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Kabiru Adjoto, a three-time member in the Edo State House of Assembly is currently the 4th speaker in the outgoing sixth assembly. Before the current position, he was the deputy and chief whip of the house. In this interview with IDRIS UMAR MOMOH, he spoke on the assembly’s achievements under his leadership, the relationship between the executive and legislature in Edo, among other issues. Excerpts:
Edo State House of Assembly is being described as a ‘Rubber Stamp Assembly’, under your leadership as speaker. What is your take on this?
It is not just under my administration that the house has been described as a ‘rubber stamp assembly’. I am fortunate to be a member of the 4th, 5th and now the presiding officer of the 6th assembly. Throughout, these periods, they called us a rubber stamp assembly but it is more now. Sometimes, when I talked to the public, I see the relationship between the parliament particularly the Edo State House of Assembly and the executive as that of cooperation and not confrontation. When there are confrontations in a democracy there can’t be development. So, we have chosen as parliament in Edo State to always cooperate with the executive and the judiciary arms of government. That is the only way the people can benefit. If we confront the executive, the judiciary, then there can’t be development. If we do that, we can’t roll out bills that will be of interest to the people of the state or bills that will translate into development. In most cases, confrontation is purely because of finance. It is either the executive is not brining enough money to the parliament or the executive is taking too much. So, we say no to confrontation but chosen rather to oversight the functions and all that the executive is doing to make sure that every penny that we have appropriated for it is judiciously spent. So, people can see that we now have beautiful roads, primary healthcare, the best that other states are coming to learn from our model. See Edo Best programme and people are now withdrawing their children from the private schools to the public schools. When we look and see that our hospitals for the first time, are not mere consulting clinics, but giving drugs, patients adequately being taken care of by qualified doctors- if for these things we are called rubber stamp assembly, so be it. That means we have rubber stamp for good healthcare, good education, better life and payment of salary as and when due in the state. If that is what we are called rubber stamp for, in fact, we are happy to be called a rubber stamp assembly because the essence of democracy is better life for the people. So, if we are giving Edo people better life and they decide to nickname us a rubber stamp assembly for better life we are happy to take the name.
Do you regret the action of the Edo Assembly voting against autonomy for the State House of Assembly autonomy under your leadership?
In Edo State House of Assembly, we don’t do things without consultation. We consulted with our constituents. Yes, we voted against State House of Assembly autonomy for reasons. Like I said, we consult widely. We voted against it because there are lots of issues we considered during the operation of the constitution. When you look at the issue of autonomy critically, I have to be sincere with you, when you hear that people go into public office, they steal money and become richer than they were before going to the office, you know something is wrong somewhere.
As a representative of the people, we looked at the issue of autonomy critically, and concluded that we can still achieve autonomy without necessarily altering the provisions of the constitution. Firstly, when you look at it, autonomy for legislators- that means everything about us will be first line charge. I told you earlier that we at the sixth assembly, we think about Edo people first. We are not saying we should not think about ourselves but the people first. Democracy is evolving. It will get to a time when the issue of autonomy will naturally come in. But at this stage, we the legislators are in charge of budgeting.
That means we can decide for example that the budget of Edo State will be N170 billion or thereby. We are the one doing the appropriation but the Edo State House of Assembly can decide that out of the N170 billion, we appropriate N70 billion for the house, appropriate N30 billion to the executive and N20 billion to the judiciary, because we know that there is financial autonomy. A time will come, God forbid, that if you don’t have people who think about their constituents, there will be serious mismanagement. Hence, we consulted with our people and they all for now objected to it. Though, the issue of autonomy is good but let it be gradual. We have to hearken to the voice of our people. Like I said, we are not representing ourselves. Our people objected to its passage because, they argued that at the moment it might likely be abused, because democracy in Africa is evolving and we cannot start comparing ourselves with western democracy. So, let us build strong institutions first, and when the institutions are very strong, you can now do other things. That is why as speaker I want to build the Edo State House of Assembly to be a very strong institution.
Democracy can only survive when institutions, legislature, executive, judiciary, civil society, the press is strong and independent. But, when they are not strong, not independent and you jump the ladder and want to start doing things that hitherto ought to have been done and built under a strong institution, it will collapse. We met at the speakers’ conference with the presidential committee to enforce the autonomy including all states’ chief judges. We are still discussing. There are lots of issues to be addressed before autonomy; particularly, the financial autonomy can be practicable. For example, with the autonomy does it mean we now have three executives in a state? It would mean that a speaker of a state House of Assembly will embark on capital projects, with the chief judge of a state also embarking on capital projects alongside the governor of the state. So, we have to define the roles and it is when these roles are properly defined in a democracy that you can be talking of financial autonomy. So, with superior arguments, our people came, they discussed with us and we rejected it. So, it is not our decision per se. It is the decision of the Edo people because to them it is not yet time and we should build institutions first, very strong democratic institutions before we talk of financial autonomy.
The House on Monday passed a bill criminalising energy theft in the state, but many people seem not happy with the passage; the thinking is that the house ought to have looked at other aspects of power supply. Why does the assembly criminalise energy theft and in what way can power supply be improved in the state?
I think you are not very right if you say we have not talked about how power will be improved in Edo State. We have passed a lot of bills in the house that give the state government opportunity to bring Azura Power Plant to the state. By the time the plant is fully operational, I am sure energy needs of Edo people will be met or be improved. Secondly, on the issue of blackout, the house had summoned the management of BEDC to appear in executive and plenary sessions on several occasions on why there are blackouts in most parts of the state. We have discussed with them. We have asked them to do certain things which of course they have done. As I speak, there are several communities even in my local government that have no light. The best thing in life is for you to discuss and negotiate because all the wars in the world at the end of the day all end in a round table (discussion). That is what we believe in Edo State. We called BEDC management; they have appeared before us on several occasions. I am happy, that you talked about criminalising energy theft. I want you to look at the bill holistically and not just only at some sections. But again, if we say we are criminalising energy theft, what is wrong with that? If they are bringing estimated bills we say it is wrong but should provide everybody with meter. We have discussed it with the BEDC. You can’t just bring estimated bill, you must provide every Edo person with meter.
If there is no light, we also say it is wrong. They should do everything possible to provide Edo people with light and because we know they don’t have the capacity that is why we created the enabling environment for competitions to come in like the Azura Power Plant. By the time you have competitors there will be efficiency. But we should not encourage our people particularly those that have meters to start bypassing meters because they are consuming energy.
By the time you have meter in your house, cut the wire and bypass it I think it leaves much to be desired. So, if we criminalise theft I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. People should not bypass meter. If you are not satisfied with the activities of BEDC don’t take the laws into your hands. Report to the police and you can also approach the courts and fight for your rights.
Edo people are known to be very civil and responsible. We don’t steal. I accepted that BEDC has a lot of ills that leave very much to be desired. We have encouraged them to improve but that doesn’t mean that we should steal because we want to fight for our rights. It is not in the character of Edo people to steal. That is why we criminalised energy theft in the state. It is not just in Edo State there is an Act to that effect. But we just only domesticated the Act in the state. So, people should not steal while we negotiate, bargain and discuss with BEDC. We should not steal because in any religion stealing is condemnable.
But Edo people are saying that the House should take a step forward to also criminalise estimated billings, low power outage and all the alleged excesses of BEDC which they had protested against to the Assembly?
Estimated billings are not something that is so good. We have condemned it. We have not just condemned it, we have summoned the managing director to this house to caution her and also to direct her to provide meters to the people of the state. So, while waiting for meters to be provided, we will not encourage our people to steal.
Among the bills passed by the House under your leadership, which of them in particular is very special to you?
The bills are so many, particularly the bill against human trafficking and the one that deals with violence against persons. They make me a very fulfilled legislator. The bill that largely prohibited trafficking in persons is a bill that by the time it becomes fully operational all these our young girls and boys that are being trafficked will stop and those who are involved in this heinous crime will be punished accordingly.
Recently, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki and I visited Rome, Italy, the final destination to most of these trafficked persons from Edo State. Largely 60 percent of them are trafficked to Italy. We have discussion with the government of Italy because it is the receiving end while Nigeria, particularly, Edo State is the supply end. First, we told them that if there is no demand, supply will naturally die. They should take care of the demand end while we take care of the supply end. The people being trafficked, some of them are working in European farms. Those who trafficked them collect the money. They are there as labourers while those that trafficked them collect their money. These trafficked persons are also again trafficked for human organs.
To remove human organs like liver, kidney, the heart is not the work of a journalist, a farmer or ordinary person. It must be a well trained doctor that can remove the liver and kidney from another person and transplant. That means there is a very powerful cartel in the Western world particularly the Western Europe including Italy involved in this business of human trafficking. We advised them to deal with the demand side while we come back home to adequately educate our people against the dangers involved in this business of human trafficking. We will not just educate our people but we also criminalise it. That is why the day the governor assented to the bill I became a very fulfilled legislator of the Edo State House of Assembly.
Secondly, the bill on violence against persons: The day we passed it into law and the day the governor also assented to it and it became law I was also very happy that yes, I have again contributed to something that will translate into better life for human beings, not only just for Edo people but the entire people living in the state.
You discovered that these days we have abandoned our roles as parents. We also discovered that the issue of rape was not properly defined. If you go to court, the way lawyers argue rape you will know that it is not properly defined. In that bill, we properly defined what rape is. In that bill the issue of female genital mutilation is properly defined and criminalised. In that bill, father who just give birth to children and doesn’t care about their welfare, how they feed, go to school, shelter and clothe we have criminalised it that when God uses you to bring children to this world, you take responsibility for their welfare and training. So, the day that bill was passed into law I laughed and was filled with joy. So, there are other bills that are people-oriented that we have equally passed.
What will you miss most as your tenure comes to an end as the speaker of the Sixth Edo State House of Assembly?
Firstly, I will miss the journalists. Some of them have become my friends. I am a friend of journalists. I am about the most popular, the most controversial, the most talked-about Honourable member ever in the history of the Edo State House of Assembly and the most gossiped about. So, I will miss all these because there is virtually no day that people will not talk about Kabiru Adjoto. It is either they are talking about me as a result of one impeachment or as a result of one bill or as a result of one good thing or the other.
I came into the House of Assembly in 2009 in one of the most celebrated re-run election ever in the history of Nigeria. Journalists were at that Akoko-Edo House of Assembly re-run election and they were very objective in their reportage. So, I will miss the journalists because they make me very popular in Nigeria.
But fortunately, the Court of Appeal, Benin Division has just ruled that I am the House of Representatives-elect for the Akoko-Edo federal constituency, and we are already in high spirits to give the best because we have learnt so much from the state House of Assembly. On getting to Abuja, it is still going to be legislation. So, we will continue with the legislative work there. Whatever we missed in the state House of Assembly, I am sure there is something to cover it up in Abuja. And all the friendship certainly we are not going to cut contact and we have become one family.
The sixth assembly witnessed a lot of impeachment saga and political turbulence. What pace are you setting for a stable leadership in the next seventh assembly?
The best leadership is the one that sees leadership as a collective enterprise. Once you carry everybody along and see yourself as just first among equals, you are not a dictator, you consult, negotiate, persuade and lobby your colleagues, then you will sail through smoothly. But in a situation where you see yourself as the best among equals, you will always have problems. So, the next assembly should borrow a leave from what we are doing. The speaker should see himself as servant of the members and not the leader of the members.
What legacy are you leaving behind as speaker for the incoming assembly to build on?
If you have been into this office of Mr. Speaker before, you will know that the difference is very clear from what it used to be. It used to be like 12 x 12 room, but you can see the environment is now very beautiful, office fine and that is why sometimes I stayed in the office till between 6pm and 7pm doing my work. The high point is that I am happy that I am leaving behind very strong legacies. Our activities have been largely digitalised. It is only in Edo State House of Assembly today that you can stay anywhere in the world and watch our proceedings. We have digitalised our operations in the Edo State House of Assembly under my leadership. You can stay in Washington DC, USA, Japan and anywhere in the world and watch our proceedings. You can equally go to YouTube and Facebook you will see Edo State House of Assembly. It is just for you to type the date of what you are looking for; you will be able to watch what we have done during my period as speaker of the state House of Assembly.
Thirdly, Enough is Enough Nigeria rated all the houses of assembly in Nigeria and scored Edo State House of Assembly first in terms of quality legislation, digitalisation of activities. In fact, they scored us first. It is only Edo State House of Assembly that passed the three conditions. In the area of website, all the honorable members have their website and their constituents can access them with the website and see what they are doing. Also, all the members have their email addresses that you can send your request or suggestions to, and they will reply you. All that happened during my leadership. Also, in the area of budget publication online, all the budgets we have passed under my leadership are all published. It is just for you to click the house website you will see everything. Also, all projects approved to be executed in every constituency in the state are all published. So, the Enough is Enough Nigeria scored us the best state House of Assembly in Nigeria. That is what I want the incoming assembly to build on because we have laid the foundation. I want them to build on it so that in time to come, the state House of Assembly will be an assembly where other state houses of assembly will come for learning and lecture on the act of legislation.