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« Why those who boycotted the conference miss the point | Main | Udenwa makes case for Southern Governors Forum »

March 02, 2005

National Dialogue is mere jamboree — Arapaja

The Oyo State caucus leader in the National Assembly, Hon. Taofeek Oladejo Arapaja is a grassroot politician, who bares his mind on the National Conference organised by the Federal Government stating that the conference is illegal, unconstitutional and at the same time, a jamboree of sorts.

By Adedapo Akinrefon
Posted to the Web: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Hon. Arapaja, the Deputy Chairman House Committee on Transport spoke with Vanguard in Lagos on the state of the nation, his political ambition in 2007 and political crisis in Togo among other burning national issues. (Excerpts):

What is your comment on the proposed National Dialogue?

The proposed National Dialogue is a ruse and a mere waste of tax-payers money and I am using this medium to call on the Federal Government to halt the jamboree.

I can only describe the confab as "illegal and unconstitutional"and the House of Representatives had resolved not to appropriate a single kobo to the government, because there is no reason for the proposed confab. It is contrary to the operations of the 1999 Constitution.

I will also urge those already appointed not to seek the people’s mandate through the back-door, but wait till 2007 to be elected as Senators and members of the House of Representatives when they will have the ample opportunity to make laws for the country.

The House of Representatives had resolved not to give support to an illegality called the national confab, and our decision is "final and irrevocable". We wondered why government is organizing this "kangaroo" confab when the National Assembly is already in place, we were elected to make laws for this country. President Olusegun Obasanjo is however free to hold the confab and use his security votes to organize it, but we won’t appropriate a single kobo for it. The decision of the National Assembly on the issue of the proposed national confab is a unanimous one, and this is not a case of whether you are in PDP, AD, ANPP and APGA, because we have a duty to protect the National Assembly, since we are the real representatives of the people and not just those appointed by the government. President Olusegun Obasanjo can spend part of his security votes to organize the confab, because the outcome of the confab would be of no significance to the country, it is doomed to fail and would not chart any way forward for Nigeria.

The National Assembly took the hard-line position because, the future of law-making in Nigeria will be in total jeopardy if we support an illegal assembly of people to dictate how the country would move forward. You will quite agree with me that it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to protect the nation’s corporate existence and unity and we won’t fold our hands and allow some elected individuals to hijack and usurp our functions and power. Our decision not to support the confab is "patriotic" because it is very glaring that the proposed confab may lead to war and threaten the country’s unity and stability, we are now alerting the nation that the outcome of the proposed confab would not be beneficial and hence, our resolution not to participate and appropriate money for it. The agenda of the confab as reeled out by government is what the National Assembly is capable of handling.

But the Federal Government is adamant to forge ahead with the Confab despite the stiff opposition from the National Assembly and Nigerians, and do you support your colleagues' move to drag government to court?

It is an affront to the National Assembly and I am not surprised about government’s stubborness to forge ahead with the illegal Confab, but the National Assembly's decision on the issue is "final" and we are not going to eat our words. Some people have been reading series of interpretations as regards why we vehemently opposed the confab. Nigerians are free to exercise their fundamental human rights to drag government to court to check-mate an illegality called confab, since government is not ready to listen to the clarion calls of Nigerians to halt the jamboree. We are all students of history, and what did the country benefit from the past confabs.

My only fear is that the proposed confab may lead to war because virtually all the country’s geographical zones will have their own demands or agenda. For instance, the South-South zone recently met in Bayelsa State to insist on resource control and 2007 presidency. Do you know what other zones would also demand for, and will government implement the outcome of the confab? What happened to the Oputa panel report, did government implement the recommendations of the panel? N983 million which government is planning to waste should have been used to provide more gains of democracy.

God has given us abundant resources, but it is very unfortunate that our leaders have been wasting them through looting and mismanagement of public funds. You don’t need to be a soothsayer for you to conclude that nothing meaningful would ever come out of the confab. The National Assembly should have been allowed to perform its statutory duties and not this "charade" and irresponsible "gathering of some individuals who are not elected but appointed by government to speak for the people. Nigeria has become a laughing stock in the comity of nations because of our failure to put our acts together. It is rather unfortunate that this issue of confab is rearing its ugly head. It is a shame of a nation that government has lost confidence in the peoples' representatives to make laws for the country. The confab is an affront to the National Assembly.

Then what is the way forward?

The only way forward is for government to halt the proposed National Confab because of its grave implications. The National Assembly is capable of addressing any burning issue(s) as to ways of moving the country forward. It will be unfortunate if government spends Nl billion on an irrelevant confab while an average Nigerian cannot afford three meals in a day. Such money could be taken to the charity and motherless homes to take care of the less privileged ones. Nigeria has been clamouring for debt relief, how would these countries and agencies like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Paris club and others agree to write-off our debts when we have more than enough to throw away. Government should halt the jamboree in the interest of the unity of this country.

What has been your experience since you became a distinguished Federal Honourable in terms of passage of bills and others?

The experience has been very interesting because it has afforded me the golden opportunity to contribute my own little quota to the development of this great country. Another sweet experience which the legislative business has afforded me is the provision of gains of democracy for the people at the-grassroots. I have done a lot through the grace of God to touch thousands of poor souls because I am not using the mandate given me by the people to amass wealth but to render quality service to mankind. It has always been my desire to live permanently in the minds of my people because, if I build ten houses, these houses cannot remember me nor will I be able to take them away when I pass on to my ancestors. My philosophy is: "selfless service to mankind".

Also, I have participated and joined my colleagues in the National Assembly to pass into laws numerous bills to improve the living conditions of Nigerians who are yearning for the dividends of democracy, purposeful and good governance.

Do you support military intervention to resolve the political crisis in Togo.

What happened in Togo deserves condemnation because the African continent cannot afford a mockery of herself. How can the military boys dismantle the political structures following the demise of President Eyadema and subsequently impose his son Mr. Faure Eyadema. Both the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS had seriously condemned the "rubbish" in Togo, considering how the late President misruled and mismanaged the country's resources for 38 years. Though Faure Eyadema had promised to conduct elections in 2008, he should not be taken seriously because he may go back on his words. Apart from the economic sanctions to be imposed on Togo, I am in total support of full military intervention to restore democratic governance in Togo. Military intervention has become an aberration all over the world. If Mr Eyadema refuses to step down and allow the country’s constitution take its course, then the AU should order its military boys to sack him to serve as a lesson for others.

Some Nigerians are expressing fears that Nigeria is moving towards a one party state following the decampment of members of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to the ruling party, what is your comment?

Nigeria is not moving towards a one party state. I disagree with the proponents of this statement. It is a normal thing in politics for people to move from one party to another, and this is not to suggest that we are moving towards one party state. In politics, there is no permanent friend, but permanent interests; politicians are bound to move from one party to another. This is part of democratic culture. It is not something unusual, except that people are reading negative meanings to it. In Oyo State for instance, members of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) have been moving in droves to PDP out of their own volition, without anybody forcing them to join. This set of decampees have realised that PDP is the only party that can better their lot, and they must have compared their parties with our great party and consequently realised that their future is more secured, and guaranteed in PDP than in other parties.

The arm-chair critics are only wasting their time if they consider the mass exodus of AD and ANPP members into PDP as attempts towards making Nigeria a one party state. In Lagos State, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro and others had decamped into PDP. I listened to Obanikoro’s interview where he said he joined PDP to save Lagos state from drifting. Few weeks ago, a colleague of mine from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) representing Surulere Ogo-Oluwa Federal Constituency Hon. Ademola Adeseun also dumped his party for PDP. Naturally, politicians often change political camps, we are even expecting more members from other political parties to join us. Nigeria is too big to become a one party state.

What are your plans for 2007?

It is too early to declare any future for myself because the future belongs to Allah. Since I started politics and got elected twice as the Executive Chairman of Ibadan South-East Local government, the first of its kind since the creation of the defunct Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG), it has been my burning desire to serve my people to the best of my ability. Each time I have the golden opportunity of serving the people, I have not failed in my duties to perform by rendering qualitative service to the people. This is the third time I would seek the peoples mandate. As a member of the House of Representatives representing Ibadan South-East and Thadan North-East Federal Constituency, I am not an Abuja based lawmaker because I am very close to my people at the grassroots.

I have been providing the gains of democracy for the people, with my own personal money. But majority of our people expect too much from us forgetting that we are not in position to award juicy contracts to the people. I am enjoying tremendous support from my people. I feel very proud of them from the day I joined politics, till this very moment. I want to say unequivocally that the decision would be theirs, whatever they want me to do, I will do with all my heart. I realised that my people are more comfortable seeing me around and that is why every weekend, I am in my constituency office in Ibadan, though the cost is enormous, if that is what gives them satisfaction and since I have vowed not to break the bond between us, I will continue to do whatever they like.

However, my political ambition is with my God, party leaders and party members. I am ready to serve my people again. All human beings are political animals, and I am not an exception. Time will tell which role I will play next. My mission in politics is yet to be accomplished and fulfilled. The future belongs to my creator, but I am always prepared to offer myself for service. This is the only way to contribute to the development of mankind. I always want to live in the hearts of my people, because politics runs in my veins and if I am given higher responsibility in 2007, I will gladly accept it even with a promise to do more for the people at the grassroots. Papa Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory whom my late father Alhaji Oladimeji Oladejo Arapaja (LAD) was a close associate of is still relevant because of the selfless service rendered to the people as the premier of the defunct Western Region. Though Papa Awolowo is dead, he is still practically worshiped.

He continues to rule Yoruba land from the grave. He was my idol. Late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola did not become president, but he has since been adopted as an eternal icon of Yoruba struggle in Nigerian politics. I am preparing myself ready for great challenges and responsibilities come the next political dispensation. God is the only person who ordain kings and I am leaving him to direct me. I want to assure my people that I won’t disappoint them if given a higher political responsibility. My people in the Ibadan South-East and Ibadan North-East Federal Constituency can readily attest to what I am saying. I am an apostle of politics without bitterness.

Precisely, what gains of democracy have you been able to make available for your people at the grassroots?

Recently, I inaugurated Taofeek Arapaja Foundation (TAF). The foundation is to empower our people by way of rendering financial assistance to them. The foundation was packaged to rekindle our interest in education and scholarship as a pivot for National development. Similarly, it was designed to appeal to other elected political office holders to utilize their resources to promote learning and education at all levels. Like in the ancient world of the Greeks, like in the mediaeval age of renaissance and like in the developed society, where reading is a culture and education is the value system that governments and citizens cultivate to advance science, technology and modern civilization.

Taofeek Arapaja Foundation (TAP) even recognizes the roles and importance of women, and hence the need to empower them with N10,000 cash grant individually. Women have been relegated to the background, having danced and sang under the scorching sun during the campaign rallies. The foundation also provided some working tools such as barbing clippers, sewing machines, grinding machines, bursary and scholarship grants to over 300 students in all the tertiary institutions, and NiO,000 grant to over 75 men, including the aged ones. This will be a continuous exercise, and at the end of the day, I spent N5million my own personal money to provide the gains of democracy for my people and I am not tired. I am ready to do more. This I have done in keeping my covenant with God and the electorate for giving me the mandate to serve. Taofeek Arapaja foundation will not die but lives to cater for the needs and aspirations of my people.

Has the South-West benefitted from the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo?

The South-west has benefitted from the present administration. Before the advent of 1999 elections, Yoruba had been playing the politics of opposition,. but Yorubas have now joined the nation’s mainstream politics with the South-West states under the control of PDP. We are no longer participating in ethnic politics. This is a major advantage for the South-West. But we should not forget that the entire country belongs to Mr. President, he cannot favour one region and marginalised others. President Obasanjo has been doing a yeoman’s job and deserves kudos for his nationalistic approach to issues and problems as they affect the Nigerian people.

Posted by Publisher at March 2, 2005 05:53 PM

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