Sunday Karimi is the APC senatorial candidate for Kogi West in the 2023 general elections. He won election to the House of Representatives in 2011 and got re-elected in 2015. He speaks with Gbenga Odogun on federal power decentralisation, tax waiver for projects, need for constitutional amendment and others
You have represented your people for two terms in the House of Representatives. Your achievements are well documented. Why are you running the Senate race in Kogi West, and what point are you trying to prove this time round?
There is this popular parable that says that charity begins at home. I won the election to represent my federal constituency in 2011, and I won again in 2015.
So, I represented them for eight years in the House of Representatives. In those eight years, there was no community in the 34 wards of the constituency that did not feel my positive impact. To the glory of God, during those eight years, if you travel all over Yagbaland, there is no community, location, or settlement where you will not find my footprint.
What I did in my federal constituency, I want to replicate and surpass in the Kogi West Senatorial District. I want to create infrastructural development that will take our people out of their present predicament. For instance, let us look at the road that connects Lokoja to Abuja. That road was awarded in 2003, but up until now it has not been completed. Look at the flooding that is currently ravaging that road; there is a need to take a more critical look at it. We need to meet with the federal government and discuss it. This has been twelve years, and yet the road has not been completed. There must be an end to it, and that end must bring the road to completion.
Consider the rivers Niger and Benue, which have caused unprecedented flooding. There is a need for proper dredging of the confluence to accommodate the huge volume of water being released along this axis. Outside of this, there is a need to build an embankment to push the water back so that it does not split over and cause the devastation that we are seeing now. It happened in 2012, and exactly ten years later, we are witnessing another one that is even more devastating than the one of 2012. Many lives have been lost. Properties have been destroyed. Farmlands were ruined, and many people were rendered homeless. I really sympathise with those affected. These are the areas where good representation is needed so that one can work with the state government to offer a lasting solution.
Look at our road from Kabba-Mopa-Isanlu-Egbe to Ilorin. The contract for the re-construction and rehabilitation of this road was awarded in 2014. The contractors left in December 2014, and up until now, they have not returned to the site. Can we say now that the contract is still valid?
How do you plan to salvage this terrible situation if you win the election?
We have to look at the options available to us as a people, because what is obvious now is that the Federal Government is being saddled with so many responsibilities to the extent that I don’t think they can bear everything. So, we can consider a concession arrangement or tax waiver, as the Federal Government did for Dangote on the Obajana-Kabba section of the Federal Road. The Kabba-Ilorin Road is too critical for our people, and we cannot just continue to look at them suffering like this on that road. We need to do something about it, and that will be one of my first priorities when God gives us victory in 2023.
What do you have to say about the present political arrangements in the country?
The form or system of government we are operating in Nigeria is not helping us get things done as well as it ought to today. As it is today, power is too concentrated in the centre, and everybody must come to the centre and beg for food. So as to reduce this concentration on the centre, power must be devolved and decentralised to states and local governments. If we have this decentralisation, it will address the issues of unemployment, youth restlessness, crime, and criminalities, as well as relieve the federal government of many of these burdens.
But to achieve this, there must be an amendment to the First Schedule of our Constitution, in which the state assemblies will be autonomous in funding and not controlled by the state governments. This will give them the confidence to carry out executive oversight functions. That is why the National Assembly is different because it has its own budget and is not subjected to the control of the executive arm; that is why it has the power to do what it is doing today. If we have that for our state assemblies and local governments, it will help to attract quality development so that our local governments can embark on projects on their own, such as developing rural roads, providing water, and so on. Every problem in Nigeria is local, so local governments can deal with these issues better.
Today, kidnapping is extremely common. If we have a state police system, those involved cannot succeed in the manner in which they carry on like this. We need a serious constitutional amendment to this first schedule of the constitution so that we can get out of these woes, and these are issues I hope to canvass and get done when we get there by the grace of God.
You can see that I am so passionate about this Kabba-Ilorin road because it holds so much for us as a people, and revenue must be generated to maintain it even when it is completed.
One of the greatest challenges we have is that people are not paying for the use of the roads, and that is not done anywhere. There is nowhere in the world where you can just drive on the roads freely. No matter how little, revenue must be generated to ensure the roads are maintained. We must not deceive ourselves about that. The federal government awards contracts every time without funding those projects.
How can a nation run like that, and how can we develop like that? The government must be run properly before it can have good and lasting effects on the people.
So, if these roads are ceded to state governments, they will be properly maintained. Particularly, through partnerships with development agencies, they will generate revenues that can be channeled back into maintaining the roads. All these heavy and articulated vehicles that ply the roads are doing business, and they must be made to pay for the businesses they are doing on our roads.
There has been much talk about Yagba unity in pursuing this Senate agenda, but there is another Yagba candidate running as well. Are you reaching out to the candidate to reach a consensus?
Well, the candidate you are talking about has the ticket of his party, and I have the ticket of my party. I am running my campaign; that is all I know. But let me tell you that Yagba people know better. If we in Yagba want to win the senate, our people know the person they can put their trust in, and they know better, as I said before. However, let me tell you that I have the experience, competence, ability, capability, and God-given endowment to lead the good people of Kogi West in the next dispensation.
In my eight years in the House of Representatives, I moved over 30 motions and sponsored over 20 bills. I was vibrant on the floor with my contributions. I am not timid. I fear God, but no human being can intimidate me. So, I have a background that sells me to my people. My people love me, and I am passionate about them too.
What is your relationship with the governor of Kogi State?
I am running a campaign under my party, and, to the glory of God, the government of Kogi State is under the APC. I don’t have any other plans. Our leader is Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the state governor, and I am submissive to the leadership of the party. We will move around to campaign throughout the senatorial district. I cannot help but emphasise that I need the support of the governor to excel. I need the support of all the good people of Kogi West to win, and we are working hard to ensure that all the candidates of the APC win all the elections. We are working hand in hand to achieve that.
What is your opinion about the Muslim/Muslim ticket of your party?
I don’t know why, as politicians, we bring things that will not unite us as a nation. The presidential candidate of our party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has continually emphasised the need to engage competent hands in handling the affairs of the country, and anywhere that quality is found, he will not compromise. We must have a good country before we can say we are either Christians or Muslims. So, I don’t see the hue and cry over the choice of a particular person based on his religious background. Why must we polarise the nation along such a line?
Our constitution is very clear about this issue; we are a secular state. We are all equal under our constitution, and there is no need to whip up such a sentiment now. Such sentiment is a negation of the spirit of our constitution because the Nigerian nation has no state religion.
What do you have to say about the much-discussed restructuring?
On the issue of restructuring, I believe in power devolution. There is a need to reduce the concentration of power at the center. Some issues that are thought to be solely the responsibility of the federal government should be devolved to state and local governments for easier administration. Some of those items contained in Schedule 1 of the Constitution that is not touchable need to be legislated upon and amended if we are to move forward as a nation. The revenue allocation formula will have to be adjusted in favour of states and local governments.