interviewBy Olasunkanmi Akoni
Senator Gbenga Bareehu Ashafa is a first time Senator in the SeventhNational Assembly, representing the Lagos East Senatorial District, on the banner of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. In this interview, Ashafa, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Lands, Housing and Urban Development spoke on the viability of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the proposed party that some leading opposition parties merged into, his experience in the Senate and controversies trailing reported damages to underwater structures of the Third Mainland Bridge.
His take on APC merger
Sincerely, Nigeria is gradually becoming a failed state. We the opposition cannot fold our arms and see things going wrong all the time.
The merger has already embarked on a rescue mission to save Nigerians from the shackles of the ruling party. The reason for the merger is not to share political positions but to bring hope to Nigerians. This is why for the first time both the South and the North are coming together to govern and not to oppress. Some quarters were claiming that the merger will fail but I am telling you that the merger is here to stay for the betterment of our people.
How are you so sure that the merger talks between your party and other opposition parties would work this time?
I am very convinced that with the pace at which the merger traverses, it will work. If you look at the level of its acceptance and the supports garnered throughout the country, you will agree with me that it will work very well. You will be convinced as it progresses.
On the Third Mainland Bridge fresh alert
Everybody was happy when the FG attempted to renovate it, during that period, everybody made the sacrifice to use other route, after it was reopened, everyone assumed that the bridge was now okay, but about a week ago, a petition was written to the senate concerning the current condition of the bridge, going through this petition, we discovered that the consultant that did the pre assessment detail as corrective measures to put the bridge back to shape submitted the details of what to be done.
But after the bridge was reopened, quote and unquote, he went back there to assess it, not only the surface that we can see alone, he went as far as beneath the water to cross check the result given to them with what they have seen under the water.
After the investigation, it was revealed that the bridge may collapse soon. If the federal government disagrees with this I think they can go ahead and counter the claim.
A very good example is the Dana airline that crashed recently, if somebody raised alarm like this earlier about that plane, may be a lot of lives could have been saved in the process. Recently I heard from some quarters that some were saying I am been political about the issue, are we going to be political to the detriment of the lives of the people?
Nothing is political about it, it is a matter of saying it as it is and if the federal government is calling it a false alarm, they should also carry out their own investigation and counter the report of Prof Kim, the consultant.
I repeat nobody is sounding a false alarm; something has to be done to salvage this calamity.
His experience in the Senate as a first timer
My first time as a senator has been tough with different kinds of challenges here and there. But at the same time, I have been able to summon the courage to face the challenges that accompany the task and the result of which you are seeing today with different kinds of achievement both on the Senate floor and in my constituency at large. I have been able to empower our youths and sponsored some bills among others.
At the initial stage when I was sworn in as the senator representing Lagos East Senatorial district, it is normal to first face some challenges that you never expected but now I can boldly say they are minimal now, although I'm still in the learning process.
How fast have you learnt?
I have really learnt pretty well because within a very short time (a year and 8months) as a senator have been able to sponsor and co-sponsor bills (5) and motions.
What is your assessment of the present National Assembly, especially the Senate?
The Seventh National Assembly has not done badly at all. It could be recalled that several issues on national interest has been deliberated upon and concrete steps have been taken to making sure that sensitive issues that affect the common man in the society are not swept under carpet. Among such issues include: probe on fuel subsidy, probe into the deteriorating GSM network, probe into the Police Pension fund among others.
Putting all these into consideration you will agree that the Senate is out to make a difference.
What is your plan for 2015? Will it be the Senate or Governorship seat?
Right now, I will like to concentrate on the one I'm doing. When 2015 comes, we will play along. Governor Babatunde Fashola has just spent just five years and some few months out of a total number of eight years, I believe it is too early to be talking about who is going to be the next governor in 2015.
Why are we all talking about who is going to be the next governor now when the present governor is doing wonderfully well and everybody can testify to that?
The position I am occupying right now is still very much okay by me. Let us run this senatorial race to the point that people will feel my impact, only God knows the next governor.
Nigeria will be 100 years next year, are you satisfied with the marriage of 1914?
It was not an accident that the marriage occurred in the first place. What has been accidental is the leadership lag to keep the marriage in proper shape. If the right thing is done, by practicing a true federalism, nobody will pick holes in the marriage.
His take on high rate of youth unemployment in the country
No reasonable individual will be comfortable with such. But, at the same time, unemployment is a global phenomenon. You will recall its paramount place in the American voters' behaviour in their last election.
You will also recall how Hollande made it to the French Presidency and so on and so forth. Because I am not comfortable with it, I have done a lot in this particular direction, like the multi-million naira Energy Students Project.
What then can be done to address the issue?
One viable way to go about this is to create an environment that can make individuals to be self-employed. This can be done by adding skills acquisition programmes to school curriculum.
Also, the Small and Medium Enterprise Schemes (SMES) must be made to function well. Also of assistance is our Micro-Finance Banks; they should grant small loans to the petty traders and so on and so forth.