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Awo remains my role model – Solomon, Senate Minority Whip

Senate Minority Whip, Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon popularly called GOS is no doubt a household name in Lagos politics. He is today one of the longest serving public official in the state; having won election into the state House of Assembly, elected Chairman of Mushin Local Government Area in 1999, member, House of Representatives in 2003 and Senator representing Lagos West in 2007 and re-elected 2011. Son of an astute poli­tician and die-hard Awoist, Alhaji Rafiu Ishola Solomon, better known as R.I, the younger Solomon appears set to contest the governorship of Lagos State in the 2015 general elections.

In this interview with CHIOMA IGBOKWE, the Senator opens up on his political sojourn so far, his governorship ambition and the cat-and-mouse game between the legislature and the executive. In all, he submits that the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo remains his role model even in death because of his leadership qualities. He urges current leaders in the country to emulate Awolowo so as to deepen the nation’s democracy. Excerpts:

You have been in the Senate for almost eight years now. How has the experience been?

It’s been a wonderful experience being in the Senate. It’s quiet an eye-opener and gives one the opportunity to gather a lot of experience as it relates to legislation and representation. I think it’s a worthwhile experience.

Have there really been challenges you want to share especially as a member of an opposi­tion party?

I think the Senate being a key part of legislature is ex­pected to play a prominent role in the polity and given the composition and the entry requirements, Senators are considered as elder statesmen. To that extent, we hardly result in partisanship, not that it doesn’t happen. There are occasions when we toe party line, but we are always at every time guided by national interest. Occasionally, issues of the party you belong find a way of creeping in on us. The method of voting is by majority most times. We on the minority side most time have our say. One major challenge that readily comes to mind is when some of our colleagues wanted to leave our party. It was quiet a key mark. Eventually we had to let it go. That can be considered as our greatest challenge. We should also know that this came to be because of the swell in the rank of the opposition side. Suddenly, we controlled more than one third as against the situation we had be­fore. The size increased the activities of the opposition party. It became more visible. Apart from that, we work together irrespective of party affiliation.

How would you describe the relationship be­tween the Senate and the presidency?

The relationship between the Senate and the presiden­cy is that of two arms of the government that are work­ing together. That should be the ideal thing. But we still have the situation where part of the executive still sees some legislators as mere close accomplice. We are just lucky that the leadership of the senate is always finding ways to avoid crisis between the executive and the leg­islators. Everybody has his duties and responsibility. It’s part of our duties to check whatever they are doing, may­be their excesses as human beings. But they still think it’s none of our business. They need to go through a lot of re-orientation so that they will know that whatever the Senate is doing, it’s still within the provisions of the law and it’s not necessarily interference. After all, there can­not be any spending without the approval of the National Assembly and if that is so they must also be ready to submit themselves. They still go about saying they are not answerable to any Senate. And we believe 16 years along the line, we should have gone beyond this. I think it’s because of the constant change of ministers. They ought to be told their responsibilities to the Senate and the president. We are not doing too badly.

It’s on record that you sponsored a bill to cater for older people. Why not the youths?

The whole idea is that elderly people are vulnerable and they need assistance. It is agreed that they must have spent their pro­ductive years one way or the other in the service of the country. It is the responsibility of the government to make sure that at their old age they are taken care of. That’s why we came up with the bill. The bill is not to build old people’s homes. It will be a research cen­tre for old people and health service delivery for old people. It has passed first and second reading and then to the president. But he did not sign. The bill is still sitting there. We have another Bill which seems to amend the Act of National Directorate of Employment. The essence of this is this; the present Act is over 20 years old. It needs to be looked at. When it was introduced, they didn’t have as many youths as we have now. Perhaps there is need to look at it here and there to put reality into it.

Last week, the Senate President read a letter announcing your inter­est to be the next governor of Lagos State. That seems to be the first time such was happening in the Senate. How did you come about that?

I have been in the Senate for two sessions. I thought it wise to meet my friends in the Senate to tell them of my intention to be the governor so they can assist in any way they can, including through their prayers. It’s only right that I tell my friends. And because of the relationship we have in the Senate, I feel one of the best ways is to tell the Senate President. He announced it. The reception has been en­couraging. It is also part of the consultation process. As I said, Lagos is a mini Nigeria, every senator has relatives in Lagos. Letting them know that am running is just like let­ting their relatives know that am running. We agree that every state is represented in Lagos. The aftermath has been heartwarming.

You are seeking the ticket of your party from Lagos East. There are al­most eight other aspirants running for the same ticket from the same zone. How well do you think the par­ty can elect a candidate among you without rancor?

The solution to that is very simple, if we have transparent election without manipu­lation. The electorate are more enlightened now. They are interested in the process of the emergence of a candidate. We have moved from an era when everybody will say let me present a candidate and they vote for him on the strength of my political party or the candidate. We have moved out of that time. The recent happenings in some states indi­cate that as long as you belong to a particular political party, whoever is showing interest does so legitimately. The only thing in par­ty leadership is to present a level platform. We cannot afford a situation when you say I will support this particular person and you expect them to just accept that. We have got to a stage when everybody is going about meeting party members. It will be difficult to support a particular person. What happens to those people? You will show your intention by buying the form. Nobody will come out to say we have agreed to support this person. What we should be looking at is having a pri­mary election. We require a very transparent election. We believe we have come to a stage when we show institutionalized democratic precedent. I thank God, our party leaders, when they were forming this party, said that they will make sure that the principles of internal democracy are adopted within the party. I know none of them will change this policy. So, whenever we are having election, everybody will know about it. And nobody will have the fear that he is hopeless because he doesn’t know anybody. This will increase their chances of vying for positions and polit­ical offices without being pushed aside.

Does that signify the end of the wide held view of godfatherism?

Right now, people talk less about that. Emphasis is about the primaries. I was at a function when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu said that whoever wants to run should go and pre­pare for primaries. I believe some of these aspirants want him to embrace them and en­dorse them. If you want to contest, meet the members. Why disturb the leadership about anointing you or endorsing you? But because there will always be one flag bearer, the only way to go about it is through primaries and the leaders as fathers will have to sit down and watch without indicating their preference whether openly or secretly because at the end of the day if there is no reconciliation, they are the ones to see it and settle it. Whoever wins will first need to bring the rest together because it shouldn’t be difficult if the process is transparent.

Now that there is this move for in­ternal democracy in your party, some of your leaders have been heard se­cretly say that some of you calling for primaries have been beneficiaries of the old order.

They are talking of the old order. This one is a new order. We are talking about a mega party. We are talking about change. Let’s make sure everybody has an opportunity of becoming who he wants to become. Let’s not leave it at the level of select few. It’s never done anywhere. Yes, you can have sympathy for a person but you don’t pursue that vigor­ously. So, even if you are beneficiary of the old order, this is a new order. It’s time for change. We should not continue with that. We should not continue to gamble with ev­erything. Picking one person may be right or not. It’s only God that can do that successful­ly. I always quote one part of the Bible. God chose David. He gave instruction to Samuel to go and look for him and he has ways of choosing such people through His prophets. That was the Old Testament. In the New Testament, when they wanted to choose a re­placement for Judas, they prayed. Candidates came forward. Matthias and Barnabas and they prayed. He didn’t give them a particular person but they voted through election. Now nobody should attempt to manipulate the votes. Let me say this. I am not saying this for this election alone. I am saying this for fu­ture elections. Let everybody have a sense of belonging. It means they have a future in this party. It’s better than a system where a few people are picked, where the leader says if you don’t want to be part of this you can leave us. You can’t say if you don’t take it you can leave us. Nobody says that anymore. So, if you can’t say that you should have on ground something that is highly acceptable.

You just quoted from the Bible. That means you have a good knowledge of the Bible even though you are not a Christian. What is your view on the issue of religion being played up in Lagos politics now as a factor in de­termining who the candidate of the party becomes?

That is also part of the grand plan to impose a candidate on the party. It has never been an issue in Lagos politics. Anybody can prove me wrong. Until now there has been no idea of zoning. It’s now that you see a group of people talking about a candidate coming from a particular zone or local government. Even if you want to do that you can mention a sena­torial district. On the issue of religion; we are trying to start what is not known in Lagos. Nobody cares about religion. We have people go to church and mosque. We have house­holds having both Christians and Muslims. In my family, it’s a mixture of both religions. My dad was a Muslim and his elder brother was a Christian and that’s how it runs in the family. I can wake up today and tell you that I am a Christian. We attended missionary school. When my grand mum died in 1985, the burial ceremony was held right in the church. Even Chief Obafemi Awolowo was there. So, what are you talking about? Why should anyone bring the issue of religion to a place that is religion tolerant? I know Lagosians are wise. You cannot force them. They are enlightened. They know when you want to deceive them

You just mentioned Chief Awolowo. What is the relationship between your family and the late sage?

My father, also of blessed memory, was an Awoist through and through. He was into politics from his 20s playing active role in the Action Group. He was the councillor represent­ing Ikorodu before we moved to Mushin. On several occasions they had to move us out of the house because of what was happening then. I grew up knowing the family particularly when there was ban on political activities. I remem­ber in the 80s, Committee of Friends held meet­ings in our house. Because of that, we had the opportunity of meeting Chief Awolowo. I still have pictures of the 71 and 72 and some of their meetings in our house. That is how close the two families were. To my dad, Awolowo was everything. The only person that would say a thing and he would not bother to crosscheck. He will always tell you that papa said this, papa said that. He is my role model even in death. People asked me why I don’t do certain things in spite of my exposure. That’s how I grew up learning from my dad. We were warned against doing some things. To me, he was just a perfect model.

Was that how you picked your own progressive politics?

Yes. I tell people that have had cause to in­teract with me. I always encourage them to be better politicians and to learn from the founding fathers. If you have them as your role models, there is no way you will go wrong. Our present leaders have one or two things to learn from them.

How would you place the chances of your party against PDP both at the fed­eral and state levels?

Let me start with Lagos. I am very sure about Lagos. There is no doubt. We know that 2011 was not the same as 2007 but we came out victorious. This time too we have a lot of losses and takings. It’s allowed. It’s free. But I know from the performance of our governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN and from our determination and with the result of the pri­maries, we will remain on top. But at the same time, Nigerians should be ready for a shocker. We are analyzing everything. APC stands the chance of winning. We are the party that will bring the needed change. The voters are more enlightened now. There is a little that you will tell them now that they don’t know. The issue of I belong to this party, am going to vote for this party will not count. It’s behind us. It is my well considered opinion that APC stands the chance

On a final note, why do you want to be the governor of Lagos State?

My supporters and I believe we have strongly what it takes to take Lagos to the next level. We have been interacting with Lagosians at various levels both with the rich and the poor. We have everything it takes to make that happen. We have this passion to serve. We know what they require. They want better life. We have every­thing it takes to make that happen. We need the government that is far ahead of individuals. We need the government that will take into cogni­zance the state of the people in future. We are not going there to manage. We must be innovative. Whatever mark that will be left by the current government, we will do much better through continuity, consolidation and innovation. I have been election into the state House of Assembly, I have served as a local government chairman, I have served as an elected member of the House of Reps and twice I have been elected as Sen­ator representing Lagos at the National Assem­bly. The implication of that is that, I have been deeply active in governance at the grassroots, local council level, state level and federal level. In essence, I have got sufficient knowledge of the two major arms of government; legislature and executive. That’s a rare advantage God has given me far and above every other person in the race for my party’s governorship ticket to­day and I am confident the people know who’s got the experience, the popularity and the net­work to bring dividends of democracy to them. We won’t start learning the ropes, we know the issues, we are conversant with what our people want and that’s what we will give them when they vote us in.

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