Senator Suileman Asonya Adokwe represents Nasarawa South senatorial district. He spoke with some journalists recently on the gale of defections in the polity, the anti-gay law, and other political issues. Jaiyeola Andrews, who was at the session, presents the excerpts:
How would you react to the present state of the nation?
Usually, when we approach the election year, we have all this heating up of the polity. It is a recurrent decimal in the political activities of the country. But this one is a bit unusual because of the so much stress that is being put on the polity by the various movements, the recreation of the parties and the repositioning of the various political parties preparatory to the 2015 election. That has in a way created so much tension in the polity.
Some of the things that have become issues really ought not to be issues but the struggle for power has become more intensely uncivilised, and if you add basic issues, like somebody should not run for presidency, you cannot run for presidency or the leadership must go to another region, as if we do not have a constitution in place that will guide the interest of everybody. There are rules and regulations on how to seek power in the country and for a foreclosure to be made that this man cannot run, power must shift from this place or else heaven will fall, we have not witnessed this kind of undue pressure on the polity.
Some people have argued that your partyâ€™s failure to provide good governance is responsible for the tensions in the country. What is your take on this?
The people saying so are the people who left the PDP for the APC. Many of them had opportunities. Some of them were governors for more than eight years and they had opportunities to do those things that they are kicking against. So I find it hypocritical for someone who has been in power since the inception of this administration or since the inception of the new dispensation, the Fourth Republic, to turn around to say nothing has been done. How on earth will somebody like the former vice president, Atiku, have moral justification to say PDP has not done anything when he was vice president for eight years and he has been a founding the member of PDP. If it is the ordinary Nigerian people who voted for all of us that now feel that they are fed up with PDP, come 2015 it is their prerogative to vote out PDP, but not somebody who has been in the corridors of power all along.
Donâ€™t you think that the defection of legislators and governors from PDP to APC may have negative consequences for your party in 2015?
Political movement naturally will affect your chances one way or the other; nobody wants somebody who is with him to leave him even. In ordinary life, divorce is a very hard thing, no matter how irretrievably broken the marriage has become. Divorce is a last resort. Of course, PDP is not pretending to say that this has not hurt, it hurts, and that is why certain changes had to be made. We now have a new chairman of the party who is going all out to reinvent the party and to reposition the party to recover from the shocks of defections here and there. Indeed, it is like economy, you hit the turf and then you start rising up again, hopefully, to get back to the peak, that is what is happening. Today we are even having people from APC defecting back to PDP, that is a sign of recovery. It is our hope that before the year runs out, we would have been properly stabilised and positioned to face the election in 2015.
The time table released by Independent National Electoral Commission, which put the presidential election before other elections, has generated some controversy in the country. Do you think INEC is justified in its decision?
INEC acted in accordance with the Electoral Act. What does the Electoral Act say? In the last amendment, the national elections for the president and the National Assembly comes first; that was what happened in the last election and the act has not been amended. If this is what you desire, you seek for the amendment of the act first in such a way that governorship elections should come first, then you seek ways to lobby at the legislative process that will bring that amendment.
You are a member of PDP, but your state is governed by APC. What would you tell your people that you have done for them to deserve another term?
First and foremost, the governor of my state is APC, that doesnâ€™t mean that APC controls my state. The legislative arm of government in my state is PDP-controlled; out of 24 members of the House of Assembly, PDP has 19, more than two-third. So the state still remains largely a PDP state and I come from a constituency where I am virtually there every week because it is not far from here (Abuja). I am with my people and I work with them. I know what I have done both in terms of effective representation in the National Assembly and my social responsibilities to them in terms of attracting development to the state within my competence and within the available resources. I think we have had a fair attraction of federal presence in my constituency and my people know that. I am confident that they will give me support if I want to go back. I am going to take that decision along with them. If they say your own is enough for you, I will respect their wishes. If they say because of what you have done we want you to go back, I will do so. I have not come out to put my posters or anything suggesting that I will stand election. That decision will be taken between me and the people.
Are there new areas you would like to focus on in trying to touch the lives of people in your constituency, if you are elected for another term, and what is your position on the controversial anti-gay law recently signed by the president?
One thing about law making or the legislative arm of government is that the longer you stay, the more matured you become. That is why when you go to the U.S. Congress you would find that even if you have served for four terms you are still a junior senator or a junior congressman because you find people who have been there for 20, 30, 50 years. I believe that if I have the opportunity to come for a third term, I will mature with age and with experience; you canâ€™t beat experience and one thing about the senate, in particular, is that once you are elected, you are a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you go through the constitution of Nigeria, it is almost like the presidency shares his powers with the Senate. Virtually all major appointments that the president makes are subject to confirmation of the Senate. That invariably means that we are partners in the governance of the country with the presidency. So you usually look far beyond your constituency because you are a senator of the federal republic. But beyond that, you also have to represent your people properly in every sense of the word and we cannot lose sight of the needs of our people.
In this dispensation, one of the critical areas that I was faced with having regards to my constituency was the issue of incessant communal clashes and that had taken me back home more often than the legislation at Abuja. But at the same time, because of my presence and the proactive stand I took, we were able to partner with the executive to the extent that we were able to bring some of those communal clashes to a manageable level. Those are going to be my major concern if I am to come back. We have to work very hard with our people to the extent that we will be able to be tolerant of each other because once there is no peace nobody can meaningfully engage in some economic activities.
On anti-gay law, it was unanimously passed but the attention that was given to it, for me, is very much beyond the issue. I read criminology and I was called to bar, I am a lawyer. I know that there are some categories of crime that you call discriminate crime; these are crimes of consent between two adults. If you say nobody should smoke marijuana, the person who sells it and the person who buys it are consenting to commit the crime and thereâ€™s hardly any victim because nobody is there, all of them enjoy what they are doing. If itâ€™s rape, the person who is raped is the victim because she feels the pain and so she can report. But this anti-gay law is one of those crimes that fall within the category of discriminate crime, except they go to have same sex marriage in the open that you will now know that they are practising homosexuality or lesbianism. But if they are doing it behind their closed doors, you can hardly know who is a victim.
The basic thing to do is to create a social, moral fibre that will make people do those things that are acceptable naturally to society. Even if you are correcting from the point of view of religion, itâ€™s a sin like any other sin. Even if somebody is gay he is committing sin, we should be able to forgive him just like somebody who is committing the sin of adultery and fornication or who has committed one sin or the other.
I do not subscribe to homosexuality but at the same time, they are part and parcel of society.