WHAT is your experience as the Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly?
Before I became the Speaker, I was the Chief Whip of the House. The two positions are a different ball game all together and the burden of being a speaker is very enormous. There is no speaker that would abandon his colleagues. I appreciate the burden that comes with it; you have to press for the need of members from the executive end and also issues that have to do with their constituencies. I also have to manage the affairs of the House. We also have the people of Plateau State, which is our largest constituency all together.
What informed your decision not to seek second term?
The reason is that in the constituency I come from, we go by rotation. The record of the Assembly will prove to you that from 1999 to date, no member in my constituency has returned. Even with me becoming the speaker, any attempt to change that arrangement will prove abortive. I have to create a window so that there will be peace in the arrangement. That is the reason in the first place I didn’t pick the nomination form, not to talk of the primary and proper election. Also we have to respect the wishes of the people. No man can do it all alone; we just have to play our part. I think that basically informs my decision not to contest.
The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is advocating direct allocation to the third tier of government. Don’t you think the state legislature also deserves financial autonomy?
As leaders, all of us appreciate the predicament of the local government when it comes to finances. The directive of the NFIU is a welcome one, but there is a departure from the provision of Section 7 of the constitution that the entire structure, management, funding and every other responsibilities that have to do with democratically elected or non-elected council chairmen is saddled with the state House of Assembly.
Instead of the NFIU to open window of discussion with leadership of Conference of Nigeria Speakers on this issue, it decided to go to the National Assembly. I think that is what the governors are holding onto; they want to go to court to see if the National Assembly has the power to legislate over the financés of the local government. So, NFIU goofed in this aspect but, above all, the idea is a good one.
We have always said it in our capacity as state lawmakers that if there is financial autonomy at the local government level, it would go a long way to reduce our burden. All what the constituent needs is who will be able to solve their problems. They don’t want to care whether it is your constituency project, government budget approval or if the local government has the resources.
Ordinarily, as a member, all I need to do is to confer with the chairman of my local government area that I have a community who have come through me to lobby for opportunity but because you have the provision, you can take care of their interest, and reduce my burden. But beyond the constituency project of allocation of N30 million to members, we are spending far and above that because we have to take from our personal earning to give back to our constituencies because we appreciate their challenges and predicaments as a community. So this is what I have to say about the NFIU.
What are the major achievements of the eighth House of Assembly, compared to the previous ones?
That is a demanding question because I am only privy to serve the eighth Assembly. I can only be in a better position to analyse the achievements of the eighth Assembly simply because I am a member. But all I will say is that no Assembly has found itself in a wasted tenure; they must have tried their best according to what they could afford to do at that moment. The only advantage we have in the eighth Assembly is that we came during an era where there was limited number of labour crisis. That gave us a window to settle down and work assiduously for the people of Plateau State, unlike the previous Assemblies which had one or two issues to contend with, including labour crises. That really hampered their opportunity to settle down and achieve much for the state.
I think, above all, the eighth Assembly has an advantage of a peaceful atmosphere and we took that advantage to settle down for business. That is why, as at the last count, we were able to pass 31 bills into law. Some of these bills will surely outlive the history of this state because they are so fundamental to the part of driving good governance for the people of this state. I also want to say that I enjoyed maximum cooperation of my colleagues; without their support, the House cannot achieve anything because I cannot do it alone.
The legislature is expected to checkmate the excesses of the executive arm of the government. How has the eighth Assembly under your leadership been able to play this role of check and balance?
The issue of checks and balances between the legislative and the executive arms is normal and we are backed by the constitution. The legislature is the only arm that has the constitutional responsibility of checkmating all the other arms of government, be it executive or judiciary. In the course of our engagement, we, in the eighth Assembly have engaged all the ministries and departments and agencies of government to look at the budgetary provision given to them and to also raise fundamental question as to why certain things are not achieved. Above all, we engaged them for fact-findings and summoned many of them to appear before the plenary of the House which is very rare. But at times, for us to advance the cause of good governance, we must not spare any leader or authority.
The executive has brought budget proposal here and the committees have decided to say no, analysing it side-by-side with what we have been given in the previous years. We also have a situation where the executive has not demanded for much but, based on what they achieved in the previous year, the House decided to increase the allocation so that the people outside there can benefit more. It has been a very wonderful relationship.
What are the challenges it faced in the course of performing its legislative functions?
One of the issues is the issue of financial bottleneck where all that has to do with the Assembly has to pass through memos, approvals and releases. These are different ball game between getting approval and release. For example, looking at the befitting standard of this parliament, we have been passing one microphone to one another during plenary session. This is an abuse.
When the Public Address System (PAS) failed, we wrote a memo to enable us to fix that aspect of the need of Assembly, but up till now there is no release. This is a thing of concern, this is an Assembly where people from outside often come to plenary. So passing one microphone to one another was irritating. It was like we were sitting in a town hall meeting, instead of a parliament. Even if the microphone was to be used, every member should have one to his table so that we would not continue having one person crisscrossing to take the microphone from one person to another. We pray that executive will see the need to release the approval before the ninth Assembly is inaugurated. Every other thing about the plenary should be put in order.
We have also looked at the facilities, the House is still in dire need of mobility and we have proposal for them in the budget. If you look at the entire Assembly, when we came on board, we had only one operational camera. But within the limited resource we had, we were able to get additional one. It was inadequate to cover proceedings of the House, we were supposed to have three or four cameras.
When we want to go on oversight, there would be no standing vehicle. The House needs not fewer than five to 10 Toyota Hilux vans for the purpose of committee oversight functions. How do you drive Toyota Camry to these delicate areas where the roads are terrible? The absence of this kind of facilities limits the function and success of these committees. So there is the need for additional standby utility vehicles. In fact, every chairman of a committee should be given one utility vehicle aside his official vehicle because that is what will motivate the committees to work better.