Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin
The Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr Ali Ahmad, an Associate Professor of Law, spoke to Journalists in Ilorin on some issues of state and national interest.
Election re-ordering at the National Assembly has been generating mixed feelings with some Nigerians vilifying the legislature and vice-versa. Do you think the amendment was in order?
Nigeria as a nation, we do not learn. I don’t know why we engage in politics. I know a lot of people engage in politics to better the lives of the people but in Nigeria, I think politics is an end in itself. We get into politics just to be in politics, perhaps to make money or to be visible and be in the reckoning of people like some money bags, who don’t need money but they feel…
I don’t know why some people play politics because if you get into politics with an agenda to achieve something or to help your people, we wouldn’t be doing this thing that we are doing. A lot people are frustrated about Nigeria. We are not losing hope. But it’s like constant motion without movement.
We were in this exact situation in 2003. I wrote an opinion, which was unusual for a lawyer like myself but it was deliberate. I was expecting negative reaction. But it is like what I was saying was true because nobody has been able to, even as virulent as my opinion was. But it is true.
In 2002, there was amendment to the then section 15 about reordering of the election sequence and timing. INEC went to court, that is only difference. Now, it wasn’t INEC. INEC went to Federal High Court. Justice Okeke said National Assembly has the power. INEC appealed and National Assembly also cross appealed on some issues and the Court of Appeal said no, National Assembly doesn’t have the power. So, there was a split.
The best thing to do was to go to the Supreme Court so that we have finality. It never happened. So, today, we are having the same situation. A year before election, there is amendment; some busy bodies went to Court. Another difference here is that in 2002 that case was filed, Justice Okeke waited until National Assembly finished with the passage of the bill before he took charge.
The belief in some quarters is that many of the then APC flag-bearers at various elective levels rode on the crest of integrity of the then presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari to secure victory in 2015, and with this amendment now, can we say that each person for his or herself?
That argument, we don’t know, until 2019. But some democrats in both APC and PDP have said that it is better we have this election graded from the bottom up, that is from local, to State Assembly, gubernatorial, National Assembly and then Presidential rather than top to bottom.
It is a logical argument because if there is a presidential election first and God forbid, something went wrong, before it is put to right, every other person’s tenure has expired. But if you have it from the bottom, the only problem you would have is that of the President alone and all other elections are local. So, problem in one state cannot go to another state but presidential is national.
So, if there is something nationally, it would affect the whole nation and perhaps election may not be able to take place in the next six months. We would be in trouble. But once you have renewed the tenure of the local government chairmen, the governors, State Assemblies and National Assembly, whatever goes wrong with the president, the nation would still survive it. So, it is logical. I’m not making this argument. I bought into it.
President Buhari has just declared his intention to seek a re-election in 2019 and this has actually generated lot of controversies from all the stakeholders as it were, particularly from the opposition, based on the fact that the ruling APC has not delivered on its electoral promises. What is your take on that?
Well, he (Buhari) has the constitutional right. I’m talking now as a lawyer. That would be my answer to it, whether politically speaking; I’m not qualified to comment on that because now I’m a local politician. But I will always want our party to win. Those who are saying APC have not delivered; it is their own personal opinion.
People believe that Buhari is not capable to pilot the affairs of this country on health grounds. As a citizen of Nigeria, how do you respond to that?
As I said, I’m a local politician. I will bring it down to Kwara State, and that reflected in Kwara State when the Offa incident happened. We were all saddened and grieving, looking for some fatherly words to placate our grief. Those words never came until three days after. I received so many calls from everywhere and I even know that the Senate President cut short his visit to come the following day but the Federal Government that is in control of the security apparatus lost a lot of men including policemen even if civilian lives are not worth anything to them.
I will score APC or whoever is at the Federal Government very low. If I’m in Kwara and this thing happens and the person that is in control of security didn’t do anything until 72 hours later, it is an afterthought. I’m disappointed. And if you ask me to go with whoever is in charge, I will think twice. It is unfortunate.
The House under your speakership has passed some bills including that which prohibits sales and dealing in human parts in Kwara State. And up till now the governor is yet to give assent to the bill. Why the delay?
I’m not part of the executive. We have done our bit. Yes, I heard some commentaries on Radio, Television and newspapers. I will talk to him (Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed) but if he doesn’t sign it, I think he would return it to the House and if we have the votes, we override his veto. This is something that is very popular with Kwarans and we don’t want people to be going about with human skulls.
What is your view on the bill proposing death sentence for hate speech?
It is a proposal and we cannot be prescribing death sentence for every known offence. Hate speech is bad enough but I don’t think it deserves death sentence. We should define what hate speech is. It should be both sides. Law is not a respecter of persons.
Do you think capital punishment should also be meted to anyone that engages in corruption?
You provide capital punishment as a deterrent and not as an exemplary punishment. Capital punishment should be reserved for those heinous crimes. If Nigerians believe that corruption, which will mean, financial crime has graduated and we need that to control that, so be it. It must be determined by the solution to that problem.
But I don’t think we have taken necessary steps to provide death penalty. As we are today, I will oppose it because you will kill wrong people. You prosecute the people you hate and protect the people you love. I will not support death sentence with that definition of corruption.
The British High Commissioner recently described Kwara State House of Assembly as a pacesetter. What is it that the House has done differently under your watch?
The British High Commissioner perhaps has been following us. He has made his comment. We are grateful to him. As I said, we are doing our best and we will continue. Perhaps what is driving us is that we know this term, no single person has done two terms as Speaker. I’m not willing to breach that code. So, I know I have a non-renewable four year and I will never come back. So, we try to do what we can for the opportunity to have been given.
There was an upset in the last local government election in Kwara State. The opposition made some showing and to them, it’s an achievement. What has changed between then and now that you think can make your party win next year?
Some people are saying maybe the word APC is jinxed, because in other countries political parties that bear that name are losing. First time we brought APC to Kwara, we won but not as much as we expected. Maybe we should change our name to CPA, CAP, because there is something with APC, which I will urge our National Officers to really look critically, by substituting the name.
The FG has released and promised to continue to release names of alleged looters of the public treasury, some of which are in opposition. Even the name of a former minister, who entered into plea bargain with the EFCC after being implicated and later crossed to the APC, was not mentioned. Can we say that FG is being one sided in the anti-graft battle?
Well, I would say whoever is preparing that list is taking Nigeria for a ride. Apart from being one sided, if you ask them why it is one sided, you would see APC members there as those who are not in agreement with them. So, looters list is opposition list, those who are opposed to the power brokers in the APC.
There are those who have looted and determined looters whose investigations have been carried out and their names are not on the list. They take Nigerians for a ride and I have never read that, because I knew what would be there.
Those whose names featured on the alleged looters’ list are undergoing trial in law courts. What is the implication of this?
It is prejudicial to mention the names of those who are still answering to the charges. Because those people can go to the judge and ask that those people should be summoned and come and answer why they have pronounced them guilty before the judge does his job.
How do you think corruption can be curbed in Nigeria?
Truth is just one. I have never spared a moment to tell that. I delivered a lecture at NUJ Ibadan when this government was less than six months and I told them that you cannot fight corruption in Nigeria the way EFCC of Federal Government is fighting it.
From day one, you know our court system is slow. Even with the administration of criminal justice, it has reduced it by 40 or 50 percent. But it is still slow. You have only four years. How can you place your number one priority on a platform that you know it is beyond your control judicially? You cannot fight corruption judicially.
What you can do is to sit down. Let Nigerians buy into this war on corruption. Let us name and shame corrupt people, strengthen these institutions that we have; the State Assemblies and the National Assembly. I told you, as a member of the House of Representatives, we investigated (former President, Goodluck) Jonathan over 30 times. You cannot get 30 cases sorted out on corruption.
So, you strengthen these institutions, get the buy-in of Nigerians, which is zero at the moment; nobody believes you are fighting corruption.