Senator Foster Ogola is the Senator representing Bayelsa West in the National Assembly. He is also the vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on ICT and Cybercrime. In this 7QuestionsSeries with Damilola Adeniran, the senator bares his mind on a number of issues and also gave his endorsement for the ConsTrack project of OrderPaper Nigeria. Excerpts:
The issue of restructuring of the country has been generating a lot of debate; what is your take on the topic?
Restructuring is not just about devolution of power. Restructuring is about mindset, our attitude towards development planning and apportioning of responsibilities to different arms of government, to different agencies of government.
We must allow people to develop at their own pace, but when you usurp everybody’s money to develop only one part of the country, you are not helping. So when you are restructuring, people must agree. If Oyo, Lagos, and Ogun states want to be under one government and want to be in the moon in the next ten years, allow them to go but they should be contributing to the centre, have one currency, one national defence. Also, segregate the Police – federal, state, community, even Local Government Area.
Again if you are restructuring, how do you get to the centre? A situation where the north says it is our turn, we must produce the President, how will you bring the President knowing where he comes from and knowing he has to satisfy those who said he should come to power?
Did former president Goodluck Jonathan satisfy the region he hails from during his tenure?
One reason Goodluck performed is that accidentally he became President. He did not mind where he came from, that is why he never developed anything in Bayelsa State, he never developed anything in the South-South, he believed he was a Nigerian and should carry everybody along. People are crying and blaming President Buhari, I don’t blame President Buhari. I like President Buhari because he knows where he comes from and he is developing that place. We have to restructure if we want to move forward as a country, you can’t force even your children under one family; everybody reads what he likes, study what he likes, does the business he likes.
Won’t that make it easier for parts of the country to secede?
It is not secession. There was no reason to secede when we were running a confederation. What caused secession was the forceful merger in the form of a unitary government by Aguyi Ironsi and his planners; it led to people trying to break away. When we were in the regions, cocoa was for the westerners, cotton and groundnut for the northerners, coal was for the easterners, palm oil and rubber was for the southerners; who was talking of seceding? When they have 55 per cent of the money and contributing 45 per cent to the centre, now you change the constitution where even the 13 per cent you are not giving to them, for the Niger-Delta.
This is where the encumbrance is coming from, it is not about secession, it is about ‘allow me mange my family by myself – those who are ready to go to school, I send them to school, those who want vocational job, I send them. If I want to be eating pounded yam every day or pepper soup every day and I can afford to fish or produce the fish through my farm to eat, allow me,’ it does not mean secession.
When Tafawa Balewa ruled this country for ten years from 1955 to 1966 as Prime Minister, who was complaining? Until the coup and counter coups that led to the killings in sections of the country, nobody was talking of seceding. Nobody should misinterpret devolution of power to mean secession, no! There must be something binding us.
Go to the 1963 constitution, I have it; you will find out that there is no room for anyone wanting to go. We belong to one good country, one big one; Zik and Awo decided to wait for the north to be prepared before we became independent.
Hate speech is another problem that has been causing a lot of concerns. The government has even suggested criminalizing it. As the Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on ICT and Cybercrime, how do you think we can fight against hate speech especially on the online space, without infringing on the rights of citizens to freedom of speech?
It is dictatorship, all this gagging of people from expressing their mind is dictatorship. Again, freedom of speech should have responsibility attached to it. Hate speech is an outcome of the leadership of the country. The moment you have no space to accommodate contending views or dissenting views then you breed hate speech; that is where hate speech is coming from.
Dictatorship, autocracy, militocracy breed hate speech – hate speech cannot come on its own. You can make a caricature of a government, governor or president, it does not mean hate speech; you are expressing artistically, linguistically, socially, the misdemeanours, the things that are not supposed to be that are going on condoned.
So are you condoning hate speech?
I don’t approve hate speech because it does not solve any problem. One hate speech can lead to the wiping out of an entire section of this country, it can lead to the collapse of the government, and it can lead to the collapse of the economy.
Hate speech should not be condoned but again the government at the centre should do everything to run a socially, economically, and culturally incisive government. When that is done, hate speech will disappear on its own.
Finally, what is your view on ConsTrack – a project by OrderPaper Nigeria aimed at involving constituents more in the conceptualization and implementation of constituency projects?
Constituency projects cannot be conceptualised by non-constituents because they don’t have voting rights there. It is the constituents that will decide the project they want and link up with their representatives to push the project forward to the centre.
That is what ConsTrack is about; it is going to be in the hands of the constituents. Are you endorsing it?