party. But when they refuse to do so, naturally the legislature will take a queue and they will also refuse to submit to the party. At the end of the day the centre cannot hold.
Automatically it means you are on the side of those who are calling on the President to use his full powers to deal with the Senate?
How can the President use his power? Which power is he going to use? He should subsume himself under the party. He is not greater than the party because the party produced him and the party produced the legislators including the Senate President and including the Speaker. There is no way they can be greater than the party. But they have rendered the party impotent such that they cannot even bark talk less of biting. You hear that the party National Working Committee was meeting the National Assembly for the first time in nearly two years. And still you will see them sneaking in and out trying to see the President. They are not asserting themselves and they are not living up to expectation.
None of the parties can rightly be called a party. The then People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Chairman, Solomon Lar, his wife was made an Ambassador. Another one came and his wife got ticket to contest for the Senate. So, when that happens, they were compromised and once you are compromised, you would be doing things that are antithetical to the progress of the party.
I am sorry I have to go to the basis, to the root of the problem that we have with our polity. What you are seeing is just the symptoms. The real cause of all that is happening is what I have just analysed.
Could that be the reason the spokesperson of the APC, Bolaji Abdullahi appeared to be standing on the side of the Senate when it became clear that the Senate was acting against the interest of the party and of the government of the party, calling Itse Sagey and other executive members to order without saying a word about the negative attitude of the Senate?
Excuse me! If you look at what is happening holistically, you will find out that we have different bed fellows coming together from different political entities to form the APC. After forming it, with the different backgrounds they are coming from, one would have expected some sort of synergy but that one is not the case. So, right now everybody is struggling for power. We have CPC, we have ACN, we have ANPP, we have a section of APGA and we have a section of PDP.
So, whether you like it or not, it was so easy for the PDP elements in the National Assembly to align with the Senate President and the Speaker who happen to be from that PDP. So we have, on the surface, an APC controlled National Assembly but in reality it is PDP controlled because some other members that are core APC in there, you can no longer be sure whether they still remain there or they have changed allegiance to the PDP caucus.
So, it is the non-blending of all those tendencies that is still tearing the whole thing apart. To worsen the whole situation, you taka me, I dabo you (you do me, I do you). When the executive decided to go the parochial way then, the legislature will hold on to what they have. In the selection process, what is the executive playing, deferring to the governors? Any nonentity brought forward by the governor without Mr. President knowing, he accepts it and slots him into position. Otherwise, how can an entire party not be carried along in how officers of the government formed by the party are selected. So, everybody is holding on to what he has because all of those that worked for the party’s successes are not being carried along.
All those who worked for the party cannot say that are directly benefiting. And those who have not are indirectly benefiting either by proxy through the governors or through other inner caucus. Whereas, there is need for transparency and mind you, corruption is not only stealing or misappropriation of funds. Where you carry out injustice, of whatever shade, it is also corruption.
The President of the country is blamed for many of those problems as people say he refused to take action when he supposed to play party politics. Going by your submission so far, are you on the same page with those views especially, that the President’s wife was right when she said her husband does not know many of those he appointed?
The President’s wife was absolutely right. Even before the inauguration of the ministers, I said exactly the President’s wife said and I said that I was expecting Mr. President, in six months, to fish out those that were smuggled in and replace them or he brings them to more appropriate places. So, when the President’s wife spoke, she spoke the mind of many people.
But I am not going to blame Mr. President. If Mr. President is there, it will be more honourable for the party executive to attempt to whip Mr. President and other members of the executive and legislature to order. Let them defy the party’s order so that the whole world will know that the party has done its own bit. But they surrender their power to the executive and the executive and the executive do not think that they (the party) should even wield the power. After getting the power through nook or crook, they did not even know how to apply it. Otherwise, they would have used the party to whip everybody to order but they cannot do it because, if you must come to equity, you must come with clean hands. If the executive is doing something that is not normal, they cannot claim the right to whip the legislature to order.
Can we have an example of what the executive have that is not normal?
We all heard of the lopsided selection of political offices, which the generality of Nigerians were counting for Mr. President. People say despite the fact that they were lopsided that they still continue to do it with impunity. And after doing that now you want to poke-nose into what is happening in the legislature? If has said, “Okay from your area, governor what do you have? Legislators, what do you have? After all you all contributed to the emergence of the government.”
Had they (legislature) had input, nothing would get to their desk that they would turn back. There would be no lamentation. Everyone would be happy. For being there when a decision has been made, you are already part and parcel of the decision even if it is not acceptable to you. But by the time they and other leaders are annihilated, then, you are causing trouble.