Lagos — Senator Akinola Odunsi is representing Ogun West Senatorial District in the National Assembly. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Trust in Lagos, he spoke on the ongoing constitution review exercise and the demand of the Awori people in Ogun State that they be allowed to join their kins in Lagos State among others. Excerpts
The National Assembly seems to be devoting much attention to the review of the 1999 Constitution. Yet there are Nigerians who believe that this Constitution isn't really bad but hasn't been faithfully adhered to. What is your take on this?
First of all, it must be appreciated that the current Constitution isn't a civil constitution. It is a Constitution that is handed down to Nigerians by the military junta. Therefore, if Nigeria is to have a civil constitution in a civil governance, it is only natural that we have a constitution that people can truly say they have had an input in. Having said that, I think we must all appreciate the fact that what we have now is a constitution that needs to be amended from time to time. We cannot have a brand new constitution except there is a constitutional provision that will engender us to constitute a new constitutional conference, having been inserted in the current Constitution. This is because whether we like it or not, this is what guides us as a nation and we cannot do anything that would be deemed unconstitutional.
Those of us in the National Assembly have looked at the contentious areas of this Constitution, collated them appropriately and now we are presenting them in a template format that would allow Nigerians to make inputs. Taking the constitution amendment process to all the federal constituencies, allowing people to contribute their quotas is indeed a laudable effort on the part of National Assembly members. On our part at the Senate, we organised discussions at senatorial, state and zonal levels. I must confess to you that I am really impressed with the contributions of our people so far. A lot of the contentious issues were actually kept in the front burner. Whether or not the outcome will be faithfully implemented is another matter but one thing I know for sure is that many Nigerians are desirous of having a civil constitution that has their inputs.
At the last constitution amendment exercise, there were state assemblies who could not act on their own but had to pander to the wish of their governors on certain clauses. Don't you see the same scenario playing out again and if you do, isn't this worrisome for the nation's democracy?
Yes, that is a very good question. But the difference this time is that we now have state assemblies asking for financial autonomy. Ordinarily, governors are not meant to dictate to their state assemblies. The executive and legislature are different arms of government that must earn their respect without interference. Well, if it is the wish of the people that the state assemblies, for instance, have their own budgets passed and the state assemblies still pander to the wishes of the governors again, who will you blame for that? Of course, I cannot predict what will happen this time. What happened in the past was in the past. What you are asking is whether or not it would happen again, well I would say, your guess is as good as mine.
The issue of state creation seems to have overshadowed other contentious issues being addressed in the on-going review; with the number of proposed states so far lined up, do you really think the National Assembly will go all out to create new states?
It has been said repeatedly that the National Assembly has no agenda of its own on state creation. We all know the process that it would take us to get new states created. That aside, another issue is the ever recurring issue on the nation's cost of governance. As at last count, we have over 50 demands for new states to be created. If those requests are granted and are added to the existing structures, what we may eventually have are cantonments or small municipalities becoming states. Of course, there would always be requests. But I think a time has come for us as Nigerians to ask ourselves honest questions. So, state creation for what purpose? So, we can have X persons becoming governors in their own little states and then have their budgets, their commissioners and their special advisers? I don't think that is a solution to Nigeria's problems.
As fallout of the ongoing review is the demand of your people, the Ogun State Awori, to be allowed to join their kinsmen in Lagos State. What do you think could have prompted this?
Well, that actually is not a new demand. If you look at the document presented at the gathering, you will discover that it is an age-old demand of the long suffering Awori people who feel gerrymandered and marginalized. Historically, the Awori people settled in Lagos and part of Ogun State. And for administrative convenience, the colonial masters decided that the protectorate of Lagos shouldn't exceed a particular boundary. That was how some Awori in the outline communities now were made to join the old Western region while some others were within the protectorate of Lagos. The present Ogun State was then carved out of the old Western region.
If you look at the then Awori Otta district council under the defunct Western region, you will understand that the Awori kingdom extended from where we know as Otta now to the Itori Ile which is now in the outskirts of Abeokuta. That was the extent of the Awori kingdom. But as days went by and political gerrymandering started, the council began to reduce gradually. It later became Ifo/Otta local government, then Ifo and now Ewekoro local government areas were carved out of it, respectively. And if you take a good look at the map of the so-called Ifo Local Government Area, you will discover that places like Agbado and Isheri which are contiguous with Awori land are now within Ifo and of course, Ogun central senatorial district, Haba!
Instructively, if you look at all that has happened to this Ado/Odo Otta local government area, it still remains the biggest and, by far, the most populated in Ogun State. Remember, it is so contiguous to Lagos State whereby many of those who work in Lagos or have even been living in Lagos before but have had to move over, are now living there. The facilities are dilapidated and in some cases are non-existent. The same Ado/Odo Otta is the one responsible for over 74 percent of the total IGR the state is relying on. If you try to access Ado/Odo Otta from Lagos or Abeokuta ends, you will discover that there is no motorable road within the town, immediately you pass through the express road. It is such an abandoned local government area. I think, the people have every reason to clamour for unification with their kiths and kins in Lagos and as a senator representing the area, I fully support them.
How sure are you that Lagos State will be willing to accept the people of Awori?
You will be treading on another political ground if we are to start analyzing that. But one thing I know is that the Awori Obas in two states (Lagos and Ogun) have met over this and are working in tandem on this. Well, the political chieftains from both ends may want to embark on horse-trading. But that will be quite unfortunate because posterity will never forgive those who may indulge in that.
So, what do you think will be the reaction of other Ogun State indigenes especially the Yewa who are within the same senatorial district regarding the demand of the Aworis?
The truth is that it is the voice of the Awori people in Ado/Odo Otta and those in Lagos that count; it is not a decision for other people in the state to make. Of course, it will not be in their interest if the Awori leave because that is the goose that lays the golden eggs. But if that is truly so, why is it that it has never been of interest to those who govern in Abeokuta?
But what of if the state government hearkens to the call of the people and begins to provide them with social amenities, will your people stop the agitation?
Well, that I don't know. But that may even be a little too late. I have spoken with some of our political leaders in the area and they said it is not even a matter of what we can get from Ogun State anymore because that is long overdue. Now, the people have resolved to go with their kiths and kins. We want to join our people, who speak our language, who understand our culture and also share our ideology.
In the current political dispensation, the Aworis are having a Senator, a House of Representative member and two House of Assembly members, do you think all these people will be willing to sacrifice their offices?
Those are personal interests. But I think personal interests can be subsumed under larger interests. But don't forget, we are different political animals. If joining Lagos will make some of us forfeit our current political positions, it simply means the interest of the people we are representing is bigger than us and if that should be the case, so be it. I don't think that is any serious problem. The truth is that the Awori people are more or less like an endangered group in Ogun State and that ought not to be. Whatever needs to be done to revive that vanishing ethnic group has to be done and that is the reason we need to be put together under one state.