Babajimi Benson, scion of the famous Benson political family in Ikorodu, Lagos State, is a member of the House of Representatives. As a nephew of Chief T.O.S. Benson, Nigeria’s first Minister of Information he had the rare privilege of meeting Nigeria’s founding fathers like the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and a host of others. Today, Benson, a lawyer, is keeping his family’s political flag flying in the green chamber. He speaks with Integrity reporters on his achievements and his growing popularity among his constituents.
Q: Honorable Babajimi Benson, could you give us a brief account of yourself?
A: My name is Babajimi Benson, I am a member of the House of Representatives. I represent the very good people of Ikorodu Constituency. I regard myself as a politician that has a second address. I also describe myself as trisector athlete. A trisector Athlete is the one who has many industries before coming into politics. I make bold to say that I walked in international public sector. I worked in the UN for a couple of years. I worked in the legal department. I have also worked in the public sector as well in Nigeria. I worked as company Secretary/ Legal Adviser of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation which is the largest property company in the West Africa. I have also worked in the private sector. I have worked in many banks, and many law firms. The last bank I worked with was Lead Bank and before that, I had worked with Ecobank.
So, I call myself a trisector athlete because I can measure issues with three lenses of the private and the public sector. When I formed my judgment, it is always backed by substance. If you look at the world over now and you speak to consultant, the types of people they want to employ in very key places are trisector athlete, people who can make a judgment using three lenses.
Q: You look calm, cool and gentle. Why did you have interest in politics? What prompted you to join politics?
A: Well, I come from the political family; the Bensons, if you recall the first minister of information and culture, Otunba Benson is my late great uncle. My dad was very close to him. At a young age I have always told people that I met Zik of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I met the late Obafemi Awolowo and many political gladiators like that.
Naturally I’m a lawyer which also gave me the background to get into politics if you follow trends, most of the effective politicians were lawyers; the Cameron’s, the Obamas, Babatunde Fashola and people like that, so law gives you a leeway into politics. The job of a lawyer is to file solutions. So, politics to me, and legal profession is an avenue for finding solution to people and public problems.
Q: What can you point to as your achievement so far in the last 3 and half years as a legislator in the lower chamber?
A: I have been one of the most active members on the floor of the house. I have about 10 motions to my credit, and four bills which include the Special Status Bill that I moved in the house of reps. I recall that the bill was very innovative, because what we set to do was to give special status to six states who have a population of over 10 million to obtain mega status state position. The mega city is the city that has over 10 million people. So, if you have over 10 million people in your state, the federal government will entitle you to 25 percent of federally generated revenue within that state. We moved that and got a lot of accolades. It’s something that I intend to pursue further because it’s going to add value to my state which has the population of over 20 million.
We have also moved a lot of bills which add value to my federal constituency and Lagos state as a whole. I think one of the biggest projects that I embarked upon is a food bank and today my food bank has spread over 12,000 families in Ikorodu Federal Constituency and we also produce what is called the startup Ikorodu which encourages young people to start up their own businesses. After starting up the business, we train them. We bring professionals to come in and we train them, and we hand them over to the employment trust funds who give them facility to run their businesses. Till date, employment trust fund has empowered close to a hundred of these people, giving them a loan from 250 thousand to 5 million, so those are the little things that I have been able to do within the 3 years that I have been there. I have also built, through my constituency, about 8 schools, I have donated about 8 transformers to my constituents and we had a huge empowerment program about three months ago which is still the talk of town at Ikorodu Federal Constituency.
Q: From our findings, it was gathered that no opponent has come out to challenge you, how true is this?
A; Firstly, I always say it’s the Grace of God. The Grace of God finds the unqualified and qualifies the chosen. So, I always say that the Grace of God is upon my life and I also thank our political giant, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who a lot of people see as my iroko. Asiwaju encourages you to be the best. Initially, he didn’t see me as a politician. He said I was more of a technocrat and wanted me to continue in the executive area, but I didn’t listen to him and he said go and try your luck. So, I never wanted to betray his trust and expectation, so I had to go all out and give my best. I also thank my constituents who believe in me, who rewarded me with this. Because anybody who tries to come out always meet a brick wall, they will tell him no, not against JB. They always call me James Bond (laughs). So, everybody wants me to do a second term and everybody in Ikorodu encourages me to do a second term, so I guess that is why people have allowed me go for second term by not picking up the party form.
Q: Let’s look at the national assembly this time around. There has been a lot of issues between executive and the legislative arm, unlike before. There is even a rumor that Buhari has not been dolling out money like his predecessors and the chambers are not happy?
A: I have to say that Nigerians have to be patient for the National Assembly. Nigeria has been ruled by the military for 35 years, what happens when the military comes is that they suspend the legislature. An example is this; let’s assume Nigeria is 70 years old, it means the executive institution and the judicial are 70. If you remove the 35 years of military rule from that, it means that the National Assembly is 35 years old, which means that those other institutions are way developed and have institutional knowledge, and National Assembly is still growing and it has to adjust itself from Jonathan ear to this era of change. The executive also has to understand that they have to look for the legislatures’ input too. A lot of the executive actions, it seems they don’t really understand the need for a legislature. I think we are growing and I’m sure in the next dispensation, there will be harmony. We have come to understand ourselves better. Because the legislature sees itself as the first arm of government and the executive sees itself equally as the first, so there is bound to be friction, but with time in the next dispensation, we would have gone around the bend.
Q: As legislator under this dispensation, how would you describe Buhari’s regime?
A: I think the regime is slow and steady. Things can get better, I believe he needs to inject more young and dynamic people. I believe he needs to allow Lagos have more influence in his policies and direction. Once he does that, I think Nigeria would attain the eminence that his true policies offer.
Q: Your speaker, Rt. Honorable Yakubu Dogara has defected to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, what do you think it’s going to happen when you resume the plenary session?
A: I believe there’s an unwritten rule that is not practiced in Nigeria, but all over the world, it is the majority part that picks the speaker, but for some odd reasons in Nigeria, we see the minority party choosing the speaker. I’m not sure that the anomaly can be corrected within the few months we have left in the national assembly but I’m sure going forward in the 9th assembly; I don’t believe that a minority can preside over the majority. But I know that a lot of our members in APC are restive, but I don’t know if our restiveness can translate into an impeachment because we also need two-third of all members to impeach a speaker. I believe we are short of about 55 members. I’m not sure we have the number now, but I think that the anomaly needs to be corrected, and I think the best thing Dogara can do as an honorable person is to resign and say I have moved to a party that has the lesser number than the party in power, so let me go on a high pedestal and resign. I think if he resigned there will be a lot of peace and Nigeria will be better for it.
Q: For record purpose, let us run through your academic background…
A; I studied law from the Lagos State University, I also went to the Nigerian Law School, I have a Masters in Law from the London University, and an MBA from the Warwick University.