Hon. Rotimi Emmanuel Olowo, is the legislator representing Somolu Constituency 1, at the Lagos State House of Assembly. He has been in the House since 2007 and had chaired several committees like Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, Works and Infrastructure and, Budget. Currently, he is the Chairman, House Committee on Local Government Administration. As it is, “OLOWO 1” as he fondly called by his supporters and associates, is eyeing the House of Representatives to represent Somolu Federal Constituency. In this interview with OKUNADE ADEKUNLE, he speaks on his legislative experience at the House of Assembly, his contributions to the development of his constituency, his 2019 ambition and the chances of clinching the APC ticket. Excerpts:
You have been in the House of Assembly close to 12years, what can you say about the Legislature as an institution of government?
Layman believes Legislative business is just any business but to me it is more than that. In government, we have three arms which are the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary but of these three, to start with, any other arms of government apart from the Legislature are either you come in through the support of the Governor or the power that be in the party, probably the party leaders but in the Judiciary you may not necessarily need such because it is purely a professional thing . If you are not a lawyer you cannot be in the judiciary. It is more of a quasi among the three arms of the government. When you talk about the Legislature, all the members of the institution must have been voted for . As a legislator what comes to your mind is how you will represent the yearnings of your people because it is forty constituencies that make up Lagos State and each constituencies has its peculiarities interms of the needs and aspirations of its people . How do you go there to represent their needs? Obviously through motions and bills. It can be that there is an issue that is affecting your constituency, probably, security issue, you must be able to say it at the floor of the House. So as a legislator, you must learn the legislative terms and terminologies . If you want to raise a motion at the floor of the House either circumstantial or substantial motion, there must be a way you go by it. Secondly, another function which a legislator does, is the oversight function on the executive arm. They say the Legislature has the power of the purse but not just have the power of the purse, you must be able to moderate on the budget as brought in by the executive. The Executive can say the budget will have economic implications on the society but we are not looking it from that point of view alone, what is the social implication on the people and their needs because when you look at section 14 subsection 2b of the Nigeria 1999 Constitution as Amended , it says the essence of governance is security and welfare of the people and these are the people that voted us into the House, if the government is thinking of I want to build alot of bridges, I want construct 10 lanes, I want to make alot of money, we will say NO it must be holistic . We should not be talking about budget that would be talking about economic returns, we need to look at the welfare of the people . In Somolu , for example, I have alot of roads that need the attention of rehabilitation , so when they bring the budget we will not just look at it and pass it, we will be looking it from the point of how it affects the life of the people . We look it from that point of view and that is the reason why when budget comes in we don’t allow it to go back the same manner it came. We need to see it vis a vis how it benefits our people. We need to look at it as it affects Bariga, Somolu, Ikorodu , Ibeju-Lekki. Everyone of us needs to yearn for the need of our people.
Fortunately enough when I was Chairman House Committee on Appropriation, I moved to respective ministries to see how they can accommodate my roads, how I can get support for infrastructures to my constituency. That is an important function of the Legislature. The third one has to do with lawmaking. Obviously, everyone knows that we make the laws. The bill is in two folds, there is one we called “The Executive bill” which is from the executive and ” Private Member bill” that is sponsored by members of the Assembly to become a law . Any Lawmaker that sponsor private member bill will make a move to lobby other members on the import of the bill when it becomes a law. He/She makes it as a fact that thebill when passed would have overriding public interest because any law that does not affect Lagosians positively is not expected to back our support. So, those are the three major function of the Legislature.
Based on your analysis, it is obvious that there will be friction between the Executive and the Legislature while these functions are being carried out, what do you think the frictions can be?
When you look at the most frequent issues that always cause friction between the Executive and the Legislature, is that the executive not keeping to tenets of the law because it is called “Appropriation Law” after it has been passed by the House . If the law is not well executed interms of what is passed and what is executed, probably there are some projects that are not part of the budget, virement is a criminal act because it shows that you are rewriting the budget. Where we asked you to spend probably N10 as it was moderated before given back to the Governor and somebody spends N15 instead of N10 obviously they have vired, those are the issues that would definitely bring friction between the executive and the legislature. At times when you invite the MDAs because budgeting is a process, when you bring it to the House, the next thing is to be committed to the necessary committees and the committee will invite the necessary MDAs to come and defend their budget. Obviously, when they are drafting the budget we were not there ,so when they brought it we ask what they want to use the money for and we try to know whether what they want to use the money for is appealing to our sensibilities, is it bringing more welfare to the people that voted us in? So if they are not in tandem with our own aspiration as the representative of the people obviously in some cases we can slash the budget size of the ministries and MDAs and in some cases we can add to it.
The legislature has always been alleged of extorting Ministries and the MDAs during budget defence and this always cause problems between the duo. What can you say about it?
Alot of Nigerians are gullible, they have forgotten that the legislators are their representatives. Because the executive has money they can buy their way even with the media. When the media approach me, I will tell you what I want to tell you but when you go to the executive they can come up with alot of lies to blackmail us . I have never heard in the history of Lagos State ever since I was voted in, in the 6th, 7th and 8th Assembly that we asked for money. We never ask for money but the issue is that before the collation of the budget you are able to collate the needs of your people through the town hall meeting where you get to know the needs of your people, where our people will need borehole and you are bringing roads there, it will not meet their yearnings and they will not have sense of belonging , so we want a budget that would be all inclusive. So, after the town hall meeting , we pass all we have gotten in terms of people’s needs to the executive . That is for Lagos as an example. When the budget is being drafted all those needs from the 40 constituencies even if it will be two each, it will be part of the budget. And if they don’t make it to be part of the budget, that is why you see us telling them we have constituencies which we represent and they have needs that must be met because that is the essence of voting me into the House and when I don’t meet their needs we will be at cross with eachother . Many people mis-construct that we are asking for money . It is not basically peculiary interest but I want my people to know that I have given them my promises when I was out campaigning and that I am back now to let my people appreciate the fact that I am able to deliver the dividends of democracy . As a representative of a community, I must ensure that part of their needs is in the budget . If they don’t put it there we start fighting ourselves and the next thing is they will go back telling people that we want to extort money from them and that it was the reason we did not pass the budget in good time.
Why is it that the Lagos State budget was late to be passed and secondly late to be assented to by the Governor?
Like I said earlier, the budget is a process and you cannot short-circuit it , when you don’t bring your budget in good time when you are bringing budget probably around November or December and you know that there will be Christmas … like the last time I did Budget Chairman we did not finish until December 27 it was only Christmas day that we did not engage the MDAs . On the 27th while others were at home merry, my colleagues and I were working moderating on the budget we did not finish the budget until around 27th 28th of December and so the House needed to call off recess to be able to moderate on the thrid reading of the budget for Governor to assent it. The major issue is that when you call the MDAs and you give them timetable some of them will not adhere to the timetable they would be given you excuses and be asking for another date and by the time they are doing that it takes a while . Sometimes when they are coming to budget defence the necessary documents that would be able to buttress or support their budget size are not with them . So, when they don’t come with full complement of information required from them obviously they have to go back and cone another day. Those are the issues that make budget to tarry a while till January or February . Like the last one, the budget came late and by the time we start superintending over it we were in January already ,so you can’t expect such a budget to be passed before newyear. When I was Chairman Committee on Budget , I think the Governor assented it on the 6th of January I remembered vividly because it came in early and we were able to sacrifice . The Speaker expressly told us that it is a sacrifice we must bear . While others were on vacation for the Christmas we were there working . Late submission of their document and rescheduling of date of engagement by the MDAs will not allow budget to be passed in good time. And more importantly, is the fact that the same manner the Governor wants the budget to be passed quickly , the same manner we want the budget to be passed quickly to do that thru would be able to do a lot of construction early the year before rainy season. Rain starts around May June so we are conscious of i but then if they don’t bring the budget in good time can we force it on them? If they are coming without full complement of information , can we just pass it? Lagos State House of Assembly is not just anyhow House of Assembly that would be seen probably as the appendage of the executive . We do justice to things because we know that Lagos is very important to Nigeria .
You were known to be a major key actors in the House but just of a sudden, there was a fallout, can you tell us more on it?
Basically, that is politics . At times you have friends and your friends can be enemies tomorrow but the most important thing is that one needs to be focused and be doing what one is doing . I think we had issues but it was an issue within the House . As it is known that we are 40 members and all of us can’t be on the same page all the time . We are from different background , exposure and upbringing and obviously you will expect some to be fifth columnists . What you don’t say they will go around to say you said this and that , probably because they know you are very relevant and they want to look for a way to diminish your power by going bunker saying what did not transpire but at the end of the day to God be the Glory the dust is settled and we are back . I know that anywhere in the world that is how politics is being played in the Legislature because every member is a politician.
It was learnt that you are vying for House of Representatives and there seems to be some hiccups, can you tell us more about it?
As a citizen of this country and a loyal member of the All Progressives Congress(APC), I have a right to aspire for any position because I know that at the House of Representatives you can’t just come in and say you will learn everything overnight . When I first came into the House of Assembly , it took me and some of our colleagues probably six months to be able to brace up to under what they are doing because the House has been there and some people are returning and you know we have ranking members . So when you appreciate that I know that I have seen it all in the House of Assembly . I have played my part. There was a time I was Chairman Committee on Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, Chairman House Committee on Appropriation and now Chairman House Committee on Local Government Administration at the State level and local government level . I have done my bit and for those that know me too well they know that I am one of the voices you must listen to at the floor of the House because I will not just come to the House and be talking trash . I must have researched, I must be able to articulate my facts before I open my mouth. It will go a long way to say if you can do that at the state level why not replicate that at the federal level because I believe when you look at Lagos, it is a state of excellence as they call it and whosoever that would represent Lagos must be people that are above board . When I get there I will have more time to do research unlike Lagos because one is a grassrooter and always in one’s constituency as Somolu is my constituency I will be distracted a bit because slot of people will always be on me but if I go to Abuja I will be able to read and research and also be able to look at the global problems we are experiencing unlike Lagos . If we are able to look at Lagos at that level, issues that bother on politics , and economy that affect our nation positively and we will be able to discuss such at that level and it will make Lagos to be more above the board and that is the essence of my going to the House of Representatives having spent 12years . I don’t see anything as challenges as regard it. I think we have more problems nationally than the state , so at national level, i will be able to look at the problems with my colleagues too . They are around 360 people if you know your onions and be able to proof yourself, you will be able to shine and invariably Lagos is shinning. That is my ambition but then everything is still at the bell and call of the leadership of the party . One thing is for you to say you want to contest, another thing is for the leadership of the party to say we still need you here because you can have candidate on consensus. You know in politics consensus in allowed and as well in democracy where people would come together and reason that for a particular reason we still want this man to be here or we still want him to go higher. I am a product of the party and whatever the party says I will abide by it . There is no room for independent candidature , I don’t have any identity apart from APC so whatever the leadership of the party says, I will abide by it but ordinarily I will love to be at the Federal House of Representatives .
What is your relationship between you and your constituents?
Obviously it is very cordial and I will say that there is symbiotic relationship between me and my constituency because I have been so close to my constituents and emotionally attached to Somolu and I always empathise with them as against being sympathetic. According to Max Webber, for you to understand people at the level of needs and perception you must empathy with them because it is through the empathy you will be able to know what and how they are feeling individually or collectively and i have been doing this for long. I have always been voted into House since 2007 by the people of Somolu. I go to Somolu almost everyday . I sit down with people even in some areas you think you cannot see somebody like me. I will be there eating and drinking with them because I believe that is the only way I can easily empathize with them . When I sit with them anybody can come across me and they ask for one or two things and i give to them. I can meet them in my constituency office , I make sure they are not blocked to get close to me, I choose an avenue to meet the genuine people that are in need of the things . At times, N5,000 N10,000 can make a difference and what is five thousand , ten thousand naira to me , so I have chosen an avenue where I can move from one ward to another and sit down with people and in the course of fraternising with them you see people that are in genuine need of things that you can offer and support them and it will make a difference in their life especially the widows and single mothers. I believe that if we are able to take care of the family institution and the symbol of any family institution is the woman . If the woman is well taking care of by meeting their needs, I believe that it will go a long way in resolving Nigeria problem. A single woman without husband with a whole business worth that is not more than N5,000 , so if one is able to give additional N10,000 obviously it will go a long way in assisting the woman and the children because the children will not be at the mercy of the environment that is very hostile and not accommodating. If the children are not care for, by tomorrow you see them taking drug and become nuisance because there is no mother to really cater for their needs. I am always in Somolu and very close to my people. You can go their secretly to do investigate on my person . I am Somolu personified . When you look at your background and you see people going through alot, the only thing you can do is to help them so that they can feel you . I have symbiotic relationship with my constituency.
In Somolu Federal Constituency, you are upto 4 contesting for the House of Representatives ticket under APC, what really gives you edge over others?
My major selling point is visibility, availability and consistency . I have been always available and very visible . I trek Somolu from Onipanu to Bajulaye without using my car . I am as simple as that and I sit down with anybody be it market women , be it widows , be it artisans . Anybody can go to Somolu and ask , I am more visible than any other person , I am more accessible than any other person , I am more consistent than any other person and I give sacrificially than any other person and I give from my own resources . I am not just talking about my salary or allowances from the House, from my own personal business I still give back to the people . In Somolu , I have bought more than 24 cars to empower the people either for business or private need and the least of the car is N1.5million. The least of the cars I gave out were Toyota Big Daddy and Camry 2010, 2011. I bought and launched school buses which I called ” Easy Ride To School” . It takes children to school in the morning and take them back in the afternoon . The reason for the free ride, is that, when we were growing up we always make it to the assembly to hear the words of God and we internalised it. The buses run two trips in the morning. It takes them to school in the morning 6:30am to 7am and 7:30am to 8am and bring them back in the afternoon after school around 2:00pm to 3:30pm and they come and park. With this, the children will want to make it to school very early because they know it is an easy ride to school then when they are coming back to school they don’t pay. So, that will make them to make it to the assembly to hear the words of God in the morning and with the afternoon ride, they would be able to get home quickly and not roaming about but go home to support their mothers. In addition to that, I choose to always celebrate my birthday with the children do every birthday of mine 24th of November I normally choose five primary schools. I would have sent emissaries to the schools to look at the state of their uniforms thereafter we would sow 20uniforms for boys, 20uniforms for girls and we buy sandals for them in each school . So, when I go there for my birthday I will ask them to come to the assembly and we would choose those that their uniforms were in bad condition . We call them out and give them new uniforms and those with bad shoes we give them sandals then we share the cake together and handover exercise books to them. I also consider the market women too in my giving, once in a while, I put N10,000 in envelops and distribute it to market women in each of the six markets we have in Somolu . I go to each market and give to 40 people that I know that he or she really needs the money. For example, like someone selling banana orange, you can appreciate how much the money would add to his or her business . With that I am trying to increase their means of livelihood and with that there would be multiplier effect on their business and those under them. In Somolu, I am one of the cofounder of “Spelling Bee Programme” .Every year , I give the best female and best make N50,000 each to take care of their scholarship every semester . So these are the things I am doing that make my people very close to me . At the micro level, I know that I have done my bit and they are reciprocating because when you go to Somolu ask who is “OLOWO 1” or “Hon. Rotimi Olowu” just make a random sampling, people will tell you that I am a Somolu person to the core. I am so passionate about the Somolu Project . Aside that, when I was Chairman House Committee on Works, that was the period of Hon. Bagosto as the Chairman of the local government, Somolu witnessed unprecedented road rehabilitation and construction in the history of Somolu because I will not go to any Commissioner to ask for money , the only thing I told him was to go and develop Somolu for me. Even when I was Chairman House Committee on Budget, I used the committee to bring meaningful development to Somolu .
Somolu is one of the flashpoint for cultism, if you are elected into the House of Representatives, what would you do to address this?
Cultism is not as prevalent as the use of thugs by politicians within the community. About a month plus, I was about to be attacked by six masked men with guns. I left the spot when they came looking for me . The guy that sat on my chair was killed at the spot and another two people , so, it was a politically motivated killings. Many of us who are politicians are Godless and soulless and the reason is very simple, it is born out of jealousy when you think someone is in a position and is shinning because he is very visible and he has been part of the people and they talk good of him . And someone who is not known , who does not come around , who believes the only way he can get things is by linking up . He does not have any local relevance because he is not available and he only resorts to using thugs to eliminate his competitor, that is just the issue. The issue is not Abuja, it is a local issue . Until we are able to nip them in bud to say bye to thuggery in politics then that is when we will have peace. Somolu has been a peaceful place . At a time, I championed the reconciliation of all those cultists in Somolu when I was handing over them to police. Both Somolu and Bariga sat to have an understanding. Ever since then we have not heard of killings until lately July 24th when they came for me. I went to Somolu for my brother’s birthday and I left there for my sister’s shop where we were drinking together because I needed to walk during the period we were doing local government appraisal , so I left the shop not sooner than 10mins that I left they came all masked and killed two people. A girl frying bean bake for her mum , a stray bullet hit her and about two or three days after she died. Cultism or no cultism , it is not that they can’t be nip in the bud, but the activities of politicians have exacerbate the issue. It supposed to have been forgotten by now but because some politicians are using them so when they are arrested it is the politicians that go to bail them and these are the boys that constitute themselves into nuisance . When it is dark, they go to steal , rape, and leave the environment and go to another community so when the dust settles they return to perpetuate crime again because they have political godfathers.
Direct and Indirect models of voting at APC primaries have generated controversy in the party as some Governors are against the direct model, what is your view on this?
When members do not have say in choosing who represents them then we have a problem . As an APC member, whether I am going to vote for House of Representatives or House of Assembly , Senate or even the Governor and the President , I suppose to have a say because I am a card carrying and financial member of the party . The good news is that by the time the aspirant is elected eventually , he would be responsible and responsive to the people that actually voted for him . There will be accountability and secondly, there will be transparency because to me it suppose to be a level playground irrespective of your financial muscle you should be made to contest in a very democratic and fair atmosphere. Where some would just believe that because he or she has the money to buy delegates , a situation where he or she can afford to give the delegates N100,000 each seizing the opportunity of the high rate of poverty in the land, the delegates will collect the N100,000 each and vote for the man and when he gets there he forgets them. When he comes back again, he gives them N100,000 and they still vote for him. The direct primaries model will allow for level playground where people would be allowed to aspire for any position without fear of being shortchanged by the moneybags . It will also eliminate a situation where some people will not be answerable to their constituents because if you know that it is through this leader you get your ticket you will only be responsible and accountable to the leader . What about the people you are representing and your party members at local level? Those are the issues. It is only the unpopular ones that will only talk of indirect election where you use delegates. Even the issue of delegates, the delegate pattern has been bastardised when during the congress some people mingle with some people and they did not let us have our register , so we did not have any congress. Even where there was consensus, we sat down to reason with ourselves and somebody came from Abuja to moderate on it, some people still went behind to modify and bastardise the list . The issue is still there . People that would say they have the power that be, they have people at Acme, so those are the people that will be talking about delegates . If you are very popular and visible among your people, they will reciprocate by voting for you enmasse . That is the fear of many people. You can ask anybody in Somolu about me. They should let us go and contest at a free, fair and credible direct primaries without the intervention of the leaders and without manipulation , I am telling you my name is ” Rotimi Olowu” I will win any other person in Somolu because I have paid my dues and it is time for me to get my returns.
What should your constituents expect from you before the end your tenure and what should they expect from you when you are elected into the House of Representatives?
Earlier, I talked about consistency. They know that I am consistent . I have been doing my bit and I will still continue to do my bit . I will still be very visible and be championing their cause . I want to see how more projects are drawn to Somolu . I want to see how security is more effective in Somolu . I want to see how we can elevate the yearnings of our people especially in this serious era because Nigeria is economically strong to say the least and it is affecting everybody . Poverty is visible, you can see it . At a time I went through bank and I borrowed some of our people money with low interest which many of them did not pay back. I invested over N10million but rather than doing that again, what I have chosen is that I will go around to look out for people that genuinely need the empowerment especially the needy to give them my widows might. That is what I am going to do before I leave office. But on the ongoing projects, I will see to their conclusion before 2019 , I mean between now and December . I will do this by talking to the revenant ministries on the need to make the projects to be finished.
Finally, I will want people to have confidence in me that I will continue to assist them. I have been doing this since 2007 and I will continue to do what I have been doing for my constituency . I will still want to talk about a man that is role model who I have drawn alot of inspiration from. He worked in an Oil company, I worked in an Oil company . He has been a man that gives out sacrificially who I am following his step , that is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he is a sacrificial giver and very tenacious. He believes in Nigeria and he believes in Southwest . He has sacrificed his time, resources , energy and most times he does not have time for his family . When you go to his house, people are always there . He attends to people from morning till night. He is a man who I appreciate his courage . He was a lone voice in the wilderness even when others were discouraged. This is a man who has sacrificed everything he has. Even when he was intimidated by the power that be, he stood his ground. He has been fighting for a better Nigeria. I appreciate him alot . If not for him and few others our party would not have been good as it is. You know that from AD to ACN it has always been a regional party but when there was coalition between ACN and other parties , we could see the sacrifice he made . Even when he supposed to be the Vice President of Nigeria, he looked at many things and jettison it . This is a man we can say he has actually sacrificed for Nigeria. He is a man I have been taken after as my role model. He is a selfless and great man.