Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye clocked 80 two Fridays ago, precisely February 8, 2013.
An economist, seasoned administrator and former President of the Alumni of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru, which is the highest body for policy formulation and leadership training in the public sector of Nigeria, the Ijebu Igbo, Ogun State- born democrat put in 35 years of meritorious service in the public service including 28 years in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where he rose to the position of Director. In 1992, he was an aspirant to the office of the President of Nigeria on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He later became an elected Senator of the Republic (1999-2003).Durojaiye, currently a constitutional lawyer, speaks, in this interview, on many issues. Excerpts:
During your time at the Senate, you were an activist-senator. What informed that?
That time, the senators were in two groups, polarized; one working to impeach the other and I happened to know. I was a little bit indisposed when we were on vacation and I could not resume when others resumed because of not feeling well. But message got to me that the Senate, which had already broken into two groups, was planning a certain thing. So the group that wanted me to join them wanted me to do so to impeach Mr. President (Obasanjo).
I said, “No, I won’t be party to that. We should not impeach Mr. President and we should not encourage the President team to impeach the President of the Senate. Impeachment should not be on.”
Knowing the Senate for its versatility and brains at that time, how did you get to convince them to accept your position against their resolve considering the role they too believed Obasanjo was playing to the detriment of the legislative arm?
I told them the story of King Solomon’s first judgment when two women were reported to have slept and one of them killed her child in her process. The king said he would divide the dead child into two and divide the living child into two. The woman, whose child died, said, “Yes, fair enough. It will neither be hers nor mine.” The one whose child was alive said, “Ah! Great king, please, I cannot right here and watch my child slaughtered. It’s better you give the child to her. Maybe when the child grows, somehow the whole house will point him to someone who is his real mother.” King Solomon said, “Give that child to the woman who wanted to…”, that no one would like her child to be slaughtered in her presence.
The relevance of that story to my experience in the Senate and what I quoted on the floor of the Senate is that we who fought for democracy, we who really suffered eighteen and a half months solitary confinement with one meal a day in the military gulag, democracy meant more to us than those who, just by chance, because they didn’t suffer as much as we did, to be able to win election and get to the Senate. That we could not wait and allow democracy to fail in the third year after returning to it having struggled so much.
Because for two powerful heads of two of the three arms of government to be at loggerheads was an indication to the military that we were not ready for democracy yet and so the military should come back.
That was the implication and the way I saw it and I said no.
I tried to get that into them on the floor of the Senate but they didn’t want to shift ground and so I called a press conference. It was around September 2002. That was what quelled the movement at that time for the Senate group to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo and the President group in the Senate to impeach the Senate President Anyim and his deputy, Ibrahim Mantu. It was my press conference that saved the situation because the media and the whole nation came to the fact that, “Yes, we cannot afford any impeachment now.” Whereas they were friends; up to the beginning of that year, both Pius Anyim and Obasanjo were very close. I just give you that as an example in answer to your question that what made me more active at the Senate was the fact that we really suffered for democracy.
I also wrote the report on Odi, the sledge hammer on Odi, it was the Oyi of Oyi, Chuba Okadigbo, that was Senate President at that time. He led the team and he brought me to be part of it. And he said I should please write the report of what I saw. I wrote the report chastising the government of Obasanjo that, “that was overkill. You were killing a mosquito with a sledge hammer.” It was too much.
It was I who also raised a motion on the floor of the Senate that unless government paid the arrears of pensioners, we senators would refuse to accept our salaries at the end of that month. That also endeared our Senate at that time to the people of Nigeria that we were ready to make sacrifice and that jolted the government into action.
So, you could imagine now the racketeering going on, on pension funds which has seen pensioners’ dues being looted by few greedy and wicked public servants.