By Chinelo Obogo
Sanai Agunbiade is the majority leader in the Lagos State House of Assembly and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and he speaks in how the leadership of the House has been able to maintain peace and avert crisis. He also sheds on the relationship between lawmakers from his party and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
It has been a year since this Assembly was inaugurated and there seems to be some semblance of peace, compared to other Houses of Assembly. How has the leadership of the Assembly been able to sustain this?
The choice of who represents the various political parties is determined by the structure in the various political parties. In the All Progressives Congress (APC), the structure has always been such that we produce good candidates, who are committed to the philosophy and principles of the party and those who have the interest of the party at heart. So, eventually, when you win the party’s ticket to contest the election and you eventually win the election, you would see yourself first and foremost as an ambassador of the party because you were produced through the rigorous process of commitment and party loyalty and if you are able to answer to that, then at all times that you are in the House of Assembly, you would know that you are not just representing your constituency that voted for you, you are representing the platform on which you were voted into the Assembly.
If that happens, you would always do things that would make the party proud and with that you would subscribe to the principles of the party. APC has always dominated the Lagos State House of Assembly. That means that flowing from the discipline of the party, and flowing from the way and manner the party produced its candidates for the legislature, the members of the party in the Assembly, who are in the majority, believe in the philosophy, ideology and expectations of the party. That is the secret why as an individual, before you do anything, you would think twice; where you are coming from, think of yourself as an ambassador of the party and you would have self discipline in everything you do.
If members that are in the majority are cohesive in their attitude, in the way they do things, this means they would respect themselves, respect the party and when anything happens amongst them, they would resolve it, rather than exchanging blows or doing some un-legislative things. When you are disciplined, you would be able to produce the leadership that would guide the members well, the leadership that would be accountable, the leadership that would be persuasive and that would be able to cater for the interest and yearning of the members. If all these are there, why would you be talking about impeachment?
But this is not the only Assembly where a party has the majority of seats, but despite that, it is not uncommon for people to still have ambitions. How has the leadership of the Assembly been able to suppress such ambitions?
It is not about suppressing ambitions, it is about a glaring manifestation of party philosophy, ideology and discipline. When you know what happens to people that have had inordinate ambitions and are not here any longer, you would think twice. I don’t know of any other state, but I can talk about Lagos State and I know that party discipline has been very rife in the state. Since I joined the progressives, there has been absolute party discipline. The party keeps watch on its ambassadors and before anything happens, everything you do, the party carries out its surveillance on its members. That is why we have party leaders and hardly have we had any problem that would require the intervention of the party leaders because we know where we are coming from. The process of selection and electing leaders of the House of Assembly has been through consensus and we have been lucky that we have the kind of leadership that will be able to wedge all the differences together before it snowballed into crisis.
What kind of relationship does the House have with the executive arm of government?
As a House, we have 32 APC members, and eight Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members, but the PDP members in the House would not say they have a cause to grudge the APC members because what affects one, affects all. The welfare is uniform, if anything happens to a member of the PDP in the House, it is taken that something has happened to the legislature and not just someone from a political party. There is no preferential treatment for anybody, the Speaker recognises everybody as long as he has something to say. We must attribute that to the leadership of the House that has been able to bring everybody together. When you have a kind of transparent leadership that we have, when you have a performing leadership, the one that shows love to all irrespective of party leaning, there won’t be any cause for people to feel segregated. We are operating under the slogan that Lagos State House of Assembly is the legislature above the common standard of excellence. So, if you are born into a house that is so filthy, you would throw things everywhere. But if you are born into a House that is so disciplined and trash is well taken care of, you won’t throw things indiscriminately.
Our relationship with the executive has always been fantastic because Lagos State has always been blessed with governors who value democratic etiquette; they know where the separation of power comes in and where it stops. They understand the inter-dependence of the various arms of government. So, there has been a very good understanding between the executive and the legislature. The present governor of the state is an amiable man, give him a reason why something should be so, he would agree with you and if he disagrees with you, he would do so with humility and with convincing explanation why it should not be so. He does not grandstand and he doesn’t believe that he knows more than anybody. He would discuss with you and he recognises separation of powers. He recognises the extent of powers of the legislature and the supremacy of the party, and he carries out his action within the limits of party philosophy and ideology.
Will this perceived ‘smooth’ relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government not affect governance?
When I was in the University, I was the President of the Student Union Government of the Lagos State University (LASU), I believe in the struggle for what we want and what we don’t want. To say that the good relationship between the executive and the legislature is compromise is a perversion of what democracy should be. One of the values of democracy is that you do your own and I do my own.
The fact that we don’t punch our noses does not mean that we are not practicing democracy. If you understand the tenets of democracy, you would know how to resolve crisis if there is any, and you would avoid crisis where possible and if there is any disagreement, you would sit down and solve it.
There have been disagreements between the legislature and the executive, but you would not get to hear about it because we are able to resolve it. The governor has not trampled on the rights of the legislature. For example, the governor came out with an executive order that there must not be any function in any school in the state, and it was pronounced. But some members of the legislature felt differently, we felt that if the schools could be used and cleaned, why not since we said they should not organise parties in the streets. As grassroots politicians, we felt that the fears of the executive about using schools for parties could be taken care of without barring people from using the schools for parties.
We felt that some people did not have money to rent event centres for their parties so they should be allowed to use schools for their parties. When we sat down with the governor and we treated the issue points by points, we had to agree with the governor. He said it was voluntary to celebrate events, therefore you can regulate it by doing it within your compound. As much as people believe that social functions also improve the economy of the state, it must be regulated. Academic environment must be purely academic, serene in its nature, not to be polluted by things like these. We should teach our children how to minimise expenses on frivolity. We resolved it, but it could cause crisis in other places. The Governor and the Speaker communicate regularly on phone, the principal officers and the governor communicate regularly. Old members of the Assembly and the governor communicate regularly on issues that would have snowballed into crisis.