Victor Alewo Adoji, a former banker, is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s senatorial candidate for Kogi East in the 2023 general election. In this exclusive interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, VICTOR OBAYAGBONA and INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke on his mission to the National Assembly, and his vision for Kogi East in particular and Nigeria in general through quality legislation. He expressed the optimism that his party would win the presidential election despite the seemingly crisis rocking the political association at the moment, and his belief in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deliver a free, fair and credible general election. He also pledged that if he clinches victory, he would ensure that the moribund Ajaokuta Steel project would come alive via legislation. According to him, his bills would focus on transferring more powers from the Federal Government to private hands. Excerpts:
What is the motivation behind your decision to go into politics?
In this part of the world, we often times, either disparage or discount the veracity or import of politics in our daily lives, our livelihood and in our being. Little do most people know that politics impact their lives as much as 70 percent. What you would eat tomorrow is determined by those people in political offices, which is why when there’s a downturn in the economy, oftentimes we would blame those in government; when there is upsurge and boom they take credit for it as well.
You can see that they virtually determine everything about life. Now, having worked in the private sector for such a long time, I think about two decades, I came to realise that most of us who are professionals have left the turf of politics for people who are not actually trained to administer people, particularly Kogi State, where I am from. I realised that my people have suffered a lot in terms of benefits from the centre and in terms of benefits from good governance; so, I now decided to throw myself into the fray to see how I can make Nigeria work in the interest of Kogi easterners, particularly the Igala nation. The whole idea of running for the Senate is to see how I can redirect national attention to the plight of my people, while at the same time holding the government at the centre to account on pledges they will have made in the course of campaigning.
You are not a career politician. You have been a player in the private sector of the nation’s economy. But since you declared interest, you must have been going round your senatorial district on consultations; may we know the level of your acceptance in your district, among your people?
Well, first; I don’t know the context of calling somebody a career politician. If the context is defined by the amount of period of time they’ve stayed in politics, then I will understand that, but I’m not one who sees politics as a career. I am one who sees it as a vacation; because it is what you have amassed in the course of your development that you bring into politics. Having said that, I am someone who has been tied very much to the apron strings of those at the grassroots, you know, I’ve sponsored people into various political offices; I have been involved in. Right from my school days, I was student union president, if you regard that as politics. If you regard that as politics, I have been involved in a number of union activities or association activities, and in terms of the level of acceptability, I must let you know, this is not the first time I am running. In 2018-2019 when I contested, I was denied the PDP ticket; because the primary was not held yet the final result was announced. I decided to try my acceptability or acceptance on the platform of a brand new party. So, I ran in 2019, against the PDP and the APC on the platform of the ADC; people were shocked that at the end of that exercise, one was able to pull as much as 50,000 votes, even when I did not go for the rerun. The winner of that particular contest had only about 98,000 or so votes. I was able to join a new or unknown party within two months to get so many votes, which shows the level of acceptance and my ability. On the platform of a well-grounded party now, it’s actually even going to be much easier. The acceptability is high; the acceptance is high and thank God for the new Electoral Act, wherein we can boastfully or proudly or to a large degree say that votes will count.
There is a sitting senator representing your district, what gives you the confidence that you can defeat the incumbent?
The confidence is locked in your question. You called them a sitting senator, but I will take that to say, he is actually sitting there; you know Senators are actually meant to go and talk for the people of their constituencies, but he’s been sitting all this while. Now they want a talking Senator. Number two, he is running on the platform of a party that has performed abysmally, and has nothing to show for it. With regards to the office; most of those people who call themselves lawmakers today are actually doing the work of local government chairmen? You paint classrooms of schools, primary or secondary classrooms; sink boreholes, fix culverts. Those are the work of the local government chairmen. The man who you referred to as my sitting senator, how many bills has he proposed? How many of his bills do you know have been transmitted into laws? The work of a senator, you know, it’s like legislation; bills that are transmitted into laws and then oversight and override. You can see that in this instance, the work of oversight and override work is absolutely missing, which is why you have high debt and lack of performance everywhere. He is a sitting senator and my people now want a ‘standing and talking’ Senator, and that’s why I’m sure I’m going to get him out of the office.
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The nation’s upper legislative chamber is regarded by some people as old people’s home or retirement place for old politicians, especially former governors. What is your perception of the Senate from the outside?
I have not been a governor; I’m just getting into politics; so, I’m not retiring. You see, in terms of perception, I am going there to actually find out what actually happens there, and I don’t have that perception in the sense of seeing the place as a retirement ground. Some of us actually are catalysts we need to even get those who are in the parliament to begin to do the right work. Yes, the Senate has performed over the years, you know, subliminally or below optimum, we can actually get in there. Mind you, in large part in the senate as it is currently run is an appendage of the Executive which is what must be changed, you know under Saraki, in the 8th National Assembly, we had robust engagement, which is missing in this case. I don’t want to perceive it as a retirement ground and even if it is a retirement ground, we will go there and get them to do their work. My perception of the legislature generally, is that it’s what gives us the toga of democracy, because even in a military regime, you have the executive, you have the Judiciary, what was actually missing is a legislature. We’re actually going to uphold democracy and make sure we do the work that we are actually asked to do. Are they performing as one will expect? No. Can they perform as one should expect? They can do much more than that? And that’s why people like me, living my well-paid job, and a number of people around the place, come into the Senate to give life to our democratic practice.
What would be your focus if elected senator to represent Kogi East?
There are specifics that I have on line, but I would give about two or three, so that you know, that I’m actually up for serious business. Number one Ajaokuta must be up and running after four years. Ajaokuta does not fall within my senatorial district, but it is within my state. So, hand in gloves with the senator representing Ajaokuta, which I hope will be Natasha, we will make sure Ajaokuta is up and running. Why should we be talking about unemployment, when you have a behemoth that can almost automatically, upstream, employ as much as 500,000 people, all through the course of value chain, employ as many as five million people or there about? So, what is it about employment that we are talking about? It is a sleeping giant we need to wake up, using the instrumentality of the Senate via policy. Secondly, as an economist, I seem to believe majority of our problems is because of the lack of understanding of the nuances in economics or dynamics of economics. I will give you example, the rising debt you have in Nigeria today is solely because of the misunderstanding of the problem of poverty and inequality; the government today sees it as a revenue problem. It is not a revenue problem; it is an innovation or market creation problem. When you see it as a revenue problem, all you are doing is keep borrowing and borrowing. Number three, we are 212 million people as of July last year, how would a sensible government think you can use cash to solve the problem of 212 million people. No; we need money to solve that problem and not cash. Unless you have somebody who understands economics, understands enterprise and understands the synergy between these two, you will never get them done. How do you get them done? You get them done by getting the right policies to even govern the executive itself. So, to a large extent, what I’m saying is that, I am likely to be proposing a bill; I hope it will become a law that will move our emphasis or focus from using the GDP as a measure of economic progress or wellbeing to something like the SPI.
The GDP here is good, but you can make it a subset of the SPI, these are economic terms, but that’s actually what you need to begin to move your economy forward. Thirdly, what about the issue of our education? Is the ASUU strike perennial malignant or cancerous? Is it solvable? If the answer is yes; how do we solve it? If it’s no; what then can be done? You see, we wait until the house is on fire and we go around fetching buckets to put off the fire, but why don’t you prevent the fire itself? Let me give you a simple explanation. All we have been looking for in terms of the ASUU strike, is looking at the supply side of the entire equation? Why is everybody ignoring the demand side? What am I saying? You have professors in the system, who haven’t delivered even one research paper in the past 10 years? You have students in the system whose family cannot afford to pay their bills. What are the bases of competition amongst universities? If today you say; every child of school age, university age, apply to a bank for a loan to study, that is guaranteed by the CBN. It means therefore, you take the responsibility of financing their education to the beneficiaries of education. And when you are choosing a university; you choose a university of your choice based on the quality of their offering. If universities are taking the students now based on the quality of their offering, then the universities themselves should now have the autonomy 100percent. Autonomy is not just by practice, it’s equally by sourcing your income. So, students choose the university that they go to; then the university should know that the only way they can make money is to leave the university open and whatever comes to them they use. So, you are going to have universities that are wealthy or poor depending on their offering. The question therefore, is this; these foreign countries where we take our package from, how many of the investors are public? How many public universities do you have in America? How many public universities do you have in the UK? To a large extent, there should be a policy to either privatise or commercialise our universities, so that they use proceeds from patronage by students to fund the universities. So, where the government will come in therefore, is to make sure that loans are available to the students, so that they can pay at the end of their courses and if they are not able to pay two or three years after they are done with their studies, then the Federal Government should take the responsibility of writing off those loans and giving them their certificates; somebody should take responsibility. So, these are the kinds of bills I am proposing. I would give another example to drive the issue home.
There are roads you call the federal roads in this country, what has the federal government got to do with federal roads? Why don’t you sell-off 49percent ownership of those roads, privatise them and let people make their money by putting toll gates on those roads? And then you should actually create competition on those roads; for instance to decongest the Lagos-Ibadan expressway; why not give investors a parcel of land beside the Redeemed Church, a new company to build on it. As a traveler, you are leaving your house in the morning, and say; ‘do I go through this road or that road?’ So, patronage of the roads can actually make them make more profits, which, because they are publicly quoted, will be seen by shareholders of those companies. We need to take government out of the lives of people. Unless our economy is private-sector driven, we’re not going to make progress. I’m a private sector person; I will be proposing bills that will transfer power more from the government to the private hands. That is in agreement with Atiku’s agenda of devolution of powers.
The PDP is enmeshed in internal crisis with five governors vowing not to support the presidential bid of Atiku Abubakar. Don’t you think it can affect the party’s chances in the 2023 general election?
A woman threatened she was going to leave her husband, her marriage, and another lady living around their area who was encouraging her to leave, almost immediately started washing the clothes of her husband and she heard the husband say; this woman is actually an attractive woman. That quarrel ended immediately; because she knew the moment she left the house somebody wanted to go in. There’s under-side to all of these things that people are not seeing, the altercation is solvable, and surmountable. The decision of the five governors has led to an upsurge of affection for Atiku in the North, because some people actually are seeing it as someone not wanting this person because he is from the North and a Muslim. Did you notice that all those five people fighting against him belong to one faith? So, it’s actually really reading positive for him in the North. Whether you like it or not the contest for 2023 has become a three-horse race; by the three major tribes in Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar representing the Hausas; Peter Obi representing Igbos and Tinubu representing the Yorubas. Now, let’s go down to the greater details; the North West is 28.4 million votes, the North East about 14.8 million votes, the North Central about 16.7 million votes, now come down to the South East 11.3 million, these are not absolutes, and then the South West is 17.8 million, the South-South about 15.6 million thereabout. If we regionalise this fight, look at the amount of votes that would be going to Atiku, the amount of votes that would be going to Obi, the amount of votes that would be going to Tinubu. However, I can assure you that the PDP sees the altercation going on as a family issue which will be resolved not before long; that, I’m sure of. Wike’s concerns are genuine. Atiku’s concerns are genuine. Asking one person to go, as it is now, may unsettle the party. I know talks are on and I know it would be resolved before time. Those who are waiting for the unbundling of the PDP are waiting for a huge shock because the crisis will be resolved and we’re going to the elections as one united indivisible part.
Kogi State is known for violence. It is said in many quarters that that the 2023 general election may not be rigged through ballot stuffing or ballot box snatching, but by violence. The incumbent governor recently threatened that they are ready for anybody. What steps are you taking to ensure that your supporters are not prevented prevent your opponents from hindering your supporters from voting?
My state is known for instituted violence by the ruling party, and lots of fingers pointing at the person of the governor. But what people don’t even know is that I am from Kogi East where we have nine local governments. When he ran for governor in 2019, he lost seven of those local governments except Ibaji and another and we all know what happened there. It was the magic that came from Okene, where he had about 120,000 votes from only God knows where, which cannot happen again. He’s not a popular governor; he’s not wanted by the people and this time around, the people are more determined to protect their votes. Nobody has a monopoly of violence; we’re not going to be involved in violence, we’re going to tell our people who are co-opted to inflict violence on our people that; be wise. I can tell you they have wisened up and this time around they won’t only come out to vote, they will be there to protect their votes. Secondly, the favour he enjoyed from the centre has left him. If you are a keen observer of the dialectics around him, you would know that he has lost that favour. He is there also going about crying for votes. He’s doing everything to woo people. All those threats don’t scare anyone, we are beyond threats. If he threatens us, we would threaten him too. People must be allowed to come out and vote, people are determined to vote. They are going to vote and their votes will count.