By Ikenna Asomba
Hon. Dayo Saka Fafunmi is a two-time member representing Ifako-Ijaiye Constituency 1 at the Lagos State House of Assembly and also the House Chairman, Public Account Committee (Local). In this interview, the lawmaker bares his mind on the position of the House on the ongoing constitution amendment concerning local government autonomy, the states Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), citizenship, removal of immunity for governors and the President.
As somebody who holds a key position in the Lagos State House of Assembly, what’s the position of the House on the ongoing constitution amendment?
I think the National Assembly has replaced about 27 clauses, which have been sent to states Houses of Assembly, for further ratification. Not all the clauses have been discussed on the floor of Lagos House, but the issue of removal of immunity for governors and the President has been debated while issues that border on citizenship which a lot of people misconstrued that the Senate voted in support of under-age marriage; local government autonomy and the scrapping of SIEC are currently being discussed on the floor of the House.
But I don’t think most of the proposals will see the light of day because I don’t know how the National Assembly hopes to get the two-third concurrence to effect the amendments. I also don’t know how they will defend the issue raised by Section 29 (4b) which has to do with the maturity of a girl-child. The section states that any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age. But looking at Section 29 (4a), the constitution states that a citizen is said to be of full age when he/she is 18.
Now, what people are agitating is that sub-section 4b should be removed, because the section provides for marriage even to a teenager as young as 13 years. If a man marries a teenager, the girl is assumed to be of full age. But what we at are saying is that the girl-child must be given equal opportunity as the male child. The Senate has voted to retain sub-section 4b, but I strongly believe that most Houses of Assembly, including LAHA, will vote against that proposal .
On the issue of removal of immunity for governors and the President, we should all be mindful of conscientious litigants and mischief makers who will go all out at any slight provocation to bring litigation against governors and the President. In fact, the removal of immunity will open the flood-gate of litigations, so I don’t see how this proposal will scale through, because most states Houses of Assembly will want to immune their governors. It is even better to immune heads of executive governments, legislature and the judiciary, so that such a person, as far as he/she is still in office, could discharge his/her duties dispassionately and without frivolous distractions from mischief makers.
On local government autonomy, we will vote against it, because there’s no doubt that the autonomy which the People’s Democratic Party-led Federal Government is agitating for is not just financial autonomy for local governments, but they are just devising a means to entrench themselves in all the 774 local governments in the country. This is because the autonomy they are preaching is autonomy to scrap the states Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs) and all elections, including at the local government level, to be conducted by INEC.
I see this as a grand plan by the PDP to take-away the constitutional powers from the states and giving so much power to the centre, which negates the fundamental principles of federalism. We at LAHA will vote against local government autonomy because we believe that the purpose of local governments is to bring rapid development to the states.
But, with what is going on now, autonomy to local governments will amount to taking us back to the old order of 20 local government areas in Lagos. And you will agree with me that since we created 37 more local council development areas, rapid growth and development has been experienced in Lagos. Aside that, the intent of the PDP-led Federal Government is to ensure that it has a stranglehold on the entire country.
Looking at most local governments in the country and the level of underdevelopment at the grassroots. Don’t you think local government autonomy will spur the needed development since they will now get funds directly from the Federation Account?
There is no local government that doesn’t usually get its monthly allocation from the Jack account. For example, in some local governments of the North, the chairmen get the funds, but what they do is that they share it; that is what is not obtainable here in Lagos and South-Western States. I have said it at different fora that it’s only in Lagos that you get a semblance of how a local government should operate.
I’m not too familiar with local councils in the East, but I know too well that in the North, there are some local councils you will visit on a working day but they will be under lock and key. It has never happened and it will never happen in the South-west. Back to the issue of autonomy, even if you grant autonomy, like in some of these northern states, grassroots development will still be far away from the people. In fact, more corruption will hold sway. So, autonomy comes with its baggage of disadvantages.
So what should be done to checkmate unaccountability in local governments?
The states Houses of Assembly have a major role to play here. They should hold their local governments accountable. They should in fact copy the Lagos State House of Assembly which checks the excesses of local council chairmen as a result of its oversight function to ascertain how funds disbursed to them are used to better the lot of the grassroots people.