ILLITERATES, SEMI-ILLITERATES ARE SHAPING OUR DEMOCRACY - SENATOR GWADABE
By Inalegwu Shaibu
Senator Khairat Gwadabe, a charming blend of brain and beauty is chairman of Senators' Forum, a body comprising serving and former Senators. Gwadabe represented the Federal Capital Territory in the Senate between 1999 and 2003.
In her time, she was never at the background in any of the major issues that surfaced in the Senate. She is remembered as one of the strong allies of Senator Chuba Okadigbo and reportedly one of those who mobilized the signatures that preceded the removal of Okadigbo's predecessor, Senator Evan Enwerem.
Her schemes were, however, not always successful. Her confrontation with the Senate leadership during the Anyim Senate led to a temporary political set back when she was caged before Anyim in the midst of his own battles with President Obasanjo recruited Khairat, the Gimbiya of the Senate, to help him. Senator Gwadabe in an interview expressed her opinion on contemporary issues and the role of the Senators Forum in the polity. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of Senators' Forum?
The Senators' Forum comprises serving Senators and non-serving Senators as members. The uniqueness of our own forum is that we have both serving and non-serving Senators as members. That way, the non-serving Senators have a form of continuity right there in the Senate because they have served and chaired committees and the serving Senators have rich crop of members to interact with and get forehand information that helps democracy and strengthens it. We are also here to ensure that we continue to put the voice of the people in the forefront.
Sometimes, when you are in office, you lose sight of what the people are saying because of the exigencies of office. We are no longer in office, we haven't lost sight of the consent of the people and that gives us an avenue to give our fellow members-insiders of what the people feel about what is happening in the country. We are also interested in ensuring that democracy reign in the whole of Africa.
What can the Forum offer differently from the sitting Senate?
The Chairman of Board of Trustees of our forum is the Senate President and more or less, we are one. It is just that they are still serving. All the Senate Presidents alive today are members of board of trustees, chaired by the Senate President. That is the reason I say it is a people friendly, people oriented kind of forum that we have.
How do you pass decisions reached by the Forum to the authorities?
Senator Khairat Gwadabe
Who are the authorities? Authorities are at different level. We have channels, where we reach the different levels of authority or government in this country.
What is the impact of your decisions on the National Assembly?
Yes, when things are happening in the National Assembly, we do speak with them. We do not unduly interfere with their own mode of work but we have our positions and we express ourselves and make them know what we feel the people are saying about the issue and what they think the people in the Senate should do. So, indirectly, we do bring the voice of the people to bear on our members.
What is the position of the Forum on the removal of fuel subsidy?
You cannot tune in your radio or turn on the television without having a line of something about subsidy because it is something that is dear to the hearts of Nigerians. The debate is down the line; some are in support, some are not in support.
So, it is the balance of interest of the larger society that we go round to hear. We do not only listen to what we hear on TV, we interact on a daily basis and we let our members that are serving know that in this area, these are what we are hearing. The advantage is that, we have members that are across parties.
I mean the stand of the Forum on the subsidy issue?
We go round to get everybody's voice before we take a stand and we are still in the process of calling our members and hearing what they have to say. We have not concluded that and we cannot just get up to say we are for or against the removal of fuel subsidy. We have to take a position that is weighty and we are not flimsy with what we say.
But you said you have been collecting peoples' views on it, what is your own position on removal?
I don't know whether the popular things that are being said in the media truly reflect the view of Nigerians. I was talking with a truck pusher in the market on his view about the oil subsidy but he said he did not understand what it was all about. After taking him through the issue, he said he has been hearing people talk about it but whenever he gets to where people are saying 'remove it', he will concur with them and if he is where they are saying 'don't remove it', he will also agree with them.
But having explained the situation to him, he said removing it will affect him negatively because he could no longer have the financial capacity to buy things they usual way because he may no longer get enough customers to carry their goods since their own purchasing power of the masses would have reduced due to high cost of things. I asked him what he would do if he doesn't have customers as before, he said he would look for something else to do. Listening to him put some other questions in my mind 'what are the other things he may likely find to do?
For us to see the heightened politics of support of oil subsidy, we need to take it to the people that need to understand them and have their views. I asked one of the Senators from Nasarawa the view of people from his area and his response was that some villages there have not felt the impact of government, so, whether they remove it or not may not affect them.
The only thing they know, when they wake up in the morning is to go to their farms and they are sustained by farm produce. The roads to their farms are not tarred and as such, they go on motor-bikes. For them, it doesn't matter much. That is one constituency and we are still compiling so that by the time we take a stand, it would be a firm stand on the issue.
Talking about the limited knowledge about fuel subsidy, would you blame it on the wide gap between the government and the people?
You have to understand that many people don't appreciate what governance is all about. If you want to take it a step further, I will say that the process of our democracy and the process through which our elected officers emerge are flawed. For instance, when you seek political office, the first thing you will do is to be a member of a particular party by registering in a ward, once you have done that; you begin to acquaint yourself with the people.
To be a candidate, you have to go through the primaries. Those that will elect you are not the general public but members of that party and who are the members of the party, those that have time to be executives at that level. I remember my experience, the chairman of my ward was a tea seller and I had to recognise him as my chairman.
At that level, educated and enlightened people are not interested, thereby leaving it in hands of illiterates and semi-illiterates and they determine who emerges as winner at the elections. That is why I think the governed are distanced from those that govern them.
What is your assessment of budget 2012?
Senators, who are serving are still debating the budget and they have different views depending on the side of the divide you are and the constituency you represent. Those, who come from the northern axis that have farmlands, are excited about the budget because it is rich for that. Those, who come from the area the girl-child problem exist are also excited.
It (budget) did not take care of all our complete needs but there is a little for everyone. There is a lot for security; that is a power statement on its own. Some members are saying that too much money is going into that sector and that a lot more should have been given to other sectors. But the saddest thing about the budget is that the recurrent is too high.
Where you have over 70 per cent going for people to personnel, it is a big burden. The burden is too much that the country is spending 70 per cent of the budget on servicing staff while the remaining per cent is too little to reflect the development of the nation. I rather see a situation, where 30 per cent goes to recurrent and 70 to capital.