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You can only understand true meaning of politics when you are into it – Hakeem

Hakeem

Shokunle Olushola Hakeem is a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly and the chairman of the House committee on heath. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he revealed why the House is probing former governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode, he also suggested what Nigeria should do to salvage the nation’s electoral system, among other issues. Excerpts:

This is your second term as a lawmaker; what has been the experience so far?

Politics is dynamic and change from time to time. There is no one that is an island of knowledge, you keep on learning; there is no special school where you go and learn politics you learn by practise.

There is possibility you have politics of paper and you have politics of ideas. Once you are elected and voted into office, your perspectives would be different from when you are outside and not occupying any post at all.

This is because politics is something you need to understand fully before you venture into it because you may fail.Personally, I think managing human being is not easy, not just human being now, but the whole Nigerians. So, it is something you need to understand; I mean what it takes to be a leader in Yoruba land.A lot of things have happened in the House in the last few years, I participated in the eight Assembly, I participated in the formulation and sponsoring of many bills. A lot of things were done.But when you talk about politics as a whole, it is dynamic, you can’t define it. Those definitions they gave in school are not it.When it comes to the way politics is being played here you need to learn it. Politics in Lagos State is different, that has put it in high level; I believe with the Lagos we have now, the state would continue to excel.

But you were initially elected on the platform of the PDP; you and the other eight lawmakers defected to the APC. There were insinuations that you defected to safeguard your political future; how true is this?

If that is the way people would put it, I don’t see any problem with that. First of all, the good thing about it is that we all defected and at different times.The story behind our defection is a long story; it is an interview on its own and for another day. But we have to look at how we contested.  The kind of support we received when we got the ticket especially from the governorship candidate of the PDP and the national chapter of the party.

Did the money they promised us get to us? A lot of us used our properties to get collateral from the banks because of what they promised us.

We have lost about two or three of us because they could not pay back the loans. When you look at all these and what happened there was no choice than to join the progressives’ team in Lagos and the progressives’ team is APC.

If you believe in a cause, but those people in the helm of affairs in the party do not believe in it, there would be a problem and a lacuna and when that takes place, you have to look for a way to solve it. Whatever they say about me, safe guarding the future, there is no problem, because the good thing is that I am now in APC.

How do you reach out to the people in your constituency?

I should have been in Oshodi today if not for plenary; I don’t believe in jamboree; such money can be used for buying of JAMB forms. I have a programme to distribute JAMB examination preparatory CBT training CD’s to the students; they would learn from it and it would help them in their examinations.I did it last year and all the students benefited from it and are in higher institutions now; we are repeating that programme this year because it worked for us. This week, we are going to give about 200 JAMB examination preparatory CBT CD’s to students. We are doing a lot for our constituency, most especially in OrileAgoijaye, Shola Daniel Street; from the information I gathered, they would soon be attended to.Right now, we are fully in touch with the people, we hold stakeholders meeting with the leaders of the constituency to know what the people of the constituency need and this is regular.

The assumption among some section of the populace is that the Lagos House of Assembly is rubberstamp of the executive; how do you react?

That is why I said politics is something we need to know, we keep on learning. That is the reaction of the people, it does not mean we have to attack them.There is freedom of speech; it would only put us on our toes and make us do more. Whatever the people say we don’t have to overreact; it is not right. We should be able to do more if we believe we are doing something. During the time of Ambode, people saw what we did and till now Ambode is still on it.Look, if truly we are rubberstamp, it would not happen, we dealt with him and he ran to the judiciary. And now, the judiciary has sent him back to us and we are still going to do our investigation. For now, we are doing investigation about the Cardiac Arena Centre under the Ministry of Health.According to reports, they said they gave it out in 2013 they did not commence operation until 2015 and now everything is still under lock, but if we are rubberstamp why are we here? Any body found on the issue of the Cardia Arena Centre probe would be seriously made to face the law; that is why we are doing the investigation.

But there is the assumption that Ambode’s probe is politically-motivated?

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There is no force outside pushing the House to probe Ambode. Once you discovered something in the file of a public official, there is nothing bad in contacting the official to come and explain. If a public official does anything contrary, he must face the law. Leaders always account for their stewardship and once they are found guilty, they are jailed; there is no big deal about it.

Meaning the House is bent on getting to the bottom of this case?

Yes, we are; let him go to Appeal Court; let him go to Supreme Court we have the constitutional power to do this; it is one of our duty. It is our power to investigate anybody who we appropriate public funds to; we should be able to call you to say how did you do this and that? So, is there anything wrong in that? If you like, run to the Supreme Court you would still come and meet us here. So, the basic thing is we are not witch-hunting anybody, we only said we discovered this and that you should come and explain so that we can close our files; there is no big deal in that.

But Ambode said the money was appropriated; the House cannot question how it was spent?

Can you imagine? Is he the owner of the money? This is public funds. If money is appropriated for you to buy bus and you now use the money to buy trailer, was the money meant for trailer? What is the purpose of trailer in what we are discussing? Before we appropriate money for bus, it means that it was needed in the community. In buying trailer, what purpose would that serve? You have gone against the law, you just need to come and explain it to the house that everything would go not moving around going to all the courts around.It is only in Nigeria these kinds of things can happen; anytime a public officer leaves office we have the power to investigate. It was later that we got to know about all these things. What about the Paris fund, you are not even talking about it? He spent it without appropriation; is that how to spend money?He is not the owner of the money, so he must tell us why he decided to take the law into his hand because he is not an emperor.

Four lawmakers were suspended last week in the House, what actually led to their suspension?

Well, according to their letters, it was based on gross misconduct.There is no other language; they misbehaved and they were suspended. It was gross misconduct;I cannot define it more than that.

Is this a sign of crisis in the Lagos Assembly?

No, the House is peaceful, there is no crack or crisis; are you saying if you offend the House and you are disciplined accordingly that means there is a crack? We are trying to put the House in order. Nobody is above the law, so if you are being disciplined for what you have done wrong that does not mean there is a crack; there is peace here.

What is your take on the power shift to the South in 2023?

Politics is about numbers, if the APC zones the presidency to the East and PDP to the North and at the end of the day PDP won the election what would they say again?Any region in the South should move out to other regions and lobby if they want the presidency to come to them. Politics is about numbers; let the National Assembly do proper legislation for zoning.

Are you comfortable the APC would retain power in 2023, with the worsening insecurity and high unemployment rate?

Yes, I am very comfortable they would retain power in 2023; the insecurity and unemployment issues are global problems. Boko Haram, even in America we have a lot of insecurity there. Even when PDP was ruling,things were like this. Does it mean because APC is ruling the insecurity would die?

The process to amend the 2010 Electoral Act is on; are you comfortable with the manner elections are conducted in Nigeria in recent times?

Let them do the amendment, as we speak today there is no way you would run an election without spending money. Maybe, it is because it is APC time, but during the PDP era we were spending money too. We have to sit in a round table and agree on how it should be done. We have to find a way to reduce money in our elections.You are talking about vote-buying, I don’t buy vote in Oshodi/Isolo, go and ask them. People have been saying it.I am using my election as an example. We can do better by changing everything to electronic voting, that is the only way out of the electoral logjam; it would help us.