Senator Smart Adeyemi
Senator Smart Adeyemi representing Kogi West in the Senate is unhappy about the overbearing influence the governors wield in the polity. He is particularly irked that the governors are working against autonomy for local governments. In an interview in Abuja with Omololu Ogunmade, Adeyemi also speaks on other sundry issues in the land…
What gives you the impression that the National Assembly can withstand the pressure of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in this struggle for local government autonomy?
You know in a democratic dispensation or government, everybody is entitled to his or her own view or opinion on contemporary national issues but what is important is that together, we look at which argument or opinion is superior. I believe I have a superior argument on the issue of local government autonomy and by extension, I believe that quite a number of highly placed Nigerian elites, the progressives, are equally of this same school of thought. I hold the strong view that by the time the agitation actually commences, my position and that of others, which are the same, will scale through.
Well, the governors are very powerful. Nobody is in doubt of that. I’m not in doubt that the governors are powerful. If I’m in doubt, not even now, as I can recall what happened in the Sixth Senate. We proposed autonomy for the legislature during the constitutional amendment exercise. Funny enough, more than two-thirds of the state houses of assembly granted autonomy to the National Assembly but to themselves, they said No. Not even in the days of Hitler would you grant anybody autonomy and the person would say No, that he wanted to be in perpetual slavery. It happened in the Sixth Assembly. We gave the state assemblies autonomy and they rejected it. So, with that, I’m not in doubt that the governors are not just ordinary governors, they are executive governors even though there is nowhere it is written in the constitution that we have executive governors but that is what we have in reality.
The time will come when the governors will speak on this issue and they will understand that it is not a progressive position to take that the local government should not be autonomous from the stranglehold of the state governors. Just fiscal autonomy, we are not even saying that they cannot be disciplined but we are saying that the resources of local governments should go to the local governments. If the funds are misappropriated, then the chairmen that are doing so should be made to face the wrath of the law. It will be unconstitutional for any governor to tamper with resources that are meant for local governments because the governors owe an allegiance to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and they all pledged to protect and defend that constitution. And if you divert the allocations meant for local governments, you have breached the constitution.
Well, for me, when the time is ripe, I’m sure that many Nigerians will speak out. Many stakeholders will speak out, the media, civil society organisations, community leaders, traditional rulers, etc will take position when the time comes. And I hold the strong view that the spirit and content of the constitution is that the local governments should have their own allocations for meaningful development of the grassroots and in the interest of grassroots people. Now, for state governments to add local government allocations to theirs is against the spirit and content of the 1999 Constitution.
State governments believe that states should be left to run the affairs of local governments. They say it’s also in line with the way native authorities were run during the colonial era.
Well, I do not believe that the federal system of government should be 100 per cent identical; I mean what you have in one country compared with another. Our norms and values are not the same. You cannot make a law without taking into consideration the norms and values of the people. Laws are tailored towards the perception of life of the people. That is the basic rule that must be respected all over the world. But I still hold the strong view that federal system of government cannot be the same because Nigeria is a more diverse nation than many other countries of the world and for anybody to assume that we should copy 100 per cent what is obtainable in the United States is to deny the fact that one, we are Africans, and secondly, we are very diverse people. Now, the local government reform of 1976 was done so that it could be able to accommodate the diversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
First and foremost, it was meant to give every ethnic group a sense of belonging and to let everyone have a share of the nation’s cake and as well meeting the developmental need of the people. So, that was what led to local government reform - that every ethnic group of Nigeria to a large extent should be involved in the process of governance. That is why you have local governments in Nigeria as grassroots government of the people. I do not believe that we should come up with the argument that in the United States, ‘well, they have two tiers of government.’ No because if you look at it from that perspective, you will get it wrong because our level of government is not the same with that of the United States and number two, we are much more diverse than the United States.
I can equally tell you that the kind of leaders we have in the United States, we don’t have them in Nigeria. Perhaps we had them in the First Republic like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the premier of Western Region. Awolowo didn’t take into consideration the states that would be created in the future but Awolowo touched every part of Western Region, which now constitutes six states. Awolowo was relevant to his people because he was not discriminating against any part of Western Region. In the Northern Region, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was a leader to the core. Sardauna of Sokoto was fair to all. He did not do anything on the basis of tribe or religion. The same thing was done by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. But we speak here now, show me who you can call the Awolowos or the Sardaunas of this generation. Governors today are promoting discrimination, tribalism to the point that tribalism is becoming an issue today. The governors are not helping matters. When a governor wants to appoint aides, he appoints members of his family, wife as aides in a state where we have up to six ethnic groups. In a situation where you do that, you encourage discrimination; you encourage corruption.
So, the more reason the local government structure must remain is that we have not even seen those who are true governors of their states in the real sense of it. Many governors of today see themselves as representatives of their ethnic groups. When you have that kind of situation, you cannot now take the risk of submitting the last tier, which is the government of the community, to the governors. You cannot scrap it. And let me warn the governors that any attempt to do that is to set in motion machinery for anarchy in Nigeria. If you run two tiers of government, you would have succeeded in preparing people for a revolution that will consume many people because the situation today is that you have a large army of unemployed youth who cannot stay in the cities but have moved to their local government areas. When you scrap the local government, you can imagine what will follow. The governors will be unable to sleep with their two eyes closed.
I can tell them that their old ages won’t be in peace because we can tell them that the third tier of government must be entrenched in the constitution and the autonomy of the third tier of government must be protected. The governors should run the affairs of the states. But they should allow the local governments to run their own affairs. If dubious people are administering local government affairs, let the anti-graft agencies move into the grassroots. That is not enough to throw the baby and the water away. So, I hold the strong view that the third tier of government is imperative. It must be sustained.
Just as the governors will ask that there is nowhere in the world where we have the third tier of government, I also will ask the governors, where in the world do we have Governors’ Forum as a way of ganging up to get involved in policy formulation and implementation of policies? I don’t know anywhere in the world where the governors have a forum to compel the legislators as we have in Nigeria to refuse to take their freedom. I don’t know where that is done. It is only in Nigeria that we have seen governors becoming so powerful to the extent that they could subdue the bitter pills they put in their throats. So, the governors should tell me where such things had been done.
But how do you want to win this battle bearing in mind that if you put it in the amendment process, you need at least 24 of the state houses of assembly and the governors have overwhelming influence on their state legislators as you have said before?
Well, those who make peaceful resolution of conflicts impossible will have to make violent change inevitable. The time will come when the people will revolt. There is a limit to human endurance. If what we are saying is the best for the people, when the time comes, the people will speak out. If you say it is the best for the people, okay, get away with it. But it will get to a point when the people will revolt because poverty will be on the increase when you scrap the local government. Unemployment will be on the increase and the government will find it difficult to meet the challenges of the needs of the people. Now as regards how we want to go about it, democracy is all about the people. Democracy is about people. When the time comes, the people will have to speak for themselves. Ours is to agitate on behalf of Nigeria. What we are doing is to stir up the people to speak now because we know that our position is in the best interest of the people and there is no nation where 36 people will compel 160 million people to do their bidding. So, if 36 people take a decision and 89 million people say no, I think 89 million people’s position will scale through and nobody can compromise the constitution to suit his position. The National Assembly has stirred up the process of constitutional amendment.
I do not know how the third tier of government will be expunged. That will be a hard nut to crack and a number of my friends in the labour union are already warming up for the action to take and I know that members of National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) are also warming up and when the chips are down, the people will react and say to their Excellencies, the governors, not to see power as something absolute.
There is nowhere in the world where you use power absolutely. Power must be used within the confines of the needs and aspirations of the people. If you take a position on behalf of a people and the people say no, you have to reverse the decision. If you say the local councils should be scrapped, the Northern region will be heated up. In the Northern region, we have over 400 tribes. In this region, local government is a kind of succor, which gives people a sense of belonging. Now you now ask us to reduce the tiers of government to two. In the North, we cannot stand the existence of two tiers of government and I know I’m speaking the minds of most of Nigerians; even in the South-south, I don’t think they can stand the two tiers of government; maybe in the South-west, the fact that people of the South-west understand each other can help; it is a homogenous region, but in the North, you can’t stand the scrapping of local governments and I know that in no time, some of the governors will get to know that the two tiers of government will not work.
Recently, the committee on constitution review initiated an opinion poll on this issue and suddenly, the poll was withdrawn, ostensibly on the suspicion that some people had hijacked the voting. Do you sense the hands of the governors in this?
Even before they even came up to acknowledge it, I came up to say that I could see their body language, I knew they were against it. I knew again that majority of Nigerians wanted the local governments to be retained. I will tell you this that Nigerians are getting more and more enlightened about the way they are governed. Now, the issue of local government autonomy is an issue that is being discussed in a number of places in Nigeria now and when the time comes, the people will rise up for it. Now, to expunge the local government from the constitution is to further impoverish the people and make them far away from the people. In fact, democracy, as a government of the people, what we are supposed to do is create more channels that will bridge the gap between the government and the people. You will recall that in some states of the federation, some state governments create development areas as a way of bridging the gap and not to widen it.
How many people can have access to their governor? But how many people can have access to the local government? They are uncountable. Through the councillor, they will get across to the chairman of their local governments. Now, how many councillors can see their governors? So, I do not think it makes sense to expunge the local governments. I’m of the strong belief that any attempt to do that will cause chaos and their Excellencies will not be able to sleep with their two eyes closed. At their old age, they won’t have rest because the people will revolt. The people will rise and I will join the people in staging demonstrations across this country. It is a call to anarchy and attempt to subject the people to perpetual poverty. This we ‘ll resist.
Don’t you think you may be alone in this battle because when the chips are down, your colleagues in the National Assembly may pander to the whims and caprices of their governors particularly when 2015 is near and most of them are also there in the assembly at the mercy of their governors?
Martin Luther King said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moment of comfort or convenience but where he stands in time of challenges and controversies. What makes you a man is the position you take; what makes the people to be with you in large or low number is your position. When you take a position, you know that posterity will know where you stand. For me, I speak for myself and by extension; I speak for those who have elected me. Those who elected me are grassroots people. That is why I am a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And I have dual responsibilities as a senator to ensure good governance, protection of human rights by making laws on one hand and moving motions on the other hand -stirring up debates on legislative issues. Those are the dual responsibilities of a senator. So, I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do as the senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I don’t care if I step on toes in the course of doing my job, what matters is the will of the people.
Another thing is that a number of people may not be so keen about this struggle because many people have been so disappointed in the way chairmen and their councillors run the local governments because even when they have the money to deliver, they only fester their own nests.
It is not in all areas that local governments have failed. Leadership determines followership. When a local government chairman knows that the allocation to him is being siphoned, he will want to siphon what is left too. In other words, the kind of leadership you have determines what they do. If the governors don’t corner their allocations, local governments will have no option than to perform. If their allocations are not tampered with, there will be no explanation for local governments not to perform. Let me recount an experience with a local government chairman in my state. He told me three years ago that the allocation for his local government, he was not allowed to sign for the actual figure given to him from the federation account but only one third of it was released. He said he was told by the governor that the state needed money to revive a university, which was far away from his local government or even his senatorial district.
Now, how do you explain that? When governors need money, they ask the local governments to contribute money for the entertainment of visitors that are coming to see his Excellency. His Excellency is travelling overseas, he asks the local government to contribute money. When the wife of the governor is travelling, he asks the local government to contribute money. The state is preparing for independence anniversary, local government is asked to contribute money. So, how will the local government perform? This is more so that most of the local government chairmen are not chairmen indeed but appointees of the governors.
They are sole administrators. In many states, local governments are run by caretaker committees, which is unconstitutional. Let me advise their Excellencies that all these things they do that they get away with now, someone may get there one day and say they should come and account for it. That is why we have to be very careful. Let’s correct what is wrong now. For local governments to contribute for the wife of his Excellency’s trips is unconstitutional.
You are the Chairman of Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT). How far have you gone in your efforts to set up internally generated revenue body in FCT?
In the next few days, precisely on the 28th of this month, we are going to have a public hearing on property tax and board of internally generated revenue. On this, we are determined.
What impact have you had on Kogi West senatorial district as their representative in the Senate?
I think if you recall how I returned to the Senate the second time, you will know that the people actually wanted me back. I was the only senator who had primary election three times. My first primary election was cancelled. The second one was cancelled. The third one stayed because there was a governor at that time who said I must not be allowed to come back and the people rose against him because I have been defending the interest of my people and by extension, I have been championing the war against marginalisation in Kogi State. The governor at that time said I should not be allowed to come back but power belongs to the people and the mercy of God made me to triumph over the judgment of the man then in Lugard House.
I think this question should be better put to the people. But having asked me, I’m not in doubt that I have not betrayed the mandate that was given to me. As I’m speaking to you now, I’m constructing Kabba township stadium. The stadium consists of lawn tennis court, basketball court and swimming pool. In fact, I’m going to put Olympic size swimming pool in that stadium. My belief is that with that one, I should be able to engage some of the youth in sporting activities. Who knows, some of them can become professionals and take sports as a career.
In Odo Eri, I’m building a cottage bed hospital. We have finished roofing; we are fixing the windows now. That is in Iyagba West Local Government. In Iyagba West, there is a town called Igbaruku, where I had to demolish a 50-year old hospital built by Sardauna of Sokoto and I’m replacing it with another 20-bed hospital. In Igbagun, which is in Iyagba East Local Government, I’m equally building a health centre. I’ve equally been able to provide over 120 taxi cabs for unemployed graduates in the seven local governments that constitute Kogi West.
In Koton Karfi, I am building a 1,000 seater-auditorium. We have taken it to the roofing level now. These are projects you can verify. You can go there and ask the people. I have been able to provide at least 30 boreholes in various communities of my senatorial district. As I’m speaking to you today, I’m importing six containers of drugs. I am expecting six containers of drugs. I’ve received three already which consist of amnesia machine, x-ray machine; 300 hospital beds are also coming. Already, I have 200 hospital beds in Iyara, in Ijumu Local Government headquarters. I have three containers already in Iyara/Ijumu Local Government, which I shipped from Atlanta Georgia to Nigeria. Equally, I’m expecting three more containers and I’m expecting 20 ambulances for the health centres that I’m constructing so that they can meet the medical challenges that will arise.
In Iyara, the headquarters of Ijumu Local Government, I ‘ve completed 100 lock-up market shops. I can go on and on to tell you what I’m doing. My coming to politics is to impact positively on the lives of the people. I have equally given 15 Jeep cars to traditional rulers in my senatorial district. All these are done just to improve the wellbeing of my people.