By Eric Elezuo
When a list of the longest serving lawmakers in Nigeria is made, the Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Mudashiru Obasa, will certainly be in it. The Speaker, who recently faced allegations of misappropriation of funds, has been a lawmaker since 2003 as the fourth republic gathered momentum.
In a brief chat with Chief Dele Momodu via the social media, Obasa tried setting the records straight as regards his stewardship, fracas with fellow lawmakers as well as his political future. Excerpts:
Who is Mudashiru Obasa?
Well, Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa is the Rt. Honourable Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. I was born on November 11, 1972, and attended St Thomas Aquinas Primary School and Archbishop Aggrey Memorial Secondary School. I studied Law at the Lagos State University before proceeding to the Law School.
I kicked off my political career in 1999 as a Councilor in Agege Local Government, and in 2003, I was elected into the Lagos State House of Assembly, representing Agege Constituency. I eventually became the Speaker of the House in 2015, and have remained Speaker till date.
Fantastic! Take us down memory lane. What was Lagos like as at the time you were born?
Waoh! In 1972? I can’t tell stories of the period because I was very young but I could remember when I started Primary School. However, if you are talking about infrastructure, note that the expectation was very high as there were few roads. I can remember traveling from Mushin to Agege, we have to disembark at a place called ‘park’ and trek all the way to connect another bus. I think Lagos has advanced in infrastructure compared to that period.
Again, on the social circle, social life was fun and great then. There was family/neighbour relationship unlike today when everybody has to lock his children indoors. I think we had more enduring social life then than today.
Was your primary school a mission or government School? Are there some of your classmates you still remember?
That was a long time ago. Well, I schooled at St. Thomas Aquinas Primary School, and as the name suggests, it is a mission school. I can remember one Awolowo Charles, Amu and many others.
What about in Secondary School?
Aaah! Saka Tinubu Memorial High School; one of the best schools when you talk about academics, sports and all. There were lots of friends, many of whom are still around today. I can remember Musbau Arogundade, Sogo Abiodun, Rasak Williams, and so many others.
Did you participate in any sports then?
I was a great footballer; I still play football today. We play in our office at the Lagos State House of Assembly. I enjoy football and I love the game.
You joined politics very early in life. What prompted your decision?
Well, I must say the desire to be like Chief Obafemi Awolowo prompted my decision to join politics. How? Each time our parents discuss politics, it’s always punctuated by Awolowo. I was then kind of eager to know about Awolowo, and the more I know about him, the more I wanted to be like him.
Okay, so what does it take to navigate through the grassroots, especially in a densely populated area like lagos?
It’s all about relationship. Politics is all about how solid your relationships with your people is. You know, I grew up in that community so that motivated the popularity I enjoyed, and sustaining that relationship is very crucial.
Your very first election, how did it happen?
Well, before I became a councilor, I’ve always been part of the political officers and have contributed immensely. Our primary assignment then was to ensure victory in our communities. It wasn’t about what we can gain; our desire was to deliver, and we enjoy that confidence that we are in charge of that community. So when democracy returned in 1999 and Action for Democracy (AD) came on board, offices were shared and everybody made their pick. I was asked what I wanted, and I said I want to be councilor. We agreed, and that was how I got the ticket. However, some Judas came up some days later and turned against the arrangement, but thank God I emerged at the end of the day.
How did you move to the next level after councilorship?
When my tenure as a councilor was coming to an end, I did a survey to test my popularity and possibility of winning election to the house of assembly. The survey came back positive and I realised people were interested in me and are ready to support me.
Consequently, at the primary election at the Airport Hotel, I emerged victorious, but not without a mild drama; there were five of us, and six delegates. I had three votes, another opponent had two while yet another had 1. But suddenly, the delegate that voted for the man that had one vote moved to the person that had two, making his vote three. There was then a tie. But Asiwaju Bola Ahmed saved the day; he noted that it was impossible for the person to change after casting his vote. That was how I won, and went ahead to win the general election. And the trend has continued till now.
You just mentioned the Jagaban, the Asiwaju now, and you are fiercely loyal to him. What is it about the man that make a lot of politicians ready to die for him?
He is a great man. He is a man that is passionate about that other people’s development. This is a man who is not interested in interfering in however you choose to handle your structure, but will always been there for you. He has a listening ear, and will never abandon loyalists. Like I said earlier, if not for him, my ticket would have gone to somebody else.
But there are those who say they don’t want godfathers and godfatherism
There are godfathers everywhere even in our households. We need it in politics when it’s positively played, and Asiwaju has been doing that.
There are godfathers and there are godfathers, but can you tell us specifically about that thing that has made Asiwaju to win elections after elections
Apart from being a strategic planner, Asiwaju is practically always available; day, night or midnight. He is easily accessible, and generous to a fault; he can give away anything. It is therefore difficult to deny such a man when he makes a request.
Is it true that Lagos has a masterplan? If yes, could you let us into this masterplan? What is the plan for Lagos as a mega city?
Yes, that is true, and I think this came up during the era of Asiwaju Tinubu and that is what others are building on. It is all about infrastructural development. Now, that we are in 2020, we are looking at 2040, and discussing Fourth Mainland Bridge and so many other things to elevate the standard of Lagos on comparison to any developed city in the world such as Paris, London among others.
Tinubu, towards achieving this, increased the revenue of Lagos to Seven billion naira from a former paltry N600 million or thereabout. Successive administrations are building on it because without funds, nothing can be achieved.
Before you became Speaker, you were a floor member. Can you tell us some of the bills you sponsored and the activities you consider memorable?
Since I came into the House in 2003, I had been Chairman, House Committee, Rural development; Chairman, House Committee, Public Accounts; Chairman, House Committee, Economic Planning and Budget before I became the Speaker.
I have lists of motions and activities including release of the 10 local government funds of Lagos State under President Olusegun Obasanjo; the bill to review the National Inland Waterway Act in 2008 which led to the establishment of Lagos State Waterway Authority; Community Development Association bill 2007; Yoruba Language Promotion and Preservation Law 2018 and many more.
What is the role of cash in politics, it seems poor people cannot go into politics?
(Deep laughter) It is the rich person that owns the world (in Yoruba). It’s very simple; you have to print posters, advertise and recruit people. You need money for campaign except we want to deceive ourselves.
Does it not put pressure on politicians when they get to power?
Now, you are in your second term as speaker, what would you say are the achievements of the House under your leadership?
Well, to consider achievements, you must first ask yourself, what are the responsibilities of the House? And I’ve mentioned one, the second one is making laws for the benefit and growth of the state, and there is no way the Executive will survive without the Legislature, considering budgetary provisions which we have to approve. Other achievements include the Kidnapping law aimed at improving security. We also introduced Neighbourhood Safety Corps, and infrastructurally, constructions are ongoing in the House of Assembly. As regards human development, we engage in trainings every time and more.
Some are of the opinion that you have not been kind to your people in Agege. How do you respond to that?
I don’t want to talk about that because one Agege is one Obasa. My people in Agege will never deny me. When you talk about infrastructural development, Agege is fast becoming another Lekki. I can’t count the number of roads that have been tarred in Agege, and not forgetting the big one, which is the ongoing Pen Cinema Bridge. Very soon, Agege will surpass Ikeja. When you talk about employment, Bob-Dee, I can’t even count the number of youths that have gained employments, same thing with empowerment, my people in Agege will talk for me.
I am familiar with African politics. I know that you are very excited about Infrastructural development and all that, but what about stomach infrastructure? I think that is what they are complaining about.
Nobody can complain. I know what I’m talking about. I cannot count the number of people that have gained employments through me in Agege, and those we’ve empowered financially. At the outbreak of COVID-19, we gave out loaves of bread on a daily basis for almost two weeks. I have eleven wards and I started with 2000 per ward, that is almost 30,000 loaves initially.
Though we reduced it to 1000 later, it was complemented with bags of rice and money. We have pictures to drive home the point. Hold election tomorrow, Insha Allah, we will win; it’s not boasting, but I’m just telling you what is in Agege, and what will happen any day any time.
All kinds of allegations are making the rounds against you including that you are just spending billions of money like rain water. What is it all about?
I’m very happy for this question. I said earlier that I was the Chairman, House Committee on Rural Development. I thank God that Dr, Kasali who was the Commissioner is still alive; Ben Akabueze who was the Commissioner for Economic Planning is still so much alive, and so are Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode who were governors then. Call any of them any day, and you will see they cannot link anything to me. I’m saying this openly so people can hear. If Obasa spends money, what is the purpose of money? Is it not for spending? But the question, How did you spend this money? Do you have budgetary provisions for the money you have spent? The answer is yes; trainings and seminars, are they not part of budgets? Festivals and others too. They alleged we use 200 and something million to print invitation, is that possible? Using 200 and something million to print invitation when the total budget for the programme is 61 million naira? So where are you going to get the balance for the 200 and something million naira they say we are using for invitation card.
Sometimes, it is so disturbing that some people you believe to be enlightened and educated could be saying something that can’t be established or substantiated, there was a provision in the budget for the programmes and many notable people attended.
They said you used the money to buy cars for yourself
That is very important, thank you. When you want to be mischievous, it is for you to compose your stories. We had 8th Assembly, we are now in 9th Assembly. In the 8th Assembly, the members were entitled to official cars but because of the issue then between Ambode and the House, the cars were delivered late, but towards the end of the 8th Assembly, we purchased the 40 cars for all the members, so the question is, do we have provisions in the budget to purchase vehicles which we did, and it followed due process. So what is the problem with that? Everybody collected their vehicles and they are still alive. Then the 9th Assembly came, and it was normal for new members in the 9th assembly to collect theirs. Some people are just being mischievous; they combine the 8th and 9th assembly, saying that we purchased this billions and that, it doesn’t make sense; the procurement office is there, you can google the website and crosscheck, and we have documents to buttress that.
In any case, the speaker cannot even sign alone because the office of the speaker can only sign 100 million and below, anything above that, it’s a no, other members of the financial committee must sign alongside.
So how are you able to get the billions that is being alleged
Where is the billion? Can you spend government money anyhow? Are the clerk, auditors and the officials stupid? Are they not going to crosscheck what you have been doing?
They alleged you are sharing it together?
Sharing what? What do you want to share? I have repeatedly challenged those who are behind this to come and prove their case. If they can trace Government money to my account, send for statutory. They talked about my wife; come and prove it. This is just blackmail and it is unpolitical. Some people have the intention of chasing out the speaker; to remove the speaker is constitutional and it is allowed, but there is a process. Come to the House and follow the process, not through blackmailing. Why is it that it was after we suspended and removed some of our brothers that the thing started?
I was going to that; there is also the allegation that you are being dictatorial and you are sacking those who are not supporting you and you are not giving them back their original position and all that?
Impeachment is democratic, is it not? Ete of our House of Representatives was removed so what is an offence in that. You know parliament is about number, and you cannot impose yourself on anybody. If the members come tomorrow and say, Obasa, this is the end of you then there is nothing I can do. We have seen it in Edo, Ekiti and some other states. When they are ready to remove the Speaker, nobody can stop them, but we must not sacrifice discipline because of sentiments of politics.
Are you willing to reconcile with them?
We have reconciled already. You know we suspended them, but we have lifted their suspensions and made them Chairmen of various Committees. What else? Why will you want to destroy the House because the decisions are not in your support? It shows you don’t love the House. The speaker was removed, he took it in good faith, the deputy speaker was removed, he took it in good faith. Now they are filing documents about. The question is “Why did we suspend and remove them?”
Is it true the party asked you to return them?
I’ve returned them.
Have you returned them to their original positions?
No! nothing like that. We have returned them and we gave them chairmanship positions
Can you be frank and tell us how powerful is your office
The speaker’s office is just like any other office. It has responsibilities and the speaker has to discharge those responsibilities, which are involve legislative, administrative, political, social and family roles. It is like a man doing all together, but as for me, I do not see myself as powerful. As a speaker, you are not the boss, the day you consider yourself as the boss, that will be the end of the speaker. You are just first among equals, anybody can become the speaker, unlike the governor who owns the cabinet and can do this or that. I can’t do that.
I have to seek collaborations and understanding in all decisions. Every decision, including purchase of those vehicles, the seminars and everything discussed at the Parliamentary meetings.
What is your relationship between you and some friends who supported you in the past? Some are even fighting against you. Why do you think they are against you?
Well, I don’t know the friends you are talking about, but I respect relationships so much. I guard relationships jealously. I will not fight against any of my friends. I still maintain cordial relationship even with past members of the House. Like I already said, the Speaker is the Speaker, and today, Obasa is the Speaker, Insha Allah.
You seem to be a very tough person much as you look gentle
I am a gentleman, I hardly speak. I don’t go out. For me, it is Home – Office, Office – Home. I don’t go out except for functions of people very close to me. When I want to take a decision, I do it passionately; that is one of the qualities of leadership. We have 40 members in the House and I can’t have all of them on my side. But peace has returned to Lagos State House of Assembly.
Acknowledgement to @Adetayo_bishop