Gbenga Bareehu Ashafa was two-term senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from Lagos State. Senator Ashafa represented the Lagos East Senatorial District in the 8th Senate.
What have you been doing since you relinquished your senate seat?
Please let me begin by thanking the good people of Lagos East who I had the opportunity of representing in the Parliament for eight years for their support throughout the period. Definitely, the only thing that is constant in life is change. Life is dynamic and to remain ahead we must also be dynamic in our approach to life. Leaving the stage at the Senate has afforded me the opportunity to take stock of what we were able to achieve with the Senatorial platform while also looking forward to our continued efforts to remain in service of humanity, even in personal capacity.
In the light of the above, I have focused on repositioning my non-profit interests in GATE Foundation as well as the Total Nucleus Foundation, where we have continued to empower people towards achieving self-sufficiency and economic viability. I have also remained active as a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), galvanizing our support at the base as well as rendering support for the programmes of the Federal Government ably led by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari. I believe that service never ends and that as citizens of this great country, we must continually render service to our country whether in private capacity or as an occupier of a public position. We must continue to make the road we have travelled to the top less tedious and more accessible to younger generations and those coming behind us. All in all, I consider myself always in service to humanity and always ready to be of service.
Please, share your views on Lagos State government’s performance so far.
We just recently exceeded the 100-day mark since the hand-over of the baton of leadership from the Ambode administration to the Sanwo-Olu led administration. Typically, the first 100 days is a mix-bag of achievements and overcoming teething challenges that are characteristic of every transition. However, what we can all agree on is that the Sanwo-Olu/Hamzat administration is poised to deliver qualitative service to the people of Lagos State. With the disposition of the executive in the state, we are left in no doubt that they have come to this assignment with their sleeves rolled up and hit the ground running.
His Excellency has equally supported himself with a well-considered list of cabinet members. These are professionals, technocrats and members of the party who are committed to the dream of a greater Lagos.
What is your take on the speculation that the Lagos State APC would implode soon?
The All Progressives Congress has continued to grow and morph into a stronger, well-structured and grounded political party due to the selfless work that has been put in by the founding fathers of the party as well as the work done by the Government of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari. The party has continued to consolidate its position as the leading political force in Nigeria by strengthening its base in the South-East and South-South which before the just concluded 2019 general elections had fewer political office holders under the auspices of the party. To this end, one can clearly see that the party rather than lose ground has actually grown and become a truly national party with crystalizing ideologies, which makes it easier for like minds to come together to build a bigger and stronger platform.
I would, however, not pretend to be unmindful of the fact that the race towards 2023 has already begun with various factors and patterns beginning to emerge. This is only normal when considering the fact that the 2023 race is quite open as the incumbent wouldn’t be participating as a contender. Therefore, in the South particularly, so many machineries are consulting and warming up. This is good for party politics, at the end of the day only one man will emerge and the party will remain strong and united.
For now, however, we are all deeply focused on partnering with His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari in ensuring that this administration consolidates on the very strong foundation that was laid in its first four years and also ensure that he exceeds the expectations of every Nigerian in the area of deliverables.
What do you think are Buhari government’s plans for the youth?
The Buhari administration came in on the mantra of change with key focus areas being, fighting insecurity, fighting corruption and diversifying the economy. Without repeating the obvious truths about where we were coming from as a Nation pre 2015 and the effects of the profligacy of the past years, this administration has had to work very hard to ensure that in spite of our past, it is delivering on its promises to Nigerians.
Being an optimist, I would like to focus on the positives that are tangible and obvious for all of us to see. First, I would like to talk about the increase in the entrepreneurial streak of Nigerians, particularly young Nigerians. This administration has ensured that it has encouraged the younger ones to remove their focus from seeking employment but seek for ways in which they can leverage on their skills to create product and services of their own. To this end, we have seen an increase in locally made products from agriculture to material products and services. Hence, the diversification agenda wasn’t only a top to bottom approach but a multi-polar approach that also encouraged the small scale by taking the focus to the non-oil revenue generating indices. This is already having a huge impact on the high rates of unemployment that have been recorded over the years.
Also, this administration has also opened up the civil service to give direct employment to a high number of young Nigerians. Apart from the fact that this doubles as a palliative measure to ensure that many more families are assisted by government, it is principally a drive to tap into the creativity and drive of the millennial in order to bring their dynamic energy to bear on the civil service. Sometimes, we complain that Nigeria still struggles with a high recurrent expenditure burden, however, some initiatives like offering direct employment and social investment programmes must be undertaken by government in order to have a more structured redistribution of wealth.
The various PMB-SIP’s hitherto under the leadership of His Excellency the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) has shown us how we can establish Social Security and Safety nets at the national level. It has shown us that the government can encourage young people through the NPOWER corps till they achieve self-sufficiency.
In the past four years, we have equally seen a higher focus on our infrastructure, the Ministry of Transportation under Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi’s focus on our rail infrastructure has yielded much with a lot of promise as well. We have witnessed the re-construction of the Lagos to Ibadan portion of the Lagos to Kano rail revitalization plan, we have seen the Ajaokuta – Itakpe–Warri, rail line brought back to life after over 30 years. The Abuja to Kaduna standard gauge serves as the prime choice for the commute between the two destinations. You will recall that I was privileged to be Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport and contributed our own quota by providing legislative framework and enabling laws to assist in actualizing the rail rehabilitation and construction programmes of the federal government.
In the area of Works and Housing, His Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) has remained in the driver’s seat delivering key road and housing infrastructure across the 36 states of the Federation. I am aware that there are currently about 524 ongoing road projects across the country. Key road projects including the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, the East – West road, the Enugu–Port Harcourt dual carriage way, rehabilitation of the Enugu–Onitsha highway, Ilorin–Jebba–Mokwa–Birnin Gwari–Kaduna road and so many other important road projects either at completion or nearing completion. While in power we recorded our all time high in generation, hitting about 7,000 MW. In the same vein, there are Federal Government mass housing projects in almost every state of the country. This is to mitigate the high housing deficits in the country. I believe that the Federal Government through the Ministry has achieved a lot with its direct intervention in the Housing Sector within the space of four years. We must, however, maximize the synergy between the ministry, the Federal Mortgage Bank and the Federal Housing Authority in order to achieve seamless process of securing that the housing units are affordable, purposeful and reasonably spread among the different classes of our citizens. Literally, Nigeria is doing more with less in the area of infrastructural growth.
Also, if we look more closely at our agriculture sector, we have almost hit self-sufficiency in rice production and our agricultural exports. In 2018, Nigeria’s agricultural exports to other countries increased by 77% and that’s huge. We are getting there. I am sure that Mallam Sabo Nanono will consolidate on the commendable work done by Chief Audu Ogbeh in the area of Agriculture.
We also continue to see the emergence of the Information Technology tribe and how it continues to disrupt traditional and established markets. How it continues to become a stronger tool for transparency and accountability in Government. This is a critical sector because it breaks the barriers of physical boundaries and as such is a retail and huge foreign direct investment earner for our young people. I am aware that our IT developers in Nigeria render services on to clients across the world through the internet. Hence, while the Government through the various agencies has continued to do its best, we must increase focus on the ICT sector through effective optimizing of our curriculum even from the primary education stage.
What is your expectation of the APC government in the next four years?
I believe that we are significantly on track. The wheels of development are grinding surely and we need to support the Government to achieve its mandate.
We know that we face many challenges despite all that has been stated. However, I choose to align myself with the aged-old adage that says that there is much to be thankful for despite our many challenges.