Hon. Beni Lar represents Langtang North/South Federal Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives and is the Chairman, Committee on Science and Technology. In this interview with PHILIP NYAM, the daughter of ex- Plateau State governor and former National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Solomon Lar, who is a fourth-time lawmaker speaks on Nigeria’s 60th Independence, police reforms, women participation in politics and other national issues
Nigeria is 60 as a nation. What do you make of this milestone?
Thank you for having me at this auspicious time in our history. Nigeria at 60 means a lot to me. We have a lot to celebrate as a nation. We had at independence the spirit of nationhood and patriotism that our fathers and forefathers fought hard to bring about democracy and emancipation of every Nigerian, and most importantly to get Nigerians believe in their own country and run their affairs. I think we have done very well as a nation. Nigeria is well respected in the comity of nations especially in West Africa where we have been performing a significant role in promoting and defending democracy. You can see the intervention of Nigeria in what is happening in Mali.
On the continent, we are the most powerful nation in Africa. And for us to have attained this in spite of all our challenges, I think we have done immensely well as a nation.
We are a country of about 200 million people and it is not easy for 200 million people from diverse ethnicity, different backgrounds and religions to live together. But we have done it successfully and that shows that we can do greater things as a nation if we want to. We only had one civil war and I know that we will never experience another war again by the grace of God.
And by the grace of God we will never experience a coup de’tat again in Nigeria. All that has passed and we have grown and mature as a nation. We have now known that democratic norms and values are the only way to survive as a nation, to thrive and also excel in the international community. So, we have imbibed the right values and I am very happy and proud of Nigeria at 60. As a lawmaker, I would say we have put in a lot.
The legislature from 1999 is largely responsible for the stability we see in the democratic experience, which we call Nigeria today. Without the legislature, most of the accomplishments of many governments would not have been possible. I will give credit to the legislature for the bills passed, for intervening when the nation is about going into any crisis, like we saw recently with the electricity tariff, the NLC/ TUC strike etc.
Since 1999, every government whether it is that of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan or Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, we have shown that the synergy between the legislature and executive is very important for democracy to thrive and I think the legislature has done well.
From your narration, are you satisfied with the synergy between the legislature and executive?
Yes, I am satisfied with the synergy between the executive and the legislature. The synergy has shown that together critical bills such as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and many other bills that touched directly on the lives of Nigerians will be passed.
This does not mean that we have jettisoned our responsibility of oversight because we have strengthened budget implementation and carried out investigation into critical sectors of government. But most importantly, we have been able to set a guide and direction for the government and that is why we have been intervening in so many aspects of governance where our help is needed.
As Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, would you say Nigeria is really on course for a technological breakthrough?
You have seen that Nigeria has been promoting its homegrown technology. I can tell you that we have a lot of homegrown technology that is out there in the market. Even just yesterday, you heard in the news that molecular test kits are being produced in Nigeria for testing against the coronavirus. PPE is also being produced by the Raw Materials Research and Development Council. Unfortunately, the Nigerian economy has been too dependent on importation of goods and foreign parts. That is why we have been the proponents of home-grown technology, production of our own parts. Apart from Innoson Motors, there are very many automobile companies and innovators and Nigerians who produce computers and other accessories. The agro-processing machines which are being produced in Nigeria and better than the imported ones. Therefore, we are now focusing more on home-grown technology so that we do not continue importing what we don’t need. I think we are doing very well although there is the challenge of linking up the research and the businesses. But we are trying to do that so that more businesses will be patronised and there will be less concentration on imported stuff.
The nation is battling with issues of insecurity and there is clamour for restructuring, fiscal federalism and st
ate police. What are your thoughts on these? I think one of the major achievements of this government is the signing into law of the Police Reform Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari. When this insecurity started in Plateau, we made case for state police because we realised that the federal police cannot effectively police the 774 local government areas in the country. In fact, asking them to do so amounts to asking for too much. For example, in one of the local governments in my constituency, we have just about 12 policemen.
The other local government does not have up to 20 policemen. So, you can see that the federal police do not even have the manpower. I am happy that with the reform law, state can now take control of police on their own. But I want to charge the governors not to politicise the police. Let the police be strictly there to tackle issues of crime and insecurity. We have to be very careful not to use the state police for personal gains.
Let the state assemblies also do their job. As for fiscal federalism and resources control, I wouldn’t want to talk on that.
As a legislator who has been in the National Assembly for over 15 years, what would you say is the missing link in the parliament?
I think what is missing is lack of unity. Nigerians need to have the spirit of nationhood that our fathers and forefathers had. Whether you are Ibo, Hausa, Yoruba, Tiv, Ijaw, Igala or Berom we have to be tolerant of one another. For example, I am Tarok and because you speak a different language does not mean I should hate you or discriminate against you. We must instill the spirit of oneness and patriotism.
Borrowing from the words of JF Kennedy, let us start asking for what we can do for the nation and not only what the country can do for us. We should start thinking of how to grow this country. America is great today because of that spirit of nationhood – every American believes in America; but does every Nigerian believe in Nigeria?
That’s the only thing that will make us great- getting back our spirit of nationhood and then all other problems such as insecurity, poverty, corruption will be taken care of.
The senatorial by-election in Plateau South District is around the corner. Do you think the PDP stands any chance in the election?
I would say the PDP has a very experienced politician as a candidate in that election. He was speaker of the State Assembly; he was in the House of Representatives and he is currently the Chief of Staff to the Minority Leader.
So, he is eminently qualified and I think we have presented our people with the best. I believe the people of the senatorial zone will chose for themselves the best candidate. I think the senatorial zone belongs to the PDP and by the special of God, we will come out victorious at the end of the election. But whoever wins the election must remember to serve the people- whether PDP or APC, the ultimate is service to the people.
The first obligation of an elected person is to improve the lives of the people of Plateau South senatorial district. We have a very rich agrarian community and we can feed the whole of Africa, if it is properly harnessed. So, we need to come up with innovative ways to get the government intervention in agriculture, healthcare and other critical areas.
The number of women elected to the National Assembly has continued to drop with each election. Besides, no woman has ever been a presiding officer except Hon. Patricia Etteh who was Speaker of the House for barely four months. What do you think is responsible for this?
I think I should be the one asking you this question because you are a man. At least, you will tell me why men are always stopping women from getting elective offices. Actually, women face both traditional barriers and financial challenges. Politics in Nigeria is a very tough terrain and most women are not financially equipped to run and sustain the tempo.
One needs to fight to get there – you have to spend resources in mobilising the electorate. You also have to gain the confidence of the society and a lot of women are shy to be actively involved in community activities and sometimes, women who want to participate are even prohibited or banned due to traditional encumbrances.
We have been trying to get the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill that will give women more chances passed into law; the law that will make it possible for political parties to reserve 30 per cent of positions for women. I was in Egypt for the Afro-Arab Parliament Conference and I discovered that the Egyptian Parliament had over 30 per cent women. I asked them how they were able to do it and they told me, they were planning to even increase it because women perform better when given assignments
But here, since I came to the House in 2007, from when I was Chairman of the Committee on Women’s Affairs and later Human Rights, we have been trying to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill. We even changed the name of the bill trying to see how we can give women more opportunities. If only my male colleagues would allow us to have this bill. I would like the media to also key into this advocacy and talk to the male lawmakers to allow this bill to scale through, so we can have more women in the House of Reps, Senate, state assemblies and as governors
. It is a shame that both the APC and PDP have not given women in this country the 30 per cent allocation. I think all parties should take a second look at this.
With the challenges you have enumerated, how have you been able to defeat men in the Lantang North/South Constituency since 2007?
I think I have a unique constituency. Our people don’t see me based on gender.
And it will interest you to know that our constituency has produced two female members of the state assembly and we also have female councilors. In the senatorial zone, we have Mrs. Pauline Tallen, the Minister for Women Affairs and we now have a woman running for the senatorial seat.
So, my constituents have been very supportive and without their support, it would have been difficult for me. Although, I lost the first election I contested because at that time, they didn’t actually know me. But the moment I connected with them, it has been a wonderful experience. In fact, the men are the ones supporting me the more.
Therefore, it is good for women to try to get the confidence of men in their localities. It also depends on how you touch the lives of the people in your constituency. I have touched the lives of my constituents through youth empowerment, education, infrastructure development and intervening when there is crisis. All these help me in connecting with the people.
So, when you connect with the people, they always look out for you.
As the daughter of a former governor, former minister and ex- National Chairman of the PDP, how does this affect you politically?
I think it makes people expect more of me and I also try to live up to my father’s vision, which was about the people. I wanted to be like him when I was growing up although I discovered I couldn’t be even a quarter of him. He started as a councilor; he was in the parliament.
So, I went into politics to see if I could emulate him. But one thing I admire about my father was that he was brave. He fought for Nigeria especially this current democracy and independence we are enjoying today.
. It was my father that mobilised politicians to come together and form the G-18 to confront General Sani Abacha, asking him to handover and go. My father delivered the letter to Abacha. And remember, my dad was a governor under the NPP, whose slogan was “Power to the People”.
So, he alongside other progressives like Abubakar Rimi revived it and formed the PDP. My father also did a lot during the June 12 struggle. It was my father who went to England and asked Chief MKO Abiola to come back and claim his mandate.
I remember very vividly because Abiola came to our house and my father told him “don’t stay in England, your mandate is in Nigeria, go back and fight to claim this mandate”. Unfortunately, Abiola died in the process. Because of my father’s influence, two significant national conventions were held in Jos. But sometimes, I feel really sad that he (Lar) has not been immortalised.
During the joint valedictory session held in his honour at the National Assembly under Senator David Mark and Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, it was resolved that the Federal Government should name an institution after him and the state government also promised to do same. But nothing has been done about it.
They often say the labour of our heroes past should not be in vain, but I often wonder why my father who fought for democracy we are enjoying today has not got his due. I think we should learn to remember the labour of our heroes past and shouldn’t discriminate against anyone.
The National Assembly is in the process of reviewing the constitution again. What areas do you think should be given priority?
The specific area I would want to be given attention is the gender issue- the 35 per cent affirmative action. I think the National Assembly should make a mark because it has never been done in the life of this nation. Let our women join the league of women from other parts of the world.
Let us give our women a voice; let’s empower our women politically and economically. If the 9th Assembly does this, it will go down in history as the most gender-friendly assembly and I will be very to be part of this history