Honourable Hassan Omale, representing Ankpa/Omala/Olamaboro Federal Constituency of Kogi State has joined the speaker of the House of Representatives to call for the immediate granting of Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria; he also backed the call for scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission. FATIMAH YAHAYA presents the excerpts.
The speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Honourable Yakubu Dogara has called for the Local Government Autonomy in the country to enhance grassroots development in Nigeria, what is your take?
What the speaker has told Nigerians is the voice of the entire House of Representatives, we have all agreed that there should be independence of the local government councils in Nigeria, and by so doing, development can come to the door steps of everybody in Nigeria. As at today, that arm of government seems not to exist because of the greediness of the governors that we have today in the country, so granting autonomy to the local councils will definitely bring about the much needed dividend of democracy in Nigeria.
There are fears that if such powers is given to the local governments we have in the country, it will lead to corruption and mismanagement of resources, what is your take?
We all in this country know that there are three tires of government, the federal, state and local governments, and each of these tires of government is supposed to be independent on its own. At the federal level, there is the national assembly which is to check the activities of the federal government, at the state level there is the state assembly that will equally do the same and make laws for the state and also at the local government level, there is a council comprising of the counselors whose duties are to make laws for the local government and check and balance the local government chairmen in the country. So the fears, as said by some people, should not be there, try and take a tour round the local governments we have today in Nigeria, you will discover that local governments don’t even exist as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, there is an urgent need to salvage that third tire of government if we truly want to develop Nigeria.
There are calls by some eminent Nigerians that State Independent Electoral Commission should be scrapped to give way for a free and fair election at the grassroots, what is your take?
Yes, I am in support of this call to scrap State Independent Electoral Commission on the ground that there is no independence in terms of State Electoral Commission in conducting local government elections because of the biasness of the governors. The Commission is under the mercy of the governors and the governors direct them on what to do. What they do is to pick their candidate, submit the list to the State Electoral body and tell them what to do, at the end of the day, he calls for the whole election results of the local government and make them to declare the winners in their own favour. As such, there is need for us to have one unifying electoral system at the federal level where elections can be conducted by the Federal Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the result is declared from the Federal Level.
To the best of your knowledge, how independent can you describe the Federal Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria?
I have told you and I am telling you again, that as far as the Federal INEC is concerned, that office is centered in Abuja and I draw your attention to the number of local governments we have in the country and the actual number is 774. It will not be possible for the Federal INEC to go round all the local governments with interest and hand pick some individuals to fill in the positions of chairmen and counselors as candidates of the party and declare them winners of the election.
Should certain persons like the retired court of appeal judges be used as state returning electoral officers so as to clear doubt of bias in the system?
I don’t see any reason for that, we are not saying retired judges are bias, there are good ones among them that have proven integrity, but you can bear me witness to the results of the tribunal cases, appeal court judgments which have been seen by all as a bad judgment, so what will you call it, are they not bias judgments? Think of cases that have gone around after the 2015 General Elections, by the time you interpret some of them, you will see that some of the judges were biased, but what I will urge the government to do is to appoint persons of proven integrity, people with clean records as returning officers in a general election.
Some persons have kicked against scrapping the state electoral body on the ground that it will promote a dictatorship at the federal level as it has been speculated by the incumbent President of Nigeria, what is your take?.
This is a very wrong assertion by those who are saying that. If Mr. President had come with a dictatorship or military style of leadership, he would have changed his cabinets three or four times since he assumed office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but I think democratically, he has been doing what is expected of him. You remember in the days of former President Jonathan, he did not come to address the national assembly during the budget presentation, but because the present administration strongly believes in the administration of democratic norms, twice in President Muhammadu Buhari’s Government, he has come to address the national assembly on the presentation of the annual budget personally. If anybody tells you that Mr. President is ruling Nigeria as a dictator that is very wrong. If you remember in Kogi State, we, in the APC, had a senator that contested for election under his own platform and won but the court said no and gave it to the PDP man, President Buhari did not intervene to stop the court as seen in the previous administration.
The public have been awash by the face-off between the Legislators in the National Assembly and the Presidency. As a lawmaker, what is your take on the current crisis between the two arms of government?
As far as I am concerned, there is no rift between the national assembly and the executive, arguments are normal in democracy, in politics you must disagree in other to agree and by so doing, you should be able to defend the integrity of your own country, so there is no disagreement at all.
Nigerians seem to be losing faith in the APC- led federal government, saying that they are yet to feel the change agenda?
I want to ask you a question, have you not seen any change since Mr. President came in, have you not see a change on how he fought terrorism that nearly destroyed Nigeria as a country? Have you not seen any change in the fight against corruption, and of course we are trying to recover our economy right now in the last two to three weeks, you can see what is happing with the exchange rate, how Naira was able to appreciate close to the US Dollar. President Muhammadu Buhari is trying.