Omirin...Buhari is repositioning the country

Dr. Adewale Omirin, a medical doctor, is a former Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly and a member of the All Progressives Congress. In this Interview with Olakiitan Victor, he said the Independent National Electoral Commission is creating more confusion through the issuance of Certificates of Return. He also rapped the National Assembly over the proposed legislative immunity for its principal officers. Excerpts:

Recently, the speaker of the Ekiti Assembly refused to swear-in a member after a court’s pronouncement that he was the candidate. Was that not contemptuous?
INEC is to blame for this because the commission has been causing unnecessary confusion in the system by arbitrarily issuing certificate of returns after the verdict of the High Court over election disputes. What I believe is that INEC ought to have waited until all election disputes are resolved by either the appellate or the Supreme Court before issuing CoR to whoever is declared winner through judicial pronouncement.

INEC started the confusion in Abia State by issuing Certificate of Return to Mr Uche Ogah through the verdict of the Federal High Court declaring him the rightful Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate for the 2015 poll in Abia State. This was rather preposterous and arbitrary. I am a loyal member of the APC, but the truth must be told for our nation to move forward. This has been causing serious tension in the polity.

I expected the commission to have waited until Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has exhausted all judicial options up to the apex court before taking such hasty step because that singular action is creating more tension and confusion in Abia. The same thing played out in the Ekiti State House of Assembly. Mr Toyin Obayemi contested the fielding of Hon Musa Arogundade for Ado constituency 1 during the 2015 polls.

Obayemi approached the Federal High Court in Ado Ekiti and the court had on July 4, 2016 granted his prayers that he remains the PDP candidate and that he should be sworn in immediately. Almost immediately, Hon Arogundade went on appeal and rather than for INEC to await the verdict of the higher courts, he issued Certificate of Return to Obayemi. Though I am not a lawyer, however, in my own opinion, the Speaker of the Assembly was right by not performing the swearing-in for Obayemi.

Instances abound in Nigeria, where the court had removed a governor at the Tribunal level and the governor was in charge until the Appeal or Supreme Court decided otherwise. So, INEC should stop playing to the gallery. It should stop creating tension in the system. It should allow stability and full exhaustion of judicial opportunities before issuing CoR. So, I want to say emphatically that INEC is to blame in this issue.

Is it proper for the principal officers of the legislative arm to enjoy immunity?
On the immunity being sought by the principal officers of the National Assembly, I want to believe that it was a plot allegedly targeted at derailing President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war and for treasury looters to cover up their tracks while in office. The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara must halt further debates on the contentious immunity for principal officers of the legislative arms. This is annoying Nigerians and if they vent their angers on them, they will not be able to withstand it.

I am sure that it takes 2/3 for any bill to pass through in the legislative arm, so the proponents can’t get this requirement because some of the federal lawmakers are opposed to it. Aside from this, Nigerians too are not happy and I know they will resist this vexatious bill from being passed into law. How can people be covering up criminality? You have nothing to fear if there is no skeleton in your cupboard. There must be justification for whatever action we want to take in life, even if we are not occupying positions.

Let the federal lawmakers tell us any democracy, where such is happening. It means if Saraki enjoys immunity, his trial for alleged forgery and false declaration of assets by the Code of Conduct Tribunal would not have been possible. Now, Dogara and Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin are exchanging hot words over alleged padding of the 2016 budget to the tune of several billions of naira. Dogara enjoying immunity would make it difficult for him to be investigated by EFCC and prosecuted accordingly and this should not be allowed to happen.

Should we now fold our arms and allow people to continue to cash-in on opportunities of being in positions to cheat the system? If some Nigerians are calling for the removal of immunity for president, vice-president, governors and their deputies and some people are saying they want legislators to enjoy immunity, then something must be wrong somewhere. Some of the governors are hiding under the immunity to perpetrate fraud and all forms of criminalities. To me, there is no need for immunity for lawmakers, it would be a total aberration if it is eventually granted and Nigerians will suffer for it in future.

As a former Speaker, how would you describe the budget padding allegation levelled against the Speaker of the House of Representatives? Is padding a common feature in the appropriation process?
You can’t compare the national and state assemblies in any form. The National Assembly enjoys almost 100 per cent autonomy while the state assemblies are controlled by the governors. That is why we are advocating for the independence of state assemblies, so that they can have powers to scrutinize the budget and whatever the governors do in the most appropriate way. Padding has been in existence for ages, but for the fact that President Buhari has zero tolerance for corruption, it has now blown up.

You could remember that when EFCC ransacked the House of Senator Iyiola Omisore over allegation of N4.7 billion arms fund he allegedly took from Col. Sambo Dasuki, it was revealed that the last budget was padded to the tune of N60 billion and that a sum of N2 billion was allegedly paid into his personal account. So, this is something that has been existing for a long time. But Nigeria can get out of this mess and the only way out is for all of us to join President Buhari to fight corruption.

The President is laying a solid foundation by his fight against treasury looters and I know by the end of his tenure, Nigeria will be a better place. Even as at today, perception of the global community has changed about Nigeria, because the president has been able to minimize graft. The issue of padding is an age-long crime and the revelation of Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin confirmed this assertion.

APC is mediating in the crisis between Speaker Dogara and Jibrin over allegation of padding. Can such issue be reduced to party affair?
As a loyal party man, there is nothing wrong in the party brokering truce between two feuding party men. We have been in this country for long, there are problems the people thought would tear the PDP apart, but the party will rise up to the occasion and called it a family affair. So, I really see no crime in the party’s interference.

Although I am not saying the issues or allegations being raised should be suppressed or should do anything that can encourage graft, for APC leaders to have called the two dramatis personae and urged them to sheathe their swords, is a welcome development, because the party won’t wait until it is torn apart before taking actions.

But if the EFCC or other anti-graft agencies later found Dogara culpable, then appropriate authorities could take actions against him. You could remember that the present National Assembly started on a shaky note and the time is ripe for them to put the issue behind them to prevent governance from being slowed down unnecessarily.

Are you saying that the independence of state assemblies will check corruption, because National Assembly enjoys same and despite that, there are allegations of corruption against them?
Autonomy of the state assemblies remains the best for Nigeria. When I was the Speaker, I was the vice-chairman of the Conference of Speakers in the South-west and during that time, I went round the whole six states in the South-west to sensitise them on the need to embrace the fight for autonomy. But I am afraid because with the way those governors are behaving it will be difficult for us to get there.

Lagos State Assembly enjoys some level of autonomy. It is being run independently of the executive. Let us look at what is now happening in Ekiti State House of Assembly, Governor Fayose upon assumption of office transferred all the staff of the assembly to other places and they were employed by the Ekiti State House of Assembly Service Commission. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t transfer officials of the assembly; they must start their career in the assembly and retire there.

Are you saying state assemblies won’t function without autonomy?
It depends on the caliber of people you have in the house. As we speak now, Ekiti has no assembly because what we have are governor’s lackeys. Practically everybody is in acting capacity. The Speaker is acting, because the governor is the speaker, both the legislative and judiciary arms have been paralysed. Some of our Judges now perform secret trials and give judgment at night.
You could even see this vividly in their actions. Recently, the EFCC accused the governor of stealing N1.299 billion from the arms fund and the speaker led other lawmakers to protest on the streets of Ado Ekiti carrying placards. This is shameful. The assembly is to check the excesses of the governor by performing oversight functions, rather than doing this, they were carrying placards all about and this is unfortunate.

Look at the way they carried out my impeachment with only seven lawmakers out of 26. I had wanted to challenge the impeachment process, but I want to wait until Fayose completes his tenure, may be the courts in Ekiti will be alive to their responsibilities then. No one can get justice in Ekiti judiciary, where cases are being arbitrarily adjourned without reasons.

The Personal Assistant to the slain NURTW Chairman, Chief Omolafe Aderiye had come out to testify that the former RTEAN Chairman, Chief Rotimi Olabiwonnu had no link with his boss’ death, despite this, he is still being imprisoned. This goes a long way to tell you how disrespectful and unconstitutional Fayose’s government has been.

What do you think can be done for your party to win Ekiti in 2018?
Well, APC is on ground in Ekiti and we thank God that our leaders, particularly the National Deputy Chairman, Chief Segun Oni is settling the crisis that has to do with various factions in Ekiti. You could remember that we were together when Dr. Kayode Fayemi was in the office, but immediately he lost the elections, factions began to spring. Having factions in a party is not unexpected in a political party but it should not be to the detriment of such party, especially an opposition party like APC in Ekiti.

I thank God that our leaders are closing ranks and soon, we will have a united party that can win elections. Our followership is mammoth, but we need financial backing for us to hold meetings at the wards, local governments and state levels, I mean to keep them together. Poverty is really affecting us in APC because we are not in government and that is why we need federal government’s patronage.

I want to appeal to President Buhari to allot more federal appointments to Ekiti for the All Progressives Congress to bounce back to reckoning and reclaim the state from Governor Ayodele Fayose in 2018. As we speak now, only three have been appointed and they are the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; the Special Adviser on political Matters in the Presidency, Mr. Babafemi Ojudu and Mr. Leke Adu, who is a Special Adviser in the vice-president’s office. What can these three people do? We need more appointments so that we can have people to serve as rallying points.

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INEC started the confusion in Abia State by issuing Certificate of Return to Mr Uche Ogah through the verdict of the Federal High Court declaring him the rightful Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate for the 2015 poll in Abia State. This was rather preposterous and arbitrary. I am a loyal member of the APC, but the truth must be told for our nation to move forward. This has been causing serious tension in the polity.