•‘My EFCC story’
•Says being law student after tenure not palatable
Former Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, was a lawmaker for many years. In this interview with Ebun Sessou, Ikuforiji speaks on his life as well as his future as a politician.
You spent 10 years as Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly. What lessons were you able to take away?
The lessons were many. Ordinarily, being a lawmaker at the Lagos State House of Assembly is not an easy task let alone being Speaker. I was Speaker for 10 years and it was quite interesting and tasking. I became Speaker in the third year of my first term. Speakership is in itself instructive. And when you undergo that for three terms, of course, there are so many lessons one would have learnt. To lead any legislative arm, you must learn how to be patient to deal with your colleagues. Humility is very important if you want to be successful as Speaker. The Speaker is expected to be a good listener and you must to be a good administrator. And being a good listener means you must learn to hear from different parties. Legislation is all about debate, argument and no one is an island of knowledge. You must listen carefully even to that person that you think is not as versatile or knowledgeable as others in the House. You must learn to give every lawmaker the chance to speak. There are times the people bare their minds on crucial issues. Sometimes, they may bring out facts such that others who you think are more knowledgeable or better informed, educated or enlightened may not have seen. You must also take into cognisance the different characters in the House. The legislators come from different backgrounds. They have different attitudes to life. They have different exposures, levels of education among others and you have to deal with all these people not only as a group but as individuals too. As the head, you are not better than others. The truth is that, they (legislators) are the ones who gave you the seat, and not you gave them theirs. Therefore, you owe them allegiance because your seat is not secure without them and the Constitution has made it so easy to remove the Speaker at anytime. So, dealing with people, understudying people is one of those things that you would learn in order to be successful.
Would you say you achieved that in 10 years?
I still hold the ace in the country not only as the longest serving Speaker, it is also on record that when I led the Lagos State House of Assembly, there was no rancour, it was a peaceful and the most progressive period for the House.
Would it be right then to call your administration a rubber stamp?
Well, you can look at it in many ways. What I understand by rubber stamp legislation is not exactly what you mentioned now. A rubber stamp legislation is one that is dictated by another arm of government or from outside. You can say we were rubber stamp if we had been gagged by the executive arm of government which the governor is the head of.
What I can tell you is that there was always an inner room meeting before coming to the open. We had to agree in our caucus meeting or in the executive meeting before coming to the plenary. That does not depict rubber stamp legislation. The business of the legislature is what I call jaw-jawing, meaning talk and talk, negotiate, debate, argue, try to convince others and also lobby. It is not everything that can be done on the floor of the House. So, you can get something done at the backyard and then come to the plenary to formalise it. But because people do not understand, they say all sorts of things about the Nigerian legislature.
Of course, there are so many shortcomings of the Nigerian legislature but many legislators are passionate about the welfare of their people, the progress of the society and their constituencies.
So, it is very important that, sometimes, some issues are taken at the executive session. Even if the President or the governor makes a request, such issue cannot be fully discussed in the open in the interest of the public. Words are like egg, once it drops, you cannot pack it back. So, when we speak as legislators and people hear those words, they cannot be easily retracted.
At a point, you vied for governorship and crisis came up. Now, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode cannot go for second term under the All Progressives Congress umbrella? What is happening in APC?
It is not the same issue. I was not governor. I was Speaker and I wanted to give the governorship seat a shot just like other people in the race. But it is democracy at work. Only one person can be nominated by the party to carry the flag. So, out of the lot, Ambode was the lucky aspirant and the rest of us had to back out and give our support to the candidate of the party which is normal.
When I was to become Speaker, I was not the only candidate. In fact, my greatest struggle was in May 2003 after the general elections. But my brother from Epe Constituency 2 was the preferred choice of the party. Meanwhile when God said it was my time, I became Speaker in 2005. So, there is nothing extraordinary in what happened; it was just politics. Mind you, no political seat is hereditary. No political seat is meant for a family. The speakership seat can be zoned to any constituency but, of course, the party that produced the highest number of members will always have a say in who becomes what.
After you the left the Assembly, I learnt you went back to school.
Yes, I went back to the University of Lagos to study law. I’d always desired law as a profession. In those days, law was not a preferred course. Most people loved to be associated with science based courses but, as we grew older, we began to understand the efficacy of law in any field. Law can be applied in all subjects including medicine and engineering. So, as we grew up, we admired that profession better than we did when we were younger.
Secondly, when you see people practicing law, especially in the United States, you will be full of admiration. Therefore, the interest deepens even as the longest serving chief lawmaker in the federation. In all modesty, my House was reputed to be number one in the federation. Not even the National Assembly can boast of the things the Lagos Assembly did. During the ten years l served as Speaker, human development, education of legislators and the support for staff members through international workshops, seminars, conferences, among others, was unparalleled. The National Assembly just passed the amendment to the financial autonomy bill of the State Assemblies which we have long done in Lagos. Training, retraining, enlightenment, among others, was given attention during my tenure. And that is why I went back to school for a degree in law. I was admitted into the university in the 2014/2015 academic year and l graduated in 2018; we are waiting for deployment into Law School.
One wonders what you want to do with the degree and how your classmates coped with your personality.
Well, the interesting thing is that we were all putting on uniform. There was a dress code. If I put on my black trousers and white shirt, you hardly spot the different between me and other students if you did not know me as Speaker. I was subjected to the same treatment with a-16-year old student in the class and more ridiculous treatment because of my status. But, I have left that behind me. Those experiences were not palatable.
Don’t you think it would have been better if you had done that while you were a lawmaker?
I did my best to go back to school during that period and that was in 2004. There was a school in the United Kingdom that came to Nigeria to commence distance learning. My colleagues and I decided to sign up for the programme, but I opted out of the arrangement because I was told we would not go to Law School after the programme. I became Speaker in 2005 and the enormity of the job did not give room for full time university programme. That is why I could not get one until towards the end of my tenure.
So, what qualifications did you have before going to the Lagos Assembly?
I had outstanding result in WASCCE, Division 1, in 1975. I also had a master’s degree in cybernetics. I had an MBA from the University of Lagos and I was a Microsoft and internet certified engineer before going to the Lagos House of Assembly. I actually left the United States where I was a lecturer in a college before coming to Nigeria to contest election. And I was a banker for about a decade before I left for the United States. So, the exposure was overwhelming.
So, what are you doing presently?
I am running my own business but I am still a full time politician. I intend going to the Law School. I am in Real Estate Business and I have been an automobile dealer all my life.
Would you wish to run for the governorship or senatorial seat in future?
I have service running in my blood. And I am a great believer too. I love to serve and I trust in God. There is nothing, no office deserves the do-or-die attitude of some of our politicians. I know that when it is God’s time for you, you will not have to labour too much. And the story of my life has already moulded me to trust in my Creator. I have been out of office for three and a half years now and, today, I do not look emaciated. I was not Speaker for self-aggrandisement or self-enrichment. I was there for service and I did my best and I am proud of it. Even my worst enemy will find it difficult to fault my leadership of the House. In fact, they have to go telling lies because they were doing eye-service. I have my peace and I am a happy person.
Of course, we are all political animals and ambition is normal but I do not have a blind ambition. It is very easy to criticise the man who is on seat when you are out there. It is only when you are on the seat that you get to know more about power.
There was no single case of corruption throughout my tenure. There was nothing called embezzlement, no fraud. EFCC was sent after me because those who wanted me out of office felt there was no way a Nigerian could have about N550million at his disposal every month, let alone 10 years without soiling his hands. So, there was no serious allegation of fraud or embezzlement. The persons who wrote the petition that was sent to the EFCC had no address. They just sent blank petition and the EFCC came, investigated the House for three and a half months. They found no trace of embezzlement or fraud or inflation of contracts or anything else. I discussed with the operatives and I discovered that everything was just political. They said their findings showed that our financial operations were based on physical legal tender and I told them that was how I met it. The major trouble was that most of our programmes were like boy-scout approach. Most programmes come as emergency which means that issuing cheques most of the time does not meet programme schedule. All that played out in the House of Assembly was documented and the bank had its vouchers of all our programmes. Don’t forget that the allegation involved everybody in the House. In fact, four of us were charged but they eventually dropped two names and the remaining suspects are Mr. Speaker and his aide.