Olanrewaju Tejuoso, the senator representing Ogun Central Senatorial District and Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, in this interview tells LEKE BAIYEWU about his lawmaking experience
What has been your experience as a lawmaker in the National Assembly?
It will be two years by June and it has been an interesting experience. As you must know, this is a peculiar Senate because of the way the leadership was created. All the politics of the creation of the leadership was a big distraction for us, the newcomers. We came baptised with serious politicking, which was a distraction from what they (constituents) really voted us for. But unfortunately, that was what we found ourselves doing. It was an experience but we are happy that it is victory for the Senate and the independence of the legislature. At least, at the end of the day, the candidates that the senators wanted are still the candidates (leaders) we have today.
What prior perceptions of the legislature did you have that have changed over time?
The perception (I had when I was) outside the system was not correct because we (lawmakers) are just like footballers playing on the pitch. When you are a spectator, you will see things the footballers are supposed to be doing but you are not in the position to know if that footballer has the capacity to do what you are seeing as a spectator. And you keep on blaming the footballer when the player is trying his or her best. But there are so many things involved to drive the success of the footballer. Stamina and cooperation with his colleagues on the pitch are important. So, as a senator, there are many things you want to do but you cannot do them alone, if you don’t get the support that you need. Also, there are laws guiding everything you are doing (as a lawmaker). You cannot just wake up and say you want to do this. There are definitive procedures that must be followed. We are learning on the job every day. It is challenging but if a lawmaker is sincere and means well for the country, it will be easy for him or her.
The public is often critical of the remuneration of federal lawmakers. Can you justify it?
All I can say is that whatever we are paid is not up to what we pay to and what we do for our people (constituents) back home. We are paid peanuts compared to the expenses we incur daily. We pay their (constituents) school fees, rent, funeral expenses and even bills of child delivery. They expect us to do everything. If you don’t do it, they will say you are a bad senator.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a senator?
My privacy – (there’s) no more private life (for me). What I could do as a private citizen, I can’t do anymore. I am no more in control of my time. I can’t just wake up and decide that I am going somewhere; I must carry my office along to make sure that I leave no vacuum.
How does your new status affect your family?
You have to pray for an understanding wife and children. Once you carry your wife and children along, they will understand the expectation. After all, before I became a senator, they knew I was attempting to become a senator and they knew what was involved. It is with the help of God and the cooperation of my family that I am able to get to where I am.
What inspired you to join politics and contest for senator?
I just sat down and realised that there was no point passing through this life without being useful to my people. Everything is not about doing business and making money. What will be said about me when I am gone? What did I contribute to the society? And how can I contribute? One must be in a position to contribute. And the platform to contribute is more available in government at any level. We keep on complaining about different things – lack of electricity, no potable water, etc. – but we cannot just keep complaining and do nothing about these things. That is exactly what we are doing providing solutions), instead of sitting comfortably in our homes and complaining about the government. You need to put yourself in the position of government and see how it is and contribute.
How do you spend your average day?
We have our official time in the Senate: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, when we sit for plenary. Then, we have our own time after the plenary to do other legislative works and, most important, to attend to our people. For our people, we don’t close; it is 24 hours. If you don’t pick their calls, they will say, ‘Oh, now that you don’t need our votes, you’re not picking our calls.’ So, you need a lot of patience and perseverance because some people may call you at 1 am to tell you that their wife is sick; they expect you to be the one to drive the ambulance to their house and take the wife to the hospital. Some will say the landlord just drove them out and they have nowhere to stay and that their belongings are outside. They expect you, their senator, to provide the rent for another accommodation.
If you don’t do it, they will say you are very bad. A senator has no budget for such things but you must look for it somehow. You must, at least, do something. That is how they assess you as a good senator, (it’s) not (all) about lawmaking. When you talk about how many laws have been made this year, they don’t want to know about that. They want to know how many people’s school fees you have paid. Is it not the government that should provide power to the villages? But they expect you to be the one. How many boreholes you dug; that is how they assess you as successful. If you don’t do all that, you are not successful.
Which bills and motions have you sponsored in the Senate?
The amendment to the National Health Insurance Scheme Act aimed at ensuring that we make it mandatory for every Nigerian to contribute and to make the administration of the health insurance process better. We also have the Cancer Bill to ensure that we have more cancer centres for people to have their cancers managed in the country. There is also one on funding for malaria and other bills in the process, including one on the environment to ensure that we replace all the trees being cut all over the place so that the climatic condition is not adversely affected.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Any free time I have, I try to consult my God in prayers.
Does it mean you don’t socialise?
Our life is social already. We are always in the social circle. We are always attending one social function or the other.