Khairat Abdulrazaq-Gwadabe represented the Federal Capital Territory from 1999 to 2003. A strong voice for women, she was Chair of the Senators Forum a body of serving and former senators. She declared interest to return to the Senate last week at a press briefing in Abuja. NIYI BELLO, Abuja Bureau Chief, was there.
It’s been some 15years now since you left the Senate and you’re staging a come back, what happened?
One of the things I learnt then was that you should always ask your community what they want. Don’t assume that they are suffering.
When I was campaigning in one of the communities, I discovered that the men complained that women take hours to go from their home, around 6am, to fetch water in the river; they walk long distance and before they come back, it’s by 11, 12 or even 1pm; and I felt that that was too much.
So, I decided that we would attract borehole for them. We did that and I was so excited that we were able to bring borehole. The men were happy but the women were not.
They said you don’t like us. I brought you water and you say I don’t like you. They said it’s because you don’t understand. What we had before paid us.
I discovered that when they wake up at 6am, they take all their laundry and go to the river.
They spend the day to socialize, do all their activities and they enjoy it.
The husband and children are there at home and they have fun and when they are done, they now come home with their water.
Now, the borehole is right in their nose and I deprived them of such a nice social time.
So, they wanted their time and that was it for them. I took away their freedom.
So, you don’t always assume that somebody is suffering. Maybe he likes it in that particular way because it comes with some form of consolation which money cannot always buy.
When you were in the Senate, what was the experience like?
I took away the experience of knowing how to lobby fellow senators and not assuming that everybody is going to see things with you the same way. What I took away from that was that I had to map my fellow senators.
If I need something to be done in a particular way, I will go for certain people that I know will stick with it and those who will not stick with it and I realised that the number of children you have, for instance, and that you’re taking care of will determine your strength in holding on to a bargain or a position on any issue.
So, that was the first thing I learnt just by people filling forms and cracking jokes and that helped me throughout my term in that place.
The point is that people who have too many baggage – and we are all getting the same pay and allowances – would find it difficult to stick to principles when the heat really comes on because the first consideration for most (not all) would be that, well, this would be a way of solving part of their problem.
These were the kinds of things that came to play when the executive needed to have some voices to disrupt the system within the legislative arm. Some of these things played easily for them to pick up.
These were a few things I picked up very early. One doesn’t generalize, but I found that the cultural biases largely influenced the makeup of the person.
So, what’s with this comeback bid now?
I asked myself the same question. But honestly speaking, it’s different. We have watched quietly the system changing in the direction that I never envisaged. I came into politics with a lot of vibrancy.
I really wanted Nigeria to be better. Once you have a strong institution, it doesn’t matter who is sitting on top of the institution, it must be made to work.
But as you know, I did not technically lose the primaries in 2003.
There was a lot of agitation from the National Assembly for the impeachment of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo at the time and we were the people pushing for it because we felt that he was very unconstitutional in his actions.
Every constitution, particularly the Appropriation Act, was always flouted. We worked hard to put things in place and he messed it up.
When he comes to do his budget presentation and state of the nation address, you will find that what he said never tallied with the budgeting.
For instance, that time, you can’t be saying my thrust is agriculture and then you are giving less than N100b to agric.
You can’t tell me that your thrust is health and you are giving more to defence than health. That’s not your thrust.
So, whatever you are saying in the state of the nation address must tally with what you have presented us.
So, largely, we now look at your address and say this is where he wants to go and we will help him get there.
We tweak the budget in a manner that will reflect the direction that he wants to go and we would want to see the system go and achieve that and we worked tirelessly to do that.
But when it comes to implementation, he will now become selective as to which ministry he is going to give funds. If you don’t get money, you can’t do anything.
We said, no, if we continue the process this way, we are going to get to a point where some of us that want to see Nigeria do well we won’t get there.
The second term he sought, we decided to ask him not to go.
So, we were called to a conference – all the appointees, ambassadors and legislators of the PDP – at the Yar’Adua Centre.
Audu Ogbeh was Chairman of the party at the time, and they selected people to speak and people spoke. I came up and summarized what every speaker said.
I said we are all going round in circles, we know what the problem is and we know where the problem is.
Mr. Chairman, please let us beg Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo not to run for second term in the interest of the country and in the interest of the party. There was an explosion of applause.
Everybody clapped for me and then the Chairman said to me to go and sit. I sat and that was the nail.
So, when it came to time for primaries, I said I won’t give them that pleasure of not seeking re-election, that I will go and I didn’t just want the people to ask in future that why didn’t I go for a second term, then I can tell them why.
I’m a fighter, they will hit me but I won’t go out of the way.
So, that was what happened. They just didn’t want me to return.
At some point you moved to ANPP?
It’s good to stand for something. Whatever anybody says, General Muhammadu Buhari is standing for something.
I was sitting in my house and watching the Congress of the ANPP on the TV and General Buhari emerged as the flag bearer then and the next thing I saw, he raised the hand of Chuba Okadigbo, the Oyi of Oyi, as his running mate. I said these are the people I’m going to follow.
I think I can work with them to get the Nigeria we want. So, that was how I decamped from the PDP to ANPP.
I remember the party was excited and they wanted to give me automatic ticket to run for the Senate. I said no. I didn’t come to run. I came to make sure that we tilt Nigeria in the direction that will yield the best.
That’s how I joined the presidential campaign team and we went everywhere. We went to Adamawa.
I refused to go on planes because I wanted to see what the road situation is and what the people, their lives, are like. So, we drove all the way to Adamawa.
After the loss, we went to court and I went back to my chambers. We did so many things in the main time.
How do you think your constituents will receive you now?
If you recall, they commissioned Abuja monorail some two months ago. I was invited and I attended.
I was the only Abuja based person in the train.All the chiefs and everybody were sitting out there.
They were prevented. These are people that practice politics here, they are the ones that keep the party buoyant.
They are eminent personalities that should be recognised at all opportunities.
So, I had to ask ‘you mean your politics here is that bad, that you are no longer recognized? What is the problem?’
So, they explained that one, the people representing them don’t come back after they are elected and things like that.
So, I felt that we have to have better representation. Politics must be better.
If it is the quality of representation that is causing this, then I’m ready to run.
Everybody knows that the Senatorial seat in Abuja is occupied by the opposition party.
So, the lacuna between governance at the top and the people in the FCT, the highest office you can aspire to here, is serious.
Even though it’s a legislative seat, you can use it to ensure you have better politics played locally. So, these were the things that really started agitating my mind.
Then I decided to go round, talk to people and get their feelings. I went to all the wards, spoke to all of them and the feedback I got was frightening to me too.
They complained and they were saying, you represented us well; why don’t you come out again.
Some of the aspirants over the years will tell me that when we go on tour, people tell them that if you promise to be like Senator Kairat Abdulrazaq who served us, then we will vote for you. All of that was what brought me out.
I said, okay, let me come, sacrifice and provide the platform where we can rise, win elections and play politics properly with better development, allow people to have their voices represented the way I should be represented.
Those who also believe in my ideas will work with me to achieve it. That’s why I came out.
What are you bringing to the table now, especially contesting against an opposition incumbent?
You must understand the FCT terrain because it varies.
If you say you are going to Kuje for instance, the Kuje Council, which is a local government is so huge that if you leave the metropolis and you want to go to a town called Kudun Kariya in Kuje, you have to go to Abaji first, you go to Nasarawa State, pass Nasarawa before you get to Kudun Kariya.
Kudun Kariya is Northeast of Abuja.
If we put road from Karshi, we open a roadway that will lead us to Kudun Kariya directly.
But because it’s not there, they have to traverse Gwagwalada, Kwali, Abaji, Nasarawa State, then back to Kuje.
Abuja is a very beautify terrain – if you like lush green area, go to Kwali side. It’s largely waterlogged and farming is very good in that side.
If you want where there is more waters or rivers, you go to Abaji. If you are going out of Abuja, once you hit Abaji town, there is a turning on the right that takes you to Kandagi.
By the time you get to a point during the raining season, I remember in those days, even up till now, the bridge is washed away.
So, those who are there cannot go to school because the teachers are on this side for the duration of that period.
They are cut away from us. How do you get development to them?
It is effective understanding of the terrain, the needs of the people and how you budget for it for effective development.