Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Sabitu Ikuforiji, recently met with journalists including Olawale Olaleye where he gave a clue on what the New Year might look like. Excerpts
You have a litigation that's been dragging for some time. How is this affecting the business of lawmaking?
Normally, there is no one who is in court, no matter who you are that will not feel the pain of going and coming, and adjournment and so on and so forth. But the beauty of it all is that we are not new in the business of leading the Assembly. This is my third term and the experience gathered along the line has come handy this time around. Together with my colleagues, we have succeeded in building a team.
Leadership of the Assembly, yes I am the head of the leadership and whenever necessary, we get things done. We get them done without any hassle. After the first and second terms on the same thing and doing the same thing, we have built the Lagos Assembly to a level that you can say it is on auto pilot and that is being honest with you.
The issue that is in court is also one that you know. I am the chief lawmaker of the state; I shouldn't do anything that will be against the law of the land. Because the case is in court we wouldn't discuss it. But with the truth about this thing is, if the case started with a so-called petition of N7 billion fraud and after three months of investigation, the EFCC decided to go to court not on those charges of embezzlement or fraud because they have not found anything fraudulent, no embezzlement, no N7 billion embezzlement and now the charges are that we have not followed procedures over certain transactions amounting to N500 million. That, in itself, tells you the story.
I mean the speaker of Lagos State does not have a mint where naira is printed, so if they say I did not go to bank, I did not go to financial institution to obtain the cash that we used in carrying out transactions, then let EFCC tell the court where that cash came from. But that is for the court to decide. However, the distraction was probably within a few days, perhaps, the first few weeks during investigation when at any time they came in to ask for this and that. Immediately, it became a court thing, we already knew the charges, we already knew we had no problem.
Does it have anything to do with the cold relationship you once had with Governor Fashola?
Whether it has anything to do with the old relationship between the executive and legislative arms, I think it is far from that. A lot of interpretations go into the relationship, not only in Lagos, but all over. To be honest with you, this is Lagos, if we can't get it right, Nigerian cannot get it right.
Personally, when the time comes the story will be told. I am sure my governor is one governor who when you talk about real governance, I am sure; he will score very good mark as well as when it comes to the relationship between the Executive and Legislature. He came in, he met me as speaker and he inaugurated the House and I emerged again as the speaker of the House.
For him, even to tolerate the idea of an independent Legislature is novel, because most of his colleagues across the country are not prepared for it. This is probably the only place in Nigeria where the legislature is not an appendage of the executive; it is a place where the Legislature is independent. I think if there is any great contribution that Governor Fashola has made towards the development of democracy in Nigeria, that particular thing should be emphasized; he has done very well.
But does it not have anything to do with 2015 Poll?
I will not say no. Those who are after Ikuforiji know the reasons they are after him. Whether they are from within the party or outside the party, they know why they are after him. As a believer and a child of God, I don't see much of this as any other thing other than trial one must go through as a leader like every other leader across the world who has suffered from one tribulation or another.
Why should I expect anything less, in any case has God been so merciful, I mean relative partial towards me. Look, this is my third term as Speaker of Lagos State Assembly; a state of about 20 million people. Is it because of my academic prowess? Is it because of how handsome I am or because of my complexion? Is it because of my family background? No, think about it. It is not fair to just be expecting people to be fully satisfied like that with you once they see that things are going on well with you.
Here are 40 of us; we are at peace, we are not throwing tables and chairs, yet there is progress and I am the leader of that House. If I say I don't want people to throw stone at me, I don't want people to throw mud, no, it is not possible. It is just that we want people to be reasonable in what they are doing. But that people will not envy you, people will not be jealous, people will not try to mess you up, forget it.
What do you envisage as challenges this year?
2015 is around the corner. This year is probably the last full year of total governance, so most of the things we want to get done, we must struggle to get them done this year legislatively. That on its own is a great challenge. There are so many things I know we would only need to take care of; those things must be taken care of in 2013. Of course, we are also happy that our Assembly Service Commission has come alive now and we do know that there are a lot of things we look forward to the commission to do for us if the commission most find its feet before it can deliver.
We are going to work collaboratively to achieve that. Of course, we also realize the fact that the governor is in his second term and 2013, like we have said, is for total governance. So, the governor is most likely to be on the neck of the Assembly to deliver goals for him to be able to carry out his own assignment. So, all these will constitute challenges. And it is in the light of this that we made sure the Budget for 2013 was passed into law before 2012 came to an end. Following the budget meticulously and ensuring its implementation is there and a great challenge too.
What's your take on local governments' autonomy?
I think the governors are the problems because of the position they occupy in the society. Sometimes, when they are putting across facts that are helpful, they could put it across with an act that I don't want to stay. Honestly, our federation is a federation of states not local governments. It will not be in the interest of government at the centre to pry into how local governments are run. However, one of the bad spot in the 1999 constitution is the listing of local governments by their names in the constitution. It is wrong because the constitution only needs the guarantee that every state can create local governments and that local governments can run as simple as ABC.
It is the business of every state to have local governments as they deem fit. It is supposed to be local, that is why they say it is local government. So it is not the business of Federal government at all. But it all depends on what you call autonomy. Look, we have just talked about Lagos House of Assembly and in relation to the executive arm of government. Taking it from that, the Lagos House of Assembly is autonomous.
But does that take away the interdependence. Look, when the Assembly commissioners were to be appointed, it was based on my own recommendation. Then after he has appointed them, the Assembly now ratified. So, he has appointed commissioners for our commission. But when he wants to appoint his own commissioners, he appoints them only with our own approval. So, really there is nothing called autonomy. What you have is just that most state governments in this country, almost all of them, are overbearing on the local governments and something needs to be done.
The reason why that is so is because most of the State Houses of Assemblies are nothing but annexes to the governors' offices, so they are really not wielding the power the constitution gives them. Let's be very clear about it, the local government administration is a body of the House of Assembly. It is the House of Assembly that determines how the local government should be run. That is what the constitution says but because the Assembly itself cannot run itself, how can it dictate how the local governments should be run? That is where the problem lies.
Do you subscribe to special status for Lagos?
Honestly, it is something very close to my heart and I tell you, the very first motion I moved as a legislator in September, 2003- my very first substantive motion on the floor of the Assembly- is to get special status for Lagos. I gave so many reasons, some of them I may not even remember now. But all over the world, cities that had served as the capital of big nations like ours are not abandoned once the capitals are moved or relocated. It is even the interest of the entire nations, not just the people who live there.
If we are not used to the culture of waste, we would not enjoy what is happening to the infrastructure left in Lagos when the federal capital moved. You see so many things abandoned, you see the remnants of items of the old are still there and nobody is taking care of them. The federation should not continue to lose and continue to generate waste. Lagos by special nature, by God's own will is the only city in Nigeria that can beat its chest to say that all Nigerians are represented here.
Abuja cannot, nowhere else can. I don't think there is any family, any real family anywhere in Nigeria, that does not have an ambassador here one way of the other, even the Koma people I am sure have their representative here, those of us sitting on this table inclusive.
So, it is the responsibility of a responsible Federal Government to pamper Lagos because Lagos is what we mean when we say Nigeria; it is a place where all of us live. It is a place every Nigerian calls a home without discrimination. You feel comfortable once you land here, no matter which part of the country you were born or come from. That is why the Federal Government should be good enough to encourage the survival and progress of Lagos.