Educationist, civil rights advocate turned politician, Senator Oluremi Tinubu in 2011 became the first woman to have ascended to the Senate after her husband. As senator representing Lagos Central Senatorial District, besides pushing bills and motions on the floor of the Senate and in committee rooms, she has also impacted largely on her constituency through programmes directed at widows (Widows Economic Empowerment Scheme, WEES), Petty Traders Empowerment Capital Scheme, PETECS and the Good Boys and Girls Empowerment Scheme, GBEGES and through educational and other Senate zonal intervention programmes.
While Senator Tinubu may claim an equal devotion to all her programmes, she talks with fondness about the Good Boys and Girls Empowerment Scheme, GBEGES, which is especially directed at transforming Lagos area boys and girls from the streets. In an interview session in her Bourdillion, Ikoyi Lagos residence, she spoke with warmth about her passion for her constituents shocking with the revelation that not even her husband, Jagaban does not know of her proficiency in the language of the area boys and girls she is passionate to uplift their lives.
Despite moving a motion three years ago on the gridlock along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, the problem has not ameliorated. Don’t you see this as a negligence of the executive to Senate proposals including your zonal intervention projects?
You have seen that the minister of works recently flagged off the work which is being done in partnership with Dangote. I was honoured to have been invited for the ceremony. This was the aftermath of such motions and that is why for me to raise a motion in the Senate is something that should be thought out; it is not something that is to seek attention. We really look at what is affecting the district.
Actually that motion was supported by all the senators. It was something very, very sensitive and important for us and I believe that the resolutions were part of what we are witnessing even if it has taken some time.
Even if we raise a motion, that doesn’t mean that the Federal Government is not attending to it. At times motions can be political, but that of the gridlock I can tell you that as we speak Dangote is giving us a time frame of two years. So, we are hopeful. Alhaji Dangote is a credible man, he has the money to do it. So, we are quite hopeful and I particularly, I am quite excited at the move and I can tell you that it would have stemmed from the motion in the Senate.
On the zonal intervention projects, I cannot speak for my colleagues, but mine is for me to be true to what I have been given in the Senate and what has been my own allocation. I have even gone beyond what I receive from the Senate (appropriated for constituency) to assist in the work in my district and that is why whatever I do, I stay true to it and be God fearing in the process and even if the people don’t see me, God sees me. And as a Christian, I believe that He that sees in secret will reward us openly. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I am striving for perfection.
Special Economic Assistance and Special Status for Lagos
These two concepts are two different things. They are never the same. When I introduced the Special Economic Assistance, they twisted it out of context. When we are looking at the Special Status, we are talking of money being taken from the Federation Account and if you had followed what my colleagues did in the Senate, they gave the Northeast Zone, I think about 2-3% from the Federation Account and this is like a special status given to the Northeast Zone because of the security situation.
Special Economic Assistance came from the point that Lagos State gives a lot through taxes, VAT to the Federal Government from Lagos. Special Economic Assistance is requesting that even if it is 1% of money that is being taken to the Federation Account from Lagos State should be given back to Lagos State which can help things like the gridlock and the infrastructure damage that we are experiencing.
So, these monies are supposed to be used to augment most of the projects in the state either; education, health sector or roads. That is what we are asking for. The National Assembly will determine the percentage to be channeled back to Lagos State and the State Assembly will appropriate for the money for state use.
However, my colleagues took it out of context; maybe because of the mood of the Senate. If you witnessed what happened, I had never seen such hatred for a bill in my life and I think that bill sparked very, heated argument in the Senate. They were even telling me to bring it back, but I said no; that somebody else can take it up, that I am done because since 2011 I had been advocating for it.
On Zonal Intervention Programmes
I can tell you that the day that we were launching the compendium (compendium of her projects), we sent a copy to our party chairman and you know our party chairman is a dynamic man and he went through it and by the time he came; he actually gave a thumbs up to zonal intervention programmes.
One of my husband’s colleagues, Ambassador Kazaure, I gave a copy to him, he read it and he was really, really proud. He said you did these?
Immediately we get back by the grace of God if I am voted back to represent my people and even if I am not, I am going to be giving that book to every senator. And I believe that not all the senators are retuning and that has been the trend in the Senate. There is a lot of brain drain in the Senate, we lose a lot of people who are very cerebral men and women. But you see, politics is really a game of being able to inspire your people, inspire them in the sense for them to trust you enough for them to say, please represent us.
So, my message to my colleagues and people who are running for office is that you cannot take people for granted. Even if you win well, you want to go back to do well for your people, you can’t take them for granted.
How can the leadership crisis in the Senate be prevented?
For the leadership (issue) in the Senate I experienced it and I believe the president also learnt from what happened. We don’t have to say that we are preventing it, because most of the work he could have done, if we had the right leadership we wouldn’t have been going through what we are going through today.
So, I believe that the president would have learnt one thing or two because when he came in, he said he doesn’t belong to anybody, but I know that by this time, he knows those people who belong to him. He will know that some people have his best interest at heart and some don’t!
What can the president do to smoothen relations between the executive and the legislature between now and May 29, 2019?
I don’t think much can be done now. It will lead to blackmail. For me, we are going to run and walk with what we have and I don’t think a PDP administration has much to offer us. They are the ones who got us into this rot in the first place and we are trying to get out of it.
To me, there is hope returning back to this nation and Nigerians should give the APC led administration another four years and they can decide thereafter. Four years is not enough for any president to make….He is not a magician to just wave a wand and everything is back to normal. We didn’t get there overnight. Executive and parliamentary parley I think is gone. The president will still try and I think he is doing that, but that is why I said that it is more of blackmail but politics is like blackmail and I think he would be able to handle it.
But I don’t see our president yielding to blackmail and I think Nigeria needs such people. And I pray that he would remain focused and continue to steer the ship so that we can have a safe landing.
You have been away for two terms and you are going for the third term, who has been taking and will take care of Asiwaju?
You know and that was why I didn’t even want to go for the third term, but you can see how busy even Asiwaju too is. I may look very tiny o, but to God be the glory, I am somebody that God has given the little strength that I have to take care of family. My family is not like every other family. I have gone to women who have the same calling like my husband, I have spoken to them, I have learned from them how they manage the home front. For me going to the Senate, you can see that Asiwaju doesn’t really have any assignment to speak. What he is doing is somebody just fighting for the masses and making sure that things go well. Not that he can stay at home if he wants to.
I am here in Lagos every weekend, I never regard Abuja as home, it is a place of work.
You once said you were the new face of Labour, so what is your stance on the new minimum wage demand by labour?
My antecedents will tell you that I was in the trenches with my husband and I have been through a lot. I am with the people and relate well with the boys and girls on the streets. These are the people that will show you their voter’s cards. I owe them much. I speak their language. At times when they come home to tell my husband and he says my wife doesn’t talk like that, I just look!
Sometimes when I speak their language, they will say, why are you talking like us? Like yesterday. I will speak truth to them like a mum and they listen! I was there, I asked why are you all smoking weeds here?
The audacity with which crime is being perpetuated in our society is alarming. Am I scared? No! And that is the soul and heart of a comrade. Whatever I wear, they all trust me and believe that I am with their cause, I understand their pain and do the bit that I can for them.
On the minimum wage, I will say that I support people to be taken care of. Leadership is about sacrifice and I believe that the president too supports the minimum wage. If all of the big executives can cut down on their allowances, we can make it. You know Lagos does not have such problem, they will pay and that was why I said even my Work Experience Programme, I am going to pay even more than the monthly minimum wage and this will come through my salaries and allowances.
If I am going to take like 100 youths, I will look for good corporate organizations that can employ them, they don’t have to pay them, but they will just come in as interns and I could pay them about N40,000 for lunch and transport and to dress well to go. That could be my contribution. Like the boy we set up a barber shop for, somebody gave me a slot to go to Mecca, I gave it to him! So, I have to change one life at a time, it doesn’t have to be a lot, but if I am in the executive, maybe I can do more, but as a legislator, your hands are tied.
What would be your message to critical stakeholders in the campaign ahead of the 2019 election especially given the existence of the Gen. Abdulsalami Peace Committee?
With my campaign director-general, I decided that I wanted to do things differently.
We can learn from best international practices. How do they run campaigns? We are starting with door-to-door campaigns. Door to door is how Obama got there. And we have gotten vehicles because we are not going to be making noise and we have foot soldiers who will be in uniform, and they are going to homes and whatever campaign materials we have, we share.
I am trying to see that we are still getting to the people but using different methods.
You see, why we have this fear about election campaign is because we have people who are afraid of losing. When you are afraid of losing, you try to threaten people and I think we should go past that and play fine politics.
What are you doing to help ensure that more women come into politics in Nigeria?
This is one question I have tried to avoid without sounding very harsh. Most people will say because you are married to Asiwaju, you are so privileged and that. Yes, I am privileged to be married to him, but it has been the work of two, not one person! So, whatever I am enjoying being married to him, I have also worked for it. So, it wasn’t something that came cheap. I have always advocated for women to be in elective positions, but most women would rather opt for appointments. With appointments, you cannot really do much. You will see that there are people who get these appointments but they don’t impact other women.
How have they impacted other women? They select the women they impact. They impact women who are like them, they call the elites together and they even write books. I don’t have to write books. You can see the types of books I do. I do books all the time and when I write, I talk about my struggles. I am very real to the people, I mentor young girls for the next generation. I don’t give up on girls. But you see the women we have, they have to have the proper orientation of service, they don’t have it and that is why when they fall, they fall on their paws, nobody to pick them up. You can see the case of Dino and myself, you can see how the women rose up. When you impact the life of other women, it will speak for you. In fact, some were calling me from the barracks, saying we want to join the protest! That is why I said if you do things in secret God sees you and it will help you one way or the other.
Credit to Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor