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Interview: Lagos Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji Says The Issue of His 2015 Governorship Ambition is ‘Mystical’

Lagos Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji Says The Issue of His 2015 Governorship Ambition is ‘Mystical’

Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon Adeyemi Ikuforiji, speaks on his relationship with the state governor, Mr. babatunde Fashola, the race for the 2015 governor’s seat,  his opposition to calls for new states, among other critical issues, in this interview with newsmen. BOLA BADMUS brings the excerpts:

THE EFCC is prosecuting you in court, over sundry charges. How is it affecting your duties as Speaker?

Normally, there is no one who is in court, no matter who you are, that you will not feel the pain of going and coming, and for adjournments, and so on.  But the beauty of it all is  is that if the case started with a so-called petition of N7 billion fraud and after three months of investigation, the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crime Commission) decided to go to court not on those charges of embezzlement and fraud because they have not found anything fraudulent, nor embezzlement; no N7 billion embezzlement but now its charges that we have not followed procedures over certain transactions amounting to N500 million, that 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 any financial institution to obtain the cash that we used in carrying out transactions, then let EFCC tell the court where that cash came from?  So, that is for the court to decide. The distraction is probably for a few days; it was within the first few weeks during investigation when at any time they [EFCC] came in to ask for this and that.  Immediately it became a court thing, we already knew the charges; we already knew we have no problem.

Do you think the travail has anything to do with the alleged cold relationship between the Executive and the Legislature?

Whether it has anything to do with the cold relationship between the Executive arm and the Legislative arm, 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, Nigeria 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 a very good mark when it comes to relationship between the Executive and the Legislature.  He came in, he met me as a speaker and he inaugurated the House and I emerged again as the speaker of the assembly. 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 governor’s office; it is a place where the legislature is independent.  I think if there is any great contribution that Fashola has made towards the extension of democracy in Nigeria, that particular thing should be emphasised, he has done very well.

Does your current trial by EFCC have anything to do with the 2015 poll?

I will not say no; those who are after Ikuforiji know their reasons.  Whether they are from within the party or outside the party, they know best why they are after him. As a believer and servant of God, I don’t see much of this as any other thing other than the trial you must go through as a leader like every other leader across the world who had suffered one form of tribulation or another. Why should I expect anything less!

In any case, has God not been so merciful, I mean relative partial towards me?  Look, this is my third term as the Speaker of Lagos State, a state of 30 million people. Is it because of my academic progress, is it because of how handsome I am or because of my complexion or 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.

There are 40 of us in the Lagos State House of Assembly. We are at peace; we are not throwing tables and chairs and above all, there is progress.  It remains the Assembly everybody refers to as primus inter par above the other Houses of Assembly in the country and I am the leader of that Assembly.  It is not possible for me to say I don’t want people to throw stones at me; I don’t want people to throw mud at me.  It is just that we want people to be reasonable in what they are doing, but to say that people will not envy you, that they will not be jealous nor try to mess you up, forget it!

Does the problem also have anything to do with the pragmatic approach you have adopted as Speaker?

I think you can help me because honestly, the media is the final arbiter, not the Judiciary. The judiciary is one of the first three arms.  The one that the constitution recognises as the watchdog is the media, you are the only one who can investigate without warrant; you are the only one who can detain without any judge. So, help us in as much as I cannot come up and say, ‘oh, it is Mr. A that is after me.’ As long as I cannot identify the one that is after me, it will be difficult for me to go to the leader of the party to say a particular person is after me and he should call him to order.  Because if they call me, they will ask me for my evidence. And as long as I cannot get hold of any and the only people who can get hold of that evidence, is the media, please help me.

What are the challenges before you as Speaker?

The year, 2015, is around the corner.  This year is probably the last full year of total governance. So, most of the things that must be 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 that need to be taken care of. Those things must be taken care of in 2013. Of course, we are also happy our Assembly Service Commission has come alive now and we do know that there are lots of things we look forward to the commission doing for us. Of course, it must find its feet before it can deliver.  We are going to work collaboratively to achieve that.

Besides, we realise the fact that the governor is in his second term, and with just 2013, like we have said is for total governance, the governor is more likely to be on the necks of appendages to deliver goals for him to be able to carry out his own assignment too. So, all these will constitute part of the challenges.  And it is in the light of this that we made sure that the budget for 2013 was passed into law before 2012 came to an end.  Monitoring the implementation of the budget meticulously is also a great challenge.

What is your opinion on the calls for additional states from Lagos?

Honestly, I have heard a few murmuring about a new state being carved out of Lagos and so on and so forth.  I don’t even want to go into the controversies. When you look at Lagos, does it really look like a place you should divide into two or three? I don’t want to waste too much time on it.  I know that the greater majority of the leaders and elders of Lagos want Lagos to remain Lagos and the role of the constitution also calls for a sizeable number of people from the area who will be interested in the creation before any creation can take place.

We need to get more serious about life and governance.  We need to understand what it is all about and set aside all the distractions that are not productive. Most of the states in the country are not better than local government. Most of them, in fact, need to be merged; we should merge them.

Like?

I don’t want to start giving names.  Look, apart from Lagos, which other state in the country can stand on its own.

Rivers.

Rivers itself has a problem because until when the federation agreed that any resource that comes from a particular state goes to that place and it is that place, alone, you cannot say Rivers can stand [on its own.]  Rivers depends solely on the money from oil. So, if 80-87 per cent of your revenue comes from the Federation Account, how can you say you are on your own? Lagos is the only one that has more than 60 per cent of its revenue generated internally.  So, it is about the only one that can survive.

When former President Olusegun Obasanjo cut us off from the fund for local governments, how many states that were involved in the beginning that still stood? They all ran back because they could not afford to stand on their own.  Former Governor Bola Tinubu resisted and he was able to cope for the period. If the state was not strong, there was no way he could do that.

Does it mean you are not supporting the creation of more states in the country?

As a person, my love for this country does not support the creation of more states.  You can make adjustments; do this and that.  In fact, you can merge some of the existing states.

What about the clamour for local government autonomy?

On the autonomy for local government, I think because of the position they occupy, when governors are even putting across facts that are helpful, they sometimes do so with an act that ‘I don’t want to stay.’ (Laughs)! Honestly, our federation comprises the states not local governments.  It will not be in the interest of the government at the centre to dictate how local governments are run. One of the bad spots in the 1999 Constitution is the listing of local governments by their names in the constitution.  It is wrong because the constitution only needs to guarantee that every state can create local governments and those 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 the Federal Government at all.

It all depends on what you call autonomy.  Look, we have just talked about the Lagos Assembly and in relation to the executive arm of government and in that case, the Assembly is autonomous. But does that take away its interdependence?  When the Assembly Service commissioners were to be appointed, it was based on my own recommendation.  Then, after the governor had appointed them, the Assembly ratified the list.  So, he has appointed the 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, almost all of them, are overbearing on the local governments. Something needs to be done.  And the reason why that is so is because the Houses of Assembly are nothing but annexes to Governors’ Offices. So, they are really not wielding the power the constitution gives them.  Let’s be clear about it, the local government administration is a baby of the House of Assembly.  It is the House of Assembly that determines how the local governments 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.  It is that question of autonomy or no autonomy. There is no autonomy. Even in Freetown nothing is free there, it is as simple as that.

What exactly is the situation of things as regards your touted governorship ambition in 2015?

This is another issue I will say is mystical.  The reason is that we should get ourselves clear. I never told the people I granted an interview recently of my ambition for 2015.  I did not.  What I said was a question and of course when you are in a brotherly atmosphere, I think we should be very honest with ourselves.  I am a politician and I don’t believe we should keep colouring issues.

What I said, because I am a politician, is that I went to school, I have my profession; I was a lecturer before I came for the 2003 election.  And if in the last 10 years, I left everything that I trained for to choose this new field, politics, it is of course, understanding that I want to remain in politics till the end of my active life.  And because if you are in a school and you still want to remain in school after your primary education, you will go to secondary school, if you still want to remain in school, you will think of the tertiary and so on and so forth. After graduating from the university, if you still want to remain, you will go for your masters, you will go for your PHD, you may even come back to become a lecturer.

So, if I am in politics, if I have been in the Assembly the first term, the second term and the term, shouldn’t I also think of something new?In terms of ambition, yes, I am ambitious like every other human being.  But for 2015, I cannot say anything about it now because I am a believer. Tomorrow is too far for you to start predicting as if tomorrow is yours.  The One who made us already has plans for us.

Like I told a congregation at the annual thanks giving we did in the Assembly with a Christian group- many people did not expect that I would be there addressing that gathering as the host because the speaker of the Assembly is usually the host, two or three years ago, many would not even know whether Ikuforiji would be coming back to the Assembly or not and I did not know myself.  I didn’t know but the One who made me, who knew me before he made me, knew everything.

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