Director of strategy, KOWA party, Kunle Lawal

The present National Assembly has not done enough to improve the standard of living of Nigerian masses, says Director of Strategy of KOWA party, Kunle Lawal.

In an exclusive telephone interview monitored in Lagos by Concise News, the Abuja-based politician said Nigerian lawmakers should intensify efforts at passing masses-oriented bills, while also cautioning them to listen more to the people they claim to represent by making themselves more accessible.

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The young politician, who is nursing the ambition of becoming the youngest senator in 2019, vows to allocate 80% of his remunerations to constituency projects if elected into office.

Excerpts of the interview:

What’s your view about the current Nigerian senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki?

I think the current senate is not putting forward enough bills that will affect the common Nigerian people. This is not to say they are not doing their jobs, but one will expect them to pay more attention to passing bills that will affect the masses.

I’ll give you an example; the minimum wage. Why has the national assembly not done something about the minimum wage?

With the current economic situation of Nigeria, eighteen thousand naira minimum wage is grossly inadequate. This sum can’t even buy a bag of rice. How do you now expect civil servants to feed, transport themselves, pay house rent and send their kids to school on eighteen thousand naira minimum wage?

Another example is protection of women and girls. How do you hope to protect women when the fine on female genital mutilation is just N2, 000 or an option of 30-day jail term?

These are serious issues affecting the masses that I expect the national assembly to deal with constitutionally.

What we have currently is a national assembly that pays more attention to elitist laws. 

In what areas do you think the national assembly has really under-performed?

There are quite a number of them. Let me start with social welfare, the senate has not done enough for Nigerians in this aspect.

Another area the senate has really under-performed is in the small and medium enterprises sector of the economy. There’s been no bill to protect Nigerian SMEs. We all know that no economy can grow without a vibrant SME sector. This, kind of, pushes the country deeper into recession.

Primary health care and power supply are other areas the national assembly has also come short of expectations.

Despite all we’ve said about agriculture, the national assembly has not done enough to back this initiative with appropriate laws. If a Nigerian farmer farms cocoa now, harvests and sell his cocoa seed for let’s say $2bn. Nigerians will celebrate. The same Nigeria will later turn around and import sweets, beverages, chocolates and many other products containing cocoa for let’s say $10bn. Based on this scenario, I ask, how has cocoa farming helped Nigeria?

It is nomadic to farm without making provisions for processing. We can’t continue to sell raw materials and turn around to buy finished products just like we do with our crude oil. I expect the national assembly to enact laws that will address crucial issues like these.

Information reaching us has it that you’ve announced your ambition to run for the Senate in 2019, how true is this?

(Laughs). It is very true. I’m humbly offering myself to serve as a senator of Abuja constituency in 2019.

Why the senate?

Let me give you a brief summary of my biography. I’ve lived in Abuja since I finished university in 2001. During this period, I’ve been part of a lot of youth movement groups. I’ve given more than 300 hours of volunteer teaching in government secondary schools to help education in Nigeria.

I also run a youth movement known as the ‘Orange Youth Movement’. The movement helps educate Nigerian youths on political processes. For example, pulling out a non-performing senator. Most people think this is easy, but truth is it is not. To call back a senator, you will need the consent of 2/3 of the people in his/her constituency. This is almost impossible to do. I’ve been educating Nigerian youths on issues like these.

I’ve been on social media and radio, trying to educate and put forward solutions to national issues.

Then I realised that I’ve tried for so long on the sidelines; I’ve been at it since 2003, that’s fourteen straight years. I then thought to myself that the only way to make the kind of change I want to see is to infiltrate the system and attack the status quo from within.

This was what informed my decision to run for the senate.

Moreso, I think I’ve done enough as a foot soldier, it’s now time for me to join forces and direct where my country is headed. When a man’s age starts nearing forty, he should start asking ‘what can I do for my nation’, and not ‘what can my nation can do for me’.

What are your chances in 2019? Who are your opponents?

My main opponent is going to be the current senator representing Abuja. He belongs to the PDP and he’s been the senator representing Abuja federal constituency for the past 12 years. Of course, APC is expected to produce a credible candidate too.

However, I believe I have equal chances like any other candidate that I will be competing with.

I, however, have something going on well for me that most of them don’t. I’m not saying this to undermine anybody, but truth is there are less than five percent of true Nigerians who know the workings of Nigeria, care about Nigeria, live in Nigeria and now wish to serve Nigeria like me.

I’m actually from the Western part of the country. I was born and raised in the core northern part of the country, I’m very fluent in hausa and can even be mistaken for an hausa man. I’m married from the south-south part of Nigeria.

I also happen to come from a home of mixed religion. My father was a muslim and my mother a Christian. I was exposed to both religions till the age of ten. I was given a choice to choose my religion.

I’m not from a rich home. I attended public schools. I graduated and set up my own company. I had a short stint as personal assistant to a minister. That’s the only public office I’ve ever held.

I’ve also participated in various political advocacy groups on radio, social media and on the streets.

All these have contributed to giving me a clear understanding of the workings of Nigeria.

There are quite a few true Nigerians like me in public service, but they seem to get confused when they get elected into public office. I can’t afford to let that happen in my own case because, by my estimation, I would be the youngest senator if elected in 2019. This means I’ll be a role model for a generation that has been held down for a long time. The stakes are high, so I don’t think I have the luxury to make many mistakes.

For example, there are many senators that have spent twelve years in the senate without sponsoring a single bill. I can’t see myself making such an expensive mistake.

You pledge to channel 80% of your pay as senator into constituency project, true or campaign strategy?

It’s not a campaign strategy. It’s true.

80% of my pay will go into constituency project as I currently live comfortably with my family with just about 20% of what a Nigerian senator earns.

Those who live in Abuja would’ve heard me on radio multiple times speak against the current jumbo pay of our lawmakers. Our lawmakers require about N1.09trn to maintain. That’s excessive, if you ask me. That kind of pay cannot be justified.

I’m not in support of senator’s being given official residence.  A lawmaker should be able to provide his own accommodation.

So, if I say I’m going to fight against these injustices in the system, it’s only logical for me to start with myself by retaining my rented apartment as a senator and donating 80% of my salary to constituency project.

I don’t need all those perks of office to do my work. It will even restrict me. I want to be able to move around Abuja every weekend as a senator in public transportation, mingle with Abuja residents and listen to their concerns.

I want to be able to go to the markets and hold heart-to-heart talks with market women. I want to know their concerns, fears and expectations. This is what, I think, it takes to be a representative of the people at the national assembly.

I will not stop at that, I will have a functional office in Abuja where my people can access me any time.

Why I’m going to be doing all these is to educate Nigerians that the president is not to be blamed for every difficulty they are passing through. Nobody blames the reps and senators who are supposed to even be more in touch with the people.

Our lawmakers need to sit up and be accountable to the people in their constituencies.

What is your campaign strategy?

I’m a regular guy with a small family, my wife and my son. The same way change in price of cooking gas affects you is the same way it affects me. I don’t have any money stashed anywhere that I plan to use to prosecute the election the Nigerian way. I have no political godfather to back me up.

My campaign strategy is, therefore, somehow hinged on my support base. I intend to raise my campaign funds through crowd-funding and voluntary donations; just the way US senators run for elective posts. That’s the model I’m adopting.

I want to interact with people; visit Wuse market, sit down with members of rotary clubs etc. I want to show right from beginning that I’m accessible. I’m going to post my personal numbers and office numbers for anybody to use to access me. Anybody can call me up and discuss with me how I plan to run Abuja.

Who is your political role model in Nigeria?

(Laughs) I don’t really have a particular Nigerian in mind as a political role mode. I am actually creating my own role model.

However, I can take a bit of a few Nigerian politicians, namely Sen. Bukola Saraki and Sen. Ben Murray Bruce.  Saraki for tactics, I may not like him as a person, but I admire his tact. Ben Bruce says the right things, I admire him for that but I, however, have an issue with his style. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to ask him (face to face) why he comes online to tweet about what’s wrong with Nigeria.

This is a senator we are talking about, I expect him to push bills to address national problems instead of repeatedly tweeting about them on Twitter. No need telling us what you think as a senator. I’m not sure many people care about what he thinks either, but I’m sure many people care about the kind of bills he can push that will address their problems.

I will not fail to mention my real role model, President Barrack Obama. Former president Bill Clinton and, last but not the least, Alexander the Great, inspire me too.