•We didn’t approve N10b loan for Gov Bello
Is there really separation of powers in Kogi State? Many critical stakeholders in the state would not readily agree that the state executive and the legislature actually give practicality to this most crucial and cardinal principle of democratic governance. To them, the House of Assembly is a lame duck that has been compromised and pocketed by the executive. And as proof, these critics would cite a number of alleged infractions and burning issues of which they accused the state legislators of outright complicity or sweeping under the carpet, through their their actions or inactions. Some of these issues have to do with the sudden increase of the 2018 Appropriation bill from N147 billion to N151 billion, the controversial plan to sell Kogi legacy assets, the alleged refusal of the Assembly to pass the bill on local government autonomy and the executive taking of a N10 billion loan without recourse to approval by the legislature, among others.
Saturday Sun’s EMMANUEL ADEYEMI, took up the Speaker of the Assembly, Rt. Hon. Matthew Kolawole on these and many more in Lokoja recently.
What will you say are the achievements of the Kogi State House of Assembly in 2017?
The House in 2017 decided on some bills, some motions were also raised on the floor of the House and resolutions were passed. Among the bills passed last year was that of the criminal administration of justice, which was passed by the House and assented to by the governor of the state, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. The bill is significant to the country and it has been domesticated in Kogi State to quicken the process of criminal justice. Also in 2017, we have six bills that had passed through public hearing, some of the bills have something to do with traffic law, hotel and tourism, energy , water and pension reform. As soon as we returned from recess we will attend to the bills by passing them into law.
How far has the state House of Assembly gone with the passage of the 2018 budget?
We intended to pass the budget in the month of March after we return from recess by February 28t, but the need as shown by the executive arm of the government to commence the implementation of the budget compelled members of the assembly to quickly returned to the House to attend to the budget defence by Ministries, Department and Agencies MDAs. Apparently, when we took a look at the 2018 appropriation bill, we discovered that some areas in the budget needed to be jacked up. Actually the 2018 budget as presented to the House on December 21st, 2017 was slightly above N147 billion, but during budget defence we had to increase it to over N151 billion for obvious reasons.
For instance, the sum of N100 million was appropriated to Kogi State University for accreditation exercise and during the defence of the budget, the management of the institution complained vehemently that the sum allocated to the university will not be enough for the accreditation and having viewed the importance of accreditation of courses to the institution, being the only state university we have, we did not have any option than to jack it up to N500 million. Similar consideration was rendered to the College of Nursing Obangede, where we also increased their budget for the purpose of accreditation. The House also considered and increased the sum allocated for road construction from Okengwe to Ayere due to some bridges involved.
So, we have passed the 2018 appropriation bill and the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, had assented to the budget, which is very ready for implementation.
It is rumoured that the state government plans to sell 10 property of the government to finance the 2018 budget, what is the position of the Assembly?
I am just hearing this for the first time and there is no way I can believe what is being posted on social media. Again the House has not received any letter from the executive arm of government of the state to that effect and if the rumour is true, definitely the House will be communicated, but for now it is still a rumour.
What is the position of the House on the contentious local government autonomy?
Yes! The alteration bill emanated from the National Assembly and we have 15 alteration bills sent to Kogi State House of Assembly. In fact, at the Speaker’s conference we have looked into the bill critically and discovered that one of the contentious among the 15 items was that of the local government autonomy. I am a product of local government, because the votes that took me to the assembly came from the local government. I represent Kabba/Bunu state constituency and I want the local government to enjoy autonomy, but in a situation where we want to pass a law and we discovered that there is a petition, we have to refer the bill for public hearing and that is exactly what we have done, but some people see our action as throwing away the bill, which is not true.
As I have said, the NUT sent a petition demanding that they should be separated from the local government autonomy, their grouse was that the local government chairmen do not pay their salaries and allowances as and when due. The NUT also demanded that their pay should come directly from the federation account.
Even at the Speakers conference, we resolved that the bill should not be passed until the contentious issues from the petition are resolved and the only way it can be resolved is by referring the autonomy for public hearing where the NULGE, NUT, Civil Society Organizations and the general public will sit down and discuss the issue and the petitioners have to convince us why they don’t want to be with the local government. So, as soon as we return from the recess the public hearing will commence.
The state government took a loan of N10 billion without the approval of the House, why?
The loan was taken by the state government through a consultant, which does not require our approval. The aim of the loan was to augment what the government had to pay the backlog of unpaid salaries of civil servants in the state.
I was part of the committee that mediated between the Organised Labour in the state and the state government before Labour called off their strike and part of the resolutions during our joint meeting was that government should pay the backlog of salaries it owed the workers in the state and what the government needed to pay the salaries was N16 billion. But the state government then only had N6 billion from Paris Club refund and to be able to pay the salaries, government had to quickly source for funds to pay the salaries before Christmas and New Year. So a consultant was contacted and the state government borrowed the sum of N10 billion.
Before the repayment the executive will have to write to us for the regularisation of the loan, that is when we will come in, because the fund is loan not grant. We thank God today that the much noise about the non-payment of salaries has died down in the state. I have to mention it categorically without mincing words that Kogi State is among the few states in the country that pays minimum wage as well as relativity to its workers, which make the salaries and wages very high in the state.
There is a general outcry over the plan of establishment of cattle colony in the state, what is the position of the state Assembly?
In Kogi State, the issue of cattle colony has been politicised to distract and discourage the good intention of the government on the best way to solve the herdsmen and farmers’ impasse. In fact, cattle colony is a policy of the Federal Government to find a lasting solution to the incessant crises between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers, the Federal Government only urged the state government to key into it for the realization of the policy. Obviously, the Land Use Act has existed for long in this country and the Act empowered the state governors to either approve or revoke any land as the case may be. The claim that the colony was targeted at taking people’s land is not true and the House of Assembly has no power to revoke the law. The Fulanis and our parents have been living and doing businesses together without any crises. So if there is problem today I believe that it is better to solve the problem through dialogue, which Governor Yahaya Bello has been preaching at many fora so that people of the state can live harmoniously in peace. I am optimistic that the steps taken so far by the governor for the establishment of ranches will go a long way to solve the problem and will also boost the economy of the state.
The APC in the state in the last two years has been enmeshed in crises, what effort are members of the party in the Assembly doing to tackle the party crises?
It is highly unfortunate that the crises in Kogi chapter of APC lingered till now. The crises is within the executive of the party and I believe that whatever has a beginning must also have an end. Sadly, even when some stakeholders were making effort to wade into the crises, the utterances of some of the executive members of the party in Kogi state do not help matters. On our part as members of the party and with the governor as the leader of the party in the state, every problem within the party will be resolved so that the party remains strong to face the 2019 elections.