In this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, the Mayor of the London Borough of Lambeth, Mr. Adedamola Aminu, speaks on Nigerian politics
Do you think the cost of governance could be reduced in Nigeria and how can the government be more efficient?
Part-time legislature would be good if the Federal Government wants to attract high-calibre people to politics. There is nothing stopping an accountant, lecturer, teacher or banker from venturing into politics and do it part-time. This would enable them to still hold on to their jobs and engage in politics at the same time. It will be beneficial because all these people are coming with skills and experiences from their own professions. So, why can’t we use these skills and experiences in shaping our country? I believe Nigeria is very generous with allowances unlike in the UK where you get nothing – to the extent that we are more or less doing it as a charity or as a voluntary thing but here the allowance and salary you get are enough. Even if you are doing it as part-time, you can comfortably live on those allowances. So, you don’t need to do legislation full-time. I was told that in Nigeria, lawmakers only sit three times a week. So, if it is part-time they can take three days to do their normal work and then three days to do politics and still be as effective as somebody doing it full-time. If you are sitting for only three days, what do you do with the rest of your days? With part-time legislation, the allowances could be slashed.
How does part-time legislature work in the UK?
We have just about two layers of government: The Members of Parliament and then you have councillors. The MPs do it full-time while the majority of the councillors are part-time. So, as you can see, we only have two layers of government while in Nigeria, it is about three or four. You have governors, members of the Senate, House of Representative members, House of Assembly members, local government council chairmen, councillors. So, you see they are so many. They need to be restructured because it is costing a fortune to run.
Are you saying Nigerian lawmakers earn more than the ones in the UK?
Yes, of course. They earn far more. In fact, Nigeria is the most generous country when it comes to remuneration for their elected officials. In fact, I can’t point at any country in the world where people in governance earn that much. The salary of the average Member of Parliament in the UK is about £55,000 (N14.8m) per annum. The average salary of a councillor who is neither a cabinet member nor a mayor is between £9,000 and £10,000 a year. After some deductions, your take home would be between £700 and £800 a month.
There has been this argument in Nigeria about the huge deployment of soldiers and other security agents during elections as was done recently in Osun State.
We just had council election in the UK this year May. That is the equivalent of local government. And I was re-elected. The polling stations open 7am and close at 10pm. People can vote on their way to work in the morning, they can vote after work in the evening. At the polling booths there are no police vans or anybody intimidating you. Just walk in, you look for your name on the register, they give you your ballot paper, you vote and then you walk out. Nigerian people even from INEC have come to study elections in the UK. You can’t find soldiers there. You might not even know elections are ongoing. The counting could be done in the same night or the following day.
What do you think about defections in our politics?
It is unfortunate that it is only in Nigeria that most politicians do not have principles or they do not believe in the party they belong to so they just change parties anyhow. Defection happens across the world but the rate of defections in Nigeria is too high that you don’t know what a politician stands for. In Nigeria, they join a party based on what they can get from a party rather than joining a party for what it stands for or its principles and its manifesto. To me, it shows those individuals don’t have shame and do not stand for anything apart from where they can get money or position. Before people change their political party in the UK or in America, they will think twice and have a very good reason for doing it, not the way it is done in Nigeria.
How are elections funded in the UK and how can Nigeria monitor funds used by candidates?
In the UK, there is a law that puts a limit on spending during elections and then the system does not need you to sell your house or borrow money to contest because your party will sponsor you and the party raises money through membership and from other private individuals and organisations and they also do a lot of fundraising. So, this is the money that the party will use during election rather than asking a candidate to bring money. It is only in Nigeria that they ask you to bring money when you are contesting, that should not be. In the UK, whoever wants to contest for a position must be a member of a party, pay the necessary membership fee and that is why there is a need to engage the grass roots so they can have a sense of belonging in the party and also contribute to the party rather than people buying positions. In Nigeria, people buy positions.
In the UK, is it a crime for political candidates to induce voters with food items and money as is practised here in Nigeria?
It is illegal; doing that will earn you automatic disqualification. You cannot buy voters. And Nigerian should understand that collecting all these things from politicians is actually making things worse for them because you cannot ask them to be accountable because they have been bribed with all these things. People should always use their power of democracy, which is to vote. They should vote for the candidate that they believe in, not the one that gives them rice or N1,000. They should vote for the one that can provide goods services when he gets there. Not the one that will provide for his friends and family but for everybody and that is what Nigeria needs. Nigeria needs a visionary leader.
What do you consider as Nigeria’s single biggest problem?
As a country I don’t believe Nigeria is one. And I am saying this because I am a politician in the UK and a lot of my colleagues (who are also Africans) in the UK have gone beyond being mayors and have held other positions. The system believes in us and does not discriminate against us but in Nigeria, there is prejudice that if you don’t belong to a state, you cannot win elections in that state. So, what is the purpose of saying we are one Nigeria? If I was in the North for instance, I would not be allowed to contest even as a local government chairman though I am a Nigerian. In the UK, people voted me for who I am – as a Nigerian citizen rather than saying I should go elsewhere to run for election. It should be such that wherever a person lives, he should be given a chance to stand for election and people should vote for them if they find him fit.
Recently, the governor of Adamawa State was impeached and more governors are being threatened with impeachment. What do you think this trend portends for our democracy?
I don’t know the purpose of the impeachment. If people vote for a particular candidate and the person wins and is installed then before you impeach, you have to ask if that person has committed any crime. If no, what is the purpose of impeachment? It is only in Nigeria that an elected person can be sacked anyhow. There must be a cogent reason to impeach someone and if the majority of the people voted for someone, then that person deserves his full term in office. So, impeachment left and right in Nigeria, I don’t know where it came from.
How do you think we can fight corruption in Nigeria?
I think it’s about better communication and training and to let people know that the more corruption there is in a system, the more our people will find it difficult to enjoy the dividends of democracy because the money meant for development is the one they are embezzling. So, I would prefer someone that can provide good education, good medical care, good infrastructure and create job opportunities for young people. I prefer to vote for somebody who will invest in the development of infrastructures rather than someone who will give me bags of rice because you only get that for a short period, maybe for a day and the people that get the rice are their members. If the state money is used in providing services, everyone will benefit.