The Senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and he is also the Vice Chairman at Land Transport Committee and member of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Committee in the National Assembly, Sen. Nicholas Olubukola Tofowomo In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, he speaks about the aftermath of the primaries in Ondo and Edo states, the mismanagement in the NDDC and sundry issues
Recently you sacked about 90 aides. What actually happened?
I have been able to maintain 92 aides for one year, and they are not the only political party members in my senatorial district. In every ward, there are at least 100 members, and if you multiply that 100 by 66, it will give about 6,600 members. Since you cannot just take care of these alone, but have to make it go round, I had to let go of them for another set to come in so as to face other projects I can lay my hands on.
You promised to renovate some schools during our last discussion. How far have you gone with that?
With the COVID-19 pandemic, everything has been slowed down. You know we are not operating in isolation. Until COVID-19 thing is out of the way, there is nothing we can do. By the time things begin to take shape, I would be able to attend to that.
Do you agree with the claim that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies in our health sector?
Healthcare has little or no meaning in Nigeria, and that is not peculiar to this administration. Since independence, we have not really put our healthcare sector in perspective, but have been enjoying what the Western world left behind. In the 60s and 70s, you will recall healthcare was very strong with the likes of institutions like UCH, Ibadan and LUTH doing wonderfully. But we have not been able to build on this, but rather allowed the system to decay. So the COVID-19 thing exposed all of us.
For instance, the Olusegun Mimiko’s administration in Ondo State invested in healthcare with the Abiye project and sundry activities, but the moment he left, all those investments went into the dustbin.
So there is no continuity. If a government has a brilliant idea as soon as it leaves office, it dies because its successor will never sustain it.
So this COVID-19 thing should reawaken our consciousness to really develop the healthcare sector, invest heavily in medical and pharmaceutical research and equip our general hospitals, teaching and specialists’ hospitals and the rest to provide top notch affordable healthcare to our people. By the way, let us ask ourselves, who should turn around the health sector?
With all the hue and cry and security and decay in the health sector in Ondo State, for instance, we held primaries, yet the same man won again.
Even in the PDP, we were crying that the candidate should come from the South, but at the end of the day, it went to the highest bidder. Money does anything in Nigeria.
If you are a fool, but you have the money, you will win election. Look at Mr. Agboola Ajayi, who defected into the party two weeks before the primaries getting over 675 votes.
So you can see that we are in deep trouble and that is the truth.
But your party granted waiver to Ajayi despite the fact that he came within a very short notice…
Like I told you earlier, money does everything in politics. He came in about two weeks before the primaries, went to the party headquarters in Abuja, and they started taking him around, and made him cozy. You know money must have exchanged hands.
That is so sad but that is the system we belong to. It was so bad that even delegates who were elected from their wards had their names substituted. You can see that democracy is in a mess.
But even in Ondo South, you people shot yourselves in the heels with the high number of governorship aspirants where no one was ready to step down for the other…
I agree with you. Look, I cannot claim to be a leader, even as a senator, rather I was just lucky to have won an election. I mandated the leaders in Ondo South last December to come together and settle for one candidate. But because the leaders have soiled their hands and their dignities gone in the dustbin, they have already pitched tent with different aspirants.
So it was impossible for them to settle for one candidate. Now, we have all learnt our lessons.
Imagine, at the end of the primaries, everybody wants to become Deputy Governor. It has become that bad. I was joking with our governorship candidate, Eyitayo Jegede this afternoon. I told him to come and choose me as his deputy, he laughed.
The candidates have been reaching out to all the aspirants. Do you think they have succeeded in this regard?
Look, going into the homes of the delegates with cameramen and journalists and leaving after 10 minutes will not do any magic. But any candidate who wants to do it properly would visit the aspirants in camera, along with his team.
At such meeting, he will discuss that he is going to appoint say 21 commissioners ‘but since seven of us contested the primaries, I will give each of you a commissioner slot each. I will have 200 Special Advisers and will give each of you 10 and take the rest.’ When you start talking like that, the supporters of the aspirants will persuade him to support you and gradually their body language will be changing because there is something on the table.
So nothing like automatic support in the name of party supremacy?
Look, an average Nigerian now is hungry. For instance, shortly after I relieved 92 people of their appointments, over 300 have approached me for consideration in the next appointment. In the process, they abused the previous appointees, calling them names. So people want to see what you have to offer, otherwise they will brush you aside.
Do you think that was a strong factor in the primaries, because the delegates were said to have been compromised in both political parties?
Definitely it was, because in both parties, financial inducement was the order of the day. Yes, it was money.
For instance, we saw a situation where a delegate received money from four aspirants and said ‘he is a stupid man. This is my own share.’ And one thing they don’t understand is that when you collect this money, another one will be waiting for you in the next four years.
So you will be hungry because the money will hardly last them for one year.
Some have said that PDP does not reward party loyalty, such that its leaders like Dr. Eddy Olafeso, the immediate past National Vice Chairman of the party, did not get the ticket?
An election is an election and the party cannot direct it delegates to vote for a particular candidate, otherwise why did they sell forms?
If they wanted to give him ticket they could have not printed nomination forms, but just called him and give him the ticket. But the point is this. Dr. Eddy Olafeso is my big uncle.
When he was in part four at the University of Ife, I was in part two. He was the president of the students’ union then. He had an opportunity as the leader of PDP in the South-West and Ondo State, if he had arranged these offices in the state from the foundation it would have given him the opportunity to be the only single candidate form Ondo South.
But he did not do it. For instance, three people contested the senatorial seat with me. Uncle Eddy Olafeso had the opportunity to narrow it down to one person, to say ‘you go to the Senate; you to House of Reps and you to the state House of Assembly,’ because he was the spokesperson of the party. That would have paid off when he was contesting, but he left it open for so long.
He miscalculated there and that miscalculation affected him. Let me tell you, if he has chosen me as the candidate for the Senate, the aspirants who scored 90 in the primaries, Banji Okuomo would not have been in the picture at all. I would have supported Olafeso and many people would not have come out for the ticket. And those lawmakers in the House of Representatives, all of us would have teamed up and say its uncle Eddy that we want to be the governor, he threw that opportunity away. I was told he voted for me in the last elections and I appreciate that, because he is my big brother.
It was said that PDP leadership in the South-West, particularly Governor Seyi Makinde supported a particular candidate who finally won…
If he did, I’m not aware. And I don’t want to comment on what I don’t have its facts.
How do you see the primaries of APC and PDP in Edo State?
Edo State is a very unique state. It is controlled by the Binis. The power is in Benin City and if they want to empower you, even though you are from the hinterland, they will do so. Look, the former APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, messed up. Look, the National Assembly set up a committee to go and look into the crisis between Oshimhole and the governor. I was a member of the committee and we were in Benin and I listened to the governor.
What Oshiomhole wants will not make Edo State grow. Oshiomhole wants everything to be on the table so that he will ‘dagger’ what is on the table and leave the rest, but the governor said ‘no, it will not work. I came here to work; you cannot be saying you want to be eating money.’
As soon as Godwin Obaseki moved to the PDP, the profile of the party has risen in Edo State. The only way APC can get anything from Edo State today is to rig the election, but the people have assured APC that if they rig lives will be lost. This is because APC are professional riggers of elections, you can be voting but they will be in one office and write figures.
They have told them that if they try it this time around, they should be ready for a fight that will go on for weeks and that will threaten our security. So it is advisable that there should be free and fair election- any of the parties may win. They should not make it a do or die affair.
…and in Ondo State?
If there is no rigging, PDP will win, because people are hungry.
There is no Federal Government effect in both states. It there is and things are booming, it will have effects on the votes. Even members of APC are crying. That was why the governor had to fight for indirect primary in Ondo State. It was direct primary where every- one came out to vote, the governor would have lost the primaries.
How do you see the violence at the palace of Oba of Benin the other day when PDP leaders visited the monarch?
Like I told you earlier, Benin is the heart of Edo State and politics is played in the palace. So the obaship institution in Benin is entrenched in the politics of Edo too. So it was not a surprise there was a fight there, because when you play politics you should be ready to pay the price.
You are aware of the probe into activities of the NDDC at the National Assembly. How do you see the impact of the commission in the region since its inception?
NDDC is a national disgrace and the way government has packaged it is very bad. There are nine states making up NDDC, even the position of Ondo State in NDDC is very insignificant.
They believe that we produce nine per cent of the nation’s oil, hence they give us the rump, while states like Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa are hugely benefitting from it, and they view it as their family investment and are just eating what is there. For the NDDC to move forward and make desired impact on the affected areas, it must be managed by the presidency.
They should also ensure that the state governors are part of the management, so that everyone will pay attention to the Commission and utilisation of its funds, such that if N1billion is coming to the Commission the governors will be aware of what infrastructure it would address.
It is so sad that they received billions of naira without any commensurate level of development in the oil producing state. Look at the way they are exposing themselves.
They said – Hon. Bunmi Tunji Ojo, (BTO), the member of House of Representatives and Chairman of NDDC Committee, packaged N9billion into the 2019 budget of the Commission.
At the end of the day, people are seeing the NDDC as a conduit pipe to defraud the government. There should be a national investigation into activities of the NDDC, with a caveat that anyone who is found guilty of defrauding the commission will face firing squad.
Those who would remain will sit up. I’m a member of NDDC Committee in the Senate, but I have never benefitted to the tune of N1. You can quote me. Sadly, they are exposing some senators of receiving 53 contracts. It is so sad.
Do you support that governors set up project verification team to look at NDDC projects in their states as done by Bayelsa State?
It won’t work. Even when they set it up in your state and they bring crumps to you, you will work on it. But when all of the states are involved in it at the centre, they will know what is coming to their states form the onset and identify the projects it should address.
That is better than waiting until after the commission would have allocated everything without even identify infrastructural needs of the state.
How do you see the fact that Bayelsa has produced more of the Managing Directors of the Commission that any other state?
It should have been rotated among the state, such that after a state has produced it, it moves to the next, as was the case in Oodua Investment, but Bayelsa alone has produced three of the last four MDs of NDDC, which is improper. Look, governors buy the chairmanship position of NDDC. You will see a governor giving a candidate N200million to run for election into the National Assembly, saying if you win, ‘I want to buy the chairmanship of NDDC committee’. And this also extended to appointments at the national level.
Senate President and his counterpart in the House said they were ignorant of this and even the latter directed lawyers to sue.
Do you believe that?
It is possible. He may be sincere. I won’t contradict anyone until I have the facts to the contrary. They look like different persons to me anyway. You must have also noticed most of the names mentioned were members of the eighth National Assembly.
How do you see the defection to APC of former Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, who was elected into the House on the platform of PDP?
You know defection to me is personal. You know the rumour has been making the rounds that I was going to defect to APC. But some have stated it categorically that they know me and I have addressed the press to the contrary. Look, when I leave PDP, I will return home and not to another party.
But to be sincere, Hon. Doagara may have been slighted by the party leadership in the state, most of his colleagues could have left the PDP and hence he decided to defect.
So he has the discretion and I will not condemn anybody for moving from party A to B.
How do you see the killings in Southern Kaduna?
Let me very factual with you, nobody is safe in Nigeria. If you leave your home in the morning and return in the evening, it is a blessing.
It has come to that level because the government is no ready to improve on our security. When you have service chiefs that are rotting away there, that have lost focus and the President does not care, what do you expect?
Even look at the Boko Haram issue that had become endless. It has become a conduit pipe for the military. Their funds are not getting to the troops; they are not buying equipment, so killers hold sway in Nigeria.
It is so unfortunate. Nobody is safe.
But it is worse in some places than the others. In Kaduna, it is now called a genocide…
Look, the governor there is enjoying what is happening; he is only pretending, because if a governor is very serious he can wipe out crime in any part of his state.
He can achieve it. You can set of militia in every community and let them police such communities and the killings will reduce. They know those who are doing the killings, but chose to do nothing. It is so sad.