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Hobbled by self-interest, Lagos State lawmakers go home without garlands

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Lagos State House of Assembl


State assemblies are meant to provide checks and balances on the two other arms of government, the Executive and Judiciary. This is with the intent to ensure that the people who voted them as representatives have a better deal in a democracy. But in Nigeria, most state assemblies are tools to rubber stamp the governors’ and godfathers’ ideas, biddings and positions. They most times do not have a say of their own. On many occasions when state assemblies are vehemently pushing their oversight functions, they are usually being used to settle political scores either by the governor or a godfather. There have been several allegations that when legislators perform oversight functions, it is usually to extort.

That they care less about the people, it has been argued, is one of the reasons ridiculous bills have been passed by state assemblies within a day without taking into consideration due process. There have been cases were deputy governors and governors have been impeached within a day. This is despite that there are laid down rules for the process.
  
The Lagos State House of Assembly is not immune from these developments. It has impeached two deputy governors in ways that have raised questions. It had had to reverse one of such impeachments years after. This was after the godfather had been appeased. The eighth Lagos State House of Assembly is counting down and in the last four years, it was supposed to be the most vibrant state assembly in the country. This is because it has everything at its disposal, considering it is at the centre of excellence where it has a lot of knowledge to tap from.  But the current Assembly surely cannot say it has been above board, if the activities of the house in the last four years were spotlighted. Rather than stand up for the people, for whom they are called representatives, the assembly members have continually looked away from them at critical points. To some inside sources, this is because once the lawmakers interests are covered, they care not about the negative consequences of their actions on the citizens. Therefore, it is not surprising that the assembly that returned from recess to pass within some weeks the Environmental Bill, one of the most voluminous bills in the state and gave room for the engagement of Visionscape, would rather go on recess twice when it has a budget to consider.

 
These same Assembly members were seen as the hope of the people when the Environmental Bill was about being passed, reason the PSP operators marched and protested to the Assembly Chamber severally, believing that it would meet lawmakers with listening ears, so that the bill would not be passed. But the PSP operators and other stakeholders in the environmental sanitation sector were disappointed. Rather than listen to the voices of the people through the PSP operators, it lampooned the people, turning deaf ears to their pleas, saying the bill was the best thing that would happen to the state. The lawmakers defended the bill then. 

And these stakeholders protested to the assembly then, because they knew they had lost the battle of convincing the executive, who was passionate about the bill, to have a change of heart about the Environmental Bill. During the public hearing, rather than the lawmakers listening to these stakeholders in the environmental sanitation sector, they only asked the PSP operators and their representatives to send their submissions to the assembly for perusing, because they were speaking long speeches. But these submissions were probably not looked into by the lawmakers, when the recommendations reached the assembly.  
  
This is not the end of the failure of the assembly. Many Lagos residents were surprised that the funding of the Lagos Bus Reform Initiative was not well spelt out by the executive even to the assembly, especially if what the assembly said recently during its sitting is considered. While the citizens claim that the state government has kept them in the dark about the state finances, it should not be the assembly, which is supported by taxpayers and has oversight as one of its major responsibilities, should not be found guilty of the same allegation. So, it was awful that the assembly would raise the issue about the funding of the bus reform almost one year after and at the point of the kick-off of the initiative.  The thinking is, why has the assembly kept quiet for this long and not made it an issue before now and why wait till when the governor fell out with the powers that be in the All Progressives Congress (APC) before alerting the public?   
  
When the issue of the Land Use Charge became very contentious, many Lagosians were probably not aware that the same assembly passed the law, despite professionals and stakeholders in the construction industry maintaining that the law was not people and business friendly at the formation stage. It was when these professionals and stakeholders failed in getting the assembly not to pass the bill in the format it was that they resorted to public court and galvanised the media to kick against it. It would be recalled that before and during the public hearing, different professionals in the construction industry raised objections, yet the assembly passed it without taking seriously their inputs. Though the assembly said it would look into their complaints, like most objections raised during public hearings, the lawmakers probably never bothered to consider them.
  
Also, when the governor wanted to present the 2019 budget to the assembly, the lawmakers started playing a ding-dong with the governor. The budget, a scholar said, is the yearly contract those in government sign with the people. Knowing the budget is about the people; rather than look for other means to settle political scores with the governor, they used the budget. And knowing that if the budget is not passed early, it would have more negative impact on the citizens than the governor, it refused to accept the fiscal plan until it was blackmailed into doing that. But before accepting the budget, the assembly had threatened to impeach the governor and the executive fired back releasing the huge sum the assembly members had been collecting under different disguises.

When critical stakeholders raised questions about the huge sums, the lawmakers were said to be collecting, rather than providing concrete answers, the assembly backtracked, dropping the impeachment threat, even claiming it never planned to impeach the governor. But it seems, the lawmakers and their godfathers were not done yet. This is because after receiving the budget, including claiming one of the reasons it was not ready to receive the budget from the governor was because it was on recess, it went on recess again. When it returned from recess, about two months after it had received the budget, it has been finally passed. But it has kept the budget to itself for more than two weeks now, after passing it.
  
When critical leaders in the assembly were called to know if it was true that the budget had not left the assembly as claimed by the executive, they could not come out clean to speak to the issue. The majority leader, Hon. Sunnai Agunbiade claimed that transmitting the budget to the executive is administrative and once the lawmakers passed the bill, it is the responsibility of the clerk of the house to transmit it. He maintained that the clerk was in the best position to speak on it and why the budget has not left the assembly. When the clerk was contacted, he too could not provide any information. He vehemently said the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Funmi Tejuoso would be the person to speak on the issue. When the House Committee on Information Chair was contacted, she refused to pick her calls and also refused to reply to the text message sent to her, which seems to be a tradition she has maintained since she became the head of the committee.
   
But, the same lawmakers who are the representatives of the people, who are seeing the negative impact of the non-signing of the budget as governance has been almost practically brought to a halt, do not bother. But a resident said many of the lawmakers do not stay within their constituencies and so don’t know where the shoe is pinching the people.

Although the assembly is expected to serve as a check on the executive, this current house did not do so until the governor fell out with the godfathers in the party. This is why many consider the new vigour the lawmakers have brought into doing their job including oversight function, as more of grandstanding, settling political scores and doing the bidding of persons outside the assembly than attempting to get the executive into shape for the good of the people and dividends of democracy.  
    
A resident, Olutayo Irantiola, noted that naturally the populace should be the priority of the state assembly, as their representative. “The Assembly members are already giving the impression that being a one-party state will favour the party more than the people. This trend seems dangerous to what democracy stands for. As regards the late signing of the budget into law, it has stalled the completion of some landmark projects by the outgoing administration and this has increased the difficulties faced by Lagosians.

“In as much as the legislature and the executives need to work together, their relationship must not be a cat and dog relationship, so that life would be made better for the citizens,” he said.       

Also speaking, Adebola Adeola said it is a pity that a state like Lagos that should be aiming higher and providing bench marks for other states would degenerate to this state. “How could you explain this that the budget of a state that claims to be the fifth largest economy in Africa and aiming to be the third biggest has not been passed with all the sophistication domiciled in the city state. They have taken this thing too far knowing that the state would suffer greatly for it.

“Like it has been rightly pointed out, the way the land use charge and the environmental bills were passed clearly showed that the assembly members are not representatives of the people. If the governor wanted the bills passed, they should have kicked against them. But now, they passed them and exonerated themselves when the people revolted against the laws.

“They should be ashamed of themselves if they have any shame at all, because passing those two bills that were anti-people proved that they were elected to warm benches and be a tool in the hand of a political godfather to cause harm to the residents they claimed they are representing,” Adeola said.

Another resident, Nelson Ekujumi noted that it is unfortunate that the assembly has derailed from serving the people. He said it is indisputable that the Lagos State Assembly has severally abdicated its responsibility of being the representative of the people in holding government accountable for the good of the citizenry.

“The withholding of the appropriation bill without transmission to the governor is an act of legislative rascality and irresponsibility which is condemnable. Their reasons for withholding the 2019 appropriation bill after passage are undemocratic and an abuse of legislative privileges,” Ekujumi said.

On his part, the Executive Chairman of Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran stated that in as much as he tried to avoid dabbling in the politics of Lagos State governance because of the embarrassing situations that citizens are often faced at different levels, most of the times, the government does not seem to consider the best interest of people before it take actions.

On the environmental law, he said one would think that it would have been a well-thought out policy before it was implemented. “It should not have been implemented if it had not passed through the crucible of legislative processes. Eventually, things happen and are reversed, that is not a way to proffer good governance.

“The budgetary crisis itself is purely political, and I have reservations about the whole thing, because I do not have complete information of what informed the passage of the appropriation bill and the reluctance in sending it back to the executive for assent,” he said.The Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership boss nonetheless maintained that it is not good for the people of Lagos State. For Adeniran, though the presentation of the budget to the house was late, that should have propelled the house speeding up its passage and its return to the executive.

“They would have given him the opportunity to have access to funds to complete some of the projects that he started. They would have allowed him to complete his own tenure because there is the preponderance of the belief in Lagos that he has governed them well. “I am currently in Aboru area of Alimosho and I know what Aboru used to be before the advent of the current administration and we actually admire his courage to move away development from the over-developed section of Lagos like Ikoyi and Lagos Island.

“So, places where development is actually needed like Aboru, Alimosho, Ojokoro, including Epe, are places good governance and infrastructural development are required. That Oshodi has been developed the way it is, is not only for the benefit of Lagosians but also for the benefit of the whole Nigerians, where Oshodi would become a signature tune, because it will now be easy for people coming from the airport to pass through Oshodi.

“This should have been appreciated rather than being despised by the Lagos State Assembly and given adequate acknowledgement of good governance by the outgoing administration. I believe that it is better for the lawmakers to allow the sleeping dog lie and send back the budget and ensure that politics is reduced in their interactions with different arms of government so that Lagosians can appreciate their own contributions to the development of Lagos State.”

Adeniran insisted that the current assembly has not been different from what the state used to have, as it has operated based on similar principles and policies. “Of course, they have passed laudable bills, but the implementation of them might not have been adequately monitored, or sometimes politicised. So the oversight functions expected of them have been politicised at different levels.”

For Idris Faro, a lawyer, looking at the way the legislators have performed their duties, they have largely failed to represent the people. “They are a bunch of incompetent and selfish legislators. They represent their pockets only,” Faro said. When The Guardian called the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Funmi Tejuosho, she did not pick her calls and did not respond to the text message sent to her.

The Guardian also reached out to one of the information managers in the assembly. He pleaded anonymity, as he has not been given authority to speak on the issue. But when the issues were raised with him, rather than provide a better argument, he cited steps taken by the assembly after the environmental and land use charge bills had been passed against the people’s wish.

He said the assembly intervened to ensure that payment to Visionscape was stopped and it also recalled the land use charge law for amendment after the public outcry. On why the lawmakers did not listen to the people when the bills were about being passed, he could not provide a convincing argument.


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