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‘Government responsibility is to lift citizens out of poverty’

By Niyi Bello, Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Kehinde Olatunji
20 July 2017   |   4:14 am
It is on this premise I will urge all electorate in Lagos to come out en mass to vote for candidates of the APC in the council election, as this would enhance the party to do more in developing the state.

I am not only saying lawmakers should take it as a responsibility if we are chanced, but also appealing to those that are financially capable to give back to the society. I repeat, government alone cannot do it.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa represents Lagos East senatorial district on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the upper chamber of the National Assembly since 2011 to date. He spoke on his achievements, security challenges in the senatorial district and next Saturday’s local council election in the state. Niyi Bello, Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Kehinde Olatunji report.

Lagos council election
In the first place, I feel so excited that the party on whose platform I am serving as a Senator, is also in control of Lagos State and the Federal Government. And from the look of things, APC has been doing its best to turn Nigeria around for good since it took over control at the centre in 2015. It is true we still have a long way to go, but bearing in mind what the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration met on ground, our party has done its best and we are still going to do more.

I also want to use this medium to say that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has not only done exceedingly well, he has also performed beyond expectations giving the situation on ground in barely two years.

It is on this premise I will urge all electorate in Lagos to come out en mass to vote for candidates of the APC in the council election, as this would enhance the party to do more in developing the state.

Incidentally, my birthday falls on the day of the election and the greatest gift I expect to get from the people of Lagos is their support for all APC candidates in the election. I urge all to troop out to support the candidates of our party, by doing this; we would be able to harness the development we are witnessing in Lagos at the grassroots level, through the synchronised effort of the state and local governments.

Delivering quality representation
Let me begin by thanking members of my district and also all APC faithful in Lagos and the country for their support, interventions and criticisms since the commencement of the Eighth National Assembly.

It is my humble privilege to say that they have demonstrated unflinching support to the party and me. However, your question is a call to account for my stewardship if I get it right.

During the 18th Gbenga Ashafa Town Hall Meeting/Medical outreach held last Saturday, I presented my mid-term stewardship report with the aim to provide a basis for a mid-term assessment of service delivery in the spirit of accountability and responsibility required of public servants at all levels of government.

The report was a highly summarised account of my activities over the past two years as a second term senator from June 2015 till June 2017.

Apart from my primary assignment as lawmaker and in addition to being the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, I am also an active member of the Senate Committees on Constitution Review, Water Resources, Establishment (Pension and public services), Foreign Affairs, Legislative Compliance and National Security and Intelligence.

As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, I have been able to midwife the passage of the Nigerian Railway Bill, 2016, which represents a radical departure from the norm as the new law has effectively broken down the railway sector into the regulatory and operations components in line with international best practices, thereby creating a level playing field for private and state sector participations.

When implemented, it is predicted that it would attract the largest infrastructural developments in the Nigerian rail sector, attract foreign direct investments and ultimately translate to millions of jobs.

I have directly sponsored seven bills since June 2015, which are the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Amendment Bill 2016, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Bill 2016, the City University of Technology Bill 2016.

Others are, Sporting Tax Holiday Bill 2016, the Nigerian Postal Service Bill 2017, the Nigerian French Language Village Establishment Bill 2017 and a bill for the amendment of the National Sports Act, 2017.

Some of the co-sponsored bills are, a Bill For An Act To Establish Lagos State Special Economic Assistance Programme by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, a Bill For An Act To Amend the Prisons Act Cap P.29 by Tinubu, a Bill for an to provide the Establishment Of National Animal Identification and Management Bureau by Senator Abu Ibrahim; a Bill to an Act to amend the Electoral Act No 6 of 2010 as amended by Senator Monsurat Sumonu and a Bill for an Act to Repeal The Prison Act 2015 by Senator Shaaba Lafiagi.

In addition to making meaningful contributions whilst deliberating on other motions put up for discussion by my distinguished colleagues, I have also sponsored several motions, which include: a motion on Fuel Tanker Tragedies on Nigeria Highways; motion on Nigerians involvement in illicit global drug trade and increase in domestic abuse by Nigerian youths; motion condemning the rising incidences of jungle justice in Nigeria, motion on urgent need for the Nigerian Police and other security agencies to intervene in the increased rate of kidnapping in the Lagos East senatorial district and securing the waterways; motion on the outbreak of meningitis: urgent need to curb the spread and stop further deaths; motion on the Unity of Nigeria by Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, (co-sponsor) and motion on the urgent need for the Federal Government to redeem local contractors debts by Tinubu, co-sponsored and others.

Is empowering constituents’ part of a lawmaker’s responsibility?
I must correct that impression that engagement in constituency empowerment programme is not a basic responsibility of a lawmaker, yes you may sound right but the way Nigeria is today, the burden of providing basic needs that could ordinarily empower some people within our immediate jurisdiction of responsibility and beyond as God permits, should not be left to the government alone.

Let me say it categorically that no government can shoulder this burden alone due to the prevalent rate of poverty in the country.  I have this conviction in me before but I got more convinced last Saturday during my 18th Town Hall Meeting/Medical outreach. I have had experience with people but this time I marveled at the number of older people that came out seeking to be empowered. Majority of them are women, who were still taking care of their children, paying school fees among other responsibilities from the little means they do to earn a living. You will be moved to help, if you see it.

I am not only saying lawmakers should take it as a responsibility if we are chanced, but also appealing to those that are financially capable to give back to the society. I repeat, government alone cannot do it.

For instance, I am proud to say that the three senators representing Lagos have not relented in this area, likewise some of the lawmakers representing the state on our platform.

How far have you gone in this aspect?
Through our legislative office at the National Assembly, the constituency offices situated in all the Local Government Areas within our Senatorial District and other platforms of engagement, I have directly facilitated several town hall meetings, empowerment sessions for SME owners and the siting of capital-intensive projects targeted at empowering a minimum of 10, 000 constituents.   My actions are driven by a firm belief that one of the primary responsibilities of government is to implement economic policies that lift millions of our citizens out of poverty, and to use the resources at its disposal to create safety nets for the poor and vulnerable.

Some of our ongoing construction projects include; the construction of an ICT Centre with supply of computer systems at Oreyo Secondary School, Igbogbo, Ikorodu. The project started this year and is about 70 percent complete. We have also completed the construction of solar boreholes in seven locations, which are Somolu, Bariga, Ojota, Isheri-Magodo, Agbede-Ikorodu, Ketu, Ibeju-Lekki across the Senatorial District.

We have been able to donate items like 500 units of sewing machines, 100 units of tricycles, 200 units of grinding machines, 20 units of block making machine, 150 units of 1.2KVA generators, and 10 units of 6.5KVA generating sets to our constituents with a view to empowering them to start their own Small Scale Businesses (SME). We have also provided two units of transformers, which have already been installed in Somolu and Epe.

To mark the end of year 2016, we conducted free medical outreaches across all the councils in our senatorial district and distributed educational kits and back-to-school materials to more than 3000 pupils. We also awarded scholarships, financial assistance and medical assistance to constituents under the Gbenga Ashafa Trust Endowment (G.A.T.E).

Further to the above, in the past 2 years, we donated security equipment to complement existing efforts at ensuring adequate safety of our children in two of our schools that have been affected by kidnapping within the period. These are the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla in Epe and the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu.

In February this year, we commenced our Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program in conjunction with Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) for the first batch of 250 Constituents and the subsequent distribution of seed funds to beneficiaries.

Let me use this avenue to appreciate all organisations that conferred award on me for the job done. The Press Corps of the Nigerian Senate and the Amalgamated Commercial Motorcycle and Tricycle Riders Association of Nigeria who conferred me with awards as the Parliamentary Advocate on Infrastructure 2016 and the Arrow Head of Transportation respectively. Also, I was only recently conferred with the Special recognition Award for the work we did on the passage of the Nigerian Railway Authority Bill, 2015 by the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable.

On insecurity in Lagos East District
In the past two years, Lagos East has been experiencing rising incidences of crime, the most prevalent being kidnapping, militancy and cultism. The most affected areas in our district have been Epe and Ikorodu.

In Epe, we are currently dealing with the challenge of our school children that were kidnapped from their school, the Lagos State Model Colege, Igbonla Epe. My heart and prayers are with our boys, their families and their friends. I pray that they are released to us within the shortest possible time. I am aware that the state government has been working with security agencies to ensure their release without any harm.

On my part, I have petitioned the Inspector General of Police on the need to make this case top priority. In Ikorodu we are dealing with multiple issues of kidnapping and street cultism popularized by the menace of Badoo. Like I had earlier said, I commend my constituents in Ikorodu for rising up to ostracize members of the cult group from their community, we must all rise up to condemn jungle justice that is currently going on in that area.

On my part, one of the motions I moved shortly before this incident was captioned: ‘Motion on urgent need for the Nigerian police force and other security agencies to intervene in the increased rate of kidnapping in the Lagos East senatorial district and securing the waterways’, through this motion, the Senate urged the Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies to beef up security around our district and even requested for aerial surveillance of our creeks.

This situation underscores the need for all of us in the district to join our hands together to support the security agencies with information about any criminal syndicates/elements in our communities in order to facilitate their arrest and prosecution. We must rid Lagos East of all criminals and we must do this together.
Role of Lagos Senators on altercation between National Assembly and Works Minister over Lagos-Ibadan expressway contract budget

I must confess that I am impressed about the number of inquiries I received as regards the issue of the reduction of the allocation provided for the completion of the Lagos–Ibadan expressway in the 2017 budget. It shows how vibrant, active and intellectually mobile our constituents are and we remain committed to the highest levels of accountability.

Without any iota of doubt, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is a national asset of utmost importance, even more important is the need to ensure the speedy conclusion of the repair works going on the road in order to forestall the rate of accidents and to further boost the economic potentials of the entire country.

However, to ensure the effective oversight of the legislature, legislators are divided into several committees. It is these committees under the direction of the Senate Committee on Appropriation that interface with the leadership of the various Ministry, Departments and Agencies under its purview. Hence, while I have a general overview of the entire budget, my knowledge of each ministries budget would naturally be limited, except of course for the Ministry, Departments and Agencies under the committees of the Senate to which I belong.

In the light of the forgoing, I am not a member of the Senate Committee on Works or any other committee that interfaced with the Minister of Works at that level and as such I was not aware of any cut in the allocation to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway prior to the passage of the budget.

I believe that the legislature and the executive have reached a progressive solution on the matter.