How Lagos East bye-election will Change Face of Democracy – Olukunle  

Mautin Akin Olukunle is the candidate of the National Rescue Movement (NRM) for the Lagos East senatorial bye-election scheduled to hold on Saturday. He spoke with SEYE OLUMIDE on the chances of his party and how the recent #ENDSARS protests and aftermath will affect the election.

Since 1999, elections in Nigeria and Lagos particularly have always been a contest between PDP and the ruling party. What stands you out and your relatively unknown platform out?
YOU sounded generic with your early remark. Some other parties could also be reckoned with during the period you mentioned in Lagos. For instance, the Accord Party had, in the April 2015 general polls, won the Mushin I Constituency election into the House of Representatives. And when you take the APC, it came from the merger of the legacy parties.

If we are now looking at the political actors since 1999 under the broad umbrellas of the two big parties, I will say the APC and PDP, in retrospect, were children of circumstance. Their members actively played their roles in consolidating our nascent democracy after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election and the attendant political imbroglio. That marked the total annihilation of the inglorious military rule. So the parties marvellously achieved that. With this, the two parties have run their cause.

Presently, if you critically examine the catalogue of problems besetting Nigeria, you will find the two parties culpable. All that the successive administrations since 1999 could flaunt are intractable corruption, insecurity, extreme violation of human rights, infrastructure deficit, economic recession, and other related problems. The two parties conduct themselves as if they understand the problems of the people. It is a universal truth that the people are disappointed in them. The old parties and their apologists are more of a threat to the nation’s democracy now. The general claim is that the two parties come around every four years with a basketful of lofty promises, recycling themselves or their cronies for political posts. But they consistently fail in impacting positively the lives of the masses.

The national agenda they were accustomed to having, however, changed. Our challenges are now local. The agenda is now how to take care of the people, save the teeming youth from the claws of unemployment and social vices, explore our endowed resources, address the rising number of children not going to school, fix the infrastructure deficit and related gaps in all sectors of the economy. This is where my party and team come into relevance. I am a fresh face, coming with new ideas and concepts. And of course, on the platform of the National Rescue Movement (NRM), which is ideologically different from the so-called major parties. As a Lagosian, born and bred, I have interacted widely with the people, the masses – the young and old, and have a better understanding of them, emotionally and socially. We have a formidable team of brilliant men and women of purpose and mission to deliver quality policies and projects that can transform the lives of the masses. We have amazingly bold ideas to make remarkable changes happen.

That is why I am in the race. My party and I are emboldened by the yearnings of our people for the true and pragmatic change in the governance of our state and country. I am not coming with any baggage or terms and conditions placed by any sponsor. I am fronting for the generality of the people of Lagos East, irrespective of their social status. This is because everybody matters to us in the party. Everyone has a vote to cast for us and I relate with everyone on that basis. A good government, claiming to be representing the people, should be more responsive, and responsible to the people.

Another issue is finance. You’ve not been visible in campaigns or other known means to reach out to the electorate. Are you adopting another strategy?
If we had adopted the conventional methods, perhaps we would have made no difference from others. We are not bamboozling the people with rice, garri or any other staple food. Where we give such, it has always been to the poor and vulnerable in our communities. Not necessarily for any political motive. Our campaigns have been within the legitimate resources available to us. I am not going to mortgage the future or wellbeing of Lagos East by going into relationships for funding that will impose on me terms and conditions. We have carried our messages from door to door. We believe in the power of conviction, convincing the people on our agenda. Our agenda is straightforward. To make sure that the market women, artisans and other professionals are able to send their children to school conveniently, that their lives are protected. We will be pushing for policies that would facilitate the provision of all required infrastructure for these people to grow their businesses, maximize profit and reinvest in the system, thereby creating more jobs for the young generation and others. We have been talking to the people, even in markets in Epe, Ikorodu, Ibeju-Lekki, Somolu, Kosofe and in the hinterlands. My team and I have also been using the airwaves and social media when and where necessary. And our message is resonating. From the feedback we are getting, we are much impressed. But we still have more to do between now and the December 5, the date of the elections.

There is the perception that strong parties have perfected the act of rigging over the years, like the use of hoodlums and deployment of funds. How do you intend to match this in case similar tactics are deployed in the coming election?
My party expects every stakeholder in the elections to abide by the rules of the game. That is a good sense of responsibility and maturity in a true democracy. We expect free, fair and credible election. That is what we want to see in future elections, too. I believe INEC and all concerned security agencies will play their roles as constitutionally expected of them. They are expected to create a level playing field for all the parties in the elections. That is the best way to guide against any form of crisis. We are also encouraging our people to be vigilant and peacefully report any case of electoral fraud, to protest peaceably as possible. I need to emphasise here that I am contesting to strengthen the institutions of state so that no form of electoral vices would be seen as the characteristic of our democracy, particularly in Lagos, which is the centre of excellence in Nigeria.

Why must the people of Lagos East vote for you? What plans will you pursue if elected as senator of Lagos East?
The people of Lagos East must vote for me on all reasonable grounds if we are collectively in pursuit of true and quality representation in the upper chamber; and for the full attainment of dividends of democracy. They will find in me their champion, their fighter. In any committee process of the Senate that I may find myself, I will do everything possible to secure the interest of Lagos East.

As a young man not encumbered by terms and conditions from any quarters, rather than the will of the good people of Lagos East, my policy will be open-door. Besides performing our roles in the upper chamber in Abuja, I will be in the constituency office, as a place of interaction, for continuous engagement with the people, including the youth. I will constantly communicate the needs of the people to the upper chamber for necessary legislation and policies, lobby the National Assembly and Executive so that the needs are captured in the national budgets. This is beside the constituency projects, which must definitely cover the needs of the district. We will be more accountable to the people on such projects.

Specifically, the legislation and policies will be aimed at developing transport infrastructure, which is a big concern in the district as it is in the whole of the state. We will be looking at the promotion of intermodal transportation, which goes with the interconnectivity of the four modes of transport – road, rail, waterways and air or aviation. I have made contributions in the past on how to develop our transportation system, as a catalyst for national development. My present ambition, I believe, will avail me the opportunity in the upper chamber to push for legislation to this effect and their implementation.

We will also be tackling the disturbing security situation in the district holistically. Policies and legislation that will address the root problems of crime, with provisions of alternative means of livelihood for deviants will be spiritedly pursued. I relatively intend creating a list of youth in the district. I am committed to encouraging and promoting the young people of the district into the global economy with the development of information technology and agriculture. We have what we need to legitimately create wealth, prosperity and peaceful co-existence in this part of the state.

Our focus will further be on legislation that will give Lagos a special status, as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. Senator Oluremi Tinubu of Lagos Central Senatorial District had earlier proposed the bill. This will, however, be revisited. With its increasing population, there is need for creation of local governments in addition to the existing 20 in the state. Ideally, we should be working for the ratification of the 37 local council development areas (LCDAs) in the state as local governments. Invariably, with other colleagues of like minds, we will be working for increased derivation fund for Lagos, which houses most ports, industries and multinationals, from which the bulk of the national revenue accrues.

What is your understanding of Lagos East and the peculiar challenges in the zone?
Lagos East district covers five major local governments in Lagos State, including Epe, Ibeju-Lekki, Ikorodu, Kosofe and Somolu. It is a multi-ethnic district, largely coastal communities, yearning for development. The district is intrinsically blessed with resources, but they are not effectively explored. There is presently no policies or legislation opening the district for the required industrialisation. Attention will definitely be accorded this.

I can also confidently tell you that the district forms the bulk of the new Lagos, holding most solutions to problems associated with Lagos State in terms of food, housing and transportation. And blessed with the marine environment, the district has the potential to reinvent blue economy. This will spur employment generation for our teeming youth and improved living conditions of the generality of the people.

In fact, it will serve as a new impetus to the state’s economy, and of course the nation’s. We are looking for alternative revenue sources instead of the sole reliance on oil. My present endeavour will avail me the opportunity to extensively push for policies that will foster proper planning of the district in collaboration with governments at all levels.

What impact do you think the recent #ENDSARS protests and aftermath could have on the bye-election?
It has the potential to change the narrative if and only if we are able to harness the good intentions behind the protests. These are fairness, equity and better welfare for security agents and the people, among others. I see the protests by Nigerian youth, who constitute a greater percentage of the country’s population, as a wake-up call to the slumbering administrations at all levels of government. With a peaceful and well-coordinated protest, the youth demonstrated to the world that they are responsible, focused, creative and resourceful. It is a remarkable development that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the outside world, like governments in the United Kingdom, Europe, including high profile politicians and Hollywood actors, are listening and standing with our youth. The youth are fighting a justifiable cause in the best interest of the entire country. My party and I absolutely share their sentiments. Interestingly, what the youth are fighting for is what I have spent my life and career fighting for.

As a former Chief Crime Correspondent of The Punch, with the roles of investigating and writing on police conduct among others, I was privileged to visit police formations. In the course of my work, I discovered that Nigeria needed a police reform just as the #ENDSARS protesters succinctly put it. It is very important to have social mechanism of checking the excesses of people who are given the power to protect. We want to make sure that the police do their jobs professionally, but not to oppress people and create instability. The agitation by the youth further sought the need for the respect of the people’s fundamental rights and good governance in the country. This is good. Such protest would not have been meaningful if our governments were truly living up to their responsibilities.

Unfortunately, because of the high poverty in the land, the protest was hijacked by hoodlums. But the peaceful protesters have made their mark and the narrative is changing already. The Federal Government through the Inspector General of Police swiftly had to disband Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The police are impressing it on their officers and men to turn a new leaf. The government also promised to cautiously and speedily address the grievances of the youth.

The development will definitely continue to change the narrative of politics, not only in our district but the whole country. Nigerian youth will never be taken for granted. And that is why I am contesting. We should be pushing for a bill that will promote reforms in the police, guaranteeing their welfare, compulsory life insurance for them, adequate training in professional handling of weapons, civil responsibility and respect for human rights. These should be balanced with a bill that will keep the agitations of the youth on the front burner, with the sustenance of positive responses by governments at all levels. Such legislation should be able to protect genuine protesters and ensure that their protest is not hijacked by hoodlums in the future. Our young men need to be given tools to innovate and the opportunity to enjoy their money when they legitimately make it. We should also be making legislations that will improve the living conditions of the generality of the people, thereby fighting the endemic poverty in the system.