Ajimobi’ll be re-elected in 2015 – Oyo Speaker

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The Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly, Hadjia Monsurat Sunmonu is also the Deputy Chairperson, Conference of Speakers in Nigeria. In this interview with KUNLE ODEREMI, DARE ADEKANMBI and ANGELA JOHN, she speaks about the reason for the peace in the House, the second term bid of Governor Abiola Ajimobi, among other issues. Excerpts:

Finding yourself in what, people more or less, assume to be a man’s world, how challenging has it been for you?
I have always said in all my interviews that I have always been in the midst of men. In my family, there are six of children sired by my parents and I am the only female gender and the remaining five are male children. Coming to own immediate family, I have three boys, their father and myself as the only female person. So all my life, I have always been in the midst of men.

But the setting is different in the House of Assembly where you have 31 colleagues who are all men from different background and you are the only female lawmaker among them.

That has a slight difference because we all come from different background and also from different political parties. When I first started, I thought it was going to be difficult. But we have been able to manage the House together as a family and I have to bring my experience in human management to bear in that regard. In the United Kingdom (UK) where I came from, I related with different people from different races, ethnic and religious groups and so on. The experience gathered there really helped me among my colleagues. When we started, I had different meetings with them and through these meetings, they got to know the kind of person I am and I also knew them well during such meetings. One of the things that we did was to travel out of the country to the UK because I lived over 30 years there. We were able to see how the political system operates, how things are well-organised there and so on. We then resolved to run the House in a well-ordered manner and not to live like we are in a jungle.

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When we got back, we advised ourselves that we should all drop our party affiliation and be united by the common interest of the development of the state and this has been the glue that binds us together as a House of family members. We are determined that things must change for the better in the state and in the country as a whole. We do not want to go back to our constituencies and then our people will start to blame us. We resolved that the current Seventh Assembly will leave good legacy in the state and we thank the Almighty for helping us in this regard. These principles have guided and guarded our relationship as lawmakers.

You were in the UK where everything works well. Why in your view do you think it is difficult for leaders of Nigeria who regularly visit the place to replicate the good things they see in those foreign countries in Nigeria here?
That is why we need to make up our mind so as to have leaders that have the interest of the people at hearts, leaders who are not selfish. If you go or live there, obviously you would want your own country to be like the UK or even better. But if our country where fraud is endemic, that is where the problem lies. Apart from corruption, things never go well in Nigeria. There is a lot of manipulation. People are not allowed to make the right choice. However, I believe that, with time, we shall get to that high level as a country.

When will that time be? After another 100 years as a country?
Things are changing already, in Oyo State for instance. The difference is clear in the state. What has never been seen before or what the people have never experienced before are happening under Governor Abiola Ajimobi. Rome was not built in a day and so I believe that gradually, we shall get there. Also, we have the first female speaker in the state as well as a House of Assembly that is so peaceful and without any turbulence in three years. The relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of government has been cordial. There have been overhead bridge and dualised roads all over the states. Hospitals and schools are being rehabilitated. Go to Agodi Gardens has undergone massive transformation. Oyo State is moving and we shall get there.

There has been clamour from various women groups towards the need for more women in positions of authority. What’s your view on the clamour?
It is good to have more women in power in Nigeria at various levels of government. There should even be quota set aside for them to that effect. Women are good politicians too and they deserve to be given a chance to exhibit their talents in moving the country forward.

Why do you think women should be given concession when life itself is competitive?
There should be concession for women because it is the global practice. In the UK, each time government wants to employ new recruits, it is always the tradition there to give certain quota to the ethnic minorities. This tradition has made it possible for somebody like me to benefit from such opportunity. There is sense of belonging. We should do it here too.

Do you envisage a period Nigeria’s democracy will mature to a level a female president will be elected in the country?
Yes. Women are ready for it. But we still need to sensitise our women more in this regard. There was a time a woman was trying to be president under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), she only got one vote and that was her own vote. We then need to ask the question why the other women in the delegates did not vote for her. Women should be able to support each other so help our clamour for 35 per cent affirmative action. It is contradictory for us to refuse to support a woman who comes out for any elective office and yet say we want more women in power.

We have had female ministers who got appointed and abuse the change given to them. Given some of these examples, do you think we need to give women concession?
And you think that men have not misused the opportunities that they have? Why are we crying about women? It is everywhere. I will that these women are being intimidated because if men are doing what these women are accused of, what penalty did they impose on such men? We should not try to humiliate women. We should investigate every allegation and establish the truth and not act on hearsay or rumour. I saw the transformation of the Murtala Muhammed Airport under the dropped Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah. But go to the airport now and see our things are beginning to change from good to bad. I am not saying justice should not prevail on any matter but should not engage in selective justice. Men are not performing better than women.

There are insinuations that the House is more or less an appendage of the executive arm of government in the state.
May God forgive those who are saying we have been bought over. The lawmakers in the present Seventh Assembly are people of high caliber and they have focus, respect themselves and are guiding their integrity from being blemished. We have a philosophy which is never to distract a performing governor. Why should we cause trouble and destabilise the state? Those who did so in the past, what did they achieve? Where are they now?

But would you thrown your weight behind a self-accounting House of Assembly in the state?
Oh yes. I believe we should have our own autonomy and that will even make the public see what is in there and end all the rumour about the House being pocketed by the executive. We should be self-accounting and not go to the executive every time to get approval for release of funds even for money appropriated for in the House budget.

What is your position on the immunity clause inserted in the constitution?
I would not say it should be removed because it will bring about a lot of distractions and there will be many frivolous cases against governors and the president. Abuse of office will be properly checkmated by the lawmakers where we have legislatures that are independent. There are many people with bad minds who will always take advantage of the removal of the provision to cause unnecessary distractions. Any corrupt governor or president can be arrested after the expiration of his tenure.

But what we have in Nigeria today is that many governors that were accused of fraudulently appropriating public funds are walking free because they have been able to fix the tracks.
That is why we have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and many of them have cases with this anti-graft commission. We need to fix our system very well. The judiciary should be allowed to perform their duties. Those who have cases to answer should be made to face the law.

There has been a suggestion at the ongoing confab that the local government system should be scrapped. What’s your take on this?
The local government councils are the closest to the grass roots and should not be scrapped. Even in the UK, they are there. The governors perform state duties and the lawmakers make laws. Who will be attending to the needs of the grass roots if we scrap the councils? Nigeria is not ripe enough for such proposal.

One of the arguments against them is non-performance despite the allocation coming to them monthly. They also allege that state governors short-change them in the allocation through the Joint Allocation Account Committee (JAAC).
If the head is not rotten, the body cannot be rotten. We should check ourselves from the top. If there is an allocation to local governments, why not give them their money so that they will be able to perform their duties? The president cannot come to the councils to perform the duties of the councils. There are so many gray areas we need to address in this country. We should not speculate that governors hijack funds meant for councils. The two tiers have JAAC where they explain what is to be done and the councils thereafter access their funds.

Some people are coming together to stop Governor Ajimobi from returning as governor in 2015…
That is democracy in action. Everybody has the right to show their intention. It is now left to the people of Oyo State to decide what they want.

Do you think the governor deserves to be re-elected next year?
Yes. To me, I will give him my full support because what we have never seen or experienced in the state are happening. So, why can’t we give such a person another four years to do more for us. We need to re-elect Governor Ajimobi to show to him that we appreciate him for what he has done and encourage him to continue.

How would you relate this to the statement that no governor does it twice in the state?
They say this because they have never seen a performing governor as Governor Ajimobi. How many pas governors have you seen doing all these great things that he is doing? We have had many governors and that is why that theory came about.

In 2011, you wanted to be a House of Representatives member but ended up being in the state House of Assembly and thereafter the speaker. What should people expect in 2015?
I leave all my life to God and so He is going to decide my fate.

Would you say the All Progressives Congress (APC) is sorely missing the fatherly role of the late Lam Adesina?
Oh yes we are missing him. Everybody is missing him, including his family. Even politically too, we are missing him. He would advise us and bring his experience to bear on issues.

Perhaps if he had been alive, those who dumped the APC for Labour Party and Accord would not have done so. And this may affect the APC in 2015.
The defection happens to all the parties. Other parties too have lost many members to APC. If Papa Lam had been alive, they would also have gone if they wanted to. As for 2015, I will ask you to wait till that time. Those who have left will come back and they will vote for APC. Governor Ajimobi will be re-elected in 2015 by God’s grace.

Why has the state not conducted local government election since three years now?
There are two cases in court and neither of the parties is ready to sheathe sword in the matter. The governor is trying to speak to them to try and resolve the matter. But they are telling the governor to pay and we don’t have the money to pay. We would rather leave the matter until it is naturally resolved. Otherwise, we would have loved to hold council polls because it if good to have elected chairmen and councilors at the councils.

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