Judiciary may scuttle May 29 inauguration —Speaker, Kwara House of Assembly
Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr Ali Ahmad, recently spoke with journalists on some national issues. BIOLA AZEEZ brings excerpts:
Opposition alleged that the passage of the bill on the non-dissolution of council executives in the state is meant to shield corrupt politicians. What is your view on this?
It is appropriate for the opposition to ask question, but they should also listen to our own response. The enactment or amendment of the law was 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 is a law. In this case, it is true. We passed this law 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 declared that all these beliefs were wrong that no governor, under Section 7 of the constitution and subsidiary legislation of the state, has the right to dissolve democratically elected executive members of the local government.
So the Supreme Court has spoken and that is the real law. That means that everybody is under obligation to respect that law. The law of Kwara State that initially said the governor can dissolve local council has become obsolete. I don’t want to leave the state House of Assembly with dead laws in our statute because whether we like it or not such a law has become dead. So that answers the criticisms of the opposition.
What can you point at as a foundation that you have laid and which the incoming administration in the state can build upon?
Government is continuum. We would want the incoming government to continue from what we have done. Let me start from what we have done fundamentally in the legislature. We have established the principle of passage of the budget from January to December. It is only two or three states that have maintained that in the country. It will be regrettable if the ninth state House of 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 the budget. The 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 the budget is an excellent process that will aid good governance in Nigeria, which is what we are lacking. So I will want Kwara State to sustain the tempo. The governor should present his budget and the House should do its work by calling experts so that by December, the budget is passed and by January it becomes a law. This is a major thing I want the incoming legislature to continue with.
Secondly, we have a tradition every Wednesday for the past three and half years not to wear any foreign attire to the state House of Assembly. We wear completer local materials, with matching shoes. This is what Senate President Bukola Saraki has championed. With this, we have been impacting on local tailors and makers of local fabrics. We expect the incoming government to key into this concept so that every Wednesday, the whole lawmakers would wear local materials. This might look simple but it will have effect.
Another thing that we have positively encouraged is that the outgoing government has not defaulted in paying salaries between the 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.
You are a proponent of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in the country. How do you think it can be effective in the state?
The bill was a private member bill and we brought it to Kwara State. We want the next government to continue on that. Before the eighth House of Assembly, privately sponsored bills were not common in the state. What used to happen was to wait for the governor to send in bills to the legislature. But from our time, we have now instituted that private bills should take pre-eminence. Most of the landmark laws now in operation in the state are private member bills. We have instituted it as a culture in Kwara State that members of the state House of Assembly must look at what is happening and bring out those bills that people are yearning for. The Health Insurance Scheme Law now in operation in the state is a people-oriented bill.
The same thing is applicable to the ACJA. As a lawyer, before I went to the House of Assembly, I knew 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 is something that nobody cares about as it will not bring in money. For over three years, former President Goodluck Jonathan did not sign the Act into law until the last days of his administration. Immediately we enacted the law, it sped up criminal trials in the state.
What is your take on the alarm raised by the Chief of Army Staff that some members of the opposition are planning to scuttle the inauguration on May 29?
I look at that statement in two ways on why we have become helpless in this country. In fact, when I read the report, I felt very sad and helpless that 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 secured.
When you say the opposition wants to truncate the May 29 handover date, I don’t know what they mean. If there is anybody that wants to truncate not only the handover date, but even 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 his attention on if he is thinking of who can truncate the democratic process.
The opposition does not have the capacity to truncate the inauguration date; 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, like a person may go to an opposition state, get an order and say that May 29 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 29 handing over date. This is because our judicial system, I will say, 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, the legislature has its own and also the judiciary. If you don’t follow that compartmentalisation, there will be problem.
But 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 its jobs. 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 legislative process.
How would you describe the arraignment of some state government officials by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over an alleged N20.3 million fraud?
Well, 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 the EFCC is in their domains or not and they said ‘no.’ I learnt that the EFCC asked the state government to supply the earnings of Senate President Bukola Saraki for his eight years as governor. It is bizarre. You have the powers and abuse them. We cannot stop them. The EFCC has that power to arrest anybody. Don’t be surprised, I can be invited because of this my comment.
The 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 an 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 the EFCC invite any of these people.
I always say it that if President Muhammadu Buhari leaves in 2023, this same system of fighting corruption will not be sustained. You don’t fight a corruption war 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. The president 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 per cent of politicians like him. And people around him know that.
As I have said, Buhari is a fantastic person but I just hope that he would change and fight the real corruption. We will be glad because we are all sick and tired of all this corruptive system. And perhaps, somebody after Buhari might not believe in fighting corruption. People believe that Buhari can fight corruption but, perhaps, his advisers are not assisting him in the war against corruption. It is unfortunate.