INTERVIEW: How speaker blocked my inauguration - Kwara lawmaker-elect
Jimoh Agboola was supposed to be celebrating a year in office as the representative of Ilorin South in the Kwara State House of Assembly, if the Speaker, Yakubu Danladi, had complied with the multiple court judgments that ruled in his favour.
Mr Agboola, a member of the assembly between 1999 and 2003, was the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) candidate in the March 2019 election that ushered in the 9th assembly.
Although the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the election, there was a discrepancy in the name of the candidate put forward for the election and the one returned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Suleiman Shehu Abdulsalam was the APC candidate registered with the party while Azeez Oluwanilo Elewu was the one issued a certificate of return.
This was contested by Mr Agboola at the Election Petition Tribunal. The tribunal nullified the election and the certificate of return issued, ordering a fresh election in Ilorin South within three months.
The case went up to the level of the appellate court where Mr Agboola was upheld as the winner of the election.
The Court of Appeal declared that he should be sworn-in, in November 2019, but a year after, the ruling is yet to be implemented by the Speaker.
In a recent development, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate courtís ruling which declared Mr Agboola the valid representative of Ilorin South in the assembly.
PREMIUM TIMES had previously reported protests from civil society organisations and the opposition party over the house's refusal to obey court judgments.
If inaugurated, Mr Agboola will be the only opposition member in the 24-member assembly
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, he shared his travails in an attempt to claim his seat in the assembly.
He also reviewed the performance of the APC-led government in Kwara, the fall of the Saraki dynasty in the state and the failure of PDP in the 2019 election, amongst other issues.
Read excerpts below:
PT: We have been following your case for a while. Can you give us a summary and timeline of events?
Agboola: After the general election that ushered in the 9th assembly, we had an electoral complaint regarding the seat of the Ilorin South constituency. The candidate of APC then, on paper, lacks qualifications to say he is the member to represent the people of Ilorin. His name is Suleiman Shehu. We took him to court. Through the back door, the APC fronted another person to represent the constituency at the Assembly. In the person of Azeez Oluwanilo Elewu. Azeez was not the candidate with the INEC but eventually, while we were at the electoral petition tribunal already, a certificate of return was issued to him.
Since his name was not on the INEC's list, we continued the court process and at the end of it all, at the tribunal, the tribunal found out that the APC did not have a candidate for that election. On the basis of that, there should be a fresh election. That verdict did not go down well with the APC. They approached the court of appeal. That pronouncement didnít go down well with us (PDP). We also headed to the appellate court. The two appeals were treated at the same time because it carried the same heading.
Eventually, we were declared the winner. That was in November 2019. The court ordered INEC to issue a fresh certificate of return to me. They asked the Speaker and the clerk to do the inauguration. They did not comply with the directive of the court, instead, the sacked lawmaker, Azeez, went to the federal high court. The court dismissed his case.
When we discovered that they were not doing the needful, we took them back to the Court of Appeal for enforcement. They fined the speaker and clerk to the tune of 300,000. The court fined the sacked lawmaker to the tune of 200,000. The appeal court ordered that they should do the needful. Several times, we went to the House of Assembly, but I was denied entrance.
We had to write to the Commissioner of Police, the Director of the State Security Service (SSS), and the commandant of the NSCDC. The three agencies mobilised their men who followed us to the Assembly. That was how we were able to talk to the speaker. I was supposed to have been sworn in on that day. He kept me waiting at the Speake's lobby and used the other exit door to adjourn the plenary.
You know Kwara is ours and we donít want anything that will bring violence. When he was going to the plenary, I would have followed him and go and occupy my seat. The whole thing will be rowdy and I had my supporters outside waiting for any eventuality that might arise but I feel we are Kwarans and we can always resolve our differences amicably.
After the adjournment, we discussed. He said I should endeavour to come one other time and they will call me, possibly for swearing-in that week. I took his words that he was going to do the needful but eventually what I saw after that was a process filed at the Supreme Court.
Normally, any electoral matter regarding the National or State House of Assembly usually ends at the Appeal Court. It has been happening in Nigeria for a while. Look at the Dino Melaye, Adeyeye in Ekiti, it ended at the Appeal. So, when I saw the process filed at the Supreme Court, I was furious. People wanted to demonstrate and occupy the assembly but I calmed them down.
The House wanted to hang the case at the Supreme Court to use as an excuse that the matter is still in court but thank God, we were given a short date. And when we got there, they were the ones who withdrew honourably on November 2. The Supreme Court struck out their process that it lacked merit but did not fine them because they withdrew the case honorably.
PT: So, Mr Elewu is still the one representing your people?
Agboola: Yes. He still attends plenary and all official functions. Even after he has been banned to stop calling himself an honorable member, the Speaker continues to harbour him. The Speaker continues to give him support. Impunity! Engaging in legislative rascality.
PT: Are you implying that your constituents are not getting the representation they deserve?
Agboola: They are not getting it at all. The people wanted to mobilise en masse. But you know, there is little to what I can pacify them not to do. Though I donít like violence, we don't want violence to happen but there is a limit to endurance. Anything can happen. We are still waiting for them to do the needful.
PT: Bills have been passed and decisions taken by the Assembly. Are you saying those decisions do not represent the interest of your constituents?
Agboola: Apart from the fact that it does not represent the agenda of my people, their legislation does not have any effect on Kwara since Azeez Elewu is still there. The court has said it in the ruling ó because any sitting with him is null and void. So, all these bills they are passing since the time I was supposed to be there, are null and void because it does not represent the people of Kwara. The people of Kwara do not want impunity.
PT: Can you shed more light on those decisions that negate the peopleís interest?
Agboola: There are so many things lacking. There are so many bills they have passed that lack the peopleís voice.
PT: For example?
Agboola: They have passed a bill on the amendment of local government administration. They have passed some bills about that. It does not represent the people's voice. The way they are resolving the minimum wage issue does not go down well with our people. So many things. Donít let me go into details for now.
PT: What do you think is responsible for the refusal of the speaker to swear you in? Is it political?
Agboola: It is part of it. People are asking maybe they have some things hidden from the public. That place is not supposed to be a party affair. They are supposed to sit there for the progress of Kwara. To make laws. Good laws for the people of Kwara. It is according to what your constituents are saying. The voice you are raising there is not your voice but theirs.
PT: So, you think it is an attack targeted at the opposition?
Agboola: I don't know what is on their mind. What I know is that they are there because there is rule of law. So, when they are trying to breach this rule of law, we have other means to reject it.
PT: What are the steps you took apart from the court processes? Did you at any time reach out to some stakeholders in the ruling party?
Agboola: We did that initially. When that was not working, we resorted to court processes. It was the court process that brought about the enforcement.
PT: Did you escalate this to the Governor?
Agboola: Yes. We wrote different letters to the Governor, informing him of the House of Assembly:s action. He did not respond, neither did he say anything.
PT: The Assembly is running its second year, are you still optimistic about your inauguration?
Agboola: They don't have the capacity to refuse the entire court process starting from the tribunal, court of appeal to Supreme Court Ė the highest court in the land. I'm sure you and everybody wonít allow that. By doing so, they are inviting anarchy.
It is our duty because it is the last judgment. The enforcement judgement Iím telling you. They said this is a judgment in realm binding on the world- not only Nigeria. That was the pronouncement of the court of appeal.
PT: Alright. You were an active member of the House in the 4th Assembly. From your experience then and your observation of the 9th Assembly, what do you think has changed?
Agboola: During our time, there was a combination of parties coming into the house. We had APP members. We had PDP members, we had Alliance for Democracy (AD) members. Then, I belonged to the AD. The Speaker then gave us latitude. He gave us an opportunity to express the opinion of our constituents.
What I'm looking at now, honestly, I do not love it. When people cannot go freely to the assembly to watch proceedings. When an ordinary person cannot go to the assembly to lay complaints. It is because of the dominance of a single party.
PT: If you are sworn in today, how much of a difference do you think you can make?
Agboola: In the Assembly, we are supposed to work as colleagues. We are there to make good laws. What I don't know, they teach me. What they donít know, they will ask from me. Everybody has a role to play. Every voice will be carried along before a final decision is taken on any matter.
I'm not playing opposition there. Iím playing the role of an elder statesman and as an elder statesman, you listen to their views, they listen to mine.
When they get it right, I'll announce to the world that they have gotten it right. I cannot change the whole members because we are not in the same camp. But if I tell them to adjust to something, they will heed.
PT: Away from the house, letís discuss issues of governance. What is your review of the AbdulRazaq-led government?
Agboola: One, the government is not transparent enough to allow people to know what is really happening. We understand that the Governor does not even convene cabinet meetings. So many things are wrong. We are not known for violence. When last did you hear of a protest in Kwara? When last did you hear about the massive looting of public and private properties? So many things are wrong. The issue of minimum wage is still lingering, unattended to. So many things like that. Even our peace is being threatened. There is no coordination between the Governor and the security agencies. If there is coordination, what happened at the ShopRite and others that were attacked, would not have occurred. People are crying of hunger.
Political elites have learned their lessons. Ordinary people in the street have learned their lessons. We have our culture. This present administration is not following it.
PT: What culture?
Agboola: The harmonious working relationship between the senatorial districts in the state - people of Baruten will work freely with people in Ilorin. People in Ilorin will work freely with people of the southern part of the state. Thatís why we have one traditional council in Kwara and we have one traditional council chairman which is the Emir of Ilorin. In the religion aspect, there is a working relationship with Christian and Muslims. This was going on smoothly under PDP. They were engaging the youths, the elders. This they are not doing again. What programme do they have for the youths in the state except for the ones they mention on the pages of newspapers.
PT: PDP lost the 2019 last election woefully. Where did you think the party got it wrong
Agboola: One, PDP has been ruling for a long time. We cannot even say PDP perse because we were once in the APC. The people feel the Dynasty. The Dynasty is synonymous with the state. The Saraki Dynasty. They believe the same crop of people have been piloting the affairs of things. They feel they need changes. That person should be able to elect their leaders freely. That was what came about the Oítoge mantra that the APC rode on in 2019.
PT: Are you saying the people are justified for voting PDP out in 2019?
Agboola: For anything in life, there is an advantage and disadvantage. The Saraki Dynasty is not. You are just hearing that Saraki. Saraki is not the main head. It is like a family that was being brought up and fixing positions of authority. It is not one family. It is a combination of Kwarans coming together to stay under an umbrella. But what happened was that the sub leadership got lost with the people at the grassroots. That was where they got it wrong.
These people (APC) now came in to say they want to fill the missing link. They are also getting it wrong. In fact, they are doing worse than what the leadership of the dynasty was doing that made people revolted. Even in their party, there is an in-house fight.