(culled by Nigerian Tribuney
Senator Esther Nenadi Usman is the senator representing Kaduna South Senatorial District in the Senate. She is a former Minister of State for Finance and later a substantive minister. She speaks with Northern Bureau Chief, Hassan Ibrahim, on her successes and challenges and why she feels winning the 2015 election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be easy. Excerpts:
Can you give us an account of your stewardship, especially your contributions to the development of your constituency?
I can say that I have empowered the youth in my area because I have been able to get employment for over 60 people in various offices, because I think my senatorial district should be well-represented in Federal Government agencies, ministries and departments. But that is that from the side of my constituency.
For my work in the Senate, I believe I have been able to put in my best to become a very effective committee chairman, and also I have sponsored a number of bills. My committee has worked on bills that have been sent to it, that were not sponsored by me but by some other people. We’ve worked on them; I believe they are waiting to be signed into law, because we’ve already done the conferencing.
When the Senate passes a bill, the House of Representatives would pass it, then both Houses would sit down as a conference committee, go through and harmonise, after which a clean copy is made. Then it is brought back to both Houses to go through, clean copies made and then it is sent out to the President to be assented to. So, I think both in terms of my work on the floor and also my work as a committee chairman, and the representation I need to give the Southern Kaduna people, I think I have given it a good shot. I think I have done my best and I thank God quite a number of people appreciate it, even though there are critics and people who would see otherwise. But majority are very appreciative which gladdens my heart.
In terms of presenting issues as they happen in my senatorial district, I have been able to do that. Since the 2007 elections, we’ve had bloodshed in the area and I have seized every opportunity that I had, to present that on the floor of the Senate and I believe that I have sensitised my colleagues enough about what is going on. I believe when people talk about Boko Haram in the Northeast, I think my senatorial district too should be given a lot of attention because life is life. A Nigerian life is a Nigerian life, be it in the Northeast or in Southern Kaduna. Whatever government can do to protect its citizens, I believe it should do and it is doing.
With all these, do you think your re-election would be as simple as ABCD?
Yes, it should be, I believe so.
You spoke about your activities, the bills that you sponsored in the Senate, what are the bills and how many people have benefitted from your empowerment programme. Again, people are calling for military barracks in your area, what are you doing about it?
I think for the empowerment programme, over 2000 youths benefited. It was in the speech I read the day I had my empowerment programme, it’s very comprehensive but I don’t have it here. The number of bills, I forgot to bring it today; I should have printed it out. Bills have long titles, short titles, it’s not something I can reel off, but it’s something I can send by e-mail. Even the ones that were sent to my committee to work on, I can send but I know the latest one I’m working on and it is the standard organisation bill.
It just seeks to strengthen the institution so it can be able to deliver on its mandate. You may recall that sometimes back, I worked on a bill, the National Sugar Development Council, I’m not sure if you are abreast with what is happening in the Senate. But we are done with that, even the conference committee has finished with that one. The others, I will make sure I pass the information to you through e-mail.
On the issue of the military barracks, the last time I checked, I was told it was in the budget last year or so, that a barracks was to be built in Southern Kaduna around Kafanchan area. But I haven’t quite followed it up in the last few months. I will try and do so to see if it is in the budget and if it is still going to be executed. But I think it’s not just the military barracks that would ensure peaceful co-existence.
We as a matter of policy must make up our minds that we want to live in peace with one another. Because we shouldn’t rely on the military to come and force us to live in peace with one another, irrespective of tribe, religion, we must make a conscious effort to live peacefully. I always tell people I’m a Christian, my husband is a Muslim. I have remained a Christian, my husband has remained a Muslim and I know there are people that have kept on criticising him that how can you have such a wife and not force her to become a Muslim? But he is okay with it.
I’m a pastor in my church. I think that is how we should live. Faith is in your heart, you just don’t practice religion with your lips. Your conduct and your relationship with God is what matter. If you talk about religion, just paying lip service and at the end, your conduct is just not near to God, I think you’ve lost it. So, I just want to use this medium to call on all citizens of Southern Kaduna, Kaduna State and in fact, Nigeria as a whole, we should try and look at ourselves as our brothers’ keeper.
Our tribes must certainly differ; we cannot all become one tribe. In Southern Kaduna, for example, we have over 60 tribes and I expect those 60 different tribes to live in peace with one another. We should be tolerant of one another. Because I’m a Christian, I should evangelise and wished everybody to be a Christian, anybody who is not a Christian, I cannot force them, I cannot hate them because of that. So, I think that should be the way it should.
You were the committee chairman on investment, what has your committee done in terms of paving way for business opportunities in the country, especially in the North, looking at the collapsed textile factories and other industries that have been comatose for years and what are you doing about displaced people in Sanga and Kaura area.
First, I want to briefly state the difference between the executive and the legislative arms of government. There are things only the executive can do; there are things only the legislature can do. As the legislature, what we do is to make laws. So, in making laws where we see there is a lacuna that exists in the present laws that would help in attracting investors into Nigeria, we work on that. But once we do that, the rest is left for the executive arm and we are not allowed to act as an executive because there is separation of powers. In terms of making laws that would attract, create level playing grounds, we have done everything we could because there are already existing laws. As I said, we only make amendments where there are gaps, which is why I mentioned the Nigeria Sugar Development Council Bill, which we’ve worked on and I believe that maybe next week, I will be given an opportunity to go through the second reading, present my lead debate on the amendment for the Standard Organisation Bill amendment.
In terms of the internally displaced persons, I’m sure that some of you were there during my visits to the place. But you see, I just want to make corrections. Those who claimed that I’ve never visited; they are not people who live where the incident happened. They either live in Kaduna, Abuja, and Lagos or somewhere out of the area. The people who were affected knew the number of times I have visited them. They know the quantity of relief materials I’ve taken there, the times when I went there and we prayed together, they are aware.
So, if you don’t live within the area and you said I have never visited, you cannot know, you are not God, you are not omnipresent. I think that I’m satisfied that the people who were affected, they have seen me, those who were present physically, they have also seen my assistance; they’ve also seen the effort I’m making to ensure that peace returns to that area. I’ve just been shown a speech that I made after gunmen attacked Attakar in my area, the palace of the chief.
For someone to sit down and say I never showed up, I want to thank God that some of you have even had cause to, on my behalf, cleared the air. When some people said she never went, they said but we were there, we saw and even interviewed her. So, the press even spoke on my behalf to clear the air, I’m very grateful for that. As I said, you can’t stop people from talking, as long as you do that which is right between you and God, just leave the rest.
There are so many aspirants jostling to unseat you in the Senate, what gives you the belief that you will return?
Yes, certainly there are many aspirants, if there are no aspirants coming out to contest against me, I will be afraid of the seat. I will feel there is something wrong with it. But I’m happy that many other people have seen my contributions, they have come out. I’m also happy that all the other aspirants that have come out, none have said that I’ve not been able to discharge my duties and function properly as a senator. That is just what gives me great joy. So, other sentiments are brought in, but in terms of performance, even my opponents, they give that to me. To God be the glory, I believe my re-election is going to be as easy as ABC because the people that I have served, they are there at the grassroots and they are appreciative of what I did. If people outside the zone said the contrary, those that I’ve done it for have seen and felt it. They are very happy. They are the ones advising me on what to do, I often receive pieces of advice from them and some visit me and we talk. We make plans on how to move ahead.
In an attempt to have peace in your area between the natives and the Fulani herdsmen, have you made attempts to see that the Fulani have permanent grazing grounds to stop encroachment into farmlands belonging to the natives?
Let me make a correction. It’s not just Fulani herdsmen bringing their cattle into people’s farmlands, no. There have been issues of cattle rustling as well, which I believe is even more serious than the issue of Fulani herdsmen bringing their cattle into people’s farmlands. If you remember, I don’t know how much you have tried to find out about the causes of what has been going on in Southern Kaduna. For example, the one that took place in Attakar wasn’t because Fulani herdsmen took their cattle into anybody’s farmland, no.
There is a certain man called Durusa, he is Attakar by tribe but he is a herdsman, he owns cattle. That man at one point was found dead and his cattle were stolen. The people in the area felt that for the cattle to be stolen and the man found dead, most probably they suspected it was the Fulani that killed him and took the cattle away. So, I’m just giving you this example to show you that it runs deeper than just grazing and all that.
As long as we have cattle rustling, the issue of even grazing becomes very minute. People have to be on the lookout, people have to watch it and it’s not just other tribes who own cattle that have lost the cattle. Even the Fulanis themselves, their cattle have been rustled. So, the issues are a bit complicated but I think having sat with the Fulanis and the other tribes together, sat with them separately, I think we have made a lot of headway. I think peace and normalcy would return and I believe peace would reign in the area.
This is because the issue is just for us to understand ourselves, to know that there is a common enemy that comes from outside. There are Fulanis in that area that were born there. They don’t know anywhere else and they speak our local languages more than some of us. As a Kagoro lady, there are some Kagoro words some Fulanis know which I don’t know. The same thing with the Bajju people, same with the Atyap and others. We can’t drive them away. The allegation is that the Fulanis who come, nobody knows where they are coming from. It may therefore mean that both the local Fulani man and the local tribes may have a common enemy that comes from somewhere. We need to find out where that person is coming from so that we can collectively team up and fight that outsider. But as I have said, we are doing all we can and this peace is going to be a lasting one.
What is the state of affairs in your home since the attack on your husband?
Thanks for asking after my husband. He is a very peace loving man with a high sense of humour and we’ve been married for 20 years .I have never seen him lift his hand to beat any kid. He is getting better, and to God be the glory, he will soon be well.