The Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, is representing Kebbi-South Senatorial District. He tells LEKE BAIYEWU about his journey into the National Assembly and his penchant for flying planes
You were in the House of Representatives and now in the Senate. What are the similarities and differences between the two chambers, beyond the constitutional placement of the two?
The difference is the ability to manage 360 members and the ability to manage 109 very senior citizens of the country in view of the fact that the Senate consists of former governors, former ministers, captains of industries and so on. In the House of Representatives member are vibrant people who are just starting life; you know how difficult it will be because they are more in number. The similarity of the two (chambers) is that members have a better understanding of the country. Most senators and representatives begin to know the country when they are elected into the National Assembly. They either follow their colleagues to different parts of the country for social functions or on committees’ oversight assignments.
In the metamorphosis of political governance, the senators and members of the House of Representatives will do better, if they have the opportunity to emerge as leaders of this country.
You are a lawyer and politician. How did you become a pilot?
I have a family of five, including my wife and three children. Only my wife does not fly (aircraft); the rest of us do fly. It is the choice of the family. We decided on what we wanted to do and helped each other to grow. The first person in the family to rise up and say ‘I want to fly plane’ was my second son, who is now a captain. His decision to fly took him to South Africa. My daughter – my last child – also decided that she wanted to fly and she is currently in a College of Aviation in the country. My first son later said he would fly after leaving the university in Manchester. He is now in the US flying. My second son, who happens to be the first person to follow the passion, is already flying for us in the (family) company. As the chairman of the company, I also fly single engine, double engine and instrument rating. So, all of us are pilots in the family, except their mother (his wife).
Does she have the common feeling that it is too risky for all other members of the family to be in the air in different places?
Unfortunately, the position is the contrary. Pilots will tell you that if they have the opportunity to fly from their bedroom to their toilet, they will rather do so because of the safety involved in flying. A lot of people don’t understand. Flying is one million times safer than any other means of transportation. If you know what is involved for an aircraft to leave the ground and fly, you will know that it is the safest way to live. We don’t see any risk in flying as pilots because whatever it takes for safety, you have been professionally trained to understand the issues. We’ve been able to convince her to understand the fact that there is virtually no reason not to fly.
Has she ever shown any interest in flying?
My wife on her own decided that she was not going to join us (to fly planes) and that she would rather remain on the ground and be praying for us. The same way anybody will believe it is risky is the same way she believes it is risky. At this stage now, she is beginning to understand that it is not a risky venture; it is something that is very fulfilling and safe, and she is comfortable with it. I think her happiness is the fact that any of us can take her up and bring her down in an aircraft. And, therefore, we provide her with the convenience of having to move around.
Do you still have the time to fly after becoming a senator?
I fly at least, three times every week. Let me be honest with you: any pilot, except if there are compelling reasons to be on the ground, will like to be in the air. We usually tell ourselves that somebody who wants to kill or gossip or backbite is on the ground but when you are flying, you are nearer to the Almighty, God of peace. We try as much as possible to let people know how safe it is to fly.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced as a lawmaker?
I have so far experienced two major challenges. First was when I made a contribution on the floor of the House of Representatives which was grossly misunderstood by the people. Many people concluded that I wanted all the Niger Delta people to be killed. But in their argument, I discovered that it was a misrepresentation of my presentation. The second one happened in the Senate, when I sponsored a bill called ‘Frivolous Petitions Prohibition Bill’, which was misinterpreted to be a bill against the social media without reading the content. Despite the fact that the Chief Justice of Nigeria said that the spirit and content of the bill was okay and necessary, Nigerians rejected it. I am happy that people are beginning to understand the fact that, in a way, if we leave that kind of sector unregulated, it can be injurious even to the growth of the country. I just read (Nobel Laureate, Professor) Wole Soyinka spitting fire over what somebody said about him on social media.
How do you spend your average day?
Normally, my wife wakes up earlier than me – by 4:30am, she is awake and will be praying. That will compel me to wake up by 5am and we will go for Subh (early morning prayer). If the whole family is available in the house, after the prayer, we will hold a meeting and agree on what to do about relations and those who need help. I can assure you that by 7am when I will be going down (the stairs), there will not be less than five or six persons waiting for me to talk to them – from the constituency or members of the family. After having my breakfast, I would go to the office. By 9:15am, I would be at the Senate President’s office to discuss what we are going to do on the floor of the chamber. By 10:30am, we would be in the chamber and close by 2pm. By that time, we have people waiting for us at the office and by the time I finish attending to the people, it is going to be around 6pm. There will be those who have tried their best to enter the National Assembly Complex for one reason or the other but because there was no appointment, they were stopped at the gate. They will then go and wait for me in my house. Once I leave the office by 6pm, I will hold the Magrib (evening prayer) and start attending to the people. The earliest I go to bed would be between 12midnight and 1am. By 5am, I am up again.
Does it mean you don’t have a social life?
It is not easy. I don’t have a social life. In fact, I can tell you that I hardly even have the time to go and do the normal (physical) exercises that I am used to. It is really very challenging.
Source: Punch Newspaper