Budget padding, not good for our democracy—Anisulowo

Chief Mrs. Iyabo Anisulowo, a former senator is also a former minister. In this interview with National Mirror, she speaks on some national issues including restructuring, allegation of budget padding and her recent abduction. Excerpts

There is a recent debate among politicians calling for the restructuring of the nation. Nigeria has held several conferences in the past which had failed to address the national question. Don’t you see the agitation for restructuring at this time as a distraction to the government in power?
It is going to be a distraction to the government in power because each government has tenure. Now, one year is gone out of Buhari’s tenure and he came with the purpose of putting us back in shape in terms of corruption. Most of the problems we have is not restructuring, it is corruption. Corruption is our problem and it has messed up the whole thing, so the time is not enough for any government to restructure.

If we are going to restructure, we are going to suspend the constitution and just put in place an administrator. But within the law we are operating now, that is the norm, we cannot restructure. That is the way I look at it. We have to suspend the constitution. The conferences that were held in the past made some recommendations. These recommendations are there for us to look into. We cannot be running a federal system and say no, it is too large and so we have to cut this or cut that or even go back to the regional structure.

But the constitution we are operating now, does not accommodate such excesses, so I don’t know how it would work for us now, except we suspend the constitution But the reason why it is becoming worrisome is that some of the leading lights of the ruling party including the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar actually mooted the idea of restructuring.
As far as I am concerned, anyone who wants to restructure would have to identify the first step that will lead to the actual process of restructuring. When Atiku was the Vice President, he enjoyed all the privileges at that time, he did not see anything wrong in the system and even if he saw it then, he was not bold enough to raise the issue and that is one thing we are saying about ourselves. When you are in a position to do something, if you are handicapped and you feel there is something wrong with the system, you have to resign and nothing is going to happen because of it. I am not trying to denigrate his personality. Atiku is a leader that I revered but all the same, it seems that now that nothing is working in his favour, he wants to dabble into the issue of restructuring.

I know that he used his position as the Vice President to turn the fortunes of Yola to a modern city and made sure that development got to Yola. So for me, I don’t know how we are going to do it but for me, I think we must halt and if it has to be done at all, we must suspend the constitution at least for two years. If we suspend the constitution for two years and say ok, it is apparent this or that particular state can no longer function, then, let us merge it with a more viable state. Let us go back to regionalism. But with the constitution we have in place, it is difficult. They have accepted it, we have been running it. if it doesn’t work, we just have to suspend the constitution.

You are one of the few Nigerian women to be in the National Assembly, the Senate in particular. Now, the present National Assembly, in the face of many Nigerians, is lacking in integrity, probity and accountability. What in your opinion went wrong with the present crop of lawmakers when compared with the situation during your
own period?
During our own period I can say people did not use a lot of money to win elections to the National Assembly. The basic problem we have is when someone is vying for positions, he now sells properties, borrow money to contest elections and having
won the election, he wants to pay back all those sources where he got the money and still be able to steal as much from the public purse. I spent very little money in my own time to win. This is partly because people here show their love for me.

The farmers, traders and even artisans rallied round me from their various locations and they even funded my campaigns. They use their meager resources to control the processes of my election not the kind that we operate now when the electorate don’t even know their representatives and they are there. They’ve turned politics intobusiness. I invested one billion naira and I must make 10 billion naira. That is in a nutshell, what I would say.

In our time, I am talking about 2001 to 2003, money was important only for logistics. It wasn’t important for winning elections and with Obasanjo at that time, it was not easy to steal. For example, the constituency project they are talking about, I never executed one. I only told the government where there is a need. All the water points that the federal government did, I never knew the contractors. I only know the company’s name but I never knew the contractor in human form. So the issue of taking kick backs does not arise. So I never had anything to do with the contract and the money. But now, it is not so. The system has changed. Nigerians are law abidingif they have good leaders.

Will you use this occasion to clear other raging controversy in the National Assembly over budget padding. It has been revealed that budget padding did not start today, that it is an inherited practice in the House?

It is an inherited practice, yes but does that makes it to be right? If a system is inherited and it is not bringing any result instead, embezzlement and some people
enriching themselves at the expense of helpless members of the public and that is why you find people fighting tooth and nail to go there because they know that when they get there. they will get easy money they don’t work for and without giving service to the people who elected them. The money that legislators earn to take care of their offices is enough even for them to deliver the public good.So if budget padding has been there for a long time, does it mean it has to continue?

Coming back home, as a stakeholder in the politics of Ogun State, you have been so passionate about how governorship candidate would emerge for the first time, from your own part of Ogun State, Ogun West which perhaps motivated you to contest for the post several times in the past. Now, in the next couple of months ahead, political activities would be on the rise again. Are you looking towards the direction of contesting again even when age seems not to be on your side?
Yes I will definitely contest and I am looking towards that direction because the situation is getting very, very, elusive and unless people find those they can trust, who, they have worked with, who they know has the interest of the people at heart, who has the ability and capability then we are in for another round of disappointment
and ‘carry go’.

In other words, you strongly believe it is high time a Yewa-Awori person get the ticket?
I think so. We have been on this side for too long But the argument has been raised from some quarters that the reason why your zone has not present a governor over time is that you don’t have the material.

How far is that true?
It is not true. If you ask me to produce five qualified people, men and women of integrity, people who can do it, people who are courageous and who are down to earth and not people who would be ruling from Lagos or in the Diaspora, you understand me, I can give you five persons from each of our five local governments in this area making 25 people in all.

Suddenly you hit the national limelight recently with your unfortunate abduction by some gunmen. The incident really caused some uproars in the polity. Now we are where we are. As a free person, what was your nasty experience like?
You should know that it is all over the newsstand. It was very bad for me and I thank God that I am the one talking to you because I wouldn’t know what I did to have warranted being kidnapped. I am not a flamboyant politician. I am a Christian, not just a practicing Christian, but a bornagain Christian and I mingle with people of God, I mingle with people of my community and I am a detribalized person. Wherever you come from does not matter to me. I wouldn’t know why that happened to me, but by and large, I know that it was a set up. The rest, they say, is history. I have tried to put the experience behind me but I hope to document the nasty experience in a book very soon.