The Member representing Surulere 1 Constituency in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Desmond Elliott, speaks with media on the crisis rocking the House and the relationship with the Executive arm of government, among other issues.
The House had since the leadership of Adeyemi Ikuforiji till date been engulfed in one form of crisis or the other, what could be the reasons for this?
I want to look at it from a broader spectrum; I will use the United States as an example. In a state where a form of growth is taking place, there are bound to be accusations and counter-accusations. CNN is always against the views of President Donald Trump, while Fox News is always on his side. The point is that we hear him say that the economy is moving and we are working. Also, in the Lagos State House of Assembly, it is not uncommon that you will not find one or two comments especially when you are trying to adequately dispense the functions of the law. I was not here during the era of Ikuforiji but I knew of things that happened and do not forget that we had our ‘autonomy’ a long time before now. So, we were already operating irrespective of the Executive. It is not uncommon to find this kind of thing happening. It is okay to have controversies, but what is the outcome? Was anyone found guilty? When all these controversies come, at the end of the day, it goes because there are no cases.
Some key lawmakers in the House were recently suspended, even though a lot has been said in the public domain, as an insider how would you describe what happened?
What the Speaker (Mudashiru Obasa) and the House said was that it was insubordination that led to their being suspended. I do not know what else to say than insubordination. In issues of suspension, there must have been warnings, whatever your conducts are. This is an institution; you must adhere strictly to rules. I have been subjected to the disciplinary process when I missed my step in the past. I was called to order and went through an investigation panel in the 8th Assembly, it was a very serious case, but I had to retrace my steps. The truth is that if you are in an institution you must abide by the rules or standing order.
One of the allegations against the Speaker is highhandedness. Has this changed?
When we hear of highhandedness and arrogance, I keep wondering. I am wondering why these complaints because as a lawmaker, you are overwhelmed with pressure of work and for that of the Speaker, it is times four. You have the state on you, your colleagues, your constituency, and the management of the House. He was able to manage the 8th Assembly and he is doing the same with the 9th Assembly, nobody is perfect, but for me, I believe he (Speaker) is just. I do not see him as being highhanded.
Are you aware of some corruption allegations levelled against him by an online medium? To what extent do you know about companies linked with him being allegedly given juicy contracts in the Assembly?
Yes, like every other Nigerian and Lagosians, we read about the allegations online. However, on Monday during plenary, the Speaker said he does not have any of the listed companies working with the House. He challenged the online medium to carry out a thorough investigation of the matter. It is not enough to use one piece of paper as evidence for a story, as an investigative reporter, the accused was not even asked to respond to the allegations in the story that was published. I did not even read in the story of efforts made to get the response of the Speaker regarding the allegation as would have been the case in a balanced story. It was a one-sided report.
What about the issue of N17m that he collects monthly to maintain his aides?
It was clearly explained that during the era of his predecessor, it was N27m and it was when he came into the office around 2016 or 2017 that he slashed it to N17m. When they say Office of the Speaker, it involves the office of the Chief of Staff, several special advisers, and personal assistants. The Legislative arm has all these offices just like you have in the Judiciary and Executive arms. So, all the apparatus that would make the office of the Speaker work must be taken into cognisance.
How would you describe the relationship between the Executive and Legislative arms in Lagos State?
Lagos State House of Assembly has autonomy. We are not afraid, we know our job. We commend the governor of the state. The Speaker has commended him several times, and our job is to complement the job of the Executive.
So, are you saying the House is independent?
Of course! If we are not, you will see the influence of the Executive on us. We are independent but do not forget that it is not a conflicting relationship. It is just that whatever the executive wants to do must be appropriated by us in the budget. Even in the making of regulations, it is subject to the approval of the House of Assembly.
Was it on that basis that the Speaker was alleged to have requested Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to account for the COVID-19 donations and other expenditures?
Let me throw more light on this. I am a member of the Health Committee. When the unexpected COVID-19 came up, it was not anything that anyone planned for. The governor took some immediate steps as Executive and it was the job of the legislature to make sure that whatever action the governor was taking was within the confines of the law. There was no time they said the governor should not do certain things. So, as the funds were coming, they must be appropriated for, but we said we did not have to do it then. As contained in the bill that was passed, he was permitted to handle the situation the way he was already dealing with it, but that obviously everything that entered the coffers of the state would be accounted for. It is not about the House, this is because any lawyer may want to probe into this tomorrow and ask who gave him (the governor) the authority to do what he did. So, it is our job to ensure that that aspect is shielded under the law. There is no conflict, so to speak