Hon. Abdulrasaq Atunwa
Hon. Abdulrasaq Atunwa, Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, spoke with journalists in Ilorin on the state of the nation, state police, and financial autonomy for state assemblies, among other issues. Hammed Shittuwas there. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the purported impeachment of your counterpart in Kogi State?
It is with grave concern that the news of that purported impeachment got to me and many other speakers in the federation. These are my thoughts. Generally, it is troubling to see that speakers of houses of assembly in Nigeria seem to be now easy targets and endangered species. Speakers are now being impeached willy nilly.
In the past 12 months or so, there were about five speakers who had been impeached. It happened in Kano, Adamawa and Niger States. It happened again in Kogi. It is troubling and it’s bad for our polity. It is bad for democracy in Nigeria that state parliaments are becoming increasingly volatile. If there is no stable leadership in the legislative arm of government in any state, that state becomes precarious and if it is happening and we allow it to continue unchecked throughout the federation, then, of course, we’ll be creating rooms for more instability in our democratic existence.
The parliament is a place to be revered and a place that requires utmost stability. It should not be toyed with. I understand the motion was raised on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday and a committee had been set up as a fact finding committee to look into what occurred few days ago in Kogi State House of Assembly and report back to the House.
So, I will not want to delve into any particular fact but what we do know apart from my general comment, is that 17 members ought to impeach Abdullahi Bello, the speaker and replace him with Lawal. We later read in in an advert in the newspapers how the impeachment was signed by 13 members of the 25-member House. And the Constitution under Section 92 is quite clear that you can only remove the speaker of a House of Assembly by two-third majority of members. And two-third of 25 is 16 and half or thereabout. That means you need at least 17 members to remove the speaker.
If it is correct, the 13 members who signed the communiqué published in the newspaper did not make up the required number stipulated by the constitution. I raised this not to dabble into the fact, right or wrong, but I raised this because it’s now a concern to me as a legislator and a concerned citizen of Nigeria, that if this sort of attitude goes unchecked, then our democracy of course, will begin to falter.
Parliaments worldwide are the stabilising factors because ministers can come and go. Secretary of State can come and go. Commissioners can come and go willy nilly but parliaments must be stable. To recall a member of parliament for example, is one of the most stringent things you can ever do. And the Constitution deliberately did that so that there is stability in this type of government. By the back door, if there is instability because you are changing leadership, then our democracy will continue to suffer.
On my part, I will urge all players in our democratic experience not to toy with the houses of assembly, particularly the leadership of the houses of assembly. The House of Assembly is not an appendage of the executive. It is not there as a subordinate to the executive.
It is there as an arm of government created by the Constitution to carry out constitutional functions as the democratic representative of the people.
What is the outcome of public hearing on Kwara State Land Law Issue of 1999?
The report on the Land Issue was presented during oversight function and public hearing was held on Land Use Policy and Urbanisation Order of the Kwara State and Legal Notice issued in September 2009. We are all aware that it was being said as a result of that Urbanisation Order of 2009 and its operation that it is inimical to the interest of the people of the state and that it has serious adverse consequences and no benefit at all. And as spinner from that, some members of the public had carried unsubstantiated rumours that the government had sold the Eid Praying Ground or part of Emir’s Palace and so on and so forth.
But the report presented after the public hearing again demonstrated that none of those rumours clearly were true. No part of Eid Praying Ground or Emir’s Palace was sold. But more importantly, the report shed light on the operation of the policy and we accepted that there might have been unintended consequences of the Legal Notice of the Urbanisation Order. The purpose of the Urbanisation Order was to ensure that Kwara State which has been developing at a very rapid rate, particularly under the previous administration of Dr. Bukola Saraki which created Urbanisation Scheme, has an orderly approach to land use and allocation and efficient use of land.
But of course, there are unintended consequences. People have what we describe as hereditary residential family compound and thus resisted the Urbanization Order. As Nigerians, we know that some family compounds are not vested in the hands of a single individual. They are held in a communal thing and if you are urbanising and asking him to now subject those lands including the family compound to a statutory certificate of occupancy regime, it becomes a problem. Well, a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) will have to carry one name. So, that’s an unintended consequence. And you’ll have to pay, of course, for your C of O, survey etcetera.
That wasn’t what was envisaged by the time the Legal Notice was being done. So, we’ve accepted and we’ve therefore made six recommendations. First, the Legal Notice of 2009 should be revoked and repealed by the governor and if the governor wished to do any urbanisation scheme, he should take account of those native hereditary family residential compounds and should be excluded from that regime. It doesn’t take anything away from the urbanisation scheme.
I believe as a result of the public hearing and resolution, those things would be corrected and also importantly, we said that compensation and evaluation rate should be reviewed so that compensation would be seen to be adequate and sufficient for anybody whose land had been acquired. Those were the two key matters.
What is your take on the pursuit of financial autonomy for Houses of Assembly in Nigeria?
I am happy with the progress so far with the constitution amendment process that is going on. I am happy that the financial autonomy of House of Assembly is also taking priority position in the amendment. Again if houses of assembly are seen to be autonomous, it means they are independent and they will be able to carry out their functions without fear from the executive. Again, the incident of Kogi State buttresses the point.
It would then make you ask the question, in relation to state Police. If executive governors wield so much power and then you add to that the control of security forces, including the state Police, you could imagine what he would be doing to transform from a democratic existence to what I will term as executive dictatorship. And we must avoid such occurrence. So, I don’t believe Nigeria is ripe for state Police. It will also create legal problems if Kwara State has its own Police Command and Niger, Oyo, Osun also have theirs.
These states are our neighbours. If a criminal in the territory of Kwara State goes into Oyo State, what law governs my entry into Oyo State jurisdiction as a police officer to have the power of arrest or chase him to Oyo State? We all see the example of the United States. In the US, they started as separate states but came together as separate nations to unite as United States. In Nigeria, reverse is the case. We are one and subdivided into separate state entities. Therefore, I believe one unified police force under the Federal Government is enough in Nigeria’s particular context. State Police portends more dangers than it can solve.
How would you describe the current insecurity in the country and what do you suggest as way out of the menace?
One should be concerned really. We are fast developing into a state of anarchy. It’s a product of what the society has become or is becoming. Not only that we have to be tough on the perpetrator but we must also be sincere in the causes of the crimes and prevention. What do I mean by that? Our security problem may be related to lack of adequate economic growth in our economy.
People are now looking at various criminal means of trying to achieve financial buoyancy. It’s wrong. Crimes can’t be condoned in any way whatsoever. But as long as there is lack of genuine opportunity for the youth and there is work force to achieve some good means of livelihood, then, we would see more people turn to delinquent means of livelihood. Wife of the Speaker of State of Osun House of Assembly was not kidnapped for any political reason but because somebody wanted to make some money out of the crime; he demanded for ransome. We need to have gender economic growth and create ample opportunity for people to have means of livelihood.
Second, there is a disconnect between the goal of achieving riches or good financial means and the institutional means of getting rich. In other words, every Nigerian wants to live the dream and make money, but then, more frequently, those people want to get rich quick but not through the dint of hardwork and commitment but by delinquent means. It’s a serious social problem. As long as there is that breakdown, there’s a problem. We are not teaching our youth how to work hard and apply themselves patriotically to doing those things to advance society and themselves.