Hon. Lateef Abiru, the Chief Whip of the Lagos State House of Assembly, the three time representative of Shomolu constituency 02 has criticised the Nigerian 1999 Constitution.
In an interview granted to Daily Times, Latif spoke extensively to bare his mind on the on-going constitution amendments, local government autonomy and other topical issues. Excerpt.
Two years into the tenure of the current 8th Lagos Assembly, let’s have a quick review of the performance of the House under the period?
To God be the glory. So far, so good, the last two years has been very remarkable here, the House has been able to pass some life changing bills into law and also passed a number of motions that has positively affected the life of Lagosians.
Notable among these laws is the Neighbourhood Safety Corps law which brought into life the safety corps for the state, this is synonymous with community policing which the state has ever craved for and I can say categorically that since they swung into action, it has recorded some positive impact on the part of the Neighbourhood watchers.
Also the State Assembly was able to pass the land grabbers bill, also known as “the Ajagungbale” bill into law and as we speak, this law is in effect and with the arrest of a notorious land grabber in the state I am sure the law will take its course on him.
Anti kidnapping bill was also passed into law by the current Assembly. And as you are aware, there is a particular case of a kidnapping kingpin currently being investigated and we hope the Nigeria Police will apply this law in this particular case.
As a lawmaker, what is your assessment of the security situation in the state?
Well, considering the cosmopolitan nature of the state and its economic advantage, the state is therefore likely to be a beehive of activities and with what we have been advocating for that the Federal Government should allow states to have its own police force, of course, it’s a constitutional issue and not until the proper constitutional amendment is done, that cannot be achieved.
Again, you will realise that Lagos is a coastal city, a state surrounded by water and we are yet to have so much security on our water ways unlike on land, this has been quite challenging even though the state government has been very supportive of the police force.
Most of the kidnapping cases recorded in the state today were carried out via water ways and you know the terrain is different from that of land coupled with the fact that most of these water are bordered by creeks and you will agree with me that police may be having challenges on how to effectively curb this act but of course, the state government is putting much effort in supporting the police to secure the state either on land or water.
The state government has been supporting in a number of ways to ensure security of life and properties in the state while it has also called for the creation of additional police commands in the areas prone to these crimes and I am sure by the time these commands are fully created, we shall have an improved security situation.
Beyond the arrest of these criminals, it’s been said that no successful prosecution of these criminals have been recorded, they accuse both the police and the judiciary of compromise. As a lawmaker and member of the Lagos Assembly who took pains to put these laws in place, do you feel disturbed by this?
In governance, there is clear separation of powers and division of labour as you know there are three arms of government, the executive, legislative and the judiciary.
Yes, the synergy of these arms of government is what is translated into good governance. We are members of the legislature and the best we can do is what we are doing and to a reasonable extent too, we have tried our best and I am sure the House of Assembly will have a position on the issue of the police inability to successfully prosecute these criminals.
On the judiciary, we are faced with quite a number of issues, for instance, we have a number of judges currently facing corruption charges.
Irrespective of how much the government tries, we would still find bad eggs and I think the bad eggs are being identified and marked for proper action and I know the National Judicial Commission (NJC), is on top of the situation towards sanitising the judicial system in the country.
It appears your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has not been able to manage its electoral success judging by the internal squabbles that is currently rocking the party. Also the National Assembly populated mostly by APC members has been working at cross roads with the executive, for instance, the refusal to confirm President Muhammadu Buhari’s nominee for the EFCC chair, the budget issues and the stripping of the President of certain powers etc., are some of the signs that all is not well within the party. How would you react to this?
Irrespective of how Nigerians view the activities of the National Assembly and in as much as they have not acted contrary to the constitution, I think they are in order.
Agreed there may be some bad characters within the National Assembly, the law provided for how to throw them out of the Chamber. It therefore behooves on Nigerians, I mean the electorate to make use of the power the constitution has given to them by throwing them out and vote for those they believe would best represent their interest.
I agree that majority of National Assembly members belongs to the ruling APC, but as long as their actions, decisions and resolutions are in the interest of Nigerians, I see nothing wrong in that.
But talking about perceived confrontation and the war of supremacy with the executive, I think this is where the party comes into place.
However, the power of oversight remains with the National Assembly as stipulated by the constitution and it is their prerogative, either to clear or decline to clear any nominee sent to them by the executive.
Again, I think the position of the National Assembly on the federal budget has been clarified by a law court.
They have power to thinker with the budget presented to them by the executive, this means the National Assembly may not necessarily pass the budget exactly the way it came from the executive, I’m sure if they do, what you are likely to be hearing is that, this National Assembly is nothing but rubber stamp.
However, in as much as they enjoy this power, I expect there should be a sort of synergy between the executive and the legislature, but again, it should be noted that the legislature does not take order from the executive as long as they remain the legitimate representatives of the people.
However, it is left to the party to look for a way to harmonise the two arms on every contending issue.
In your own view what do you think is responsible for the continuous agitation for restructuring of the country which is becoming more pronounced now?
Nigerian democracy they say is nascent. Don’t forget the country was under the military government for more years before the current democratic system which is just about 18 uninterrupted years now and as times goes on we shall continue to discover ourselves more. This is just 18 years of democratic governance guided by the constitution fashioned and foisted on us by the military.
The constitution of Nigeria is made for Nigeria and not Nigeria for the constitution therefore, if there were some provisions of the constitution that are no longer workable in the present day Nigeria and is in at variance with the thinking of majority of Nigerians, then we should do something about it.
As we speak now, the process of amending the constitution is going on and I think the issue of devolution of power is one of the issues identified for amendment, but it is most unfortunate that when the issue was looked at together with other items considered for amendment, the Senate did not adequately favour it.
But I read in the national daily lately that the National Assembly intends to revisit the issue of devolution of power.
The word restructuring means different things to different people. Restructuring the country does not mean the breakup of Nigeria, it does not mean resource control, but this is different things to different people.
We are not calling for the breakup of the entity called Nigeria, but to me personally, I think the issue of devolution of power should be considered to an extent that states should be allowed to develop at their spate.
Because what I think is part of the problem is that no matter what a state generates to the national economy, there is already a standard sharing formula and this is not making some states to develop optimally.
Take Lagos State for instance, though one of the smallest in size, but one of the largest in population and in terms of contributions to the economy of the country and yet the state gets very little.
If states in the South-South could be entitled to derivation because of the resources in their domain then Lagos State also should be considered for such privilege in whatever name they want to call it, be it special status or derivation so that the state can develop its infrastructure.
Revenue base of the Federal Government in Lagos has so much effect on the infrastructural development of the state.
For instance, the biggest Airport, Sea port in Nigeria are located in Lagos and the Federal Government generates huge revenue from these infrastructures yet, the activities on these infrastructures has effects on other infrastructures in the state, so where do they want the Lagos State government to get money to continue to maintain these infrastructures?
Again, the re-current expenditure of the Federal Government, maintenance of its personnel is another source of worry and of course, this can be minimised by devolving power to the states.
For instance, what do you need the minister of education for? Why are we constipating the states that do not have potentials?
A cross section of Nigerians has also suggested we go back to the 1963 constitution, do you share this view?
For that constitution to have been dropped in the first instance, there must have been issues arising from its contents and provisions, what I will then suggest is that those salient issues that exist in the constitution be considered as part of amendment into the 1999 constitution.
I do not think it is nice and proper for us to say we want to go back to that constitution wholesomely, but where issues that would move the country forward could be considered.
And if you talk about the regional government, in the South-West for instance, it’s not the same political party that controls the region and different parties have different manifestoes therefore, going back to regionalism will be quite challenging,
but I’m strongly of the view that we should make the centre less attractive and let the states that contributes more to the national purse get more.
That does not mean something will not go to the centre. During elections, nobody stays at the centre, everybody goes back to his or her wards, local governments, and the state.
So as it were, there is so much going to the centre and that is why we have so much corruption at that level while the states and region that contributes so much to the centre are not favoured, because the military that gave us the 1999 constitution in my opinion, deliberately did it in favour of the North and this has remained challenging.
If you look at the North versus South, the number of states in the North is more than that of the South, even in terms of local governments and federal constituencies. These are some of the imbalances that needed to be addressed.
There are continuous agitations for local government autonomy to an extent that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should be conducting council elections like every other election in the country. The autonomy of course, has received the blessing of the National Assembly in the on-going constitution amendment. What is your position on this?
What the constitution provided for now is that the life and death of the local government lies at the State House of Assembly.
Talking about the amendment, for me, I don’t think that is the solution because some of these issues are self serving. What will be the justification for creating more local governments out of Kano State than Lagos State?
At one point, Kano used to have 20 local governments same as Lagos State, Jigawa State was carved out of Kano State and as we speak, Kano has 44 local governments and Jigawa 26.
What this simply means is that, what Lagos State gets in terms of resources that goes to states via local governments is like a quarter of what Kano and Jigawa gets put together, what is justification for that?
For administrative convenience, Lagos State relying on the provisions of the constitution which gave it the power to create additional local governments and this of course is not peculiar to Lagos State as some other states in the South-West have also gone ahead to create additional local governments and as we speak, these local governments are not recognised by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
What stops us from listing these local governments in the constitution? You will recall at a time, President Obasanjo withheld money meant for local governments in Lagos State simply because the state created additional local governments in compliance with the constitution.
It took the intervention and pronouncement of the Supreme Court to declare the action of the then President Obasanjo as void and unconstitutional as the President has no such power under the constitution and even at that President Obasanjo was adamant and refused to release the money until President Umaru Yar’dua came on board and released the money to Lagos State.
I may not be personally averse to local government autonomy, but the reality of this is that the same constitution put payment of teachers salary on the purview of the local governments but as it is today the Nigerian Union of Teachers is strongly opposed to the return to status quo when teachers’ salaries were being paid by local government because of their experiences.
Again, states have been accused of conducting local government election in favour of the ruling party in the state, but of course, you are also aware of the number of court cases that followed the general elections conducted by INEC.
So some of these calls are self serving in my own opinion and I think what is important is that we should strive to strengthen the system so that no one will be above the law and anyone found wanting in the discharge of his or her duty should be held accountable, that is my position.