Dr. Ali Ahmad is the outgoing Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly. In this interview, he speaks about his stewardship, achievements, regrets and hopes.
The opposition is saying the passage of the bill on non-dissolution of council excos is meant to shield corrupt politicians. What do you have to say?
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 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 law. In this case, it is true. We passed this law so many years ago. Hitherto, everybody believed wrongly that governors have power 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 a local government. So, the Supreme Court has spoken. Now, that is the real law. That means that everybody is under obligation to respect that law. The law of Kwara State that says a governor can dissolve has become obsolete. I don’t want to leave the assembly with dead laws in our statutes because whether we like it or not, it has become dead. That answers the criticism of the opposition.
The 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. But as I said, the opposition is entitled to its opinion.
As a politician and legislator in the state, can you tell us the foundation you have laid that the new government can build on?
What we have done fundamentally is we have established budget passage from January to December. It is only two or three states that have maintained that. 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. This is a major thing I want the incoming legislature to continue with.
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 and local fabrics. We expect the incoming government to key in so that on Wednesdays, the whole assembly men will wear local materials. It may look simple, but it will have 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.
What is your take on the alarm raised by the Nigerian Army that some people are planning to scuttle the May 29 hand over?
When I read it, I felt very sad and helpless that people that are supposed to protect us are the ones saying such. People that we believe that will be there for us are themselves complaining. If that statement is true, that means Nigeria, without sounding alarmist, is not secure. When you say the opposition wants to truncate the May 29 handover, I don’t know what they mean. If there is anybody that wants to truncate the handover, not only May 29, 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. And I will explain what I mean. The opposition does not have the capacity. These guys are mere politicians. The authority that can really truncate democracy is the lower level of the judiciary. It is very possible. Anybody can go to court, get an order and say that May 29 should not go on. It is possible. Those are the things that the APC should be looking at, that no judge or lawyer in any of the opposition states should issue an order stopping the May 29 handover. 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, legislature has its powers and also, the judiciary has its powers. If you don’t follow that compartmentalisation, there will be problem. There is no country in the world that operates democracy where the judiciary stops the legislative processes. You don’t stop 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 it into law, somebody who disagrees will go to court and one junior judge will just issue an order stopping 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 when congress is performing its functions and somebody goes to court stopping US congress, none.
What is the way out?
It is up to the National Judicial Council (NJC). I believe everybody knows what is going on. The NJC is seeing it. 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.
How will you describe the arraignment of some officials of the state government by the EFCC over an alleged N20.3m fraud?
The EFCC has the right to do what it has done. It has the right to invite anybody for investigation. I asked my colleagues in other states whether 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 the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, for his eight years as governor. It is bizarre. 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 N20.3m 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 say 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 per cent of politicians like him. And people around him know that. I don’t know whether God has not answered our prayers, but we will keep praying that God gives us somebody like Buhari that will now come and sit down with Nigerians and ask them questions on how to fight corruption.
Are you not worried about the huge salaries and allowances of lawmakers?
It sinks well with Nigerians to jump that ship and condemn lawmakers that their salaries and allowances are humongous. If you isolate and compare with other workers, they are huge. But if you compare them with the salaries of ministers, they are not huge. You cannot compare salaries and allowances of state legislators with members of the executive council; not at all. But it has become the fad that once you attack the legislators, everybody will like it. That it is politically correct. The expectations on the legislators are huge.
What is your take on local-state government joint account, as the incoming governor has said he would scrap it?
As a governor, he can tinker with it. That is an executive decision. He should look at it. It is a policy issue.
What happens after the defeat of the Saraki political dynasty?
We have taken a decision that there will be a peaceful transition; which is happening. We will not at all interfere with government. It is not that the people voted for them. It is we that people voted out. They never care 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 for another come back. The dynasty will definitely bounce back.
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