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Creation of new states should be decided by Nigerians —Kwara Speaker
Honourable Razak Atunwa, a legal practitioner, is the Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly. In this interview with Tunde Oyekola, he speaks on the achievements of the state legislature in the last one year and declares the creation of new states should be decided by the entire Nigerians.
HOW has the last one year been as the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly?
The session of the Kwara State House of Assembly took off on the 6 June 2011 and it has been a very fruitful venture. We have been working assiduously and have a very good relationship with the executive to ensure that we try our best possible so that dividends of democracy get to the people. In a nutshell, the year has been very fruitful and a worthwhile mission.
You mean that there is no rancour in the House?
Well, it is all part of democratic process; it is part of politics. It is unfortunate that a member wrote a fabricated and fictitious story about me and a petition was written which I directed to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate. The committee, which was independent, submitted a report of about 100 pages to the House and was debated. All the allegations were investigated and it was discovered that the allegations were unfounded and the member was suspended for a period of three months. It is part of the process that one goes through in life but it is unfortunate that a human being would blackmail his fellow. However, we have put that behind us.
What are the achievements recorded in the last one year?
In spite of that, we continue to work as one in the state House of Assembly; it has continued with its function of law making and the performance of its oversight functions. For example, we received about eight bills and we passed five into law. We also passed about 100 resolutions. In addition, we also designed an innovation which we tagged “question time” for the commissioners to come to the floor of the House to answer questions on the activities of their ministries. We have been performing these functions efficiently. We cannot be accused of being a rubber-stamp or being docile. In actual fact, I’m very pleased with the progress so far.
How has the activity of the Assembly impacting on the people of the state?
As I said, we all represent various constituencies. The Assembly comprises of 22 members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and two members of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). We are not only waiting for when we receive petitions from the people to look into things; we also initiate investigations and deploy the rules of the Assembly whereby members have the privilege to raise matters of general public importance and that itself can trigger public investigation. In fact, that has been very effective because when such issues are raised, the relevant committee would go and investigate; the stakeholder would meet and we would pass resolution and there has been 100 per cent compliance by the executive on all the resolutions that we have passed. All the bills passed by the House have been accented to by executive governor and all the resolutions, whether it is on road construction, supply of transformers or water boreholes etc, the executive has implemented it. As representatives of the people, each member has been effective; whatever political party you represent, whether you are ACN, PDP, CPC, it doesn’t matter to us.
Which areas in the 1999 Constitution will you recommend for amendment?
Constitution is a living document and it evolves in two ways. Firstly, by the judiciary interpreting the provisions of the constitution and secondly, by amendments. For example, in the United State of America (USA), we have 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th amendments and so on.
The constitution amendment, as being proposed, is a welcome development. I think the issue of financial autonomy for the state legislature is something we must achieve. The state legislature must have financial autonomy so as to be independent and perform it statutory responsibility effectively. I also believe that the constitution must recognise the geo-political zones for various reasons; not only because it gives legitimacy to certain demands or interest groups when they talk about geo-political zone. I believe in united, one Nigeria.
Nonetheless, the issue of geo-political zones needs to be recognised and I believe one needs to look critically into the issue of the so called North, that is, the 19 states comprising North-West, North-East and North-Central. I think each zone is recognised as been in the North by the constitution we have. But there is a reason for the agitation that the North-Central should be classified as Middle-Belt. The constitution should look into that because the states in the North-Central are marginalised in Nigerian politics as of today. I’m speaking as a northerner but there is the need to recognise the Middle Belt.
Also, the constitution is arranged on the issue of functions as Exclusive, Concurrent and Residual. There is the need to redefine and rearrange the functions in the constitution; an example is the issue of pension which is the exclusive preserve of the federal legislature. I believe it should be on the Concurrent List so that the state legislature can make provision for pension, not only for state public servants but also for the political office holders. Also, the roles of local government need to be identified; if you look at the constitution now, the functions of the local government is very minimal. We need to redefine the functions of local government, vis-vis that of the state government so that it will reduce interference in their functions and roles. The judiciary is another issue; the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dairu Musdapher, has made his own recommendations for amendment in the judiciary. There are also many other things which need to be amended in the constitution.
Do you support the call for the creation of more states in the country?
It will not be wise for me to either support or not support the idea. That issue has to be looked into critically; it should be subjected to national consensus and national opinion. It should not only be subjected to the opinion of a particular group of people alone. Rather, such an issue should be based on the opinion of all Nigerians and not that of the people clamouring for new states alone.
There is the opinion that some states are not viable. Will you then support the idea of merger of some states?
That is why I said that it is not for a group of people sitting somewhere to decide whether new states should be created or the merging of some states. If that is to be done, the normal process should be followed. If that is done, we won’t be in a situation whereby some people would say some states are too small or some are too large. That is why I said the creation of new states or merger of states should be subjected to a consensus of the people of the entire country. That is a two-prong approach; first you get the opinion of those who want new states and that of the people of the entire country. Then, if everybody agree overwhelmingly with that decision, people would not come back, say in five years time, to say that the decision to create or merge the states is an error because the decision was that of the entire people of the country.
There is this belief that the local councils are appendages of state governments and this is done through legislation by the state Houses of Assembly. What is your comment on this?
I have said it quite clearly that the constitution needs to be specifically clear about the relationship between the state government and the local government; the House of Assembly and the local government. There is no much problem between the house of Assembly and local government and between the executives of the state and executive of local government. By and large, the local government is supervised through the House of Assembly but there are some powers and procedure that occur between the state government and the local government. Take for example the issue of revenue allocation and the laws relating to that.
Again, the constitution should be very specific so that the local governments would not feel that they are being impeded upon by the state government. To me, the constitution should be very clear on the relationship between the state government and the local governments and we must allow our local governments to function effectively because they are the closest to the grassroots. We must allow them to function effectively, subject to the constitution and legal control either by a specific department or through the House of Assembly.
Would you support the creation of more local councils?
That should be subjected to consensus by the people of the affected states. For instance my own local government, Asa, was created in 1976. It is a viable but expensive local government. Again, I don’t want to dabble into an argument on whether it should be divided but it has to be subjected to a consensus of what the people of the area want and subjected to ratification by the people of the entire state. I think that is how the entire 774 local councils in the country should be treated.