Member of the Senate representing Abia North Senatorial District and Chairman, Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, tells LEKE BAIYEWU about his experiences as a lawmaker
How long have you been in the National Assembly?
I am privileged to have been part of the democracy in this Fourth Republic. I was in the House of Representatives for two terms between 1999 and 2007.
How will you describe your experience as a senator?
It is quite interesting and also challenging. The reason is that in Nigeria, roles of a legislator or duties of the legislature are misunderstood. Constitutionally, the function of a legislator is to make laws for good governance and peace in the nation. Unfortunately, because of the level of our development, democracy and poverty in the country, people tend to misunderstand the difference between a legislator and somebody in the executive arm – like president, governor and their appointees. What people look out for is what you (government official) bring in terms of physical dividend of democracy. They want to see roads, water and power supply. They look forward to what you have to give financially; that makes the job of the legislator and the legislature more difficult. You are caught between two lines. One, your main job is to make laws, defend your people and raise good motions and debates that will enable the government to perform for the benefit of the people who are your constituents. While you are doing that, you are challenged mentally and you need competent staff to help you. Unfortunately, because of the fact that things are difficult, every day you are inundated with requests of, ‘What are you bringing? What are you doing?’
The pressure is that of demands – funeral ceremonies, school fees, accommodation, marriage, name it! I get nothing less than 1,500 text messages daily. Some won’t even give you the option to consider (their requests). They just send their account (details) directly. At times, either you or your aides are made to become tellers; my senior legislative aide or any other person (in my office), goes to the bank on a daily basis. So, that puts so much pressure on you. And to some extent, it is a distraction from performing your constitutional functions. For me, that is a big challenge.
Have you had any embarrassing moment with such demands from people?
Yes, I get embarrassing text messages. Some people will even abuse you. One of the text messages reads, ‘I have been begging you for this but you cannot give me and now I have been thrown out of my house. You are stupid.’ There are those you don’t know physically; they will only describe themselves as being from a part of my constituency. I don’t know them and can’t remember having a personal relationship or contact with them.
But politicians like you make promises to the electorate and constituents during electioneering. Didn’t you expect such demands?
I don’t think any politician – I doubt it – will go out to say, ‘I will be giving you (electorate) money.’ I know that politicians can – because of our mentality – say, ‘I will give you road; I will give you water,’ when they know that as parliamentarians, they can only influence projects. Influencing project means you can work towards ensuring that some projects are in the budget; and when it is appropriated, you can follow up. That should not be so. Some politicians, out of ignorance, make such promises but when they get in, they face the reality. The demand is huge and it is increasing on a daily basis. But what can you do? You cannot say because you were voted to make laws, you cannot meet such demands. You can only try, within the limited resources, to help some.
Is your family affected by such demands as a senator?
I doubt if there is any true politician – I mean grass-roots politician – that the job of governance has not affected his or her family. You don’t even have time. At home, you are inundated; in the office, you are inundated; when you go to your constituency that is even the worst. You just have to look for ways to balance it.
How are you managing yours?
For me, I always plead with my wife on a daily basis. ‘Please, before I went into this thing (politics), I told you. Though we didn’t know it will be like this,’ I usually say. But today, to the glory of God, I have gone beyond (being) an ordinary politician. I call myself a chartered politician. Everybody in my constituency and state know me as a chartered politician. Being a politician has attracted more challenges and problems, which will not affect only me but my family. But one will keep asking for God’s grace, mercy and the understanding of one’s wife and children. I can see why most politicians talk about divorce as if it is becoming rampant – that (divorce) happens when you don’t have the grace of God. The pressure from outside too can make you lose your head.
How do you unwind under this circumstance?
I don’t really rest. This is because I have found favour with God. I try as much as I can to fellowship in church on Sundays. I try against all odds to make it to the fellowship on Wednesday – that gives me some spiritual and mental freedom and refreshment. It makes me to loosen up a bit. On weekends, if I am at home, I spend some minutes at the gymnasium. I like relating with people.
Do you have a particular sport you love?
I used to play squash but for some time now, it has not been easy for me. I can’t tell you the last time I played squash. One thing I like to do is walking. Even here in the National Assembly, I try not to use the lift most times; I use the staircase. Again, because of insecurity, you don’t walk anyhow in your environment. Because of kidnapping and other security challenges, you are restricted. That is why, most times, especially on weekends, I use the treadmill at home.
Do you love partying?
Yes, I love parties. But recently, my partying has reduced. I dance more in the church. That has, however, not stopped (me from taking advantage of) any opportunity to host or attend parties. I host parties at home, like thanksgiving. I am an outgoing person. I travel quite a lot too and politics has influenced that. I must attend to my colleagues and constituents either through child christening events, burial ceremonies or thanksgiving.