HONOURABLE Kolawole Taiwo, a.k.a HKT, is the deputy speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly and the highest ranking member of the legislative assembly. He lost in the Saturday, April 11, 2015 House of Assembly election, which would have enabled him serve his people (Ajeromi/Ifelodun Constituency II) for the fifth time and probably become the Speaker of the 8th Assembly).
Honourable Taiwo, an amiable personality and very accessible public officer with no airs around him, told ENCOMIUM Weekly in this exclusive interview why he lost, what he will miss in the assembly and his pain that he could not reach the zenith of his legislative career that is becoming Speaker.
We really want to express our sympathy on your loss at the last House of Assembly election?
Thank you but you don’t need to sympathise with me. I don’t feel it anymore.
Have you lost any election before?
Yes, that was in 1996. That was even more painful because I was supposed to run for the chairmanship of the council, all of a sudden, somebody else was brought in to run as chairman and I was asked to run as Vice Chairman. Our supporters didn’t like that and so we lost. It was painful because that was my first experience and to go home was very difficult because of my mom.
By the time I got home, I thought she (my mother) would have gone to bed but she waited for me outside. Immediately she saw me, she said, ‘My son, don’t worry. They didn’t allow you to win, go into your room and sleep, nobody will drive you out of that place.’
Therefore, this one, I wasn’t even thinking about her because I knew she would take it very calmly even though she is very old now. She took it perfectly. She asked me to come and when I got there, she prayed for me. She told me to be happy and I am happy.
What about your wife, how did she take it?
My wife was with me when we were waiting for the result of the last ward. Just only one ward and the ward is outside my own local government. It is in Ajeromi Local Government Area, that is Ward B6. When I got wind of the outcome of election there and I was told we were losing by 3,400 votes, I told my wife this is reality. The person that gave me this information was there at the collation centre. So, take the children and go home. I will come in the morning to hold meeting with the family. She left me. When it was just 12 midnight, I also left.
The collation centre?
No, not the collation centre. It was our operational base. Before the results from Ajeromi LG came, I was leading by 1,700 votes. When that one now came, it meant we were losing by 1,700 votes.
Did you suspect any foul play?
I always tell people there is no election that is free and fair. The freeness and fairness of election depends on your own agents. If my agents did not report any foul play, I cannot cook up anyone. Once I was told this was what was happening, I accepted it.
In that particular ward we lost the presidential election by 6,000 votes. For three days, within that two weeks, I met with Ohaneze and other groups to convince them to vote for me and our governorship candidate, Ambode and they gave me their word. In my own group, we have the Igbo wing, we have the South-South wing. We called them and they said they were going to do extra work for me. But at the end of the day, we lost by 3,400 votes, which means there is a gap of 2,600 votes from previous election. But it was not enough for us to claim victory.
Does this mean you don’t intend to go to election tribunal to challenge the result?
I have won election there four times, nobody took me to tribunal. As I said, none of our agents reported any malpractice. Two, I cannot now proceed to tribunal when I have never been taken to tribunal. I am not a first timer. I was going for the fifth time. If the people now say that it’s enough, I will leave them. I know we will bounce back. I know the Easterners that voted the way they did later saw reasons why they should not vote the way they did. We will bounce back. We will reorganize our party. We will come on stronger. Tomorrow will be better than today.
The only painful aspect of the whole thing is the loss will not allow me to become the number one person (Speaker) here (House of Assembly). The people of my constituency were already apprehensive.
I give thanks and adoration to God. I thank God for sparing my life this far. For giving me the opportunity to serve my people this far. I thank all of them. I don’t have any grudge against anybody. I love everybody, they have been voting for me before now.
Aside the issue of ethnic coloration of your loss, some people are wont to say your going for the fifth time could also be responsible for your loss because some people even within your party (APC) may not like that.
There is no way you will have 100 per cent support on any issue. If my people didn’t like my going back for the fifth time they wouldn’t have voted for me in my local government area. We won in my local government area. The ward that we lost was from outside my local government area.
If you think that was the reason I lost, am I the only candidate that lost the election? What about Ladi (from Constituency 1) that was contesting just for the second time? What about our House of Representatives candidate that was also coming just for the second time? If you look at the difference in number of votes my own is the smallest. I lost by 1,700 votes. Our House of Representatives candidate lost with about 17,000 votes. I don’t want to give any excuse for my loss. I see God being behind all of these. I give Him thanks and adoration.
Did you call the winner to congratulate him?
I didn’t even have his number. And nobody usually call me after winning election in the past, so I am not used to it.
Is there any possibility that you will still contest for the same seat again?
For now, I am looking forward to living a normal life. In the last 16 years, I have led abnormal life. That is a long time. My name has been on the street for too long. This last one was because I thought I will be able to get to the zenith of my legislative career. If not for that, I wouldn’t have contested for the House of Assembly seat.
Does getting to the zenith of your legislative career mean wanting to become the next Speaker?
I don’t think there is any other position I could occupy here that will be challenging other than that. I have been Majority Leader, I have been Deputy Speaker. That is the only position I have never occupied. As the Majority Leader, I led the House as the engine room for four years.
I have also been the Deputy Speaker for almost four years now. I have grown up in knowledge of legislative issues in leaps and bounds. I see myself good enough to occupy the Speaker seat. But like they say, man proposes, God disposes. I don’t blame God for not being disposed to my proposal.
What if I won the election and I was made the Speaker but few months later I was impeached. That will be a dent on my track record. I have a track record here. I have served as chairman of several committees Hotel and Tourism, House Services, Science and Technology, Education Committee, Associate Chairman on Budget, Acting Chairman Environment all those beautiful committees.
After all these, I became the Majority Leader. Not many people believed I could make it as a majority leader but at the end of the day, people started praising me that is the liberating period of the House. That was when we were given financial autonomy that has eluded most of the House of Assemblies up till today. Again, I became Deputy Speaker, I showed people how to deputise. You must not allow yourself to be seen. You must not get beyond the shadow of the Speaker. You must not do anything that will make the Speaker uneasy. That is what I did for four years. You don’t need to run down your principal. You do not need to behave as if you are the number two Speaker. There is no number two speaker. The deputy speaker is not the second speaker. No. Which is what I have done. I thank God, I give Him all the glory and adoration. I really appreciate it. He has done great things in my life. I am from Ajegunle. For an Ajegunle guy to rise to the Majority Leader then the Deputy Speaker is a great thing.
Would you say you miss not being Speaker?
No. I don’t. sincerely, since that Saturday, April 11, 2015, I don’t ever think of it. The Speaker was shocked. He called and said HKT, I love your courage, you are not showing any sign of disappointment. I said why I should I be disappointed when the same people have done great things in my life. I see the whole thing as my destiny.
Now that it is not possible for you to become the next Speaker, who among your colleagues do you think should be the next Speaker?
I wouldn’t want to discuss that now. We have been trying to assist. We have been talking to people. Some of them who are interested have been talking to me that I should use my words of experience to assist them. I have also been talking to the elders of the house. The elders of the house are different. Don’t forget there are principal officers also elders of the party too. We will look at what the party elders want too. We will talk to some of our leaders because it will not augur well for us to leave this House in disarray. We don’t want anything that will lower the standard we have already set in this House.
I know one of them will be the new Speaker and I am looking forward to meeting the new Speaker.
Is there a law that says if you are a new member you cannot vie for the Speakership?
Yes, you must be someone who has the cognate experience. If you are a new member, you cannot aspire to be Speaker.
What about a member who has once been a member and after some years came back? Can he contest for the Speakership?
That one will be very difficult. Nothing is impossible but that will be very difficult because the members you are coming to meet now are not the same you met when you first came as a member of the House. They will see you as an outsider. It all depends, the person certainly needs to meet them (members), talk to them and allow them to know him.
16 years in the House of Assembly, when would you say was your happiest moment?
I am a jolly good fellow. I am always happy because every time I learn and I meet new people. I am always happy.
We are asking about your happiest moment?
The day I was made majority leader and later the deputy speaker. Those were the highest points of my stay here. I thank God.
What about your saddest moment?
I have one or two. When people said a lot of negative things about me. When I hear such negative comments I feel sad. Am I even sad? No, I will say I was disappointed.
Even this election (the one he lost), I am not sad about it. I am only disappointed. I am disappointed because I was not allowed to get to the pinnacle to my legislative career.
A lot of the legislative staff and aides are sad because of your loss.
They have been visiting me. Some of them in tears.
You seem to be very close to a lot of them?
I don’t know o, maybe because I am easily approachable. I have a listening ear even though I may not grant your request. I thank them all. I really appreciate their love for me. I was shocked the way they took my loss. Once again, I thank them.
What will you miss in the House?
My office which became my second home. I don’t go to parties, I don’t go clubbing, I don’t do all those things. I am always in my office. That was why you would meet me in my office around 10 p.m or 11 p.m. I will miss my office but I have started putting up an office for myself somewhere else.
What are you likely to do next now that you are not coming back to the House?
I am still a politician. My party may give me one responsibility or the other where I can contribute my experience. But if they (party) don’t call me, I will go back to my farm, I am a farmer.
Is it something you have been doing before or you just want to start?
I have been doing it. That is the only business public officers are allowed to do while in office. I have farms all around. I have palm tree farm in Osogbo, Osun State. I produce garri (cassava) in Ibadan, Oyo State and I have a livestock farm in Badagry.
Now that you are not coming back to the House, are you looking forward to the proposed Speaker/Deputy Speaker pension?
No. Sincerely I am not looking forward to anything from the House. But that thing (the pension issue) did not emanate from the House. It emanated from the National Assembly as part of the constitutional amendment which most of the House of Assemblies supported.
The constitutional amendment did not specify what is due to Speaker or Deputy Speaker of a state. It was put under concurrent legislative list. This allows each state to fix its own pension according to its financial capability. That is why we agreed to do it in the House. I was not even thinking of going then. I thought I was going to win the election.
– TOLANI ABATTI