The lawmaker representing the Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency of Kogi State in the House of Representatives, Mr Tajudeen Yusuf, talks about the controversial Kano-Maradi rail line being constructed by the Federal Government in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU
The Senate and the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Land and Marine Transport, on Thursday, protested against the proposed construction of an 824-kilometre $1.9bn standard gauge rail line from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic, while the narrow gauge is planned for other parts of Nigeria. What do you think about this project?
As a Nigerian and a bona fide citizen of this country sent to the National Assembly to represent his people, I have not found anywhere in our budget where we made budgetary allocations for Niger Republic. And if we had made it, I would have raised it on the floor of the House; I would not be part of it. So, first of all, I cannot find the moral behind it; I cannot find the economic benefit. And I think it is an infringement on our constitution. It is a slap on the democracy that we claim to practice. The Federal Government, through its agencies, must stop this now.
Kano was the centre of trade in that area and it is still the centre. If we are building rail lines from Kano to Niger Republic because of trade, what is the transaction or trade volume that will be going on along the line? In volume, can you compare it to what happens between Nigeria and Benin Republic or Togo? Let us assume it is worth it, are we in good shape as a nation now to construct rail lines for Niger Republic? When you are hungry and you want to be magnanimous, won’t you eat before you give out part of your food? If you have no food and you are going to borrow food to give to another person, does it make sense? You are hungry, you have no food, you are now going to borrow and beg for food that you will pay back with interest to give to another person, while you are hungry. There is something they have not told us about the whole thing. It is something beyond normal.
What will be your advice to the executive arm of government on projects such as the Kano-Maradi rail line when infrastructure in other parts of the country is begging for attention?
I even heard that they said because oil is in Niger Republic, that is why they are building rail lines and roads. Oil is in the South-South. The volume of oil in Niger Republic is not up to 20 per cent of what we have in the Niger Delta. So, if I am from the South-South and you tell me this story, I will just feel that you are being perfidious. It is perfidy. Can’t you come and construct rails in the Niger Delta to aid transportation of those things?
The whole Niger Republic put together does not have the oil that we have in some of the states in the Niger Delta. So, of what economic value is the project? It just boils down to ‘paddy paddy’. ‘They are my neighbours, I am close to them, I am in power. What can I do to further strengthen our relationship as brothers across the border?’
Some Nigerians are reading ethnic meanings to some of the projects, especially those relating to the root of the President. Do you share the same sentiment?
I don’t have the facts on that, but it is not impossible. Your actions give fuel to rumours. Immediately you come into power and you just begin to invest in certain things. On your own, you will trigger such thoughts and insinuations. It makes some people feel marginalised and like second-class citizens in the country that they rightly belong to. I am not happy that the roads and everything in my area is in that situation and I have been shouting and going up and down for like eight years, especially because of the Kabba-Omuo Ekiti Road. All we get is palliative work. They cannot take a loan to fix that road but they can take a loan to do the Kano-Maradi rail line.
Meanwhile, Kogi is the gateway to about 10 states. About 60 per cent of what comes from the South to Abuja comes through Kogi. Are you saying that Maradi is of more economic value than Kogi? No, I disagree. In fact, Niger does not have one-tenth of Lagos State’s economic value, meanwhile Lagos transports through Kogi; it is the same for Ogun, Oyo and others. The North too transports through Kogi. So, they can’t take loans to fix Kogi, but they can take loans to fix Niger Republic.
When a leader is made to be seen as infallible, and you begin to give a sense of superhuman to a man, you are setting him on the path of destruction. The APC people have not done Buhari well because none of them tells him the truth. They massage his ego. When you have a contrary view, you are seen as either a thief or they will say they are fighting corruption and corruption is fighting back, or it is because you are not in power. He is a human being! We now have people everywhere, who now use that name to perpetrate errors.
The rail project is said to be $1.9bn and will be financed with loans, which are approved by the National Assembly. Can you really deny being part of it after approving the loans?
Unfortunately, I cannot say so. But the truth of the matter is that I am not part of it. The present National Assembly makes it look as if it is an aberration if you have a contrary view to that of the President. They make the President look like a superhuman being that is infallible. Those who crafted the constitution intended that the National Assembly to be a check on this kind of thing but unfortunately, it has not been so. Every loan request that we get, we rush to pass it even when we don’t even see the details.
Yes, I cannot hold myself unaccountable but in reality, I am not because we have the tyranny of the majority. I used to know that the National Assembly allowed opposition views to be critical of the policies of the government so as to help see loopholes and limitations in order to address them. That is the essence of having opposition. In the House, unfortunately, that is not what we have now.
How come the opposition in the House is not speaking out loudly like when the present Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, was the Minority Leader?
The current Speaker enjoyed a very liberal environment because the majority party then (the PDP) allowed him to have moments of fame when there were issues. But he does not allow that under his regime. Unfortunately too, the Speaker appointed the minority leaders for the minority caucus.
How was that possible when you are a member of the minority?
We (minority caucus) appointed minority leaders. Are you not aware that we woke up one day and a list was read out contrary to what the party (the PDP) sent? The Senate read the list that was sent by the party, but in the House of Representatives, the Speaker said he had a list and he read the names out. We challenged it because we wanted to see the names of those who signed it. Till date, there are no ‘Votes and Proceedings’ to show. That is what we have. Those who are there, they are my friends but they are limited by the means through which they came in.
The argument then was that members of the minority caucus should elect leaders among themselves and not the minority party with the majority, in this case the PDP, writing to the House. Was there an election or selection process in your caucus?
Let me explain it to you: in the midst of the minorities, the major minority party meets with the other minority parties. The PDP is the major minority party; we had over 150 members. Those from other minority parties were about 10. We met twice, as the PDP first, and 97 members signed for Kingsley Chinda. We met as a minority caucus – APGA and others were there – and the late Ossy Prestige led APGA to that meeting. There was no meeting where the other people elected the present leaders. The minority parties sat down and endorsed Chinda.
When you do that, the leading minority party writes; that has been the practice. There has never been a time that you do a new letterhead and say the minority caucus is writing. No. The leading minority party writes. That was what the Senate endorsed; that was what the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, read. We have crossed that part. I don’t want to sound like we are opening an old wound. But I am telling you why we do not have a vibrant minority in the House, because we were not allowed to go through our normal process to elect our leaders.
So, as it is today, there are those who do not feel that they are represented by the minority caucus as constituted. For peace to reign and for it not to look as if one is over dragging the issue, one will just allow things to go. But you cannot get the best out of such a situation. You cannot build anything strong on illegality. What we are having is peace in the graveyard. So, the minority, like you rightly observed, is not the same minority caucus we used to have.
If you are not speaking out as a minority caucus or the opposition, what about the budget defence sessions where committees of the House seem to be giving ministries, departments and agencies a soft landing when their books should have been scrutinised and projects queried?
You must understand this: you cannot pick it in pieces when in the larger picture it is already doing it for you. We are not in an ideal setting. We have a process that threw up this 9th Assembly. It used to be the tradition of the parliament that to be vibrant, you do not allow whoever the Executive arm of government says it wants as Speaker or Senate President to emerge. We try to assert our independence by the way our leaders emerged. So, we were conquered people from day one. The moment that succeeded, we limited our ability. If you don’t allow things to go, you will be seen as a bad loser. You must understand that Nigerians – I’m sorry to say this – have a short memory. The two presiding officers, Lawan and Gbajabiamila, are ably and eminently qualified; they are seasoned. But it is not the qualification, it is the process. The moment you have the perception, either rightly or wrongly, about something, it will affect the way you judge that thing. That is the culture that we met when we came here and that is the culture that has kept the vibrancy.
Are you now saying that the kind of leadership that the National Assembly has now is influencing the performance of the committees?
Who are the committees? The chairmen of committees are just like commissioners appointed by a governor.
But the committees have members like you from the opposition. Why are you not speaking out at that level?
You cannot take away the head. I am a member of committees. In any committee that I find myself, whenever I find any of those infractions (by the MDAs), I speak out. But how many of us speak out? Don’t forget that cultures and traditions, when they are not kept and they are distorted, for those who are just coming in and do not have the privilege of knowing what is prevailing, they will assume that what they met is the order of the day. So, I fault the National Assembly management. First of all, the orientation that we used to have when I came in 2022 has been watered down so drastically. We had about two weeks outside Abuja. We were divided into geopolitical zones.
Now, they will bring you to a conference centre for one or two days. I am sorry but that is my opinion; there is no proper orientation. Members are not inducted in the values and ethics of the parliament. You just learn from whomever you align yourself with; whatever they do, you do. It is not good for our democracy. There should be standard procedures.
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