Rep. Afe Olowookere, Akure North/Akure South Federal Constituency in this interview speaks on a number of national issues including the delay in the passage of the 2018 appropriation bill, local government autonomy and reordering of the election by the National Assembly. Excerpts:
This is the third month in the year and the Federal Government budget is yet to be passed, so when would it be implemented?
Don’t forget that the appropriation law has a life circle of twelve months. It does not matter if we start the implementation of the law in either May or June. We feel that if the budget was passed in December or January that would be an end to the 2017 budget. But we want the executive, within the confines of the law, to execute the projects in the 2017 budget to a certain level. And by the grace of God now, we are aware that at least 70 percent of the funds have been released to the MDAs. By January 50 percent was released across board. This February, 20 percent was released. We believe that by the time we pass the 2018 appropriation bill, the government would have achieved 80 or 90 percent in the implementation of the 2017 budget.
What’s your take on local government autonomy?
My position is coming from my own political background as a councillor at the local government level between 1991 and 1993, the period that can be referred to as the golden era of the local governments, I believe that there is nothing that is better than for the local governments to be autonomous. Now, there are two things that the state governments are using to hold down local governments; one is the issue of state/local governments’ joint account, two is State Independent Electoral Commission. I sponsored bills on the abrogation of the two when we were considering the review of the constitution.
But Governor Rotimi Akeredolu recently said that local government autonomy is not constitutional?
Yes, as it is, the Ondo State governor is correct by saying that it is not constitutional. But I disagree that it is not practicable.
It is practicable. But as at today, the Constitution does not back it. Until we amend those two provisions in our constitution, we will not have local governments that will be autonomous because the state governors will continue to use that instrument (SIECs) to determine the party that will win council elections. You are aware that there has never been any state in the country where opposition parties won council elections.
Are there similarities between being a legislator at the local, state and national levels?.
l was a legislator at the local government level. And that has helped me a lot. In fact the experience I gathered while in the council gave me an edge over and above my colleagues when I was a member of the Ondo State House of Assembly to outshine them. Also, the experience at the local government and the State Assembly gave me an edge over others first timers like me in the House of Representatives.
Even if you are a professor, if you get to the legislative house, there some things that require technicalities that your professorship will not enable you to do. It may take you two or three years to understand what’s going on there. There are technical ways of writing bills and motions. And by the grace of God, the 16 motions that I have moved so far in the National Assembly were written by me. I also prepared the six bills that I have sponsored by myself.
What’s your stand on the re-ordering of the election timetable by the National Assembly?
The National Assembly has the constitutional power to reorder election since it passes the Electoral Act and the arrangement of the election is part of the electoral law and the act is the prerogative of the legislative arm of the government. The Electoral Act is determined, designed and written by the legislative arm. The National Assembly has the constitutional right and duty to do that.
Are you in support of this because you are an APC legislator?
Re-ordering in itself; let me say this that there is a concept that is called majority tyranny. It means even at times majority of the legislators may be wrong but since they are the majority, their decision may prevail.
The reordering may be an idea of some members and they brought it as a bill and it was discussed. But there are some of us who are not in support and argued that the reordering would even cost us more money because instead of having the election twice, it will now be thrice. But since the majority opinion favoured it, then, it is binding on all of us. We have to take responsibility for it.