Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Yusuf Lasun, in this interview with JOHN AMEH, insists that he will not shelve his governorship ambition despite alleged disapproval by his party in Osun State
There are reports that the relationship between you and the state chapter of your party, the All Progressives Congress, is soured, and that you are at loggerheads with the state party chairman, Gboyega Famodun. What is the true situation?
The chairman of the APC in my state (Osun) is my personal friend. We have been friends for some years now but our relationship has not been good in the last two years. I don’t know why unless he is able to come forward to say why it is so. It is on record that after I became the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, I visited him house. Although, I didn’t meet him, a call was put to him that I was in his house and that he should please come back to host me. But he replied that he was away for some days and could not come back. Since then, I wouldn’t know why he is fighting me, unless he tells me.
Could it be because you allegedly ignored the APC’s directive that you should not contest the seat of deputy speaker?
Let me say this to Nigerians; that, in run-up to the inauguration of the 8th Assembly on June 9, 2015, our party as a whole, never called anybody to any meeting. It was all speculation that this or that would be or was not to be. As members of the party, either newly-elected or sitting members, we were also reading about suggested names for the leadership positions in the National Assembly like other Nigerians. Nobody ever called us to a formal meeting of the APC to specifically tell us – I mean, in a proper, organised meeting – that these were the names of lawmakers to elect as leaders in the Senate and in the House of Representatives on the day of inauguration. Nobody did that. I stand to be corrected. The Nigerian public should be informed for the first time that no proper meeting was called between the elected members of the House and the party. We were always reading in the newspapers that this person or that person had been nominated and should be voted for as the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yes, there could have been discussions between (the party) leaders and some of us, which I don’t think is good for media interview. It is only good for an autobiography in future. I wouldn’t deny the fact that there were discussions between some few people and some notable party leaders. But, to avoid generating controversies, I would restrain from mentioning who and who were at such meetings. Finally, the only time we had sessions together as a party was when the party invited us to the International Conference Centre, Abuja. When we got there, we were told that we were going to have a mock election to decide who should be the speaker and the deputy speaker. At that point, the current Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and some other party members went out of that particular room. But, having registered their protest that nobody had informed us that we would be having a mock election, it looked like a faction of the members was aware that there was going to be a mock election. There was heated argument and the request of Mr. Speaker that particular day, was that now that you have told us about the mock election, the best thing to do as members of the same political party, is to, at least, shift the mock election by 24 hours. Initially, the request was about to be granted when some other things happened. It is on record that I, Yusuff Suleiman Lasun, stayed back and did what the party asked us to do.
So, how would you describe the relationship between you and Governor Rauf Aregbesola, considering the reports that you have not attended any official function in Osun since becoming the deputy speaker?
It is not true that I have not attended any state function. One of such functions was when a new model high school that was built in Ejigbo was to be inaugurated. I attended, I sat through that event but I won’t say what happened there until I write my biography. I attended because the letter of invitation was personally signed by the governor. I don’t know why people are coming up with frivolous allegations that I don’t attend state functions.
So, you and the governor are good friends?
First, I will describe the governor as meaning three things to me. One, he is my senior brother; two, he is my friend; three, he is my benefactor, but not my political benefactor. This one is mutual. So, I know I can’t fight him. But, if he is fighting me, I don’t know. For me, I know, I can’t fight him.
Soon after the death of Senator Isiaka Adeleke, your constituency office addressed the press, saying that the Osun State Government and some leaders of the APC threatened to kill you. Why is anybody after your life?
I will not go into what my constituency office released to the public. It is there for everybody to see including the circumstances that led to that statement that my life was in danger. But, having become the deputy speaker and a leading contender in the Osun governorship race in 2018, maybe they feel threatened. I know I am a leading contender and I don’t care whatever anybody says or whatever opinion is out there or that those who are against my ambition will want to express. In the next one and a half years, they will know that I am the leading contender, and by the special grace of God, the next governor in that state. I am so sure of that and I don’t care what anybody says. And it is not that I am going to force anybody to vote for me; but, I know that it is time for me to become the governor there. I know what it takes to be a governor and I know what it takes to be in government and to treat human beings the way they should be treated – take care of them, provide for their welfare and their security. These may be the reasons why some people feel threatened. Maybe, they feel that coming after my life may be an option. But as a good Muslim that I am, no human being can take my life. This is not even a question of ego. I repeat with emphasis, no matter how ingenious the person is, no human being can take my life. But when my constituency office saw those dangers, or dangerous moments, they had to come to the public to let the public know that the life of their principal was in danger.
You consider these threats to be coming from forces who do not want you to become the governor in 2018?
Forces that are not happy that I am currently the deputy speaker, and forces that think I will become the governor the way I became the deputy speaker. I became the deputy speaker by an act of God and the same act of God is still at work. That is what will lead me to become the governor (of Osun State) in 2018.
The party has described the claim of threats to your life as a lie and a wolf cry? How would you respond to that?
Do I look like somebody who tells lies? When people don’t know what to do or say again, they want to equate their own thinking and mindset with that of others. Whoever responded to that issue in that manner must be somebody with a little mind. I am too deep to tell lies and I know the implications of telling lies. When it comes to religion, aspiration and what to become in life, those who tell lies don’t amount to anything. Why would I tell lies? What do I stand to gain from it? I am too big to tell lies. God does not support those who tell lies. That they said the late Isiaka Adeleke and I should stop our campaigns, was it a lie? That the Osogbo Committee approached me in this office, and that they came all the way with the design of the perimeter fence for the newly-proposed ground for their Eid, was that a lie? I have the letter here with me. Or is it a lie that somebody threatened me on the phone that I should not come to one of our leaders’ birthday and the person was arrested and detained in Department of State Services’ office for nine days? The records are in the DSS’ office in Osogbo, is that a lie? So, am I telling a lie on the people of Osogbo, who visited my office or am I lying that the chairman of the party in the state said that Adeleke and I should stop campaigning? The man they asked me not to attend his birthday was celebrating his 90th birthday. If every other one was a lie, why can’t they admit the one that was incontrovertible? They are running away from that fact because many other notable persons were interrogated apart from the boy who was arrested by the DSS.
As a deputy speaker, are you saying you do not have enough police protection to protect you from such alleged threats?
No! I should be worried because I am not a violent politician. I am an unconventional politician in the Nigerian sense. All my life, I have never perpetrated violence; people know me that I don’t use thugs in my election. That I have police protection is not sufficient for me to say if somebody says I should not come to his place; then, I should go there. I am there to serve people. When I can no longer do that unless I go violent, then I had better not be in that office at all. Yes, I have police, DSS, but I won’t go through that route, to use them to harass people.
Some people believe the crisis is just between you and Aregbesola because the governor has a candidate for the governorship election and does not want you to contest. Are you ready to fight your governor?
I am not going against anybody. I am going for my ambition. I have a right to be governor in my state. It is the right I have that I am exercising. Don’t forget that I described Aregbesola as my senior brother. I won’t go against him, But on the governorship, if anybody wants to fight me, I think I am ready. Besides, I am not aware that anybody has anybody in mind for the governorship already because I am not a mind reader. All I know is that I want to be governor and I am contesting. It’s an open field and I have offered myself to serve.
Some Osun people say they are not satisfied with the performance of your party in the last seven years. Are you in agreement with them?
For so many reasons, I won’t be able to comment on that.
Like one, two, three reasons?
For so many reasons, so many reasons, I won’t be able to comment on that.
You don’t have a view on how your state is being governed?
As a stakeholder, when I offer myself for that seat, I will be able to tell people what I can do.
With the perceived level of dissatisfaction, some opposition parties are saying that the APC does not stand a chance at the 2018 poll. How does that make you feel?
That one won’t apply to me. I am already separated from the pack and the opposition parties in the state know this fact. There were events that surrounded my emergence as the deputy speaker and my performance in the last two years have also proven who I am.
Do you have a feeling that Adeleke didn’t die a natural death?
No. As a good Muslim, we always believe that God gives life and God takes life. And that is my position on that.
Why did some of your aides say then that he was killed?
I wouldn’t subscribe or want to comment on that. Maybe, they have their reasons, but I am not going to join people who said that. If Adeleke had warned of an impending danger to his life while he was alive, maybe that position would have been okay. On things that are very complex and philosophical, no aide will be able to say what is on my mind. Whoever says he was poisoned may have their reasons.
But your party was accused of being the one behind the theory that Adeleke was poisoned.
How could I sell such a theory? Where did I say it or mention anything regarding Adeleke’s death? The only time I said anything about his death was when I was paying tribute to him on the floor of the House. I had to remember that this was a man, who wanted to be governor like myself. He had once been governor; we were warned not to go on with our campaigns. I only made allusion to it because the whole thing reminded me of the shortness of life. Man proposes, God disposes! That was in the context in which I made a comment about him, not that I was accusing anybody of being responsible. I was careful because at this stage of my life, I will not be found to be making careless statements.
The people of your constituency have accused you of taking all your constituency projects to your home town alone. They have sworn to stop your ambition. Why did you marginalise them?
Anybody who wants to gang up against me is free to do so. I have got to a stage in life and politically too, not to listen to the voices of the disgruntled people. As far as I am concerned, I have two secondary schools’ projects going on in Osogbo. Each is going to cost N200m. There is a water project going on at the cost of N467m and there is a medical centre awarded at N175m; all in Osogbo. I think there are projects worth about N1bn going on in Osogbo today. I singlehandedly facilitated the construction of Ojutu Bridge on Orile River. That project was awarded at the cost of over N560m to a contractor that will soon resume to site. It’s a very important project because it links the next two biggest cities in Yoruba land after Ibadan. The road will link Osogbo and Ogbomoso. The bridge is right on that road. I facilitated the appropriation of about N500m in the 2016 budget for the completion of that road. The contractor has not been doing well though, but I facilitated that road and made a provision of N500m for the contractor to do the job.
Why is it that your colleagues in the House don’t seem to like you? They describe you as a ‘hard’ man.
I don’t know what you mean by being hard. If there is anybody my colleagues visit most after the plenary every day, I think it is the office of the deputy speaker, presently occupied by Yusuf Lasun.
You think flooding your office is a sign that they like you? Are you aware that you are dealing with politicians?
At times, love and loyalty are two different things. In politics, if you think that way, then you are missing it. There are people who have grown to the extent that they can separate your being hard from your capacity and intelligence. Maybe because, when I preside over the House, people will first want to underrate me. But, when they see my interpretation of situations and the rules of the House or the constitution, people are caught by surprise. There was an incident during one of my foreign trips to Malaysia in 2015. A colleague on the trip, a Yoruba man, came to me to confess that the very first day I presided in the House; he actually called members to watch me that I was going to make a fool of myself. After a few minutes of presiding, he changed his mind. People first present a picture of me as probably one who is an illiterate. I am a trained engineer; one of the best educated Nigerians you find around.
But the information I have is that some members don’t want you on that seat. How would you react to that?
Of course, it is normal. In politics, it’s only a stupid politician who will want 100 per cent support. A 100 per cent support in politics means that you can easily be pushed out too. Don’t forget that in my election, I had 203 votes, against 154 for the person who contested against me. In an election where 357 out of 360 cast their votes on the floor of the House on June 9, 2015 in Abuja, 358 members attended that inauguration and after the election of the speaker, we were left with 357 left to vote. I had 203 votes. What other way do you want to assess me as someone who is wanted by his colleagues? The rules of the House even require that the moment you score 181 votes, you are already the winner. I had 203, yet two years down the line, you are still talking about people not liking me. Why would I expect 357 people to like me? Am I their God or an angel or a saint? Whoever says he does not like me, what is the proof that the person will get 203 votes if he contests for the same position?
About the 2016 budget, do you think the suspension of the former Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, was justifiable, having accused you and others of tampering with the budget? It appeared the suspension was to silence him.
There are so many proverbs and sayings that will support the action taken against Jibrin. First, when you live in a glass house, do not throw stones. Second, what we call a system, there must be orderliness in it. Rules define a system. When you go out of the rule and become disorderly, then the rule will be applied.
But he raised allegations bordering on transparency. Was that not just?
What transparency? During that period, did he say anybody put money in his pockets? Jibrin wanted to confuse Nigerians that time to the extent that people thought the money he talked about was already physical cash put into different people’s pockets. As I am talking to you today, the same budget padding that was the grounds of his allegations, almost 70 per cent of it didn’t turn into projects. The projects were not executed because they were not cash-backed. So, how relevant are the allegations now? You were accused of something almost a year ago, that thing didn’t turn into contracts or projects, and when it turned into projects, it was not cash-backed. So, where is the basis of the allegations? I have just told you now that my Ojutu Bridge project was not cash-backed; the contractor has not been paid. If you take me to court over Jibrin’s allegations now, what will the prosecution tell the judge?
His constituency is being denied representation in the House all this while. Is there a possible political solution to this other than the suspension?
I wouldn’t know what you mean by political solution. I started by saying that a system has order and rules. The only way to function in a system is to follow the rules. Yes, I sympathise with his constituency, but what he did goes further to show that when you are in the midst of other 359 members, your own opinion alone cannot be the only right opinion. It will be a lesson for others to learn from. That is why the word ‘lobby’ is very important in a parliamentary system. You are here to cajole people or talk to them, not to assume that you are the only one who is educated, smart, and intelligent, hence, you can super-impose your ideas on them.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has said that no legislative house has the power to suspend any member for more than 14 days and his assertion was based on a court order. Was Jibrin’s suspension a violation of the law of the land?
The business of the House is conducted by applying the constitution and the standing orders of the House. The constitution empowers the House to make rules for its business. As a lawyer, a SAN, Falana should endeavour to get a copy of the standing orders of the House and look through to see how a member can be suspended. After he has read it, maybe his opinion will change. That is when I will now comment on it. Femi Falana is part of that public that has never seen anything good in the National Assembly. I want to remind him that the only thing that defines democracy is the parliament. What he stands to gain by castigating the parliament whenever it pleases him, I don’t know.
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