The House of Representatives member from Ijebu Ode/Odogbolu/Ijebu North-East Federal Constituency of Ogun State, Kehinde Odeneye, explains the roles of lawmakers in contract awards and lawmakers’ earnings to JOHN AMEH
Why are you into politics?
It is a question a lot of people have asked me, knowing full well that I am a chartered account and I was also very comfortable before I got into politics in 2010. The reason is this, I looked around and I realized that a lot of people are just armchair critics. We look at politicians and sometimes we call them rogues, armed robbers or vagabonds. This is an indication that we don’t see their relevance.
So, I looked at it that the people we call vagabonds and armed robbers are the ones determining our future and that of our unborn children. Many of us have a lot of things to contribute to the development of our own people and the development of our various communities, states and the nation at large. I have been involved in my empowerment programmes. I have been doing one or two things for people but I needed a larger platform where I could extend that empowerment opportunities to people and put smiles on the faces of my people.
But you are also doing the same thing the ‘vagabonds’ are doing –empowerment programmes, buying a tricycle. What is the difference?
Buying tricycles, motorcycles, and other things are not necessarily what the vagabonds do. What some of them do is that they use the opportunities, both financial and connections they have, for their benefit and their families. They don’t also see beyond today. They look after themselves alone. That is how and why people call those politicians vagabonds, armed robbers, and thieves. If it is the distribution of tricycles to constituents, to me, it’s a way of empowering the people. You have farmers and some other people who have nothing doing, that if you give them those tricycles, they can easily use those things to make daily ends meet. When they make use of the tricycles, if they don’t sell them, they will be able to, not just feed themselves alone, but feed their family members.
Immediately I got into office in 2011, I brought up a programme that we called Health-to-Wealth Empowerment Programme. I organized training for the beneficiaries. We trained them in how to make liquid soaps, disinfectants, and some other things. All these are health items. Now, we want to turn those health items into wealth for them. At the end of the training, I bought chemicals with which they could start off their businesses. There is also a skill acquisition programme; we call it OKSAP (Odeneye Kehinde Skill Acquisition Programme).
In that programme, I have been able to empower not less than 3,500 people, not less than 50 percent of them are graduates.
You are in the last lap of your second term. Can you say you have met the expectations of the electorate?
If you go to my constituency, what everybody will tell you about me is that they never knew that a House of Reps member could be involved in all the programmes that we have done and I do tell them that it is possible. There has never been any National Assembly member in my senatorial district that has ever returned for a second term, either as senator or House of Reps member. I was the first person to break that jinx through God and my constituents in 2015. The reason is that I have always maintained that I am not representing the APC alone but the entire Ijebu Central Federal Constituency regardless of their religious or political affiliations.
Are you sure that you will make history again by returning the third time in 2019?
I am very hopeful. I believe God and my constituents that that jinx has been broken and history will be made again. I have always believed in the support of my people. I have seen that I have not done enough even with all these things I have mentioned. The reason is that there are still a lot of people in my constituency that are not employed, that has not been empowered and so on.
Some people have argued that the execution of constituency projects should be the exclusive function of the executive.
It is really a controversial issue but I realize that a lot of people do not know much about it and that is why people continue to complain. How many communities does President (Muhammadu) Buhari know in my constituency, not to talk of my state? How many villages does the Minister of Works/Power/Housing know in my constituency? Are we saying those villagers are not Nigerians? Are we saying those villagers did not vote? Are we saying those villagers are not supposed to benefit from the dividends of democracy from this nation?
Why not simply discuss this with the executive at the level of planning the budget and they execute the projects. Must a legislator be fully involved in the execution?
How do we, as legislators, give democratic dividends to our people if I am not part of the people that prepare the budget and I don’t have access to the minister and even, if I have access to the minister, how many legislators have access to the minister? The constituency projects are projects that each honourable member suggests. And let us not forget that it is not always at every point in time that these constituency projects are implemented. Again, this erroneous belief by people that we put, insert or suggest projects so that we can execute is not there.
There have been allegations that lawmakers use their companies as fronts to execute the projects. Some are owned by girlfriends.
I have not done it, but it also does not mean that people are not doing it or people cannot do it. What is important is that the executive can use its discretion; nobody has imposed anyone on them. The executive owns the projects. So, even if I have made suggestions as to the fact that you can give the project to this particular contractor, it is not an imposition on the executive that it has to be; that if they do not use that contractor, then the project must not be done.
But members of the National Assembly can intimidate the MDAs, issue threats that their cronies must be given the contracts.
There is no law binding any minister or any heads of MDAs to use the contractor suggested by National Assembly members.
Of course, there is no law but they know that you can clip their wings. It is in your body language.
He who goes to equity goes with clean hands. If the hands are clean, if you have reasons not to use such companies, if such companies do not qualify, don’t use them. If such companies qualify and satisfy the conditions of all the procurement procedures, if such companies stand a chance against others, they can bid.
Are you saying there is no clash of interest in a member suggesting a company owned by his girlfriend or a family member to handle such projects?
When it comes to a girlfriend or a family member, it is wrong. But I am saying that there is nothing wrong with legislators also giving letters of recommendations to constituents that have interest in the procurement process of a project.
At what point can you differentiate your recommendation and the fact that you have a link to that company or contractor?
I have had a lot of constituents come to me that they bid for jobs without me even having interest in such jobs, that are not even my constituency project and I have willingly given letters to them. It is also a way of assisting my constituents. I don’t give letters to people to handle my constituency projects; I don’t even know how they are awarded. What I monitor is how they are executed and that is what is paramount to me.
What is the total pay package of the House of Reps members since the senators take N13.5million monthly as running costs? This we know as a fact.
As a member of the House of Reps, I collect salaries and allowances. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly if for any reason, to disclose whatever is paid to members. It is also not out of place for any member of the public to compel the National Assembly as an institution to make available its records to the public. I wonder why the concentration is in the National Assembly. Nobody has asked how much a minister earns.
People worry more about elected persons. A minister is not elected, you are elected.
Yes, the ministers are not elected but they are part of the government.
Your people are closer to you and that is why they are interested in knowing your own.
I have mentioned a lot of projects, even from personal efforts and all sorts of things I have been involved in, apart from the ones I have been able to facilitate through zonal intervention. From salaries and allowances, members of my constituency call me for naming ceremonies, for burial ceremonies. I pay a lot of school fees. I do a lot of interventions. I do a whole lot of things.
What I’m asking is the figure
I have said this, that the National Assembly as an institution has a budget, there is this erroneous belief that the budget for the National Assembly, N125billion, is shared amongst all members. We moved from N150billion down to N115billion, moved up again from N115billion to N125billion in 2017. This budget is not for members’ salaries and allowances alone. We have the National Assembly as an institution that comprises the National Institute of Legislative Studies….
My question is how much do you collect monthly to do all of these things you mentioned earlier? A Senator takes N13.5m as running costs. How much is your own?
I have said and you, as a journalist, have the FoI Act, which we enacted to also rely on to be able to get your information from the right source and that right source is the body that pays my allowances and salaries.
But the body, RMAFC, has also said publicly that the money you take is not what it has provided for you by law. So, tell me yourself.
I don’t know what RMAFC approves as allowances and salaries for National Assembly members.
Are you saying that you don’t know what you take monthly?
I know what I take monthly.
Is it N12m or N10m as revealed by your former chairman of appropriation committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin?
I don’t know where Abdulmumin got his figures and I think he should have been in a better position to be able to explain where he got N10m.
Is it N9m, N8m? What is the figure?
What every honourable member receives is given by the National Assembly and the National Assembly is in the best position to disclose it.
How do you relax?
My relaxation, I like watching football and I like playing table tennis. At every point in time that I don’t have a meeting or an engagement, you meet me at home either watching football or playing table tennis or sometimes I read.
What would you say is your favourite meal or drink?
My favourite meal is rice. I can eat rice in the morning, afternoon and at night.