Senator Nicholas Tofowomo is representing Ondo South District. He had hardly resumed plenary when he had a terrible accident that almost cost him his life. Still in crutches, Tofowomo told Osagie Otabor that Nigerians should show understanding if electoral promises are not achieved due to COVID-19 pandemic
You are new in the Senate. What has been your experience?
When I resumed, my anticipation was very high, but I was there for two and half months before I had an accident. The accident derailed my plan and gave me some set back. I am trying to get myself back. The Senate is partisan and that is unfortunate for Nigeria. We from the minority party have to struggle. The Senate President however, changed the atmosphere. He said we should put our partisanship aside and work as Nigerians. We are working for Nigerians. The slogan is that we must move Nigeria forward. Let us work together and lift this country. At times, the public will say they are not happy with us because we have not be tough enough. They believe we should have been screwing the federal government so that solidarity with party will prevail. A lot of bills and motions have been passed which I contributed to significantly. Before the accident, I had prepared a motion which I will still push any moment from now. The motion is on illegal parking on our highways which is bad. Immediately you leave this country, you will see the beauty of highways. Our roads are operating like markets. The motion will help reduce accident. When I can walk fully I will put the motion in place. As soon as I resumed I realized that it would not be a one man job at the Senate. I had to engage some members of the PDP. Some people have been in the PDP without getting anything so I tried to engage them by creating jobs for them. I have created about 95 jobs. I give them money. The least paid receive N50,000 while the highest is N200,000. Every month I give out about N8m from my salary to pay them. I am using it to assist members of our party. Some will collect N50,000 and give N25,000 to the party. They are spreading it and it has been okay. I am planning to build a constituency office. I have bought the land. It is at Ore. I see Ore as the centre of Ondo South. I wan to have the constituency office as soon as possible but the accident gave me some set back. The constituency office is where I will be able to meet with the people, assist them and listen to them. I have been able to help some to get jobs by writing to different agencies from my sick bed. I have a good team working with me. I operate my team as a family. I bring them together. By the time I am fully fit, we will start on again.
How long were you away from the Senate?
I was away for four months.
How do you described the experience?
When you are in hospital bed for more than three months, it is very challenging. I was struggling to survive because in the room I was, it got to a point I was very scared. At times five people will die in a day and I will be asking myself if I will not be the next. God helped me and my supporters were nice. They prayed for me everywhere and everyday.I believed it was their prayers that saved me. The accident was terrible. One person, the lady that sat beside me, died in the accident. It was very challenging. I had a broken right leg but it is now okay. The operation I undergone was successful.
What should your constituents now expect from you?
I have some projects I was working on. I want to help people in the villages in terms of opening up their roads. I will improve on job creation. I will go back to my electoral promises. There are people I promised to provide water, schools, I will have to do those things. I will be accessible. I want to empower my people. I am doing party empowerment now but I want to extend it to the people and reach out to as many people as I can empower. There is a website through which I interact with members of my constituents.
What do you think about constituency projects?
Lawmakers are given constituency projects of about N200m annually. They have given us this year but it has not been approved but we have filled the form up and waiting for next action. But with this present corona virus and the current situation of the country I doubt if the projects will be executed. The money to be spent is coming from the federal government. The federal government is in a mess now because price of crude oil has gone down badly. As soon as the corona virus thing is over, there will be recession. If there is recession, it will affect everybody. I don’t want to raise my hope when I know that it is money that will do all those things I outlined. If there is recession, I won’t be able to do much about constituency projects. If there is no recession, what I planned is to help some communities with transformers and boost power supply. There are some areas, they want solar powered street lights. There are areas, they don’t have access to mobile network. Before the accident, I was in talks with Glo mobile,and they said when they are ready they will call me. The accident has not made me to do follow up. At Ilaje, I promised to provide them with water and I will do it.
Do you think Nigerians will listen to COVID-19 as an excuse for non-performance?
Everybody is seeing what is happening now. Their eyes are open. In the last one month, I am sure the country had not made $100m from sale of crude oil. We depend on what we sell. The President is trying to borrow money but there is no guarantee he will get the money. It is better to be practical. If money comes I will function. If money does not come, we will make the people see reasons. America is already in recession. Italy is in trouble. Look at the whole of West Africa. They want financial institutions to write off their loans. If it will be successful, we don’t know. With these COVID-19, many economies have been wrecked and Nigeria is not in exception. The price of crude is now below $10 and our budget was prepared with $57 benchmark. What miracle are we going to do? If the miracle comes, I will do whatever I promised to do. Nigerians should not expect much this year. Federal government is trying to little pthings to see what they can achieve. We are in a mess and this COVID-19 has battered countries. Look to some stores, you cannot find some food stuff they used to import. You cannot find them.
How prepared is the PDP for the governorship election?
We have many governorship aspirants and they are running everywhere for support. The party has been successful in conducting ward elections. What is remaining in Ondo is the State Executive. As the Senator representing Ondo South and I have looked at the geometric. A Governor came from Ondo Central and spent eight years. The Governor from the North is still there. In the next election, the PDP should put resources together and pick a candidate from the South. If we pick a good candidate from the South it will be in the interest of the party. It is not just to go into elections without doing our homework properly. People are watching. The governorship should swing to the South. If a place has had eight years opportunity, they cannot say they want to have another four years at the detriment of other zones. If the party does not take cognisance of that, it may affect us at the polls but if we put that properly, the PDP will form the next government because in the last election, PDP won the presidential election in Ondo State. Those people that voted are still alive. It will be easy to repeat that victory by choosing a candidate from the South.
Some members are saying the PDP is weakened in the state due to the current structure…
What do they mean by weak? The party is not in government and it cannot do local environment. We have two Senators and three members of the House of Representatives. The APC rallied round and took over from us. Now we are rallying round and talking to ourselves. People are leaving the APC for the PDP. The records are there. We cannot function like State government because it is expensive. The PDP is ground. We hold meetings regularly. The enthusiasm is there and there is no fight. When a party is in opposition and there is no fight, it is a positive sign. If we can manage our primaries properly we will take over government.
Some members are kicking zoning to the South…
Those people saying it is the turn of the North are very small compared to the majority clamoring for governorship from the South. If you have time to sample opinion you will see that the South has 70 percent. Nobody is coming out from the Central because Mimiko was there for eight years. If the South emerged, it will balance the equation. I am appealing that we should not fight each for the governorship ticket. It will make the election easy if we came together to back a candidate. We should make the governorship primaries go smoothly. If we go to the primaries with three or four aspirants and all of them lost out it will be a big fight. That will kill the party in the South. We cannot afford to kill the party there because PDP is strongest in the South. It is obvious the PDP will win the governorship election. The results the PDP gathered in the South during the presidential election is far higher than what the two others got. That margin was a heavy margin. If we can manage ourselves without fighting.
Many Nigerians believe bills and motions do not reflect in their lives…
That is because of poverty. Without motions and bills, government cannot operate. We need it as a driving force, but because poverty has beclouded people’s way of reasoning, they thought the bills are useless. There are agricultural bills that has benefitted many people. There are bills that encouraged people to take loans. The bills and motions give meaning to life and conduct of the country.
What is your views on the fight against COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a national crisis. When that thing started in China, they could have closed down our airports. There should have been proper checks at the airports. We left our airports open for so long. Leaving our airport opened caused this problem. The system has failed. Federal government did not tackle it from the onset. If we had done that what is happening now will not happen. It is the federal government that should be held responsible for not tackling it well. In Ondo, there is nothing Akeredolu can do expect the little he could do. The federal government takes 52 percent from the allocation and it should have taken action at the right time.