The Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Michael Adeyemo, spoke with BISI OLADELE on the quest for local government autonomy and other issues.
Teachers across the country are protesting against autonomy for local governments. What is your view?
Members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) protested and came up with their own position against the local government autonomy. They were received by the Deputy Governor and they were advised to approach the House on this issue. I can say that we have been in touch with them, having known that the House will still have to ratify whatever is coming from the Executive but this position is yet to be adequately addressed from the National Assembly committee considering amendment of the constitution. Some wanted autonomy for local governments but the fundamental question is not being considered or treated before we want this autonomy to scale through. There is this agitation of inequalities in the present numbers of local governments we have. How do we reconcile it? Some states have more while other states have very few ad considering their population, they deserve to have more local governments and some states decided to create more local governments but they are unable to scale through in getting the National Assembly approval.
Now, how do we address these inequalities? Before we can say financial autonomy, there must be an opportunity for states to create local governments. If you are saying the local governments presently created by the state will not enjoy allocation, that means you have already fixed it that you do not allow more creation of the local governments and the case in study is Lagos and Kano states. Statutorily today, Lagos State has 20 local governments, look at the population and Kano state has 44 local governments. You can see this imbalance and inequality compared with the population. These are the germane things that we need to address. Then, how did we get where we are now? It goes down to the fact that there was a time that there was zero allocation. Some local governments were unable to effectively run their local governments, they were unable to have enough monies to pay staff and teachers salaries. I think in an attempt to find a solution to the zero allocation and inability to pay teachers salary, they came up with this. Now, how could this present development on autonomy address the issue? Are we not going back to that era of that period and why the need for having autonomy and are we saying we should not strengthen our federalism or we should continue with the practice of what I called unitary-federal system? Why I say so is because, exclusively, the constitution empowers the House to make laws as to the structure, administrations and finances of the local government. So, by the time you now say that it should be autonomous, that means they are like states whereby they will be relating directly with the Federal Government. So, you now have a committee performing an oversight function in the National Assembly. So, are we saying that is the best arrangement? Why cant we simply look at the challenges confronting the local government and address them? One of it could be: is it that the state assemblies are not up and doing in the oversight responsibilities to ensure transparency and accountability in funding and monies meant for the local government? If they are unable to do that, what have been the factors responsible for all these failures and how can we address them? There are a lot. There are many opinions for and against this, but my take on it is that all these factors which I have mentioned must be given due consideration, not that we will use one problem to solve another problem and we will continue to have series of problems unsolved.
That is my take on it and you know the experience of teachers during that era, it was so pathetic and why would you want to disrupt a system that is working now because we have some shortcomings? Why cant we look at those shortcomings and let the National Assembly be proactive, not necessarily on sentiments and unnecessary agitations. We should look for issue-based solutions to address the problems of the local governments.
Taking a look at the Oyo State 2017 budget, are there specific problems the budgets will address?
In continuation of the infrastructure, as far as the state is concerned, we made adequate provisions for some of these roads to be executed and completed within the time frame. And on the issue of education too, the government ensured that education is given priority like infrastructure and security. So, we ensured that inspite of the shortfall in terms of the money that government is getting from the federation account and even the little improvements we have in the internally generated revenue, what we discovered from the budget is that we do not make ambitious estimate both for the capital and recurrent expenditure. We must be able to ensure that for each sector, money appropriated for certain projects comes from a particular source. That is the style of this year’s budget. We cannot just appropriate, we have to look at the corresponding revenue to finance whatever the capital project or any project that you want to do. So we ensured that there is correlation between the budget appropriation law, which is the budget estimate and the revenue law, which is the revenue to finance the budget. Most earnings in the budget will get the corresponding finance or source of fund for the project. For instance, if we say, this is the amount of money we want to spend on agriculture, we would say, this is where the money would come from to fund that project. The era of just appropriating funds for the sake of it to satisfy certain interest has gone. What we are doing now is that even if any ministry approaches us for probably to look at anything they are given either to increase it or otherwise, we have the responsibility to ask the ministry of agency or department where the money they expect to add to their budget will come from. Once they are able to show that there is a source of fund for it, then, we will consider it. This is a new development in budgeting, on which we are seriously working with the Ministry of Finance and even the Accountant General’s office to rub mind in ensuring that we have a practicable budget, not necessarily for budgeting sake and we see the budget performance improving through this time.
How many bills has the Eight Assembly passed and which of them can you easily say has direct impact on the ordinary man on the street.
I can say all the bills passed by this Eight Assembly are those that have direct impact on the good people of Oyo State. They are laws that address challenges in the spheres of security, education, health, agriculture, judiciary matters, land matters and infrastructural development and general administration. Conservatively, we have passed about 45 bills which His Excellency has assented to. We also have about 15 under second stage of passage, about three of which are in the first reading. Majorly, these laws tend to assist the government in improving the revenue of the state, having realized that the money coming from the federal has actually dropped and is inadequate for our needs as far as governance is concerned. Some of these laws are obsolete, especially those that have to do with revenue. They are not in line with the current challenges, so we were able to work on them to make it in such a way that it will conform to new development and current dispensation we are going with. Basically, we looked at the laws that will enhance and improve the IGR of the state, we looked that the laws establishing some agencies which are required to promote the economy of the state. We also looked out for the laws that will encourage investment into the state. So, these translate into development in terms of investments that we have seen which the governor, in the course of the sixth anniversary of the administration, mentioned so much because there are enabling laws and most investors are always looking for the laws that will cover them while showing interest to invest. Also, we have the issue that has to do with security. Kidnapping was so rampant then. So, we discovered that the law in place did not address the modern trend and sophistication of modern kidnapping we are experiencing now. So, we put anti-kidnapping laws in place. Anybody found guilty of this crime has adequate punishment under the law and any materials or property used for kidnapping purposes will also be forfeited to the government of the state. If it is a house, the building will be demolished and the landed property be taken over by the government. Then we looked at the law that has to do with the administration of criminal justice. Before now, the dispensation of criminal justice was so slow such that the accused is always set free because of the lacuna in the criminal administration which we are operating. Also, when a criminal is apprehended and trial, the victim of the crime does not tend to have any justice. So, we tend to have a law in place that will bring compensation to the victim of a crime. For instance, somebody whose money was stolen or a fraud was perpetrated in his company and the accused was found guilty after being arrested and sentenced for certain years of imprisonment, and that is the end. The owner of the money is still the loser because the money will not be retrieved and given back to him or probably, the money must have been used to acquire some property or certain investment. But this House passed a law that ensures that even the proceeds or whatever the suspects or the criminal must have taken, is returned to the owner or victim. So, this brings justice to everybody either to the criminal or the victim of the crime.
These are some of the improvements. Then the idea of remanding suspects in custody till eternity was addressed. The House addressed it by ensuring that the police must conclude their investigation on time and ensure speedy trial by not wasting the time of the court. Another thing that is so close to it under the law is community service as an alternative to imprisonment. We discovered that some people committed minor offences but they were eventually sentenced to prisons where they have hardened criminals and armed robbers. By the time they serve their years or months of sentence, they come out well equipped, well trained to become serious criminals. This, we know, will not help our society.