Hon. Olusegun Olulade is Chairman, House Committee on Information, Strategy, Security and Publicity of the Lagos State House of Assembly. But for a well-trimmed beard that reveals that handsomeness of a middle age man on the move, a first time visitor hardly takes notice of him as one walks through the expansive corridors of the State Legislative Chambers Complex at Alausa in Ikeja, the seat of the Lagos State government.
He was born into a family of political-activist parents, spurred by what he termed “that golden handshake” he got from the Alhaji Lateef Jakande, First Executive Governor of Lagos State, as a primary school pupil in 1981. He was also quick to point out that for a role model, the Leader of the All Progressive Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was his mentor and still looks up to him for guide. When XclusiveNigeria and AfricaReporters’ Lagos Bureau finally cornered him for an hour of chat in-between seemingly unending schedules of meetings and a trailing list of visitors, he daily attends to, there was no doubt that this economics graduate of Lagos State University is a consummate legislative spokes-person and a passionately committed politician in the hue of his mentors. He spoke with Mallam Oyakhamoh Carl Abu’Bakar.
· As the Chief Spokesman of the Lagos House of Assembly, what will you say is the philosophy underpinning governance in this state that so recommended the achievements of Lagos State government to many other states in Nigeria as a model of emulation?
The passion for selfless service. The leadership of our party and the leadership of our government in all arms of government have imbibe this as a philosophy; a commitment with doggedness that governance in Lagos state is tailored towards service delivery to the people. I mean our Bills; Motions and Deliberations are guided by this consideration. This is what is being demonstrated in our day to day life as to have made Lagos the centre of excellence.
· The media in Nigeria seem to focus on issues bordering on the absurd. The Lagos State House of Assembly has not been in the news in this wise. What will you say the House has been doing or achieved in the year ending 2013 legislative year?
We are fortunate here in the Lagos State House of Assembly to have a seasoned legislator, an experience man to lead the house, a man who is selfless and ready to serve, to build a lasting institution rather than building himself. This has enabled the parliamentary arm of government here to be strengthened as to be an effective representative of the people of Lagos. You may have observed that in the business of this house, every legislative action, our Bills and Motions are pro people by whose grace we are here as representatives. So coming to your question; our achievement during the legislative year 2013, we may not have ample time to explain every bit as a result of time factor, but I can tell you that as required by our constitutional responsibility, one of our task is to make law for the good governance of the state as well as perform over-sight function for the other arms of government. The Lagos House of Assembly has performed creditably well in the area of law making. When you talk of over-sight functions, I can say that we are the most independent minded Legislature in the whole of Nigeria. As I said earlier, we have ensured that the positions we take in this house accord with the views and aspiration of our people.
As legislators, we are always in contact touch with the grass root. We hold stakeholders meeting as often as necessary to hear their view as to inculcate these into the House proceedings on Bills and Resolutions. If you have been following our proceedings, you will have noticed that there has never been a time a Bill was passed without Public Hearing or input. One of our main achievements is in the area of Budgeting. Our ability in this area has made it possible for us to ensure a greater participatory input by our people which is why we have made giant strides in the areas of good roads network, a clean environment, the education sector, health, transportation and in the area of justice. You may want to take a deeper look into legislations in such critical areas as Traffic laws, Rent and even Consumer Protection, Security and several others areas where we are ahead of any other legislative arm in the country. Recently we passed a No Smoking Bill which will check indiscriminate use of tobacco in public places and you will agree with me that this is the first State House of Assembly to pass such a bill in the country. This without doubt will impact positively on the health of Lagosians.
· Let us look at the issue of urban housing. The State is known to have pioneered this social welfare responsibility with the Jakande Low Cost Housing estates in the 80s. The state government has continued this legacy since the present dispensation. However, one observed that as in the past, low income houses are still sold to the “highest bidder” But many experts are of the opinion that it would have been better for government to build and give them to competent property managers to let out on behalf of the government as council or government houses rather than out-right sale; a situation which has created a pool of mega-property owing landlords who buy and re-sell or let these properties at exorbitant prices. I’m looking at this as against recent legislation by the state government to check multiple-years rent by the landlords in Lagos. Is the State looking in this direction?
We are working on this. Recently, the Governor Babatunde Fashola kick-started the Lagos Homes Project which is a mortgage based ownership scheme that is not attractive to property speculators. Certainly, this is a new approach to address the lapses in the past where as you rightly pointed out, moneybags with cash buy up some of these homes or shops for future sale or letting at exorbitant prices. But under the Lagos Home project, this will not be possible since the new regulation requires that you must have a mortgage plan to qualify under the scheme
· What I’m suggesting is this Honorable, let government build houses; council or state flats or mini low income houses, give them to competent property managers who will let them out at government approve rents to compete with private landlords. I’m looking at this from the purview of the state law that is aimed at checking the excesses of 2 to 3 years advance rent demand by private property owners.
I see what you are saying but don’t forget that Lagos is a state with over 21million residents and government cannot provide homes for all of them in one day. It will take time, but as I said, we have started with the Lagos Home Project that will allow residents to determine whether they want to remain permanently in Lagos or not. What obtains in the countries like the US and others which you mention are ideal but they come with time and we are still developing.
· Recently the media reported you to have cautioned PDP chieftain, Mr Olabode George about meddling in the affairs of the State House of Assembly. What exactly was the bone of contention and why do you think that as a Lagosian, Mr George’s views on on-goings in the affairs of the state are worrisome?
You are right but frankly we are not attempting to gag Chief Olabode George, He is entitled to his opinion as a Lagosian but my worry about the statement credited to him is that he seemed to have been misinformed when he said that the Lagos State House of Assembly is being used as a rubber stamp. That to us is a misguided statement, uninformed and an attempt to impugn the character of members of this honourable house and we won’t take that from anybody. So we have not asked him or any other person not to talk, but, we are saying that you compound your ignorance of goings-on in Lagos if you talk without asking questions on areas that you are worried about. So it’s not about Olabode George; it’s about a statement credited to him and any other person who may think like that. We are still waiting for anyone who can proof to us that there is a House of Assembly in Nigeria that is more independent and robust in its deliberation than this House. I don’t know whether you are aware that we sit in the open every Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays so that people can come and see the level of debates. If you are a first time visitor to our gallery, you will not believe that we belong to the same political party as a result of the serious disagreement we go through before reaching conclusion on any matter. Perhaps, people are used to seeing legislators who punch each other and throw chairs during plenaries as evidence of independence and because we don’t do it here, they think we don’t disagree. It’s unfortunate!
· Lagos currently has 20 Local Government Areaslisted in the Nigeria Constitution and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDA) by an Act of this State House of Assembly. During the Obasanjo years, we noticed serious effort by the previous administration to get the required constitutional listing of the LCDAs as full local government areas. However, it is observed that this trend didn’t continue with this government. One, is this a “let sleeping dog lie” approach to addressing the issue, and two, since local governments form the third tier of government in Nigeria and draw their funding directly from the Federation Account, is the state not worried that it is losing out to some less populous states with greater numbers of local governments like Kano, Kebbi and so on?
Sincerely we are worried, but not that any government is collecting more allocation than Lagos; but that we are not practising true democracy in Nigeria, that our federal system is more of a unitary system, a quasi-federal set up. We are also worried that the central government is not pro- the people of Nigeria, otherwise we all know that the local government is the level at which majority of our people make their contributions to governance. Don’t forget that constitutionally, it’s the role of the State Assemblies to create local councils, which we did, while the National Assembly’s constitutional duty is to pass a bill listing them. Honestly, it is share antagonism on the part of the PDP Federal government; otherwise if you look at the total number of local governments in Nigeria, up till now, Bakassi Local Government that was ceded to Cameroon is still listed as one of the 747 local governments in Nigeria because it is in a state ruled by the PDP. As far as Lagos is concerned, we have done our duty to our people and that they refuse to list the LCDAs as autonomous local councils has not stopped us from ensuring that the locals have grass root governments closer to them from which they can make contributions.
· Are you saying that you are not worried that the state is being short-changed in respect of funds from the federation account?
Why not? We are worried and of course that is one of the very grave injustices foisted on us by our quasi-federal system which those of us who are true democrats continuously fight against. If we had a true federal system, I wouldn’t have to go to Abuja to get federal roads in my state fixed. You imagine a situation where someone sitting in Abuja has to inform me that a road that passed infront of my house cannot be fixed by me because it’s federal road and when as a responsible government, the state uses its funds to fix the roads because of the concern for the people, the federal government refuses to refund your cost. So, yes, we are worried but the situation especially as regard the listing of LCDAs as autonomous local governments, is analogous to a man who had a son, christen the baby and when he approached the authorities to issue him a birth certificate, he is told that he must kill the child! For us here in Lagos, if that is what it takes, we are genuinely worried but the child cannot and must not be killed. However, we are asking of the people of Nigeria to be patient for just another one and half year. We recently did our party membership registration and from what you in the media reported, it was a huge success. Even in Bayelsa, the home state of the President, the turnout was massive as to tell you that “Change” which is the motto of our party, the All Progressive Congress, is the only alternative left to Nigerians. Nigerians have been patient for 14 years now and God willing, we will chase the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) out through the ballot box, democratically, next year so that Nigerians will once again enjoy true democracy.
· Recently the House invited the State Commissioner of Police to brief it on certain issues of security breach in Bariga and other places. How serious were the issues involved as to warrant the invitation and how much have the police done as to say that the House is satisfied or not satisfied with them?
The invitation of the Commissioner of Police (CP) to the House was borne out of our concern for public safety and security of lives and property. You know that here in Lagos, we put a lot of premium on security which is why this House enacted a law that set up the Lagos Security Trust Funds from where we equip the police and other security apparatus’ for optimum policing of the state. There were few instance of security breach here and there and we felt like inviting the CP to let us know if there were challenges in certain areas requiring our attention and of course many other areas of common interest as far as security is concerned.
· The Lagos State University - LASU - was in the news a few days back and it was reported that the House invited the concerned parties; school authorities and students to appear before it. What is the situation now, your investigation and the way forward for the institution especially as in the alleged N250,000 per session fees which parents and students are up in arms against?
Let us look at this question very deeply, I am a member of the adhoc committee that looked into this matter and take notice too that I am a product of that institution and always willing to protect the integrity of the school. Problem started in LASU when for reasons of declining infrastructure; many courses were being dis-accredited by the National Universities Commission. For a long time now, college fees was a mere N25,000 per session for all students. Also for the indigenes of the state, government also give a per session bursary to the tune of what they pay, meaning that for all students of Lagos State, it was tuition free besides scholarship for indigent students and those who excel in their studies! So when you consider these facts and that there has been a massive upsurge in the choice of the University of Lagos as number one preference for matriculating students in Nigeria, you can then imagine the stress on the school’s infrastructure and the need to upgrade them. Now, you know that you can hardly find a good nursery school today in Lagos that charges N25,000 per term for its pupil and still maintain good teaching equipment for infants, but here we are talking of a University that must produce the next generation of leaders. The fact is that even before this House was inaugurated, there was a panel recommendation that suggested a higher fee per session for students of the institution and we in the House having decided to stop this drift and constant dis-accreditation of courses, thought and very convincingly too to pegged a fee of N250,000 as the ideal. But we didn’t do this to spite those who are already students in the institution. We decided that if you are already a student, you will continue to pay the N25,000 till your graduation and the same applies to matriculating students who chose LASU as first choice at the last Joint Matriculation Exams. However, for whoever is interested in attending the institution effective from the next matriculation examinations and chooses the school as his or her choice must be aware of the regime of fees and willing to pay it. In other words, you have a choice to make from the over one hundred private, states and federal Universities in Nigeria of which LASU is just one and a state University. And don’t forget that the new fees we are introducing is not up to 20% of the total annual vote the state government earmarks for tertiary institutions in the Lagos. So if you ask me, I will say that the decision was made in the overall best interest of the students; to ensure that they come out as rounded products comparable to any good students from the best universities anywhere in the world. Qualitative education is the key consideration here, but there was misinformation before now and we have resolved that!