For the first time since 1999 when Mudashiru Obasa, the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, came into politics, he got to understand what true politicking is about in the last few weeks while aspiring for the position of the Speaker of the House. He is just a week old on the seat. In this interview, he spoke with some journalists on this and how he hopes to turn the Assembly around
On the inauguration day, you called on those who contested against you that they should reconcile with you. We will like to know how far you have gone with the reconciliation and what you are doing to bring the aggrieved lawmakers together…
We are all co-travellers, 40 of us, from now till 2019 and Insha Allah. We shall get there successfully. I don’t think there is anyone that is aggrieved amongst my colleagues in the House. Truly, some of us aspired to become the Speaker, about four or five of us, but we have settled that immediately. We have all moved back to our normal lives. We have been relating as colleagues. Let me say that there was no division amongst us; it was just a process. We have chosen consensus as a means of selecting the Speaker in this parliament since 2003. In 1999, when there was an election to choose the Speaker of the House, there was sharp division in the House because some people did not support the then speaker, Olorunimbe Mamora. In 2003, when Jokotola Pelumi came, we chose him by consensus. When he was impeached, Babajide Omoworare, Oyewo and Adeyemi Ikuforiji showed interest and through consensus, we agreed on Ikuforiji. In 2007, the same thing happened and in 2011, the same thing was repeated. I emerged in the same manner and process and I don’t think any of my colleagues is aggrieved. We have attended many programmes immediately after the Speaker issue and I was with some of them at the programmes.
How would you describe your emergence as the Speaker?
Naturally, as you rightly observed, we were all looking forward to having Kolawole Taiwo as the Speaker of the Assembly because I personally believe that we must respect ranking and those that have the cognate experience should be given a chance to operate. Parliament is not like other places where you appoint people based on certificate. It is an institution that believes in ranking. For me, I would have supported Kolawole Taiwo, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it and people were looking at who could become the Speaker. My own candidature was initiated by some of my constituents and some of my colleagues. You will realise that during that time, a lot of our people were going to the press to seek support for the post. But, personally I didn’t do that because I believe that it is not public opinion that would choose the Speaker for us and with due respect, I believe that it was not journalists that would choose the Speaker for us. I believed that the party leaders and my colleagues in the House would decide the new Speaker. We are all qualified for the position. I am not the only one that is qualified, but we had to leave the decision for our colleagues and the party leaders. I cannot say this is the reason behind it, but I can say it was done through consensus.
What new ideas would you come up with to move the House forward and what are the lapses of the past administration would you want to correct?
I did not see any shortcoming of the seventh Assembly because I was also part of them. I believe that you cannot do it all or do it alone. As I said, we have a tradition in the parliament, so it is difficult to blame anybody except some things that are not adequate that you can make up. We will continue to follow our tradition; we will improve what we met on ground like we have talked about timing; that our sittings should start by 10a.m. except if there is reason to adjust the time. We will reach out to our constituents. When we talk about our constituents, we think of the downtrodden, but this time around, we want to reach out to everybody. We want to show them what we are doing and educate them on our activities. Even those who are educated have no knowledge of what the parliament does. So, we want to engage them, talk to them and make them know that this is a parliament that attends to the needs of Lagosians. We have a lot to do and we hope we would be able to achieve them.
People believe that Hon. Obasa is not friendly with the press. As the Speaker, how do you want to erase that perception?
I am not going to try to erase any impression. It is your own perception. I have my own perception. You cannot conclude that I am not your friend when you are not close to me. It is only when you are close to me that you can judge me. I believe that we are friends; we have been working together in the same institution for so many years. You have not requested that you want to talk to me and I refused. If you had invited me and I said no, you could say: “this person is not friendly, he doesn’t like our faces.” Until you do that, it would be wrong to say that I am not friendly with the press except if I am not forthcoming. You should have challenged me.
What would be your focus and areas of priority as the Speaker? Also, people would want to judge you based on the standard set by the former Speaker. What are you doing to make sure that you can beat the record of the past Speaker of the House?
It is all about the House, it is not an individual thing, and no man can take the glory. Whatever we might have achieved, we should agree that it was because there were agreements amongst all the members. If some members say ‘yes’ and others say ‘no,’ it would not be possible. Whatever we have achieved together, whatever glory we have today was because we worked hand in hand, we worked as members of the House. Comparing me with the last Speaker might be wrong, he served for 10 years. So talking about what somebody did for 10 years and what somebody that is just coming in is doing might be wrong. You would see that there is no basis for comparison. Secondly, if you look at the situation with which we ended the last Assembly, the Speaker was interested in the governorship race. So there would be a lot of class that he had to introduce and that is not happening now. Also, if I am going to say I want to become the Governor, maybe I would naturalise to become a native of Lagos. So, these are the things you look at when comparing the former Speaker and the present Speaker. We believe that we will not disappoint anybody as long as we have the co-operation of the members, staff and the press. Also, we would like to engage the citizens through town hall meetings; may be quarterly. We will continue with trainings and involvement of the management of the Assembly. They are many proposals that are yet to be adopted by the Assembly; it is not just my own decision.
How do you feel about some issues that came up during the speakership race, especially those relating to your state of origin?
I wasn’t disturbed, only few people would claim to be natives of Lagos more than me. I was born here, I grew up here and I went to school here. I am sure if I get to Ogun State now hardly would they be able to recognise me and if I want to contest there, I am sure they might not allow me until I beg them and tell them about my family house. I was not disturbed about it, we laughed over it when I saw the newspaper that reported the issue during our induction programme at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Festac Town, Lagos. That was even the least of the attacks I received, I was seriously abused, I was violated including my family members. I have heard that politics is dirty and murky, but it was at that point that I realised this. I thank Almighty Allah.
One of the allegations against you was that you didn’t attend Law School after your law degree programme in LASU. How true is this?
You would not expect me to say otherwise. I would naturally tell you I went to Law School. The only way you can verify my claim is for you to carry out an independent investigation. It is just a terrible thing. I was in the United States of America and I received a phone call from the Law School that a petition was written against me that I should not be allowed to graduate from the school due to certain reasons. I told them I was not in town and that I would see them. When I came back, I went there and they showed me the petition where they alleged that I was a thug, that I had been exploiting people and that I received bribe from local governments, and did this and that. I went there with all the necessary documents, but the petitioners did not show up. They said why should I go to the university when I am supposed to be here representing my people? But, I feel if you have a representative of the people and in the process he thinks there is a need to improve in quality and education, would that not tell on the people you are representing? A lot of us past and current members improved ourselves while here. So what is the problem? What is so special about Obasa? I was not disturbed because it was due to the fact that I showed interest in the position of the Speaker of the House. It is in the imagination of the people.
The seat you are occupying is very hot, what are your survival strategies?
There is no spring on my leg, so there is not shock absorber. The only person I have is Almighty Allah because whatever you have or you don’t have is through Him. So, as long as you believe that you are doing the right thing, you don’t need to bother yourself. I don’t need to fear that if they remove me, what would I do? I don’t need to bother myself about that.
In March last year, there were posters in your constituency demanding that you be made the Speaker, but you denied being part of it. With your emergence as Speaker, how would you reconcile that with with the posters now?
I said then that I didn’t know anything about it and that the Speaker would not be chosen on the streets or in Agege, but that it was all about the leaders of the party and the members, but that it was not out of radar. Truly, I didn’t start it, somebody called my attention to the posters and I told those, who were pasting them to stop. That was even the preliminary, but when Kolawole Taiwo did not return, people were saying that who would become the Speaker, may be by the virtue of my years in the Assembly, my name was mentioned. We are three in that category; Sikiru Oshinowo, Adefunmilayo Tejuosho and me. Oshinowo being the father of all is not interested in the position, so when people mentioned my name, would I say no? When people went to the press, they mentioned my name regularly.
The House of Assembly makes laws and the people embrace them, but the problem has been implementation. An example is the anti-smoking law that is yet to be enforced. What is your take on this?
For the fact that you have some laws does not mean they would be effective now, some laws have futuristic status. We have passed them but it would take time before they could work. We say no smoking in public places, where we copied it from, when they say don’t smoke here, they would provide an alternative. The laws are necessary, which is why we have passed them. When the time comes, we don’t have to rush to pass them again. They are in place. So it is just to ensure that we get to them gradually…if you look at the Cremation Law, it is the same thing. The major challenge of our people is to embrace change.
It is believed that the House has not really done well in two areas: Impact Assessment of the laws you make and lack of awareness of laws. What are you going to do on these?
We have a plan, and very soon, you would be seeing billboards all around Lagos. You know I said we need to engage the people, not just the downtrodden, but that we should include the elites and the educated ones. We would start telling them what we have done through the billboards about our laws and the purpose. Communication seems to be the problem and we need to reach out to the people. We discussed impact assessment in the last Assembly, which is why we want to organise town hall meetings and through that we will get the assessment of the laws.
We heard that you have not moved to your official quarters as the Speaker. Do you hate the building?
Why would you hate a beautiful thing? I am not in a hurry to move there. I can move in anytime and you have to give the person there time to move out. We will do that at the appropriate time.
The state Governor pleaded with the House for its support during the inauguration of the eighth Assembly. How do you hope to do this despite the independence of the House?
We are talking about mutual respect and inter-dependence. We will work hand in hand despite the principle of separation of powers. You must realise that we belong to the same party, we will execute the manifestoes of the party but despite that we must ensure that the interests of our people are well protected.
Many people see you as a socialite, now you are the Speaker of the House. How would you marry the two?
Who is in a public office that is not a socialite? Is former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola not social? Did that disturb his performance? Is Adeyemi Ikuforiji not social? People have said a lot; I have heard a lot about that, but that would not change me. It is a habit I cultivated long time ago. If you are getting married tomorrow, and you invite me, I would be there. After the swearing in ceremony, a couple of friends organised a dinner for me and I was there. I would not lose my friends all because I am now the Speaker of the House.