The lawmaker representing Yagba-East/Yagba-West/Mopamuro Federal Constituency of Kogi State, Sunday Karimi in this interview with JOHN AMEH, shares his experiences as a lawmaker
How do spend your leisure time?
I attend ceremonies like weddings, funerals and a lot of other social events. At weekends, I watch mainly English Premiership League and La Liga on television. I listen to the news when I am at home. I take my time to go the gym too and I do a lot of exercises.
Are you a fan of a particular EPL team?
Yes, for decades, I have been supporting Arsenal and I remain a dedicated supporter of that team.
You must be saddened that again, Arsenal are unable to win the league?
In the last 20 years, Arsenal has always qualified for the Champions League. To qualify, you have to reach the first four to five on the premiership table. This year, we are not likely to be in the top four. It is no longer in our hands because if Liverpool wins their last game, we are out of it. Besides, we have to win our two remaining games. So, for the first time in the last 20 years, we are not likely to be there.
Inside the House, your colleagues think that you like moving controversial motions. Why?
It depends on how they see my motions. To me, they are not controversial at all. My bills and motions address specific issues confronting our nation. I am a very bold parliamentarian, who will speak my mind. I will not think that maybe a godfather or maybe one governor somewhere will intimidate me, no. I speak the truth and I speak for the common people, to address their needs. Most members don’t speak on issues that will hurt their governors; I am not the type.
Why did you move a motion to probe the handling of the bailout the Federal Government offered the states to pay salaries?
If you look critically at the motion, was it controversial? No. When President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated as president, he saw the need to arrange bailout for the states. Many of them owed arrears of salaries and pensioners were dying as well. Take note that the bailout is not free; the beneficiary states will later refund the money. But, what we saw was that some states took the money and there has been nothing to show for it. For example, Kogi State took the money. Our former governor, Idris Wada, of the Peoples Democratic Party, applied for the money but due to politics, it was released to the present man (Yahaya Bello), who has failed to pay the salaries of workers. He has been doing screening repeatedly since he came to power, but not paying salaries. How do you tell people who served and have retired over 15 years that they were not properly recruited? Workers and pensioners are dying in Kogi State. 16 months of salary arrears are owed. Do you call such a motion controversial?
That is part of the serious problems we are facing here. I receive countless telephone calls and text messages from constituents. All they are asking is to assist them. There are many demands from such constituents, such as paying for hospital bills, school fees and feeding money.
All these demands are transferred to us the lawmakers when people work for 16 months without salaries. I am neither a magician nor God; I can’t meet everybody’s needs. If these people are paid their entitlements, it will at least reduce the burden on people like us.
Is this why many Kogi lawmakers seem to have issues with Governor Bello?
He is the luckiest governor in Nigeria, if not in the whole world. This young man contested the primary with the late Governor Abubakar Audu and came second. He later refused to work with Audu and the All Progressives Congress. Rather, he worked with PDP. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favour. That Bello, who did not take part in an election, became the governor. Audu’s election that they claimed was inconclusive was actually concluded. Audu would have been the governor were he to be alive. But, Bello has mismanaged his luck by turning himself into an enemy of the people. He runs the state with an iron fist now.
Why did the National Assembly increase its budget to N125bn from N115bn?
Let us look at the justification in the increase. Before now, the benchmark for the oil price was raised by $2. That implied increase in revenue to around N130bn. Based on the briefing we received, the executive and the leadership of the National Assembly sat and agreed on how to spend the increase in revenue. It was agreed that roads would get over N30bn; the executive took over N40bn; judiciary took their share too, out of the over N130bn. Only N10bn came to the National Assembly. Remember that our budget used to be N150bn and it was cut to N115bn. So, what the National Assembly took out of the over 130bn is less than seven per cent. It was distributed to all arms of government, not only National Assembly.
But, this is supposed to be the era of reducing cost of governance.
Our budget was slashed from N150bn to N115bn; that was part of reducing cost. That was also because the price of crude oil reduced to around $30. It is now above $50. So, the justification for increasing the benchmark by $2 to bring it from $42.5 to $44.5, is the gain we have lately.
What is your favourite meal?
(Laughs) Do I really have one? Okay, it is rice, either jollof, white or fried rice. I eat rice a lot. It used to be pounded yam, but these days I have reduced it.
How have you fared in marriage?
You know, my wife and I understand each other a lot. She doesn’t go out partying, just like I don’t. As Christians, there is a lot of moderation in what we do. After all these things, our focus is to make heaven.
Is there any special thing your mates will remember you for in your school days?
I was very active in the students’ union activities. I did not contest positions, but I was the campaign manager for others. There were other social activities though, like being in the palm wine drinkers’ club; doing a lot of social activities in school. I am bit reserved now.
What unique name or names were you called in school?
I didn’t have any in the higher institutions. Maybe when I was in the secondary school; yes, they called me ‘skin’, this was because I was very tiny in school. I didn’t have much flesh.