Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Mr Abdulrasaq Atunwa, is a close associate of the immediate past governor of the state, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, under whom he served as Commissioner for Information and later Finance.
Atunwa sought the 2011 governorship ticket of the PDP but gave in after the party leadership in the state inclined itself towards the incumbent governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed. The speaker, who turned 43, last week, spoke with reporters in Ilorin on a range of issues including autonomy of the legislature, the spate of instability in State Houses of Assembly among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your take on the clamour for financial autonomy to state Houses of Assembly?
I am happy with the progress so far made in the on-going constitution amendment process. I am happy that financial autonomy for Houses of Assembly is also taking priority in the amendment. If Houses of Assembly are seen to be autonomous, it means they are independent and they will be able to carry out their functions without fear of the executive. The incident in Kogi State buttresses the point.
It would then make you ask the question, in relation to State Police. If Executive Governors wield so much power and then you add to that the control of security forces, including State Police, they will transform from a democratic existence to what I will term executive dictatorship. We must avoid such an occurrence. So, I don’t believe Nigeria is ripe for state police.
We all cite the example of the US. In US, they started as separate states but later came together to unite as United States. In Nigeria, the opposite is the case. I believe that one unified Police Force under the Federal Government suffices for Nigeria. State police portends more danger than the security problems it is meant to solve.
How do you see the impeachment of the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly?
It is with grave concern that the news of that purported impeachment reached me and many other speakers in the federation. It is troubling that speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria now seem to be easy targets and seem to be endangered species as they are being impeached willy-nilly.
In the past 12 months or so, about five speakers have been impeached. It happened in Kano, Adamawa, Niger (twice in one week) and Kogi. It is troubling, it is bad for our polity and it is bad for democracy in Nigeria that state parliaments are becoming increasingly volatile.
If there is no stable leadership in the first arm of government in any state, that state becomes precarious and if it is happening and we allow it to be happening unchecked throughout the federation, we will be creating rooms for more instability in our democratic existence. The parliament is a place to be revered.
It is a place that requires utmost stability and it should not be toyed with. I understand the motion was raised on the floor of the House of Representative on Wednesday and a Committee has been set up as a fact-finding committee to look into what occurred few days ago in Kogi State House of Assembly and report back.
So, I would not want to delve into the matter but what we do know is that 17 members ought to impeach Abdullahi Bello, the Speaker and replace him with Lawal. We read in newspapers that the impeachment notice was signed by 13 members out of the 25-member House. The Constitution under Section 92 is quite clear that you can only remove a speaker of House of Assembly by 2/3 majority. And 2/3 of 25, is 16 and half or thereabout. So, you need at least 17 members to remove the Speaker.
If it is correct, the 13 members who signed in the newspaper communiqué did not make the required number prescribed by the constitution. I don’t want to dabble into whether it is right or wrong, but I raised this, because it’s now a concern to me as a legislator and a concerned citizen of Nigeria because if this goes unchecked, then our democracy will begin to falter.
The parliament worldwide is the stabilizing factor because ministers can come and go, secretary of state can come and go, and commissioners can come and go but the parliament remains and must be stable.
To recall a member of parliament, for example, is one of the most stringent things you can ever do. And the Constitution deliberately did that so that there is stability in this type of government. I will urge all players in our democratic experiment not to toy with the Houses of Assembly, particularly the leadership.
The House of Assembly is not an appendage of the Executive. It is not there as a subordinate to the Executive. It is there as an arm of government created by the Constitution to carry out constitutional functions as the democratic representative of the people.
The security situation in Nigeria is becoming very worrisome, what is the way out?
One should be concerned really; we are fast developing into a state of anarchy. It’s a product of what the society has become or is becoming. We have to be tough on the perpetrators, but we must also be sincere in addressing the causes. Our security problem may not be unrelated to the lack of adequate economic growth in our economy. People are now looking at various criminal means of achieving financial buoyancy. It is wrong, criminal and cannot be condoned in anyway whatsoever.
As long as there is lack of genuine opportunity for the youth and work force to achieve good means of livelihood, we would see more people turn to delinquent means of livelihood. The wife of the Speaker of State of Osun was not kidnapped for any political reason, but because somebody wanted to make some money out of it and demanded ransom. We need to have a gender economic growth and create ample opportunity for people to have means of livelihood.
Secondly, there is a disconnect between getting rich and the institutional means to get rich. In other words, every Nigerian wants to live the dream and make money, but then, more frequently, many people want to get rich quick without hard work and commitment but by delinquent means. It is a serious social problem.
As long as there is that breakdown, there is a problem. We are not teaching our youths how to work hard and apply themselves patriotically to doing those things to advance society and themselves.
After the public hearing on the Kwara State 1999 Land Law issue nothing was heard again…
(Cuts in) The report on the Land Issue was presented, a public hearing was held on the Land Use Policy and Urbanization Order of the Kwara State, and Legal Notice was issued in September 2009. We are all aware that it was being said as a result of that Urbanization Order of 2009 and its operation that it is inimical to the interest of the people of the state and that it has serious adverse consequences and no benefit at all.
And spinning from that, some members of the public carried unsubstantiated rumours that the government had sold the Eid praying ground or part of Emir’s Palace and so on and so forth. But the report presented after the public hearing demonstrated that none of those rumours is true. No part of Eid praying ground or Emir’s Palace was sold.