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State Assemblies are committed to achieving financial autonomy, says Speakers’ chair

By Rauf Oyewole
16 December 2020   |   4:12 am
It all started in Kaduna State, where the 19 northern speakers met to deliberate on who would replace then outgoing Chairman and Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, as he was preparing to hand over a northern speaker.

Hon. Abubakar Suleiman is the Speaker, Bauchi State House of Assembly and Chairman, Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly. He spoke with RAUF OYEWOLE on how the legislature will resolve fallout of #ENDSARS agitation, financial autonomy for state assemblies and youth unemployment

this is your first time as a lawmaker, but you were elected Speaker of Bauchi Assembly and later Chairman of North East Speakers Forum. How did you emerge as the Chairman of Conference of State Houses of Assembly Speakers?
It all started in Kaduna State, where the 19 northern speakers met to deliberate on who would replace then outgoing Chairman and Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, as he was preparing to hand over a northern speaker. As members of that conference, I had someone in mind to vote for among the candidates from Kaduna, Kogi and Kwara States.

In that gathering and as part of the tradition of the speakers, we prefer the appointment of a consensus candidate to avoid rancur within the 36 members. At the first meeting, they asked the three nominees to go out and agree to present a candidate, but they couldn’t. After adjourning the Kaduna meeting for them to agree on their decision, we fixed another meeting in Abuja. They were asked about their decision on the matter, but they couldn’t agree. There, the conference felt they needed a neutral person apart from the three contestants, and I was nominated. I declined but they disagreed. They insisted that I must take the position.

Remember, I was nominated in Kaduna and Abuja but I said ‘no.’ They said a lot about me, as the Chairman of the North East State Houses of Assembly Speakers and many other good things I don’t need to mention. Eventually, I accepted the nomination and we went into the general meeting of the 36 members. They unanimously agreed that I deserve to be chairman.

You stepped down as Speaker to sponsor Violence Against Persons Prohibition law, and you were given award by an international body. What were the challenges you faced?
Domestication of the law, that is, Violence Against Person Prohibition (VAPP) gave me international recognition, which I can also attribute to one of the reasons the speakers chose me as their leader. In any thing you wish to do challenges are bound to happen, but in my case, when I stepped down from my seat as the Speaker to sponsor the Bill, I faced little or no challenge up to the point of assent by the executive arm. I am an advocate of women and children’s welfare. With this, an NGO approached me with the draft and I scrutinised it together with the legal arm of the legislature. I also consulted with the governor before sponsoring it and he said there was no problem. I have been enjoying the support of my honourable colleagues. The bill passed first, second readings and we pushed it for public hearing. The only challenge with the law will be at the implementation stage, but we are working to go into amendment on that.

You said you are an advocate of gender equality, but there is no female lawmaker in the Assembly under your leadership. How did that happen?
It’s not our making, but the decision of our electorate who refused to vote even one woman to become a lawmaker in the current Assembly of Bauchi State. When the Minister for Women Affairs came to Bauchi, she was worried but I told her that the absence of women in the House does not in any way affect their rights or benefits in the Assembly. Virtually all of us in the House are ‘he-for-she’; we protect the rights and privileges of women. We do a lot of things to ensure the betterment of our women and children in Bauchi and Nigeria in general. Take VAPP, sexual harassment bill and compulsory treatment of victims of rape are good examples of the laws that are woman-friendly. So, it’s like the house belongs only to the women. There is nothing affecting their rights just because they were not elected into the House.

How do you think the problem of youth unemployment can be addressed?
The best the government can do is to get something for the youth to do. Create jobs, employment opportunities, empowerment and most importantly, education. If you do all these, I believe half of the problem is solved. We as legislators across the country are working on how to make the executive arms create job opportunities for our youth. In my acceptance speech as the Chairman of Nigerian Speakers, I made this known to my colleagues. I think with these, we will be able to avert the ugly situation of #ENDSARS protest that rocked the whole country, which later turned out to be violent.

The protest was staged by youth, most of them, I believe, are not employed while some of them are currently not in school and if you provide employment opportunities for them, definitely you will seldom have such movement. If it occurs, you can’t have that crowd. As Speakers, we have resolved to work with the executive arms on legislations to address this. The laws are definitely going to bring succour to the Nigerian youth.

Do you support the call for Mr. President to resign over the recent insecurity in the north? 
We are seriously worried about the killings in every part of the country. On the recent killing of the 43 rice farmers in Borno, we (speakers) issued a statement from my office to condemn and console the people of the state. Also, the state governor, Babagama Zulum, had some recommendations, which we are in support of. I think that the resignation of Mr. President cannot bring an end to insecurity, as it is being agitated for in some quarters. The important thing is to restructure the security architecture of the country and they will stop this killing all over the country.

Some state Houses of Assembly are having issues with their governors. As the chairman, how can this be managed?
We at the state Houses of Assembly believe that harmony between the executive and the legislature is the panacea in most problems the states are facing. There is no gain when there is war between the two arms. This only affects the masses. There is no point in creating or fueling crises between the two. Take Bauchi, for example, most members of the House of Assembly are from the opposition (APC), yet we are working harmoniously and mutually without much misunderstanding. Though there is no way you won’t have some conflicting issues, but the arms must understand each other and avoid these little grievances for the state not to suffer.

How are the state assemblies reacting to the financial autonomy given to them by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Executive Order 10?
This has come to stay. The last leadership of the Conference of Speakers has been on it and my administration will also work on it to ensure that we do it. Currently, there are some states that are enjoying financial autonomy. And I know the Mr. President has issued an Executive Order 10, directing the state governors to give financial autonomy to state assemblies. Efforts are being made towards achieving that. Recently, I met the Secretary of the Presidential Implementation Committee, Senator Ita-Enang; we had fruitful discussion with him and I’m sure something good will come out of it. He has written letters to all the 36 states’ assemblies, asking them about the implementation. In the case of Bauchi State here, our governor was a legislator. He has no problem with the issue of financial autonomy for lawmakers. He has raised an implementation panel in which the clerk and a member of House are part of. We are waiting for the committee to come up with its report, which I believe that the governor won’t have problem with. And this is obtainable in other states.