It's Unfortunate Speakers Are Now Crying For Autonomy


 Chief Whip of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Razak Balogun, better known as a no-nonsense lawmaker among  his colleagues, speaks on the recent clamour for financial autonomy by Speakers of Houses of Assembly in the  country.

What necessitated the town hall meeting you organised in your constituency recently?

Town hall meetings are regular consultative meetings that legislators usually have with their constituents. I  have always had the opportunity to consult with my people, but it was usually at the party level. This time  around, it entailed all stakeholders apart from politicians, just to brief them about my stewardship. I also  recall that there are burning bills and issues in the House that I felt members of my constituency should be  aware of, especially the Road Traffic Law which we were working on.

This is the fifth edition. I decided to call that town hall meeting and even invited some secondary school  students so that they could be inspired and know the workings of government and to work harder so they could  try to attain the position that one has attained. It was a huge success. Those who were there commended my  efforts. Over 1, 500 people were there. My plan is to continue as frequently as I can.

The Road Traffic Law has generated some controversies. While some praise the legislature and executive arms,  others look at the many challenges that would come with it…

First, you must realise the position of Lagos as a mega city and in most mega cities of the world, there are  rules and regulations that guide everybody’s action.

The Road Traffic Law is a holistic law, not only on okada since it encompasses the way we drive, rules of  driving as it affects motor parks, trailers and buses. The sole aim of the law is to bring back sanity into  our system. There’s no society that grows with indiscipline. So, we sat down and looked at this situation  holistically. I participated so much in that bill because I was very interested in the bill. I am not a  member of the Transport Committee but I took it upon myself because I knew it is a law which when passed  would affect everyone including myself.

For instance, if you drive without a drivers’ licence now, drive against traffic, park your car where you  shouldn’t park or even if your car stops suddenly on the road, you would be arrested. So, what it tells you  is that you must have maintenance culture.

I think people are just being sentimental about the issue of okada. We understand this sentiment, but the  fact is when we were growing up, there was nothing like okada and even in societies where okada operates like  Cote d’Ivoire or Cotonou next door to us, they are orderly. You will agree with me that in Lagos, they are  not orderly, they don’t obey traffic rules or stop at traffic lights, they don’t have riders’ cards, they  flout the policy on helmets, they drive at night and if you look at the general disadvantages of okada, they  outweigh the advantages.

So the law is just out to regulate them and restrict their movements that in any urban society where you have  a highway, you cannot have okada riders plying such roads like even the 3rd Mainland Bridge.

I know Lagos State is making a concerted effort to ensure that all the rules and regulations are put in place  including the signages, the system that would enhance easy licensing and riders’ card and the government must  start from somewhere. The Governor has consistently said that except one has a mindset that one wants to  flout the laws, one should not be afraid.

We know that all our men in LASTMA and other law enforcement agencies are human beings too and their actions  must be humane in such a way that when you erroneously flout an order, they can tell that this is an  erroneous thing and warn you. It is not like you have to be arrested for every mistake you make and your car  impounded.

We talk about people eating while driving, but I don’t think if you are chewing gum or eating a snack or  taking a canned coke anybody should worry you about that because you could be in traffic for five or six  hours, you may be diabetic or you need to take medication. These are no big deals. The whole idea is that you  shouldn’t be eating like eba or rice while driving so that you don’t endanger the people’s lives.

I just think when people sit back and check the importance of the law to their lives, they would embrace it,  but don’t forget that whenever a change is coming, people try to resist it because they want the status quo  to remain.

Speakers of various Houses of Assembly are now calling for financial autonomy after they attended the opening  of the Lagos Assembly chamber. What is your position concerning this agitation?

The financial autonomy we now have in Lagos is the result of concerted efforts over the years by the  legislations we had passed and the leaders of our party understanding the need for the legislature to be  independent. We also have a governor who understands and I can tell you that since we attained financial  autonomy, we have achieved more. There’s this mutual understanding too.

Coming to our colleagues in other parts of the country, I’m very surprised because we had the opportunity to  amend it during the last constitution review, the National Assembly pushed for that autonomy but  unfortunately, maybe because of the lack of depth of some of the Speakers, they voted against the autonomy.  Maybe their governors coerced them and unfortunately too, a lot of them did not return even with the way they  were coerced not to go into it.

They have come to Lagos and seen how wonderful it is for you to be autonomous and the achievements Lagos has  made and they are now clamouring for it. The governors should understand that their tenures are limited and  that the institutions would outlive all of us and so they should do the right thing and leave legacies that  people should build on.

Being independent does not make us unreasonable or forget the fact that the people are superior and that we  are only holding power in trust for them. It is working in Lagos perfectly well, but that does not mean we  cannot reach out to the governor when we have expenditure in the House that the budget may not take. It is a  partnership that should work and nobody should see himself as an emperor.

Related News

I would only advise that the Speakers be calm about it and present their matter in a very civil manner and I  see some of our governors, especially those in Southwest as reasonable people who would concede to the  demand.

Don’t you think the revenue that accrues to these states may be a challenge to this demand for self  accounting?


Lagos makes a lot of money…

But it is still not enough.

You think so?

I know so. The issue of revenue cannot come in. It is an issue of budget. It is just saying this is what we  have to spend in the next year and this is what should go to the legislature. We should stop thinking that  those in the executive arm of government are the best managers of funds and resources. That’s a silly mistake  we make.

We have found Speakers of the legislature who have become governors, who have gone to the Senate. We’ve also  found members of the legislature who have become governors. So, it tells you that everybody is capable of  handling such affairs.

The impression of some of your colleagues is that activities in the House in the last one year have been  slow. How do you react to this?

I sincerely don’t understand when a member says his expectations have not been met because what people expect  from us is driven by the legislators themselves. But I can say people are entitled to their opinions and I  bet my life on it that those who told you this probably do not want their names mentioned. So it tells you  that they probably do not have a proper understanding of the situation or that they want to create some  mischief.

Also, this is a new dispensation and new members have joined us and so it takes time to understand the  workings of the House. As a matter of fact, the strides that we have made in the Lagos House of Assembly are  borne out of the fact that there is continuity where old members could push the new ones.

I think that in the last one year, we have passed up to 15 bills into law, we made several resolutions and  several motions have been passed that have impacted positively in the lives of Lagosians. There may still be  some work to be done which is always the case in Lagos and don’t forget that we have had some public  holidays. As we resume from our recess, I know we have a lot of issues and activities to handle. But I think  we are trying our best and it is Lagosians who could really judge us.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has accused Lagos of playing politics with the population of the state…

I’m hearing it for the first time, but I was part of the last census in Nigeria and I can tell you that it  was a shame. The census by the Federal Government was not a successful one because a lot of people were not  enumerated and we took the initiative to conduct a shadow census to know the true population in order to  enhance our governance. That’s what we did.

If I may ask you, is there any constituency in Lagos that is less than a million people. In my constituency  in Surulere, it wasn’t unusual in Orile-Iganmu to get into a house and find over 120 people in the building.  So I think the number we adduce to Lagos, 18 million, is even conservative. Look at a typical day in Lagos  and you would know how densely populated the state is. There’s nowhere to move in Lagos. People would argue  that there are many untapped areas in Lagos, but compare those areas to the tapped areas.

You know the former President has never been a friend of Lagos state. He was President of the country, but I  don’t see anything the Southwest achieved during his time. Then we had a governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who  battled him to standstill. He can never forget that era and therefore, there’s nothing we do in Lagos that  can ever please the former President, but I know that in anybody’s lonely moments, he can tell our  achievements in the state. For him to have said that is both uncalled for and unnecessary.

Maybe the lack of cordial relationship was behind his refusal to support the creation of more local  governments in the state…

Everything we did in Lagos during that period, to him, was antagonistic. He never liked our former governor  and saw him as a clog in the wheel of progress, but not understanding that the former governor stood by his  conviction that he had to develop Lagos. It is so unfortunate that when you are a president or governor, you  think all powers belong to you. The constitution is clear about how local governments are formed and the  steps you take to accomplish their creation and it is for the National Assembly to list them once this is  done, but I think he may have influenced the National Assembly not to do it.

Now we have seen that putting a local government in the constitution is becoming old fashion and people are  clamouring for the states to have powers to create local governments.

Load more