State Assembly and the Governorship elections, Episode 26

IDEAS Radio 8 March 2019 

Aghogho Oboh: All right.  Welcome, welcome to Countdown 2019.  And this [will] be the last Countdown 2019 before the last of the elections for 2019.  How we’ve come a long way! But we’ll get to that much later. This programme on 99.3 Nigeria Info is where we discuss all the big and significant issues, this time to the State and Governorship Assembly elections.  We are less than 24 hours from that.

You can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @SEzekwesili, @AghoghoOboh, @ideasradiong.

And we, on the IDEAS segment, be looking at the State Assembly and the Governorship elections, importantly what you need to know about the State Assembly.  A lot of people have no idea that the 29 states that we’re having elections for State Assembly and Governorship, have roles to play in their day-to-day lives.

You can Tweet at our different handles that I mentioned earlier on.  You can also follow us on WhatsApp, our number is 08095975805.

Good evening Ayo.

Ayo Obe: Good evening Aghogho, and I just wonder what’s going to happen to Countdown after the elections?  Is it going to be “Look Back … Look Back in Anger or Look Back in relief?

AgO: Rotimi and I had a laugh about it yesterday on what to do about it, but it’s something that people are thinking about, people have been asking questions also online: What’s going to happen to Countdown?  But er … 

AO: Well I can tell you one thing, that the IDEAS segment is going to be amongst you in whatever guise you put yourselves …

AgO: Yes

AO: …because actually, I would say that it is at the point of, when people have been elected that the issues of  Accountability, and of course, Integrity and Ethics that we are concerned with, come in to … come into play.

But I wanted to use this section Aghogho, to look at the – not just the State elections – because I think we all know what the Governor is, what the Governor does.  He’s a little king in his little fiefdom. In fact in some ways I would say that the Governor of a State in his own little fiefdom is more of an absolute monarch, than the President at the National Assembly, even though the President commands vastly greater resources, of course, he’s still has control, he’s the  Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and he has all the security agencies at his command or under his operational control. But once you go beyond that and you look at what happens at the States, you find that very few Governors have much to fear from their State Houses of Assembly, whereas the President at the national level, he has to know that the National Assembly is not going to be a walk over for him.  With the … the situation seems to be different in the States. And partly that’s because they receive a lot less scrutiny than the National Assembly. So the eye of the world, the eye of the media is not on them. And partly it’s because it’s very easy for a Governor to bring them over to his side. I mean, you just have to look at some states where they’ve had off-cycle governorship elections, and an incoming Governor might find that he’s faced with a House of Assembly which would normally be hostile, or at least be from a different party.  And yet you’ll find that suddenly there could be decampings, there could be suspensions and so on and so forth. And I think that it speaks to the fact that we tend not to know who we’re putting into these State Houses of Assembly. We just, unless we have a specific connection with the person, we tend to say: Well, … the party … you know.

AgO: In terms of accessibility to information, and the openness of the State Assembly, are you surprised that, for example trying to get information on the 36 States of the Federation and the Assembly, members of the Assembly, what Bills they pass is … 

AO: It’s absolutely impossible

AgO: … a nightmare situation

AO: It’s absolutely impossible.  I mean, in preparing for this programme, I tried to find what the composition of the State Houses of Assembly was for each state.  And you’d think your first port of call would be the INEC website, so that you would know who was elected in 2015, and so that we could know … because unlike the off-cycle  governorship elections, the National Assembly has its term. It doesn’t go off-cycle. There may be by-elections, and there may be deaths and replacement elections, but a person who comes in, even if they come in with three days to go, then … well it wouldn’t be three days to go actually, because of the election cycle, but if they came in with just six months to go, the … their term would still end at the … when the  National Assembly is dissolved. So, but you don’t find that information.

Now, I … the reason why … I should explain that the reason why I was looking for this information was because I wanted to see, does it make a difference when one party controls the State House of Assembly?  Or is it better for democracy when the parties in a State House of Assembly where there’s a bit more of balance. And, if I’m honest, I could not discern any such pattern. From the little information that I was able to get, I couldn’t discern that pattern of accountability that we’re looking for.  Because just as the National Assembly has oversight responsibilities with regard to the Federal Budget, the performance of the Federal Ministries and the Federal Government, so it ought to be that the State Houses of Assembly have oversight over the State executive. Of course, they have to pass the budget and there are other duties, they are able to pass legislation and they can even introduce legislation.  There’s one state where … 

AgO: Ridiculous

AO:  … I mean I just don’t want to pick out, to name states, but there’s one state where the … it was said that in the past three years, the legislators had only introduced three or four bills 

AgO: Yes, four bills.

AO: Four bills, and all the rest of the bills had been executive bills.  And basically, when the executive introduces a bill, if the executive hasn’t done its homework and prepared a good bill, then it’s very unlikely that the State legislature is going to do very much that will improve the legislation.  Many of them are really just place-fillers. And for example, there was another one where, one of the … the state … Basically they come into the news for all the wrong reasons. There was one where a state legislator came into the news because they were complaining that they didn’t see their Christmas largesse.  And just like their counterparts at the National Assembly, some of them have instituted this constituency project, and this legislator again was complaining that the second tranche of money had not been released. And you know, because we have some of our more technical NGOs like TrackaNG, which are going in to see what’s been happening to the constituency projects at the  national level, and the argument of many of the legislators is: “It’s nothing to do with us. We only nominate projects, we don’t execute.” And so on. And yet here at the State level you have somebody brazenly complaining that: I haven’t seen … that the money hasn’t been released to me!

So I think it’s a problem.

What I looked at, I found that many of the State Houses of Assembly have had factional crises, and impeachment of Speakers is a given … 

AgO: The impeachment of Speakers thing, comes over and over again …

AO: I use the word “impeachment” but of course I mean ‘removal’ of the Speakers.  They’re always removing their Speakers, and … 

AgO: Is there any thread you could say, this was major reason why you had the removal of Speakers in the number of states …?

AO: No, it comes from factional in-fighting, and when that happens, of course if the Governor decamps, or if there are significant decampings in a … from one party to another in a State, or as I say a new Governor comes in, then you’re likely to see a lot of decamping.  But not everybody will go in the way of the decampees, so the … and when you have decamping against the run of the majority party, that’s when you see the Constitutional provision that a person, a member, or a legislator who decamps, their seat must be declared vacant. That happens a lot more at the State level. 

AgO: Than the National Assembly?

AO: Whereas we didn’t see it happening in the National Assembly when legislators decamped.  And the excuse is supposed to be: if you decamp because your party is factionalised or there’s a split, then you’re entitled to … it’s not treated as crossing carpet, or as we say in Nigeria, ‘cross-carpeting’ (for some reason).  But it’s not treated as crossing carpet. And so, they are left there. But at the State level, if it happens and you left the majority party, then you’ll find that they will quickly declare your seat vacant and you’ll be out on your ear!

AgO: There’s another dimension here also to some State Assemblies that had crisis to the extent that they no longer sitting and they had closed down …

AO: Yes, they were in fact … it’s not so much that they did not want to sit, but the  factions who wanted to say that: “We are in control”, they would be fighting, and the Nigeria Police, that would be used as an excuse, whether the excuse was genuine or not, it would be used as an excuse by the Nigeria Police to seal up the venue of the State House of Assembly, so that the Assembly could not sit.  And we find that in quite a few states, and again, as I said, you can’t say that it is because the party … because there’s contestation of parties. Often you find it happening in States where all of them come from the same party. And what you also find at the State level is that it’s not only the two major parties that win seats.  So even where other parties are in control or win seats, you still find the same factionalisation, you find the declaration practically of war and the police, armed police coming to occupy the State Assembly so that they can’t sit.

And I think that why we should be concerned about it, is because while all this is going on, are the oversight functions that a State Governor should be subjected to being carried on?  We saw in previous Assemblies, how State Houses of Assembly were fond of preparing retirement packages for Governors which really, were beyond the dreams of avarice. And why is that? Because it was almost like a matter of: You scratch my governor … my gubernatorial back, and I’ll scratch your legislative back as well.  So that the interests of the people of the State seemed to be, you know, just incidental matter. It was more about: Now I’ve got here, it’s my turn to chop whatever is to be chopped!

You never hear of – apart from that legislator who as I said complained that: “I didn’t get my share”.  You know, apart from those, you don’t hear of legislators not being paid their allowances, not being paid their salary.  It’s teachers and other workers in the States who are left unpaid.

AgO: You think about for some states, two months, and you hear things like, they put the budget out for them for example, and they say that at least we’ve spent two months, some two weeks.  I know a particular Governor who just walked into the Assembly and said; I’m the one who’s in charge here. Took the gavel, and he said: “The Budget’s been passed”, and they laughed and moved on.  It just sort of highlights the sort of relationship the State Assembly has with the Executive.

AO: And I think that it’s one of the reasons why, when we talk about the issue of devolving power to … devolving more power to the States and so on, we talk about things like the State Police and so on, we … in Lagos  perhaps we’re a little bit more … we’re a little bit lucky because there is so much more media scrutiny. But in some States you can very well imagine that a Governor who is already a king in his castle, and then you add State Police to it, it could be quite  … it could be quite deleterious to the democratic development of that state.

So, I think that … that I just want to close, because I seem to have talked my way through the entire 15 minutes of this IDEAS segment … 

AgO: How time flies when you’re having a great conversation!

AO: You mean when I’m listening to the sound of my own voice Aghogho!  But I think, what I would just want to say is that: It is important to pay much more attention to what their State House of Assembly local legislator is doing.  And, it may be late to say to people: Look, find out who is running and make sure you know them. Often you only know the person who is the incumbent already, and so, because they, you know, they start coming up with all sorts of goodies and so on, but you really don’t get to see what was their legislative record when they were there.  So I think that we need to have the media doing a lot more scrutiny of the … at this sub-national level because this is really where the people are. They almost focus more on what happens at state level. Sometimes you’re lucky, and you get a governor who is determined to perform. But sometimes, you get a governor who feels that well, Just as long as they do what I say.  And it was noticeable in especially in the beginning of the 2003 cycle where you had these contestation, 2003, 2007, you found that governors who had to really struggle their way to power, they tended to perform a lot better than those who just rode to victory on the crest of the national wave. But that when these governors now were coming for re-election, the … and they were re-elected, the voters in that state began to complain that: Ah, this person is not doing as they used to … they are not  performing the way they used to perform in their first term. And I think that between the combination of these, that the voters need to decide for themselves whether they want to be very forgiving, very relaxed, or whether they want to let … put Governors on Notice that: We’ve got our eyes on you.

AgO: Alright, alright.  So that’s it on IDEAS segment.

AO: Yeah, I just want to urge everybody to please be sure to check out our website.  You can also see some of the recordings of the programme on YouTube. And of course, follow us on Twitter, and me, with my own ideas and pontifications and so on, you can find me @naijama.

AgO: Alright, thank you very much Ayo Obe.  And IDEAS will be regular on this station and at this time every Friday.  We’ll take a quick break and Countdown 2019.

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