Hammed Shittu dialogues with the outgoing Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad on the landmark decisions of his legislative tenure and other national issues
Do you think the 8th Assembly under you has been able to put in place laws that would further enhance the wellbeing and development of Kwara State?
Since the creation of Kwara State, the 8th Assembly is probably the highest in laws passed. However, the one I would consider as landmark legislation is being the first that would pass private member bills since inception unlike before where you have to wait for the executive. I am very proud of that. I am sure the 9th assembly will do same which has started happening in a few states. We have the bill on health insurance in which we put about N1 billion in this year’s budget to cater for the down trodden. Why the effect has not been felt I think is that the banks are not sure whether the incoming administration will implement, which boils down to lack of understanding. This is a law that any government must carry out. The health insurance management is about to capture those vulnerable people that can’t afford hospital bills from the wards and provide them with cards that will cover their treatment, consultation and drugs in Kwara hospitals with the payment of just N1000 per annum. It’s an avenue where the rich people and government will contribute money to subsidize the health requirement of the poor people. The bill on Urban and Regional Development that seeks to take care of the proliferation of petrol stations in the state is also another landmark for us but it is still not properly implemented. The legislation against dealing in human parts and the one that further extends where you cannot produce and consume alcohol are also there and one of those that we are particularly proud of is the one that restricts the pension law of governors in the state because it is political and people think we could not touch it, but we did.
Opposition parties in Kwara state especially the APC have accused the state house of assembly on the quick passage of the non-dissolution of elected local government council executives which they claim is meant to shield corrupt politicians, what is your take on this? And why at the end of your administration?
It is appropriate for the opposition to ask questions, but they should also listen to our own response. The enactment or amendment of the law was a fallout of a recent law. When you pass a law, it is not yet a law until the court pronounces it. It is what the court says that it is a law. In this case, it is true. We passed this law so many years ago. Hitherto, everybody believed wrongly that governors have powers under the constitution to dissolve at will. Just three months ago, the Supreme Court, now declared that all this was wrong, that no governor, under Section 7 of the Constitution and subsidiary legislation of the state, has the right to dissolve a democratically elected executive members of the local government. The Supreme Court has spoken. That is the real law. That means that everybody is under obligation to respect that law. The law of Kwara state that says the governor can dissolve has become obsolete. I don’t want to leave the assembly with dead laws because whether we like it or not, it has become dead. So that answers the criticisms of the opposition. Supreme Court did not decide last year. If you are looking at the correct, modern and most reflective law, Kwara state House of Assembly should be commended. The opposition is entitled to its opinion.
As a politician in the state, can you tell us the foundation you have laid that the new government can build upon?
Government is a continuum. We would want the incoming government to continue what we have done. Let me start from the legislature. We have established budget passage from January to December. It is only two or three states that have maintained that in the country. It will be regrettable if the 9th assembly cannot continue with that. Even the Federal Government has not been able to maintain that. Business people know that budget commences in January and ends in December. For successive three years in Kwara state, we have been able to do early passage of budget. National Assembly has been battling with the presidency on that. They even passed a law which the presidency failed to assent to. Early passage of budget is an excellent process that will aid good governance in Nigeria, which is what we are lacking. I want Kwara state, forget about Nigeria, by September or October, the governor should present his budget, the house does its work by calling experts so that by December it is passed and by January it becomes a law.
This is a major thing I want the incoming legislature to continue. Secondly, on Wednesdays in the house, we have a tradition for the past three and half years not to wear any foreign attire to the assembly. We wear local materials from the top to the shoes. This is what the Senate President Bukola Saraki has championed. With this, we have been impacting on local tailors, local fabrics. We expect the incoming government to key in so that on Wednesdays, the whole assembly men wear local materials. It might look simple but it has effect. Another thing is that the outgoing government has not defaulted in paying salaries between 25th and 26th of every month. It is not easy because the federal allocation comes at the beginning of another month. We want the incoming administration to emulate that as Kwara is a civil service state. Elections have been won and lost, but service to the people is paramount. I believe they are ready to continue on that.
As a proponent of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) during your tenure in the 7th National Assembly representing Ilorin East/Ilorin South Federal Constituency, how do you want that to operate in the state?
The bill was a private member bill and we brought it to Kwara. We want the next government to continue that. Before the 8th assembly private sponsored bills were not common in the state. What used to happen was that the assembly waits for the governor to send in bills to the assembly. From our time, we have instituted now that private member bills should take pre-eminence. Most of the landmark laws now in the state are private member bills. We have instituted it as a culture in Kwara state that members must look at what is happening and bring out those fantastic bills that people are yearning for. The Health Insurance Scheme law now in the state is a people oriented bill. The same thing with the ACJA. As a lawyer, before I went to the
National Assembly, I knew that that gap was there. Criminal cases could go on for 10 to 15 years because of some steps and some loopholes, so when I got there it was easy. It was a bulky law. It was something that nobody cares about as it will not bring in money. For over three years, former President Goodluck Jonathan did not sign it into law until the last days of his administration. Immediately, as we enacted the law it speed up criminal trials in the states.
What is your take on the recent Chief of Army Staff’s alarm that some are planning to scuttle the May 29th hand over date?
I look at that statement in two ways. In fact when I read it, I felt very sad and helpless that this was coming from people that are supposed to protect us. People that we believe that will be there for us are themselves complaining. If that statement is true then that means Nigeria, without sounding alarmist, is not secure. When you say the opposition wants to truncate May 29th handover, I don’t know what they mean. If there is anybody that wants to truncate the handover date, not only May 29th, anybody that can truncate any aspect of the democratic process, I think it is the busy-body lawyers and overactive judges. These overactive judges and busy-body lawyers are the people the Chief of Army Staff should focus attention on if he is thinking of who can truncate the democratic process. I will explain what I mean. The opposition does not have the capacity. These guys are mere politicians. The authority that can really truncate the democracy is the lower level of the judiciary. It is very possible. Anybody can go to court now, may be in an opposition state, get an order and say that May 29th should not go on. It is possible. Those are the things that the All Progressives Congress (APC) should be looking at; that no judge or lawyer in any of the opposition states should issue an order stopping the May 29th handover date. This is because our judicial system is in a mess. It is not functioning the way our constitution expects it to work and everybody is sliding. This is how it happens. The executive has its powers, legislature has it, also the judiciary. If you don’t follow that compartmentalization, there will be a problem. The executive is overbearing. The legislature cannot veer into the powers of the judiciary. The legislature cannot sit down and give judgement. It cannot sit down and award contracts. But the judiciary continues to stop either the executive or the legislature from performing their job. There are so many examples. There is no country in the world that operates democracy where the judiciary stops the legislative processes. You don’t stop the legislative process. Judiciary can stop and declare errant things null and void. The judiciary has that power. For one arm of government to stop another constitutionally mandated arm of government is dangerous. For instance, you can pass the budget today, the governor wants to sign into law, then somebody who disagrees will go to court and one junior judge will just issue an order stopping the president or governor from signing. The judge does not have that power. I have not seen anywhere in the world where congress invites a person and he or she rushes to court. Which court? I have searched for cases where somebody takes congress to court for being invited and I have found none. I have searched where congress is performing its functions and somebody goes to court stopping US congress, none. The danger is that one Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state governor could now go to a state court and get an order stopping the May 29th handover. One of the threats to Nigerian democracy is the lower level judiciary because these cases will not go to the Supreme Court. What they need is these temporary injunctions. What they need is to use the injunctive power of the court to arrest democracy. Using the injunctive power of the court to stop another arm of government is dangerous for Nigerian democracy and it is what can stop the May 29th handover not any banditry.
What is the way out?
It is up to National Judiciary Council (NJC). I believe everybody knows what is going on. The NJC sees it. The acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) knows what is happening. Because it favours those in power now they are looking the other way. For me, I think the acting CJN should call these people to order. We know that injunctive reliefs have three months to expire. Court has inherent power to stop anything but it does not have power to stop another arm of government.
Seriously, they should hammer it into the ears, eyes and psyche of these lower level judges that they cannot use these temporary injunctions to stop either an executive, judicial or legislative process. That is when we have jurisdiction, but these courts always assume they have jurisdiction. That is not democracy.
How will you describe the recent arraignment of some officials of the state government by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N20.3 million fraud?
EFCC has the right to do what it has done. It has the right to invite anybody for investigation. I learnt from my colleagues in other states if EFCC is in their domain or not and they said ‘no.’ I learnt that EFCC asked the state government to supply the earnings of the Senate President Bukola Saraki for his eight years as governor. It is bizarre. You have the powers and then you abuse them. We cannot stop them. EFCC has that power to arrest anybody. Don’t be surprised I can be invited because of this comment. EFCC has that power that was willingly donated to it. I just hope it will use it very well to fight corruption. It took these people to court for alleged N20.3 million fraud after eight or nine weeks. Look at the houses that litter Abuja, they are owned by civil servants. I have not heard EFCC invite any of these people. I always said that if Buhari leaves in 2023, this same system of fighting corruption is not sustainable. You don’t fight corruption that only you believe in. You should take Nigerians along. I have said it that Buhari is the best person that can effectively fight corruption in this country. It is a great opportunity. Buhari could have brought corruption to a standstill in this country. He has integrity. He does not care about personal wealth. It is hard to find five percent of politicians like him. People around him know that. I don’t know whether God has not answered our prayers but we will keep praying that may God give us somebody like Buhari that will now come and sit down with Nigerians, ask them questions on how to fight corruption. If you ask me, I will not fight corruption through the courts. It is slow. All these bamboozling of EFCC on what and what it has recovered and gotten judgments are just nonsense. That has not stopped corruption. That cannot stop corruption. That is not how to stop corruption. Buhari is a fantastic person. I hope now he will change and fight real corruption. We will be glad because we are all sick and tired of all this corrupt system. Perhaps, somebody after Buhari might not believe in fighting corruption. People believe that Buhari can fight corruption. Perhaps, his advisers are not assisting him in the war against corruption. It is unfortunate.
What legacies will you want the incoming administration to maintain from this outgoing administration?
I am proud to associate with the outgoing administration on two fronts, one by the institution of the Kwara State University (KWASU). As a legacy, I will not want the incoming government or the outgoing to politicize the process of attaining the institution. I beg Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed and incoming Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to leave KWASU alone. It is one of the best universities in Nigeria. Once you interfere with it then that institution will never be the same again. Another one is the Kwara state Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS). I hope this incoming government will manage that institution. We have done one thing. Every governor will want to increase tax but we have told the outgoing executive, no increment. I will not want the incoming administration to increase taxes. There is money everywhere. Our wealthy people don’t pay taxes.
What happens after the defeat of Saraki political dynasty?
We have taken a decision that there will be peaceful transition, which is happening. We will not at all interfere with government. It is not that the people voted for it. It is we that people voted out. They never cared who was on that ballot. It is this government that the people were tired of and booted out. We never had that feeling of disaffection or what we have done wrong. The people have ‘koboko’ us. Now, we are feeling the pain. We will correct ourselves and appeal to the people that we have changed. The dynasty will definitely bounce back.