Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, says the independence of the state legislatures is a constitutional imperative. He also calls for the removal of all direct constitutional links between the local governments and the federal government, saying councils are the exclusive responsibility of the states, in this interview with Jaiyeola Andrews. Excerpts:
What is your opinion on the call for autonomy of the states House of Assembly?
I don’t know where to start; I think there are two different things: the House of Assembly is the legislature in the states. The constitution expects the independence of the three arms of government: the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. That is the expectation of the constitution. However, they are also expected to work interdependently, none is an island on its own. But that relative independence is financial autonomy – the ability to carry out some activities without the interference of the other arms is sacrosanct. That is the expectation of the constitution.
And I think every right thinking member of the public and any serious democrat will try to work for the independence of the legislature. Without independence of the legislature we cannot have a well evolved and progressive democratic system. Don’t forget, the legislature itself is the real symbol of democracy. When the symbol is not free then the essence of the whole thing is gone. It is clear; democracy presupposes independence of the legislature. This independence does not mean another government but autonomy. If the house should be able to say, “we are forming a committee to look into the affairs of an MDA, a ministry, an agency, a department, local government or even the office of the governor,” the house should have that power of doing it when and how it deems it fit.
So you think financial independence is necessary for the effectiveness of the independence of the legislature?
But if it doesn’t have financial autonomy how will it be able to carry out those onerous tasks that the constitution places on its shoulders. I don’t think it could exist in the constitution that the local government should work solely on the directive of the governor or a commissioner. The existence of a local government administration in all the states of the federation is guaranteed by the constitution. The administration of the local government is the business of the House of Assembly of each state. We need to get it clear, we are federated on the states as federating units, not the local government s. if there is anything at all that we are supposed to do today, I think we should as much as possible reduce the influence and the activities of the local governments with federal government.
There should be no relationship whatsoever between them and this revenue sharing formula thing should be reviewed in favour of the states. Prescriptions can be there as to what percentages of what the state gets goes to the local government of each state but there should be no relationship between local governments and the federal government. The local government should exist only within the state in which they are. They should be the closest government to the people and they should be empowered to operate in such a manner to get the dividends of democracy to the people. That is not what we have today.
What specific areas of the constitution would you like to be amended?
Power generation, everything that has to do with power, energy, electricity, anything that will give the federal government or any of its agencies the power over the production or the distribution of energy, I want it off. There should be greater devolution of power to lower government. More should be given to the state and by implication the local government. The federal government should shed weight. We should do everything to make the federal government to shed weight. The federal revenue allocation formula should be reviewed. It is having a very negative impact on the people and the economy as a whole. As much as possible there should be devolution of power.
You once canvassed for a special status for Lagos State, why do you think this is necessary?
I believe this is necessary that with the type of things we are going through in Lagos and with the type of things we already know of Lagos, its size, its composition, its central position to the economy of the country, the fact that it has been a central capital for many years, the fact that the federal government took from the people of Lagos so much of their land, so much of what belonged to them naturally and made use of those things over a long period and left many infrastructure uncared for.
We are not the first to move our capital from an old city to a newer one, but those countries that did so before us are taking care of the former places. Ours should not be an exception. And in our own case, it is even worrisome because there is nowhere else you will go to find the kind of conglomeration that we have in Lagos. Lagos is in fact the only place in the entire country where you may say that there is no single tribe that can claim not to be represented. At least every family in the African sense of it, I’m not talking of nuclear family, the extended family. You will find that there is no single family that does not have representation in Lagos. So the federal government should accord it that special status.
Do you think the restriction of Okada (commercial motorcycles) in the state is achieving the purpose for which it was ordered by the government?
It is not done to have motor bikes of that small capacity carry one or two passengers on the Third Mainland Bridge. So we said, operate in certain parts but these dangerous areas, do not be there and do not go there because you expose the lives of our citizens to great danger by operating on those roads.
Some people believe your ordeal in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is politically motivated. What is your take on this?
The case is court, it is improper for me to start passing comments, particularly, at the stage where the case is. We are getting close to the end of it. You are observers, too, and watching the events and even going through the charges and so on. Considering what I have been made to go through, you will feel that why has a citizen of the country who is staking his all-in-all to making the society better be subjected to such level of humiliation for nothing.
What is your opinion on President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid?
I’m an ACN man, even if he is doing fine, the possibility of my saying he deserves another term is very low. So that may not be a very fair question for you.
But do you think the president has performed well?
I’m sure most Nigerians will give the verdict that the present administration and even the previous one at the federal level have not lived up to their expectation of the people. It is not something new to anybody. We have this trouble on our hands and may God help us. I don’t even enjoy passing comments on the performance of this government.
Do you think the opposition alliances being proposed ahead of 2015 can be effective enough to wrest the presidency from the Peoples Democratic Party?
Political alliances are not something you can take for granted. We have seen alliances coming on as if they are not going to really work and they have worked. And we have seen alliances that will spring up and look control (laughs). Let it go on, let us see what happens. But I’m very hope that a major opposition is coming.
What is your position on the issue of state police and the various reactions to the call for it?
To me, the issue of state police is a matter that should not even be debated. Let us just go for it because we need it. The chances are very high that the state police is coming, if not today, tomorrow. State police is coming. It is only people who are not futuristic – people who cannot see beyond their noses – that will say they do not the opportunity of providing security of lives and property.
How do you see the federal government dialogue plan with Boko Haram?
I don’t know how much of dialogue the federal government has been able to do with the Boko Haram people but where security of lives and property is being threatened, seriously, I don’t think the issue is negotiation. The problem we have is that our security network has not been able to get to the root – they need to get there and apprehend the brains behind it. We would probably not get out of it if they would not do that.
How would you react to the calls for the creation of more states, and do you think it would be feasible in the ongoing constitution amendment?
It takes two-thirds to make it happen; two-thirds of the people from that area accepting that they want it. And, of course, passing it at the National Assembly. I don’t even think it would make economic sense to create any additional state.
You are one of the longest serving Speaker of a House of Assembly in the country. What would you count as your greatest achievement as speaker?
I’m a third term Speaker and I think we have some other third Speakers. By the grace of God, I have quite a number of achievements to point to, but getting members to act effectively as the representatives of the people is something that I’m very proud of. We have the spirit to get going with the people. We are defending the people; we are respecting the downtrodden and encouraging peace and development. I feel happy that the orientation given to my people is to work in the interest of the people.