INTERVIEW: Poverty, youth unemployment greatest problems in Kwara -Senator-elect, Oloriegbe
Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe is the senator-elect for Kwara Central Senatorial District. He spoke with TUNDE OYEKOLA on how the All Progressives Congress swept the last polls in Kwara; the people's expectations and how the nation can improve its health system, among other things
How did you feel defeating the former Kwara State Governor and Senate President Bukola Saraki to emerge senator representing Kwara Central?
I felt a sense of gratitude to Almighty God for confirming my belief in Him. I said something during the campaigns, especially on a radio interview, that nobody is above God and to anyone who had been playing God in the past, God always shows that He is still God.
If you followed our campaign, we exhibited a lot of confidence. When I went for a press interview in Lagos, the way I spoke was strange to them; they thought that I was just boastful. I told them that I would beat Saraki silly and that was exactly what happened. The people of Kwara Central had shown that they wanted a change; they said it to the world that 'Enough is Enough'. We interacted with the people and we are closer to them; we know how they felt and what they wanted.
My faith in God is more strengthened and with that, I have a higher gratitude to my people. God does not come down to do anything. He uses the people. He has used my people to make this change possible. I have a high sense of responsibility towards them and I have a feeling that I must never disappoint them. With the faith that I have in God and the trust reposed in me and the mandate that has been given to me, if I disappoint them, God will judge me.
You had participated in previous elections. Do you agree that your victory was as a result of the mass movement of the people, not your popularity?
I don't agree totally, because there are several elements to it. People are always looking at the outcome of the final election but mind you, before the election, there were intra-party activities which strengthened the movement. So, itís the combination of these that led to the presentation of candidates for the contest. What the people emphasised was having credible and acceptable candidates, especially in the APC for National Assembly election. You were here during that period. Our primaries were transparent, free and fair and I won because majority of the people believed in me. With all sense of humility, it was based on my antecedents, my experience and some other factors. The movement had demanded credible and acceptable candidates. The movement didnít just start. Since 2011, we have been involved in the struggle. That we didn't participate in politics directly then did not mean we went under; we were doing some ground work. We used different strategies and studies.
Since 1979, the only time the group contested against the ruling federal party was in 2015, but then, there was a national change, which favoured the movement. In 1999, when we were in a different party for the national elections, we voted for the People Democratic Party. I was in the All Progressive Party then. We, in Kwara, voted for Olusegun Obasanjo as the president, not the candidate of our party.
Before the elections, you were in the PDP. Why did you join the APC and not any other party?
I was never in any political party. I was only supporting people in opposition parties underground and the PDP appeared to be the major opposition that was on the ground. I must tell you that as far back as 2014 December, I had resorted to the late Bola Igeís approach to political issues, 'Sidon Look'. Only those that take politics as a vocation that always want to belong to political party in order to be relevant. I was supporting candidates. I participated in local government elections and I supported candidates and the candidates won. In the ward level, where I came from, I am from Ogidi-Oloje; we won the councillorship election. Of course, they had to use the PDP platform but like I said earlier, I was waiting at a corner to see the day God would change things. I was not thinking of the APC or the PDP. We were thinking of another neutral party. But by January 2018, I saw that Saraki would leave the APC for another party. That was when we decided to move to the APC. I was at the APC national convention and it was then people discovered that I belong to the APC. As of that time, Saraki had not defected to the PDP. He was also at that convention.
If Senator Saraki did not defect to the PDP, do you think the result would have been the same?
It will be a yes or no answer. If he was still in the APC, the result might have been different because we had some states where the APC was ruling and they still lost the elections such as Bauchi, Oyo and Adamawa. This is because the local factor matters. It could have been like that in Kwara if the APC still presented Bukola Saraki.
But the margin would not be as wide as it turned out to be in the governorship election, which was 75 to 25 for the APC and the PDP.
When you get to the National Assembly, what difference do you intend to make?
I will definitely make a difference looking at my antecedents at the Kwara House of Assembly. I was elected into the House of Assembly but within a space of four years, I became the majority leader. The leader of the party then was Dr Olusola Saraki, Bukola's father.
Now at the Senate, I am not going there as a novice in legislative matters and the politics of our nation. I think God has prepared me well for this particular assignment in terms of education, knowledge, experience. With all these, I should be able to make impact in my immediate constituency and Nigeria as a whole.
What should be the focus of the new government in Kwara State?
The new government would be faced with several challenges but I think the key one among them would be economic rehabilitation. I am saying this because we have a state where poverty is very high, with massive youth unemployment. These have affected the general economy. So, the focus should be how to turn around the economy of the state, where poverty will be eradicated and youths could be gainfully employed.
The government must also focus on agricultural development. Of course, we cannot leave social sector which is education and health. We need a vibrant health system.
All these sectors are interrelated; so, in turning things around, you must talk about education and social welfare. We have many people who are excluded from the main stream of the economy and are living below the poverty line. These are people that social security will cater for.
As a medical doctor, what do you think is the problem with the nation's health sector?
One of the issues is that the health sector has funding problems. The sector also has a systemic challenge. It is bedeviled by poor planning and policy implementation. There is heavy corruption in the sector. Resources are not enough. And what is available is mismanaged. For example, in Abuja in year 2000, there was a consensus by African countries that a minimum of 15 per cent of the national budget should be dedicated to health care at all levels. But so far, the maximum that Nigeria ever achieved in budgeting for the health sector is between six and seven per cent. That was in 2006/2007. And now, it has dropped to 3 - 4 per cent. And even this meager amount being budgeted is not fully released to the sector. What is released is not effectively and efficiently managed. Now, we have a distortion in the system. About 80 per cent of the challenges in the sector can be tackled at the primary health care level; but that appears to be the weakest.
The Federal Government's allocation to the health sector goes mainly to the tertiary health care system. That is why when you go to teaching hospitals, you will see them treating headaches and malaria instead of handling special cases. But they cannot handle special cases because they don't have the resources to do so. Therefore, to get things right in the nation's health system, there is a need to get it addressed at the primary health care level. Nobody should be excluded from the scheme. Everyone must have access to basic health care, which is the primary health care system.
How can the executive and legislature work harmoniously?
The way out is through dialogue. It is about communication. Dialogue means that there is bound to be differences in opinion or views on many issues. When there are differences in opinions, there should be dialogue between the executive and the legislature. That is why we are created by the constitution. Through dialogue, each arm of government will be able to express its views and come up with workable resolution.
The executive must be able to communicate effectively with the legislators. There should be no grandstanding. We are all serving the people of Nigeria. If our interest is to serve the country, we must engage in dialogue and collaborate.