Domingo Obende is a Senator representing Edo North Senatorial District in Edo State. As a first timer in the Senate, Obende has sponsored and co-sponsored at least 14 bills in the last two years including the controversial same sex marriage prohibition bill and has attracted at least 54 projects across the six local government councils that make up Edo North.
In this interview with Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu in Benin City, Obende spoke on the proposed national dialogue, centenary celebration and other issues.
What will you say on the proposed national conference by President Goodluck Jonathan?
Sometimes, a lot of things that happen come with agenda. I have always said that the people that will sit down to draft the agenda of a meeting know exactly why the meeting is being held. As far as I am concerned, I don’t see anything visible that is going to come out of it.
If we want to have a sovereign national conference, let us have it; if it is a National Conference that we are going to nominate people or allow government to select people to go debate the situation of Nigeria, obviously, my belief is that it is not going to be people-friendly.
This is because they have hidden agenda and it is that agenda that will be driven into the minds of the committee members. It is like writing a report before the sitting of a committee. It as also diversionary in the sense that they will set up committees.
Right now you will see people struggling to be members of these committees and that alone will destabilise a couple of things and the real issue of governance will be avoided.
They will now come and draft a list of many people and they will now say this committee commences in January or February and before the committee submits its report, we are done with election. I don’t think Nigerians should be treated in this manner. Let Nigerians sit down and discuss the future.
We have always believed that Nigeria cannot break, yes, if there are skirmishes here and there, I don’t think a National Conference is what we need to negotiate that.
If it is a Sovereign National Conference for instance, you can find people who could not even speak English but know what they want for their people, they will come there. So, to me it is like a hidden agenda that is clearly known to those that are setting up the committee.
Do you subscribe to the notion that the amalgamation of 1914 was a mistake?
There is a lot of wisdom in the amalgamation of Nigeria 99 years ago. We came into the African continent with strength and today, we can say Nigeria is the most populous African nation. We are able to get this strength because of the amalgamation but I must tell you that the colonial masters were the ones that created these problems by initially giving strength to specific units and giving weaknesses to other units.
It has been an impression that a northerner must always be in power because the British gave them the powers. It is also clear that when you are talking about the economy, you are talking of the Yoruba nation and of Igbo nation but to me, our amalgamation was a blessing.
We must sit down under a Sovereign National Conference to discuss the future of Nigeria because when a marriage is hitting the rock, the only wise thing the couple can do is for them to sit down and discuss; where have we gone wrong, why is this marriage going this way, can we bring ourselves back to our first love when we first met? I think that is what we should be discussing now.
Are you going to seek re-election in 2015?
I did say that to whom much is given, much is also expected. My people gave me votes and I have not disappointed them. I can point out projects that I have done and still doing. We have realised that the people voted for us and we must do exactly what the people want us to do.
And as much as I am still in the good books of my people and for as much as the leadership of my party is aware that I am doing the right thing by way of making sure that we make laws for the good governance of our country and for the betterment of environment and community, I am coming back and I believe that God will create that enabling environment and my coming back will not create any controversy.
Why do you think you merit a return?
This question is coming at a time the electorate are asking those they have sent to represent them at any level of government to give account. Primarily, the business of a legislator is to make laws and as we speak, I have in my credit about 14 bills and of-course the major one which is globally either acclaimed or condemned is the prohibition of same sex marriage which I believe by now, the president ought to have signed it into law.
What is your position on the alleged jumbo pay for lawmakers, they get so much and give so little?
The Senate as a body has dealt with this over and over again.
When you use the word jumbo pay, I don’t know in which context, but I know what my salary is. I don’t earn up to N1million a month. It is glaring, the banks are there, and these monies are paid directly to the banks.
Like the Senate spokesman said recently, let this debate be for the three arms of government, let us organise a debate, we want to know how much they are spending in the Villa.
Even CBN that is just an organisation, it’s budget is more than N350 billion in a year. How many people do they have as employees and you come to the National Assembly, where we have well over 5,000 management staff coupled with our salaries and over-head and we are using less than 3 per cent of the annual budget while a Ministries use well over 8 per cent of the country’s annual budget and what are many of these ministries doing?
For how many years now have you seen roads being constructed? So, we are saying that the money going to the federal government is too much, this has to be decentralised.
Let’s send these monies to the states and local governments, so that there will be nothing that will be attractive at the centre. All these crises you find within political parties are because of the centre. They believe that there is money there and everybody wants to come and steal and this money belong to the people.
The pay in the National Assembly is not the issue. It is clear propaganda to bring the legislators down and it is because for a long time, Nigerians were used to military regime; they are used to the judiciary, they are used to parliamentarians. So, we are ready for a public debate with these other arms of government.