Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who represents Lagos East District in the Senate, spoke with The Nation’s Emmanuel Oladesu on his achievements in the Upper Chamber, his re-election bid and other partisan issues.
What would you describe as your most laudable achievements in the Eighth Assembly?
I am sure by now you are aware that in the Eighth Senate, I am privileged to serve as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport. This means that I oversight the Ministry of Transportation in the area of Mass Transit and most importantly in the aspect of rail transportation.
This has given me the opportunity to stand in the gap for the Federal Government of Nigeria ably led by President Muhamadu Buhari to ensure that the rail re-vitalization master plan of this administration is solidly defended and always on course through the way of constant ease of justified appropriation for our counterpart funding for the to main projects which are – the Lagos to Kano Rail Modernization Project and the Calabar to Lagos Coastal Rail projects.
Also, in my capacity, I have also made sure that every relevant legislative intervention necessary for the actualization of a new rail network across the country on the narrow tracks have been successful.
Furthermore, I am not only looking at the task of today which is to lay the tracks across the country, I have led the Senate Committee on Land Transport to midwife the passage of two critical legislations that would guarantee the continued transformation of this very critical sector of our economy. These are the Railway Bill and the National Transport Commission Bill which was passed earlier this year. These bills open up the Rail industry to private participation and makes it attractive for local and foreign investments.
Another critical intervention by way of a Legacy Bill, which I sponsored and has been passed by the Senate is the NIPOST REFORM Bill. This also repositions the Nigerian Postal Service and brings it in line with international contemporary ideals. This Bill apart from further opening up the logistics and courier sectors also guarantees a wider financial inclusion for all Nigerians. On this score I must also commend the effort pof my friend and brother the Post Master General of Nigeria, Basrrister Bisi Adegbuyi who is the proponent of the Bill.
And lastly the Motion on the imminent collapse of the 3rd Mainland Bridge which I moved in the Seventh Assembly. I am glad that this motion led to the periodic maintenance which the bridge now enjoys, thereby giving it a new lease of life and making it safer for the thousands of Lagosians that ply that route on a daily basis.
So, I would consider these as probably the most impactful work I have been able to drive through and deliver to the generality of Nigerians as far as bills are concerned.
What would you consider the impact of your work in the Eighth Senate on your constituents in particular?
Like I said earlier, on the rail interventions alone, there are two sides to your question. The rail revitalisation projects going on across the country will affect the lives of each and every Nigerian. Firstly, considering the magnitude of the construction and investment going on in that sector, thousands of direct and indirect jobs have been created for the generality of Nigerians. Secondly, according to the Honourable minister for Transportation, the Lagos to Ibadan bit of the project alone would generate a conservative estimate of 7000 jobs. This is massive. Note that it starts from Lagos so a lot of Lagosians are benefitting from the jobs created by this project. Secondly, the Calabar to Lagos Coastal Rail line which is about to be commenced would run through Epe and Ibeju Lekki in Lagos East Senatorial District. This would open up these communities, improve the agricultural potentials the economic potentials of this communities as well. Also don’t forget that this is coming to complement the free trade zone in Ibeju Lekki as well.
Also, in the area of critical road infrastructure, I was able to facilitate the award of the ongoing rehabilitation of the Ikorodu – Shagamu road which was only recently embarked upon by the Federal Government of Nigeria. This project has been top on my agenda since the inception of this administration and as such I ensured that I had regular correspondence with the Minister for Power Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola to ensure that the Government prioritised the project. On a lighter note, at some point when my pressure had become too much, he instructed the Permanent Secretary to write me a letter assuring me that the project had been prioritised.
In the past eight years I have equally committed myself to delivering constituency intervention projects that have been tailored to the needs of the people in various communities. These projects have been based on their requests through my constituency office and town hall engagements as well. Some of my projects include, construction of classrooms in schools in every local government area in the district, construction of ICT centers, boreholes across the district, transformers/rural electrification projects, entrepreneurship capacity development trainings for constituents across board, free healthcare initiatives, annual back to school programs for children in schools across the district, and constant town hall meetings.
You will be contesting for the third term. What inspires you?
Honestly, I’m inspired by the concept of service as well as the trust that the people have reposed in me to serve them in the past and even for the future. For the most part, I have always been in service of Lagos State and by extension Nigeria. I started from the Local Government Administration many years ago, through my leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, I was able to also serve in the state Government meritoriously in various capacities till 2011 when I once again got the call of the people to represent them at that level. I do not take this for granted and as long as the people continue to express their resolve that I be their voice at the National level, I would continue to heed their call.
On a personal note, I derive satisfaction from looking back and reviewing what we have been able to contribute towards advancing the course of human and infrastructural development in Lagos State and Nigeria. I also appreciate the opportunity to mentor young people who are willing to serve as well. My team is made up of young people and I am glad that I am able to give them the opportunity to experience Governance first hand.
Many people would be asking why you don’t yield the floor for someone else?
Most importantly I must say that the power and the mandate remain with the people and I thank the good people of Lagos East for renewing their trust in me by asking me in their numbers to proceed with the representation for another term.
It is important that people realise that the constitution encourages legislators to stay as long as possible in the legislature and mature in the art of entrenchment of democratic principles and values. It is infact foundational to international parliamentary ethos. The Legislature is the heart of democracy and that is why nations the world over do not prescribe term limits. So, that you will have people who are seasoned in guiding the conscience of the nation and people who have faced different issues of National importance.
If you do a comparative analysis with the legislature in the United States, the late Senior Senator from Arizona, USA who just passed away Senator John Mc Cain spent almost 4 decades in the legislature before his passing. The late Ted Kennedy spent about 47 years in the Senate of the United States of America till his passing in 2009, the list of international figures that have lived a life of service in the legislature is almost in-exhaustive. I am not saying I want to spend the rest of my life in the Nigerian Senate, No. However, I thought it necessary to disabuse the minds of people against the concept of a term limit in the legislature.
Further to the above, I believe that the content of character and the content of work done must also be a standard of reference. I received the batton from my friend and brother Distinguished Senator Olorunimbe Mamora, who did outstandingly well and I have ensured to build constructively on that towering representation with the quality of representation I have continued to uphold. We are the center of excellence, we cannot afford to deliver for Lagos anything short of that and to role model that for other states as well.
Consequently, the older you get in the legislature the easier it becomes to attract the attention of the Federal Government towards the state or district you represent. Lagos State, despite its size is a microcosm of Nigeria. With our very large and diverse population, we sure deserve a lot more from the Federal Government. I know that we are inching closer to achieving a better deal for Lagos State from the Federal Government and as such, I believe that the experience I have garnered and with the resolute resolve of my colleagues from Lagos State, we should be able to achieve this in the no distant future.
It seems there are a lot of contestants running for your seat. Why do you think this is so?
What is a race without contestants? However, it is also important that we realise that in order to win a race you must have put in a lot of practice and whoever has trained the best and runs within the rules of the race usually emerges the winner. This is of course in the absence of unforeseen and untoward events.
Having said that, I welcome all my brothers into the race, we are members of the same party and at the end of the day we are all hoping to convince the members of our party that we are the best to represent them. As for me, my track record is clear and still available to serve. I am with my constituents, they have seen what we have achieved together over the years and just as our theme suggests, together we can do more!
Guess what I think would be interesting? I think the press ought to challenge the contestants in the race for the Senate to a public debate. Let us articulate our views on relevant issues to the people.
What is your relationship with the leadership of the party?
My relationship with the leadership of our party remains in pristine condition from our highly revered leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu under whom I have served for almost 20 years, to the State and the ward level in Ibeju Lekki Where I come. The relationship is solid.
I have remained a loyal party man, loyal to the progressive ideals of our party in Lagos State and committed to the advancement of those ideals. I have always remained within the same political family because I am a man of core convictions. I believe in ideological politics and as such you wouldn’t find me moving from pillar to post.