By Michael Jegede
Upon his election as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011 to represent the good people of Kogi Central Senatorial District, not many thought he was going to make any impact in the Senate, perhaps, because of his relatively young age. He was just about 39 years old then. Some people had called him a “small boy”, wondering what he would have to say or do in the midst of men who are old enough to be his father when important national issues are being discussed either on the floor of the Senate or at the committee level.
However, Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman, an aspirant for the forthcoming governorship election in Kogi State on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) proved his mettle and did not disappoint his people who gave him the mandate to be their representative at the Upper Chamber of the Federal Legislature. It was evidently a fruitful outing for a man who discharged his duties and responsibilities as a lawmaker in the Red Chamber with every sense of commitment, dedication and rectitude.
Notwithstanding the fact that he was the youngest in the seventh Senate, Abatemi-Usaman was able to blend and relate well with his colleagues in a manner that he became so much loved and liked by most of them. Fondly referred to as the “last born” of the Senate by the immediate past Senate President, Senator David Mark, during deliberations on the floor of the 7th Senate, Abatemi-Usman is believed to be the most active, vibrant and ebullient Senator Kogi Central ever produced.
In line with his promise to be an advocate for steel development, as soon as he assumed office, Abatemi-Usman visited the Ajaokuta Steel Company (ASCO) and the National Iron Ore Mining Company (NIOMCO) to get firsthand information about the abandoned national treasure that is capable of providing jobs for millions of Nigerians. Throughout his stay in office, Abatemi-Usman, popularly called ‘Deen’, never gave former President Goodluck Jonathan a breathing space as he was always mounting pressure on him, reminding him of the need to fulfill his pledge to revive Ajaokuta Steel which is said to have consumed about $7 billion and needed less than $1 billion to be completed.
The Jonathan administration may have refused to make provision for fund for the completion of the steel complex as requested by Deen, nonetheless, his efforts yielded some fruits. His aggressive push saw to the disbandment of the Interim Management Committee (IMC). The IMC was set up to run ASCO and NIOMCO for a period of six months and come out with a blueprint or template for the purpose of turning around the fortunes of the two companies.
But it ended up spending almost five years and causing more damages to the operation of the two important firms. After ensuring that the IMC was disbanded, he went further to push for the appointment of Engr. Joseph Onobere, a seasoned metallurgical engineer of over 30 years of experience in the steel industry as sole administrator of ASCO. Engr. Onobere, an indigene of Kogi State from Ebiraland has been working hard to see to the revival of the company, but he is being hampered by the paucity of fund. We can only hope that the new government of President Muhammadu Buhari would make money available for the commencement of full operation in the steel complex.
In the same vein, Abatemi-Usman showed dogged determination towards tackling the problem of acute water shortage that has bedeviled the people of Kogi Central for decades. He was able to push for the allocation of funds in the budget for Ekuku Dam in Okene and the Ogori/Magongo Water Treatment Plant. Work got to advanced stage at the Ekuku Dam such that the people of Agassa had a feel of tap water during the test-running. The breakage of the underground pipes in certain locations prevented the smooth flow of water from Ekuku Dam. Determined to see the completion of the water projects, he lobbied for the provision of additional fund in the 2015 budget. While he was seeking for the long term solution to the water situation in Ebiraland, he equally took steps to provide temporary alleviation for his people by using his office to facilitate the sinking of hand-pumped and motorized boreholes in a number of communities across Kogi Central.
Senator Abatemi-Usman has the record of being the first public officer holder both elected and appointed at any level from the central senatorial district of Kogi State to organize an elaborate empowerment programme that had over 1,200 citizens as beneficiaries. It was a magnificent occasion that brought the then Senate President, David Mark to Ebiraland accompanied by over 20 Senators. Such impressive presence of his colleagues at his constituency programme spoke volume of how much they cherished him, probably, as a result of his display of ebullience, agility and doggedness in the exercise of his legislative functions. Encomiums were poured on him by various speakers at the event, including the incumbent Governor of Kogi State, Captain Idris Wada and officials of his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In the course of his sojourn in the Upper Chamber of NASS, Deen clearly demonstrated his comprehensive understanding of the complex mechanism of the legislative process. His quick grasp of the workings of the legislature, which may have been on account of his previous outing as a Special Adviser to former House of Reps Speaker, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole and the sundry professional courses he undertook, including high-level legislative training at the International Law Institute, Washington DC, USA and Akademie Fur Welthandel, Germany, saw him sponsoring three bills and co-sponsoring over 20.Even at the Pan African Parliament (PAP) where he was one of the five federal lawmakers appointed to represent Nigeria at that level of parliamentary activities, it was never a dull moment for Abatemi-Usman. He was seen in the forefront of the struggle for the emergence of Hon. Bethel Amadi as the first Nigerian to hold the position of PAP’s President.
The effort of Deen in the area of boosting power supply was seen in the provision of transformers to several communities within his constituency. Some areas that had suffered total blackout for long period of time saw light again courtesy of Deen’s electricity projects. Is it the Primary Health Centre (PHC) he built for the people of Upake in Ajaokuta Local Government Area (LGA), a very remote area completely neglected by their past representatives? With the bringing of the health facilities to their doorstep, he made life easy for the Upake residents who previously had to travel the very bad road of over 20km to Ajaokuta town just to seek medical services. Deen also facilitated the building of blocks of classrooms in Demonstration Standard School and Markaz School in Okene and Adavi Local Government Areas respectively.
In spite of the very stiff competition in securing employment due to the high rate of unemployment in the country today, Abatemi-Usman, even as a first term Senator was able to use his contacts to secure jobs for over a hundred people from his senatorial district in federal government agencies. In addition, he sent a number of his constituents for the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) Graduate Development Skill Programme and the entrepreneurship skills acquisition under the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) scheme.
In separate interviews at the tail end of the seventh Senate, Senators Philip Aduda and Chris Ngige spoke in glowing terms about Abatemi-Usman’s outing in the Senate. Senator Aduda, an FCT Senator and member of PDP who was Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power and Steel said: “Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman is my brother. We are very good friends. Our relationship dates back to 2007 when I became member for the second time in the House of Representatives and at the time he was one of the special advisers to the then Speaker, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole. And we found common grounds to ourselves and became completely very close. And each time we thought that there were issues to be discussed or Bankole was doing certain things that needed to be corrected or to give him some sort of advice we found in Abatemi a colleague that we could discussed with. And when we found ourselves in the Senate in 2011 and he became a member of my committee, I was so excited because I know he will be of great value to me. When I had my moment of indecisions and needed proper advices I always reach out to Abatemi. He is somebody that is completely reliable and he is somebody that if he believes in a cause he fights for it and he doesn’t give a damn about whose oars is gored.
“Sometimes I have to tell him that, look, you are being too hard, I think you should slow down, but he will say so long as I am saying the truth I don’t mind the consequence even if it is going to take me down. And I will say no sometimes people don’t like when they are told the truth and when you confront them head-on. He will say but well, posterity will not forgive us if we couldn’t take decisions and if there were issues to be discussed and we didn’t discuss them. So, that is the kind of person you find in Nurudeen Abatemi – very straightforward, very completely blunt and I have said it to him before that, look, you a young man oh! Please, you need to grow up and the world does not like people who are completely straightforward, very blunt and do not care whose oars is gored. That was why in the buildup to the 2015 elections during the PDP primaries some people in the party were not comfortable with him because of his bluntness. He is a man of courage who can challenge anybody when things are not done properly without minding whether it could put him into trouble. So, he is somebody that believes in the unity of this country and believes in the multiparty system and believes that every person should be given the right to express and show his abilities and what he can do. Honestly, I think that posterity will judge him rightly when men stand to be counted and when they are talking about people.”
On his part, Ngige, a member of APC and former governor of Anambra State, remarked: “Senator Abatemi is one of those I met for the first time when I became a Senator. Abatemi-Usman is the youngest Senator, but he is one young man I found very interesting. I serve with him in about two committees. I serve with him in the committee of power where I am the deputy chairman and one other committee. I find him as a very conscientious hard worker. He works hard. He is intelligent. He is also very amiable,friendly. And he is compassionate about things that concern his constituency. Each time we are in a session on Ajaokuta Steel Company he becomes emotional about the place and what is happening there and the type of investment Nigeria is just forsaking; the type of jobs, job creation which Nigeria has refused to ignite and kick start so that the people in Kogi State and his senatorial district in particular would have jobs and even other Nigerians will also have jobs, and Nigeria exporting steel will make a lot of foreign exchange. So, he is very passionate about that. He also has compassionate feeling for his people. He has done once or twice what we regard as constituency project empowerment – giving out vehicles, motorcycles, sewing machines, hairdryers, grinders, barbing kits and even food items to the have-nots. So it shows that he has a lot of milk of human kindness flowing in him. And I think he is a very big asset to any group or organization that has him at any point in time. He is obedient; he is humble; he is intelligent; he is hardworking; he is visionary and like I said compassionate. These are the thing you see in leaders. He is a young man who I am very sure will go places. We only pray that God will guide him aright. We are human. God’s ways are not our ways. And I pray that God will visit him with a lot of wisdom and His grace so that he can always take decisions that will make him grow from strength to strength. We Ibos pray for our children to be greater than us. Wherever his late father who was also a politician is now, he will be happy that his son is flying the kite of the family very well politically.”
Despite his inability to secure a return to the Senate, his numerous admirers within and outside Kogi Central, have maintained that he left an indelible mark with his quality representation and remarkable feats. It is based on his outstanding performance and sterling leadership qualities as showcased during his four-year period in the Senate that many see his decision to seek for the ticket of APC in the Kogi State gubernatorial race as a welcome development. Abatemi-Usman, it is believed, has all what it takes to bring Kogi State out of the doldrums and steer it to greater height of development.
Michael Jegede, a media adviser to Senator Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman wrote from Abuja