‘Our Grouse With FG Over Lagos Land’02.11.2008
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Hon. Babatunde Ogala was elected into the Lagos State House of Assembly in April, 2007 to represent Ikeja Constituency 1. Ogala who is Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, in a chat with JUDE IGBANOI recently, explained the work of his committee amongst other issues and what sets the Class of ’86 of the Nigerian Law School apart
aYou apparently have abandoned the wig and gown for the agbada by leaving active legal practice for politics. What informed this switch?Let me quickly say that I see myself as a lawyer in politics. I want that to be distinguished from being a politician. I am a lawyer in politics. What informed my decision to participate in politics is simply a conviction that if wise men stay away, foolish men will make foolish laws and the wise must obey. One has observed that over time we sit down, analyse, condemn and criticise. We see politics as being dirty and I have asked the question: if politics is indeed dirty and we clean people don’t get involved, who then will clean it up? It will continue to be dirty! Having come from a background of pro-democracy struggle, especially in the Abacha era, I saw it appropriate to contribute my little quota to the survival of the democracy we fought so hard to attain. By and large, I also recognised that the constituency which I represent has a good blend of elites who also need a voice. A combination of these informed my desire to make my humble contribution.One of the complaints we often hear is that politicians have the tendency of going on their knees to canvass for votes from the electorate only to distance themselves from their constituents after getting into office. From your experience, how do you touch base with members of your constituency?I say that from my own little experience, I do not think this is totally true. We need to define who the constituents are. I for one, have a Constituency Office at 22, Kudirat Abiola Way and I have staff that man that office. I cannot see every member of my constituency. During my campaigns I did not see every member of my constituency. But I got the messages across to everyone. Don’t forget that you have elected the man for a purpose. He must also have the time to the work. We have to designate time for everything. I must attend plenary sessions. I must attend meetings. There is a lot of committee work to do. When people make this complaint of losing touch, it bothers me. We have constituency offices. We have a party structure and these are communications networks open to air complaints. So, when people say, ‘he doesn’t pick my calls’, you’ll not call a law maker at 12 noon, when he should be in plenary session. You’ll not call him when he is at a committee session. What of when he is at meetings? But you often hear that expression, ‘he doesn’t pick his calls!’ Of course, since I got into office the volume of my calls has increased to well over 1000%. How people get my phone numbers I no longer know. But I am determined not to change numbers, because there is no reason for it. So, I do not think it is totally true. But you know people like to call a dog a bad name in order to hang it. A lot of people, the moment you get into office, now claim to be your friends. I now made a decision to distinguish between my friends as Babatunde Ogala and friends of the office. You are Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary at the Lagos State House of Assembly. You are also a lawyer of many decades at the Bar. What are the functions of your Committee and what challenges have you faced so far chairing that committee?The functions of the Committee on Judiciary are well spelt out in the Rules of the House. It says, ‘The Committee shall cover annual budget estimates, administration of justice and judicial matters generally, constitutional matters, Lagos State Judiciary, State Courts and Judges, commissions and tribunals of enquiry, claims against the state, review and administration of estates and trustees, relationship with the Judicial Service Commission, Ministry of Justice, Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, codification of state laws, etc.’ But I must say that our function includes the relationship of the state with law enforcement agencies including the holding agencies like the prisons. So, it’s a committee with very wide jurisdiction and powers. As for the challenges, they include getting the Executive and Judiciary to understand the commitments of the Committee. I had to reposition the committee when I got here. I come from a position where I recognise that there are a lot of expectations from me, especially from my colleagues at the Bar. When I was made Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary everybody said, ‘Oh, he is our own. He is a Barman!’ Of course, you know that also puts additional pressure on one in terms of expectations. But I have tried my best so far. We have tried our best to be active partners with the Executive and the Judiciary in the administration of justice in Lagos State. Let me say with all sense of modesty that we have been committed to the justice sector reform programme in the state. I have to come to realise that where I am now as a lawmaker is only a passing phase. My primary constituency is the legal profession where I will return to. My being a legal practitioner has become as consistent as my name; that I cannot wish away. Of course, the mega-courts that are being built have come with appropriation and it’s the Judiciary Committee that has to facilitate and make the House understand the need for all that. It involves a lot of lobbying and convincing our colleagues because we are talking about competing demands for scarce resources. I make bold to say that in the last budget exercise, judiciary budget was passed even without questions. The Ministry of Justice got its law on the Office of Public Defender in record time! I am committed to having a proactive committee and part of my plan is to have a totality of the House review of all the laws that have been passed in the past eight years. I have done a paper on that. We intend to have stakeholders come together on this, when the funds are available. Lagos State unarguably has the busiest Judiciary in Nigeria.In Africa!There is also the fact that Lagos is cosmopolitan and a melting-pot for various ethnic groups. This would naturally pose many challenges to criminal justice administration. Are there specific plans to review the Criminal Procedure Rules? They did for Civil Procedure.Like I said there are various committees at work in the state. I am sure you are aware that there is a committee that is reviewing the Magistrate Courts Law. There is another that is working on the Customary Courts. Then there is the committee that has done a review of the Criminal Procedure Act of Lagos State. But we must realise that we have the problem of having a federal Nigeria because the states have no control over the holding facilities like the prisons. The enforcement agencies, the state has no control over them. These are some of the contradictions in the system. If the state had its prisons, perhaps there can be a different picture. We have done a lot of work on the Criminal Procedure Code for Lagos State. Currently, the state government partners with the police to address the issue of crime. I need not say how much the state has done in assisting the police with vehicles and other logistics. The state cannot buy the police their uniforms. They have said no to this. We cannot buy them arms and ammunition. But we have tried in other areas. Then what is your take on State Police?Honestly, it’s just the solution we need. People have said that it would be misused and could be used for political victimisation. Honestly, I am of the view that let us make our mistakes and we’ll eventually get there. No responsible administration would want to misuse the state police. We can’t run away from state police. What is happening in some states now? In some of our sister states, thugs are being used to maintain law and order. State police cannot be as bad as that. They call them enforcement officers! The merit in state policing is that you cannot know my neigbour as well as I. They have talked about community policing, but what is the fate today? Abandoned! You call a state Governor the Chief Security Officer of the state. He has no control over the police, he has no control over the lowest ranking policemen. He can come to work in the morning and be told the Commissioner of Police has been transferred. Recently, the Aid-De-Camp of a state Governor was recalled behind him! It happened to Governor (Bola) Tinubu here in Lagos, where the man who was the head of Rapid Response Squad was suddenly taken away overnight. We had three Commissioners of Police within one week! If we have a state police all these would be taken care of. Who says both state and federal police cannot co-exist? I am an advocate of true federalism. The cheering news we just heard from the Lagos Judiciary is the introduction of the Fast Track Court system which came as a pleasant surprise to most legal practitioners and litigants. Does initiative have the support of your committee?That largely is for the Judiciary. I am sure structures have been put in place for its success. To the extent that it can work in Ghana and some other jurisdictions, I have no doubt in my mind that with the right attitude it can work here. Before the Chief Judge decided to introduce the Fast Track Court system he must have determined all that is necessary to make it work. I am absolutely confident that it can work here. One major feature that characterised the last political dispensation in Nigeria was the constant bickering between the Executive and the Legislature. It made governance very difficult. There were occasions where Governors and the Legislators were at daggers drawn points over inconsequential issues. It was also the same story at the federal level basically. What has been the experience in Lagos State? How would you describe the working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature?We have been very lucky in Lagos State to have had responsible leadership. Eight years past, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had a perfect and harmonious relationship with the Legislature. So far in over seven months here, the administration of Babatunde Fashola SAN has had a perfect working relationship with this House. This is an administration that has had constant dialogue with the House and has ensured that the House is carried along on its decisions. He has shown respect for then rule of law. Look at the National Assembly where there was constant bickering in the last administration. The reason for that was quite obvious. We had a President who did not believe anybody else had powers, either constitutionally or otherwise to check his activities. He did not believe in oversight, position or indeed separation of powers. In such circumstance you cannot but have constant bickering. Of course we know in some states legislatures, there were other political considerations which were not altruistic. These led to these constant bickering and indeed led to some very shameful and painful impeachment exercises, although most of it was orchestrated by the irresponsible leadership at the centre at the time. But in Lagos I must tell you that in the past seven months that I have been here, even before the eight years before I came here, you cannot point to any disagreement between the Executive and the Legislature. Over the past few years, there has been the constant face-off between the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government over the issue of the true ownership of land in the state. As Lagos embarks on its ambitious mega-city project, the issue has come to the fore again. What is your take on this?In the past eight years, this has thrown up legal issues and it will continue to be so. But it’s all part of our constitutional democratic development. The issue of which level of government has control over urban planning is part of our constitutional development; so also this issue of land. It is clear that all land in the state is vested in the state government. If you recall in the Second Republic when the UPN government wanted to built low-cost houses in the states, it sought lands from the various state governments. That is the reality and that is what ought to be. But because of the long military incursion into our body polity a lot of these democratic values were gradually lost. That is why I would give kudos to the Lagos State Government that it has fought on the part of the Constitution. In all the battles Lagos has come out uncrated, like in the issue of local government funds. If you recall, the military even made a law that says any land that is 100 meters from the waterfront belongs to the Federal Government. That was subsequently overturned by a court. That could have taken away most of Lagos State, because Lagos is water!The only body that can regulate urban and regional planning in a state is the state government. It is the body that is constitutionally empowered to do so. You heard recently that Federal Government properties were being sold. Yet the Land Use Act is clear and unequivocal on it. When land is acquired for overriding public interest and when there is no longer need for that purpose you revert to the original owners. In this case, our Federal Government acquired land, built the Trade Fair Complex for overriding public purpose, built Tafawa Balewa Square, 1004 and Federal Government properties in Ikoyi and Ikeja GRA. One day someone just wakes up and decides that they are going to sell all that to individuals, without reverting to the original owner. All land in a state is vested in the state. That is what the Constitution says. So, the Lagos State Government has been fighting on the part of the law. What the Federal Government is trying to do is an aberration. The Federal Government abandoned Lagos for eight years. You know what the state of Apongbon was, Ozumba Mbadiwe and many other roads. Can you imagine, the Lagos State Government woke up one morning and found Ikorodu Road being dug up by a company for the laying of pipes. The Federal Government awarded that contract without consultation with the state government! These are the kinds of situations we are complaining about. Look at the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT). It has to be challenged. Where does the Federal Government derive the power to collect VAT? In the Constitution, it is under the Residual List, it is vested in the state. There is nowhere in the world where the Federal Government collects State Tax, which is what VAT is. Then you collect VAT from a state that permits alcohol and give it to a state that forbids alcohol and does not reject the money that comes from it. It is inequitable! These are constitutional issues. I can tell you Lagos State will challenge the issue of VAT. Let the Supreme Court pronounce on it. As a lawyer, what is your take on the case of Atiku Abubakar and INEC concerning interrogatories? Professor Maurice Iwu’s response has been seen as some as perjury. He claimed that he didn’t know the company that printed the ballot papers, and many other things came up.For me, Professor Maurice Iwu has shown himself as an irresponsible umpire. He has shown himself as an irresponsible person. How can an Electoral Officer, a Returning Officer say in the interrogatories that he awarded the contract of such very sensitive documents to a company, but he does not know if that company subsequently awarded to another foreign company? That is the height of irresponsibility! Some are saying, ‘You printed in South Africa’, and he is saying he does not even know! He said, ‘I just awarded the contract to Security Printing and Minting.’ So, it could have been a printer in Somolu. It is sheer irresponsibility! I would ordinarily not want to comment on issues before the court, but I am really concerned about the morality in what the man is saying. Iwu is telling us he doesn’t even know where his ballot papers came from. The law says you must serialise these papers. Iwu said he did not serialise because the time was short. If the time was short, couldn’t he have moved the elections forward? This was the same man when he knew INEC had no such powers and the whole world told him so, he insisted on disqualifying some candidates, based on some cooked up, illogical and satanic indictments. He was playing a written script by the Obasanjo administration. That is also why I have no sympathy for Nuhu Ribadu who played the role of a hatchet-man in all of this. He got involved in politics and now they are sending him to Kuru to even go and purge himself and the press is making a lot of hue and cry over the issue. I am amazed! His promotion from Assistant Commissioner of Police to Assistant Inspector General of Police was not through due process. So, what is corruption? That was process abuse. He went through a corrupt system to be AIG. I wonder how you are comfortable with the police promoting you to AIG and yet they cannot send you on training? These are the illogical things we hear. So, Iwu was not a fit and proper person to have conducted a national election. I don’t want to comment on the outcome. The various tribunals are sitting on them and about five Governors have been removed all due to the irresponsibility of one man at great security, financial and human cost to the country. You are a member of the Class of ’86 of the Nigerian Law School and it has distinguished itself, with such a large output of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. What is it about the class that has set it apart?Yes, maybe by providence, we became the centennial set of the legal profession in Nigeria. We came out in the 100 years of the legal profession in Nigeria. But I commend my mates, Niyi Akintola SAN, Roland Otaru SAN, Chief J.K. Gadzama SAN, the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation, Aoandoakaa SAN and many others. It’s on record that we now have the highest number of SANs. I commend the initiative for the set to meet at every Bar Conference. It has become an annual event. Now, we have a set mailing list where we exchange e-mails with each other. The set is blessed and God reserved some of the very best in the legal profession in Nigeria to be called to the Bar in that year. It’s all providence. Some of the leading lawyers in this country today are members of that set. It’s a very young and humble set. Today, we about three Governors from the set, howbeit Celestine Omehia has lost his seat. It can only get better.