By JOSEPH ERUNKE
Senator Smart Adeyemi, former national president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ is representing Kogi West in the Senate for the second term on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A passionate advocate of the masses, Senator Adeyemi has acquired a reputation for fearlessly articulating the interests of the citizenry. In this interview with senate correspondents, he pushes forward his arguments on the deprivation of local governments by many state governors. Excerpts:
On Governor Rotimi Amaechi’s rebuttal of his assertions against governors?
I want to begin by telling you that I don’t speak on what I am not convinced about. And whatsoever I am convinced about, I become very passionate about it. I will say that in this dispensation, Governor Amaechi is one of the best governors that we have.
I am not saying this to praise him, I am saying this against the background of what I have seen in Rivers State, what some of my colleagues have said about Rivers State, and indeed in the response of Governor Rotimi Amaechi which I read on-line, I got an insight into some of the activities of the Rivers State Government relating to local government areas.
And I salute Governor Rotimi Amaechi for all he has been doing in Rivers State. He talked about the fact that every month, about N2 billion is given out to local government areas and I said whao! This man deserves to be commended. But having said that, let me say that Rotimi Amaechi is equally a very intelligent man, very articulate, very courageous but good as all these qualities are, we are not equally short of those qualities in the National Assembly.
I will equally say that from the interview Governor Rotimi Amaechi granted, I could now understand and appreciate where he is coming from but the unfortunate thing is that Rivers State is not Nigeria.
What Governor Amaechi is doing in Rivers State, I wish other governors are doing that. If other governors are even adding more to the allocation to the local government areas, then we have no business discussing the autonomy of local governments in the first place. But as the chairman of Governors Forum, I hope he is taking time to find out what is happening in other states of the federation.
When I speak, I don’t speak as a senator representing Kogi west or Kogi people, I speak as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In essence, my constituency is Nigeria first and foremost. And when we talk on contemporary issues, we talk about them because we want good governance.
We want protection of human rights, we want good standard of living. Now, one of the hallmarks of democracy is that you talk, I talk. Democracy is not about arrogance, it’s about you discussing issues, come up with superior arguments, and then I will concede to you. When Governor Rotimi granted the interview, I saw a lot of things that he was doing and I asked myself the question and I said I hope this can be done in other states of the federation.
Challenge to Governor Amaechi
Now, what I am saying to the chairman of the Governors Forum: I want you to ask your colleagues if they are doing what you are doing. If they are not doing that, then you know that there is a reason for us to be concerned.
Now, let me say that in the course of his interview, I read where he said the Governors Forum would not allow the three tiers of government to be so entrenched in the constitution. But let me say this to their excellencies that it pays you people to allow the three tiers of government to survive or else, you will not sleep with your two eyes closed, or else your old age will be disturbed.
This is the truth. Let me tell you that in the course of the interview, Amaechi did say that there is nowhere in the world where you have the federal system of government that you have local governments being given autonomy and I will say to that the federal system of government of our nation is clearly different from what we have in the other nations of the world because of our diversity as a people. Yes, we are one Nigeria but nobody wants to have his tribe being suppressed or being relegated as a second class citizen in their own state.
Constitutionality of governors’ interference in local government affairs
Now, I think it is unconstitutional for the governors not to allow local government areas to be on their own in terms of the management of their finances. One, it is the breach of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When the governors were sworn in, with that sacred document, they said in their oaths of office, that they will obey and respect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That is the same constitution today that the governors are saying that they are not going to obey.
It’s a breach of the constitution already. You cannot remove the goal post when you are about to score, you cannot say because you are a governor today, you are not going to respect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Position on joint account being operated by states and local governments
The joint account, as it is being operated in the country today is fraudulent. The Joint Account is not supposed to be run in such a manner that will take all the rights of the local government, by extension, you swallow the allocation. Let me tell you this, that I have met a local government chairman that confessed to me that they had been made to sign for allocation far less than one quarter of what they take from the Federation Account.
There was a case of a local government chairman who told me that he was supposed to collect about N155 million for that particular month but he signed for N40 million. He got N40 million but signed for N155 million and I want the chairman of the Governors Forum to hear this.
Now, if we speak from this end, we do not speak on the ground of any local environment, we speak from the collective contributions coming across the country and that is the difference between the man who is in Abuja and the man who is not in Abuja. We will look at issues from the national point of view they will look at issues perhaps from their own states.
I can appreciate what the chairman of the Governors Forum is saying but his colleagues are not doing that and that explains why we have a large army of people living below the poverty line.
Deplorable state of local governments
Let me tell you this, that in my state where I come from and in my senatorial district, I will make the attempt to mention towns. There is a town called Igbaroko in Iyagba West Local Government, Sadauna of Sokoto built a health centre before I was born, it was just last year I went back there to demolish the health centre and to construct another one.
Demolishing health centre
Where is the local government since 1966? Now, if you don’t give them and you are saying that you don’t need three tiers of government even when we have three tiers of government, there are still people suffering.
In kogi State, there are areas where people use tankers to fetch water and I asked the chairman of the local government, ‘why is it that you cannot provide water and he said there was no money! What about your allocation? I asked and he said that they collect it from Lokoja, in the state. Chairman of Governors Forum, I hope you can hear me.
There are areas in my state that they use tanker to fetch water for people. Local governments are unable to provide even bore-holes! When the allocations come, they are stuck in the state. It is not from this administration, this administration of Governor Wada is just about one year in office and it has set up machinery for elections.