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We were not allowed to have our way in eighth Senate, Omo-Agege laments

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Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, representing Delta Central Senatorial District in the Senate

Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who represents Delta Central Senatorial District in the Senate, tells LEO SOBECHI in this interview that having pressured President Muhammadu Buhari to get involved in the issue of nomination of principal officers of the ninth Senate, members-elect of the National Assembly from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have no reason to defy the party’s endorsements.
 
Recently, the President took his oath of office for a second term and most people made a mountain out of the molehill of attendance. As a party man, what do you make of it all?
There is a reason why we had that (scanty) number of people that attended. One of it is security challenge.  More importantly is that Mr President is trying to marry May 29 and June 12 together. He has done something that everybody applauded by making June 12 the Democracy Day as it should be, which had been denied by previous governments.  
   
He felt that that day should be commemorated in memory of MKO Abiola and others, who fought and won that struggle.  Even after he did that, there was still an attempt to muscle away that June 12, but for some constitutional reasons, there was no way he could move his swearing-in date.  
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Basically, what he has done is just take the oath of office. The celebration he has reserved for June 12.  I am not part of his think-tank, but I think that may have informed his action and not to make an issue of the attendance. 

Frankly, I did not even think that we should have gone to Eagle Square, but find a corner in the villa for the oath taking, while we come back to Eagle Square on June 12 for the celebration. Everybody that attended was there strictly on invitation as there was no mass mobilization. It was a limited crowd for a particular purpose.  Judge us by the crowd you see on June 12.

In Kaduna recently a notable politician queried the feasibility of celebrating the birthday of an aborted child, saying the result of that election was not declared. How do you think this represents the essence of what the president wants to achieve?
I don’t want to subscribe to the views of the leader you met in Kaduna, with all due respect. I believe that Mr. President has done the right thing to recognise the sacrifices of those who struggled for this democracy. Some are saying that the results should have been declared. What results are we declaring and by who? We have a constitution. Does the constitution permit INEC to declare the results of the election conducted by NEC?

All attention is trained on the ninth Senate, what essential columns do you think the incoming Senate should observe religiously to eschew all those vices and schisms that attended the last senate?
To begin with, we need people to understand that elections have consequences. When we went into this election, we as members of APC had our agenda called ‘the next level’. It is an agenda that President Muhammadu Buhari and all of us candidates equally subscribed to. 

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We took this agenda to every nook and cranny during the election. PDP also had their agenda, ‘make Nigeria working’ which Atiku championed.  This same agenda was also taken before the electorate. The election was a referendum. 

The majority of Nigerians, who voted, voted in favour of the next level agenda and that was why we had control of the executive and also voted in favour of giving majority of the seats in the National Assembly, both the senate and the House of Representatives to the APC.   
   
It means,the expectations of the people were settled during the elections. So, coming in to the ninth assembly, we are going to be seeking a Senate that will provide an enabling environment for everybody to be able to make their contributions on behalf of their constituency, taking into account what the people voted for. 
    
It means to the extent that the president introduces bills and measures that are derivable from the next level agenda that that bill should pass in the Senate and the House of Representatives, because we have majority here and in the process we also expect that those who did not vote for us, but chose PDP are in the minority. In democracy, it is said that the minority will have their say, while the majority will have their way. 
   
That was what we were denied or deprived of in the eighth Senate, even though we were in the majority, we were not allowed to have our way and even in similar instance, we were not even allowed to have a say. That was what led to the crisis in the eighth Senate, because there was this perception that we were running an independent republic in the Senate and we were not. 

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There is only one elected president, which is President Muhammadu Buhari. Here we are all senators; that you are a presiding officer, senate president, deputy senate president; you are just first or second among equals.  Our people did not vote for us to fight the president, they voted for a unified government. 
    
They want us to create an enabling environment so that those decisions, bills and programmes will be implemented and the only way to do that is for us to cooperate with the executive without necessarily sacrificing the independence of the legislature. There is no iron clad separation of power; it is not cast on stones. It is all about working out a formula that will lead to cooperation.
   
The people want results, they want jobs, they want their roads constructed, they want the rail lines completed and they want sustainable social programmes and that can only work when we are able to cooperate with the National Assembly and the executive. I understand there is a perception that when you collaborate with the executive you are tagged as rubber stamp. 
   
We are only trying to implement the manifesto of the party under which we ran and won our election. In the ninth Assembly, everybody will have an opportunity to thrive, if you are a member of PDP, you will have a say in every decision that comes on the floor, but APC, being the majority, will have their way unless what you are canvassing is in the overall best interest of the country. 

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What areas should engage the special attention of Senators? 
My interest is on electoral reform.  We must get it right. Unless and until we get it right, we shall continue to have problems. I am a very big fan of technology. I do not see why we cannot go for electronic voting. Even before we came on board in the outgoing senate, there had been an amendment to the Electoral Act that removed the inhibition from section 52 or 53 of the Electoral Act that prohibited INEC from e-voting.
  
I know that the inhibition was removed. There is no reason why INEC should not go for full blown e-voting. And even apart from the e-voting, we had provided in the Electoral Act amendment for e-transmission from the polling units directly, because the bulk of the rigging that happens usually happens at the collation centre and everyone agreed on it.
  
But, like I said, the poisoned pill of section 25 of election sequence also deprived us of the benefits of that provision in the Electoral Act amendment. Having said that, we need to address it because inasmuch as we want e-voting, people must have that confidence that whatever is contained in the server is well protected. 
     
That is my area of interest and God willing, should I emerge as the deputy senate president, I would be the chairman of the constitution review committee of the National Assembly. That is my main focus, electoral reform, and of course, other amendment in the constitution to bring it to terms with modern day reality.

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Don’t you foresee a throwback to Eighth Senate and similar imbalance in APC’s majority due to what happened in Zamfara State causing stalemate or frictions in the election of National Assembly’s principal officers?
We were 65 and PDP was 43. We lost three bringing us to 62 and taking them to 46, which should give us a very comfortable majority. 

People have responded so much to section 50 of the constitution that says that we should be electing the presiding officer from amongst ourselves not necessarily the party, but convention has it that you should not put yourself forward if you are not a member of the party in the majority. 
    
There is nowhere in the world, no democracy, where the minority governs the majority. But, be that as it may, we are not going into this race canvassing only the support of the APC.  Should I emerge as the DSP for instance, I am going to be the Deputy Senate President of the Senate and not the APC.   
   
I am trying to reassure them that the agenda I seek is non-partisan, but a Senate agenda. They should take into account that APC is in the majority and to the extent that we have our manifesto, our next level agenda, the implementation of policies derivable from that agenda. But, every senator will have the opportunity to canvass the interest of his/her people. 

At least, I did not have that opportunity under Saraki for reasons well known to you. But, as a presiding officer I will be committed to providing an enabling environment for members, irrespective of party, to make their contributions.

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The fact that APC has two divergent opinions, where Lawan says there is need for synergy and collaboration while Ndume is saying that it is liberty of choice on whoever the senate chooses, don’t you think this kind of disparity can diffuse the next agenda?
Like I said, Lawan is not seeking to be senate president for APC senators only, but he is seeking to be the president of the entire senate. To that extent, I do not think there is conflict. Having said that, the party gave us a platform to contest these elections, because the Nigeria constitution, until otherwise amended, does not support independent candidates.
   
They have their manifesto, they have their next level agenda and I do not think it is out of place to think who between the two can pilot the affairs of the senate. They are making recommendations to the senators; please consider this as we have looked at the candidates and recommend, which is subject to the approval of the senate, as the preferred position.
  
All Ndume is asking is that people should decide. Mr. President has taken a stand, unlike 2015 when there was some sort of equivocation, but in 2019 he has been very unequivocal: I want Lawan; I want Omo-Agege; I want Femi Gbajamiala; I want (Idris) Wase and I am making these recommendations and appealing to all senators and House of Representative members to see reasons why they should be chosen. I am a party man and will always abide by what the party says.

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President Buhari blamed the National Assembly, especially the senate for the lacklustre outing in the last dispensation, as a party man, what do you expect to be the lynchpin of his success in the next four years?
The reason we had that challenge was because of the emergence of Saraki’s rogue leadership. But for Saraki’s emergence, we would not have had that challenge and because of Saraki’s ambition, he tried to use the senate as a platform to undo Mr President and undo his administration. 

He even tried to get him impeached, but for the efforts of some of us who stood our ground and said it was never going to happen. When that became impossible, he tried to do everything to make his administration fail. 

How else can you explain a budget being held up for seven months?  Forget all the excuses of ministers and heads of MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) not showing up as and when due.  As the president noted, it does not make any sense for the budget to be in the National Assembly for seven months. 

We are committed in the 9th senate to expedite the process and we do not see why the budget cannot be ready within 60 to 90 days. If not for the emergence of the rogue leadership, we would have had a cordial relationship between the executive and the National Assembly. At any point in time, people need to understand that we only have one president.

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A lot of people thought with the exit of nPDP that APC would reunite as a political family, where sanity, rule of law and due process reign, are you happy with the happenings in the party right now?
Nobody can be happy. We had the opportunity to consolidate on our gains and to make additional gains, but because of infighting, even in my home state; there was so much litigation.  We are not happy with that, but we believe that things would be better handled and that discipline would be better enforced soon. 

The National Working Committee (NWC) set up a five–man committee headed by former governor Niyi Adebayo to look into the issue of indiscipline and those who contributed to the anti-party activities in the last election.

Even in my own election, not only was I fighting with PDP, but I was also fighting within APC. To that extent, we won and won convincingly of course, but we could have won with a bigger margin. So I think the committee need to look into these circumstances and the people who sabotaged APC in my state.   
  
It was replicated in many other states. I think there was this perception that the party does not bite and felt that they could get away with the anti-party activities but I am glad the party is finally waking up to address this situation and we hope that it would be addressed so that those who cannot stay within the confines of the APC constitutional guidelines can find a better home somewhere.


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