Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, in this interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, speaks about his case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and passage of bills by the House, among other issues
How has it been leading the Lagos State House of Assembly?
It has been quite interesting generally, very challenging, demanding and highly tasking. All in all, it has also been rewarding in the sense that we have put in all efforts and made sacrifices and the results are here with us. God has been merciful. I personally think we have the best legislature in Lagos State. Our efforts have started yielding positive results and we are still here. It has been fulfilling too and we see all the beautiful things that follow success.
In the past few years, several laws have been made in Lagos but there is still a general belief that the Lagos Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive. Do you agree with that?
I would not agree that there is a general notion that the House of Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive. I think most watchers of events in Nigeria do say that the Lagos House is the only House that has the semblance of an independent legislative arm in the country, apart from the National Assembly. We are not just independent; we are independent-minded and we have autonomy. We are not tied to the apron strings of any other arm of government and we are conscious of the fact that the independence of the three arms of the government, as stated in the constitution, also calls for interdependence, collaboration and coorperation among the three arms. If anybody is seeing the collaboration between the Lagos House and the executive arm of government in Lagos as being a rubber stamp, the person is totally wrong. The House has never been a rubber stamp. In the last eight years, we have in different ways demonstrated that this is an independent arm of government working collaboratively with the executive arm to move Lagos forward.
What is your take on the perception that the Assembly is always quick to pass laws that are anti-poor?
That is another insinuation that I would not agree with and is not true. It can never be correct. I don’t know of any other legislative house that is as people-oriented and as conscious of its role of being the representative of the people as the Lagos Assembly. I don’t think there is any other House in Nigeria that comes close to Lagos House. We don’t pass any bill to law until we hold public hearing and the public hearing would not hold until we advertise the bill. Sometimes, we print the entire bill on the pages of national dailies and then invite Lagosians to the public hearing. The report of that hearing is tabled at plenary session of the House.
Do you think the law restricting commercial motorcycles was surpported by the generality of Lagosians?
I can show you the results of the public hearings and letters from the people of Lagos that show that we have done enough along that line. We have only tried to balance the opinions of the people. Quite a number of road users in Lagos are not even happy that we have not done outright ban on okada. Many road users feel that we should not have allowed okada in any part of the state because they were banned in Abuja, Akwa Ibom and other states. So, why should Lagos allow them? But we felt that considering the population and rapid expansion in Lagos, the fact that the government and the public cannot jointly provide alternatives, it is better to restrict movement of okadas. I don’t think there is any civilised country where bikes carry passengers on the highway like the Third Mainland Bridge. Do you want motorcycle to carry passengers and be completing with motorists on major roads? I think we should not be too sentimental about certain issues, we should be realistic and honest with ourselves. We know the kind of dangers we expose our people to when we allow bikes to carry them on the expressway.
Why then was the law made without alternatives in place?
Don’t we have public transport carrying people on these highways where okadas have been banned? We have other means of transport for the people.
You have remained Speaker since 2005. Is it due to your achievements or merely because of your relationship with a leader of your party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu?
The leader of the party does not come to the House to manage the affairs of the House. There was never a time like that.
We have at all times been interested in the feelings and opinions of the people. There have been occasions where bills have spent months before they become laws because we still feel there is a need for further consultation. We still consult with organisations that we consider key stakeholders even after or before public hearing and we take their opinion into consideration before a bill is passed into law.
Many believe you emerged Speaker merely because you were Tinubu’s choice?
The leader of the party doesn’t control the House. The party decides which position goes to which zone in the state. But if the position comes to your zone you may be lucky to have it. It is neither the business of the party to do the job for you nor its business to impose the speaker on the members. Don’t forget the House is about the most democratic institution you can think of. Members are all equal whether you have a PhD or a school certificate. The final decision as to who becomes the speaker lies solely on members of the House. If you are elected speaker, it is your business to maintain the office and administer the House in such a way that your colleagues would feel satisfied to leave you on the seat. Otherwise, you will be shown the way out.
But in 2011 some new members opposed your emergence.
If we have 40 members in the house and I became speaker the first and second time, I think it is rational to expect that somehow some members may challenge one and say I have had enough. That they want another person to lead. That is democracy.
You were representing Epe constituency 1 and in 2011, you were imposed on the Ikeja constituency 1. How democratic was that?
That is the real democracy and also the growth of democracy. That shows how mature our party is. It shows how democratic we are. You can check out advanced democracies, you would find such all over. Hilary Clinton was a senator from New York but we all know where she came from. Bill Clinton himself was governor of Arkansas before becoming President of the United States. When his wife was to contest for the presidency, he only moved to New York to satisfy the conditional requirement. It is a sign of democratic maturity. I have lived in Ikeja for many years before I decided to contest from Ikeja. I think every right-thinking Nigerian should see that as a positive move. After all, the major headache we have is maintaining our plurality in unity. So, if I cannot move from Epe to Ikeja, how do you expect somebody from Ikorodu to go to Abuja and be accepted? If you move from Epe to Ikeja, why should it be a problem to anybody when the constitution says that you must live in the constituency for a minimum of six months before you can become a candidate? I had worked and lived in Ikeja for years.
Some people have said it was because the speakership was zoned to Ikeja and Tinubu wanted you to remain speaker.
Who said it was zoned to Ikeja? There was nothing like that. There is much more to democracy and party politics than what the ordinary person sees and insinuates. There was never a time the party zoned it to Ikeja. Even if it did, as a bonafide resident of Ikeja, don’t I have the right to go after it particularly for the experience I had before that time? I’ve put in a lot of effort to make the House the number one legislative House in Nigeria. If the party says it was going to Ikeja, I was a resident of Ikeja before then. What is wrong in my saying this is another opportunity to serve better?
Was it not a compensation for your failed governorship ambition?
I have never had anything called failure as far as my reputation is concerned in life. Never. And I am saying this with all sense of gratitude to my creator. There has never been a time I had my mind on any ambition and I failed. My God, my creator made it possible on a platter of gold. Did I call on anyone to declare governorship ambition? Tell me the moves that showed I had governorship ambition at a particular point in time. I know God will do it if it has been destined. So, if anybody insinuated or felt that way, that is his or her business. I have always been happy doing what I have been doing.
There were reports that you submitted a letter of intention to run for governorship in 2011. What happened then?
Those were rumours. If there is a letter of intention from any member of the party, the party would hand the letter to the secretariat. Go to our party headquarters and ask them for such letter of intention. Things are not done that way. When the party has not declared vacancy in any office, you cannot write any letter of intention and don’t forget this is not just a speaker, but a real speaker of the House. I have always been a member of the G-14. That is the peak; it is the decision-making body of our party. If I have to write a letter of intention to that body, then the body must know that a particular office is vacant. I would be the most foolish person on earth to write a letter of intention when the body which I belong to has not declared any vacancy and has not asked people to submit letters of intention. But when it comes to the game of politics, don’t forget one thing, there are all sorts of devilish manipulations. Some people manipulate almost everything. We have thousands of us in the game and each and every one is devising means of outsmarting the other. Paint that man red, or black so that you can look whiter than snow.
How about the plan to impeach Governor Babatunde Fashola?
I told you earlier, this House has no rival in the federation. If the House decides to impeach the governor, the governor would have no way out, he would be impeached. The House is capable, strong and ‘smart’ enough to impeach the governor. We can say the rumours were being peddled by our enemies, enemies of our party and Lagos. These are people who were looking for benefits. I have no doubt in my mind that smart journalists can put one and one together. At that time, my governor was the only governor my party had. If you were in my shoes, would you have impeached such a governor? We were dealing with an enemy that is so large that it can consume our party if we had made such a mistake. Any reasonable person knew then that was sheer propaganda. There were allegations and the House said it was going to look into them. Does that translate to impeachment? We had not even started investigation when people started saying the governor was going to be impeached. Were we so foolish? If the governor was impeached, would the Speaker be made governor. You know what the constitution says? If a governor is impeached, the deputy governor becomes the governor and then the party nominates someone to become deputy governor. So, how does that work in the favour of the Speaker because for the Speaker to become governor, he must first impeach the governor or impeach the two of them (the governor and his deputy). And do you think I would be foolish enough to impeach a popular governor and his deputy and allow another party that we know is ready to turn daylight to darkness, to conduct an election midway through. What would I have said the governor did? That the only governor my party had stole money? I come from a polygamous background and one of the things I learnt early in life was that you don’t abuse your siblings from the same mother outside. Even if they have done something wrong, you make sure you go inside your mother’s room to do that. If your sister wets the bed and because she slapped you in the sitting room or outside, you now say look at her slapping me, this one that wets the bed every time. That might be good for you at that moment but the following day, that abuse becomes yours because everybody would say see this stupid boy whose sister wets the bed every time. So, we had learnt early in life not to wash our dirty linens in public. We don’t have dirty linens anyway. There were mere allegations on the pages of newspapers but because it lies on the legislative arm to always do what is right legislatively and democratically, we all said we would look into the allegation but when the court said, ‘don’t go there’ didn’t we stop? If we wanted to, we could have gone ahead and allowed it to become a bigger legal issue. Forget about the rumours, let us focus on building the Lagos that you and I would be proud of. That is what the government and party are interested in. Those who are worried about our success are the ones peddling unfounded rumours. Thank God that many of them have accepted, even in public, that ours is the government to beat in the federation.
Are you interested in the 2015 governorship election?
Today is August 12, 2013. That is less than five months to the end of the year. Why don’t you allow us to get close to a football competition before we know whether it is a league or whatever. When you are meeting an opponent, a good team would think first of how to win the match. At that time, if you start thinking of the next match, that may spell your doom. It is not even right. Let us get to the end of it first. When we get to the bridge, we will cross it.
You have a case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Can you shed light on this?
I would not have been receiving these knocks if I am not a speaker. If they do not see me as the most celebrated speaker in the country, people would not have come after me. Detractors would not haved planted stories to smear my image. But what is it that I have done to God to have given me all the opportunities I get? Mark you, in this state; no one has been a speaker twice. I broke that jinx. And as if that was not enough, I broke the record I set for myself by not only becoming a speaker twice but thrice. So, there will be detractors. Even the Lord Jesus, despite all he did for humanity, was persecuted. The court of law is there for all of us.
Are you not worried that the case has smeared your image?
I do not feel as bad as most people feel I should think. I think it is also testing the waters and our democratic development. The House has even learnt more from this development. Other state assemblies come to learn from us. They take our bills to make their own laws. We go abroad to learn more from the advanced nations. Our House has learnt more from the investigations conducted by the EFCC. We no longer take for granted some of the things we used to take for granted. It has helped in the development of the system. Though the issue took some things away from us too because it has become a sort of distraction. It has become a cog in the wheel of the progress of the system. But the good thing is that we have learnt more from it.
What impact do you think the emergence of your party, the All Progressives Congress, will make on the nation’s political terrain?
Of course, our influence has expanded. I say congratulations to Nigerians. It is a rebirth. Nigeria is now about to join the comity of seriously developing nations. From May 29, 2015, when the APC takes over the leadership of the country and across the states, Nigerians will witness unprecedented speed in socio-economic development of the country. There will be smiles on the faces of many across the nation.
Culled from SUNDAY PUNCH.