HON. Lateef Rotimi Abiru is the Chief Whip of Lagos House of Assembly. He was one of those who contested for the speakership of the Assembly which eventually was won by Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa. He was later nominated as the Chief Whip.
In this interview, he told ENCOMIUM Weekly how he has adjusted to his new position and the new things he will be bringing on the table as the Chief Whip of the 8th Lagos House of Assembly.
We will like to start by congratulating you on your election as the Chief Whip of Lagos House of Assembly.
Thank you very much.
How do you feel?
I feel good. I feel great. After the loss of the former Deputy Speaker in the April 11, 2015 general elections, I saw an opening in the position of the Speaker of the House of Assembly. I thought I had what it takes to lead, if given the opportunity by my colleagues. So, I took a leap to see whether I will be accepted by my colleagues. Eventually, I ended up with the position of the Chief Whip of the House. It is actually a leap from my previous position of Deputy Whip. I believe it is a position that I can equally function very well. So, I feel good.
Would you say you were disappointed that you didn’t clinch the Speaker’s position?
I will not say I am disappointed. I feel fulfilled. I would have been disappointed if I had not taken a shot at the speakership. It will not be fair for me to say I am disappointed because I know for a start that the governor of the state is from the same East Senatorial district with me.
Though not a written convention of the party but the issue of zoning has ever played a major role in how the first three positions of the state are distributed. That is, the position of the governor, deputy governor and the speaker are spread across the three senatorial districts in the state.
So, knowing full well that the governor came from the East, I know it may be a tall order for the speaker also to emerge from the East (senatorial district).
And the fact that the Speaker has been from the same East in the last 16 years.
But I know that there is nothing wrong in trying because I see myself as one of the very best that can lead the House. I also know that it is only God Almighty that crowns people and the fact that there is nothing that happens to any human being without the knowledge of God.
So, to this end I do not feel disappointed. Rather, I feel great and fulfilled.
How easy was it for you to adjust to the reality that you cannot be the Speaker?
In all honesty, it wasn’t difficult for me at all. The way I look at it was this. I knew I am one of the very best to lead the House. I also knew that I am the only surviving principal officer but not the most ranked here. Again, there were six or seven of us that set out to become the Speaker. I knew right from the beginning that it is only one of us that is going to emerge. So, with that I had at the back of my mind that it is achievable but at the same time, I have to be reasonable with myself that I might not be the one chosen by my colleagues.
It is one thing for you to offer yourself and it is another thing for you to be accepted by your colleagues. Going by the way it went, there was need for me to appreciate God because of all the seven of us that set out to be the Speaker of the House, only three of us ended up being principal officers.
Honourable Tejuosho was not so lucky to be part of the principal officers. Hon. Oshun was not so lucky, Hon. Yishawu was not so lucky. Hon. Ogunyemi was not so lucky.
So, if God had counted me worthy to be considered as the Chief Whip by my colleagues, I have every reason to thank God. Also, the fact that the person that emerged (as Speaker) is someone I have worked closely with. We belong to the same caucus of the House. So, it was not difficult for me to adjust to the reality on ground.
Furthermore, at the time it was obvious that I was not going to get the Speakership, it was the members of the same caucus that fought for my being part of the principal officers.
I was one of the very few to congratulate Mr. Speaker-elect even before he was sworn in on Monday, June 8, 2015. I did not only congratulate him but also pledged my loyalty, commitment and total support to him. This, I still stand upon because it is not about me. It is not about Mr. Speaker but about the institution that we all have put so much into.
I wonder how the history of the House would be written without my name being mentioned. We all owe this institution a duty to sustain the legacy and even surpass the achievements of the previous Assembly. I know this is a collective thing and has to be total.
To this end, I want to congratulate my boss, Mr. Speaker, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa for his emergence as the Speaker of the House. I wish him all the very best. His heart’s desire for this Assembly will surely come to pass.
Obviously, he knows that the outgone Speaker left a very big shoe and he knows he needs the support of all of us, which he is actually getting right now. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that we shall come out even better than previous Assembly.
How will you describe your experience in the last few weeks that you have become the Chief Whip?
It’s been very challenging because being a Deputy Chief Whip is a different cup of tea from being the Chief Whip. I realized that a lot of things the Chief Whip used to do was not exposed to me. For instance, the Chief Whip is the chairman of Ethics, Protocols and Privileges. The Chief Whip also interfaces between the party and members. Dealing with members is a very difficult task because we all are equal and it has to be seen as such.
My first assignment or task was getting members particularly new members to know that not everybody can enter the chamber as it happened during the inauguration day when they brought in their families and guests into the hall. I made them realize that the chamber is only meant for members and some privileged few recognized by the House Rules and Protocol.
What new things are you bringing to the table as the Chief Whip?
We realized that we need to strengthen and improve on the image of the Assembly. We need to ensure better relationship with foreign missions, diplomatic corps, head of airport protocols and things like that. We have also realized that we need to step up some of the things that the last Assembly did that were noticed to be improved upon. I won’t say everything to the press for now. But as some of our plans unfold you will surely see. But more importantly we need to strengthen and improve on the image of the House. This has actually started. For instance, the few sittings that we have held you will agree with me that the House has actually started sitting as at when due. This is what you have noticed yourself.
That is true, the House now start sitting by 10 a.m.
Yes and everybody is punctual. We are trying to adjust to that, so that we can have more time to do other legislative business and other issues.
Would you say you are lucky to have won your constituency seat for the third time?
Yes, my brother and for this, I want to say a very big thank you to the leadership of APC at both the local and state levels, for giving me the opportunity for a third term to serve the interest of our people. It was not easy because at the primary elections, I contested with seven other aspirants. The general elections itself was another battle. For the first time, I had a serious battle with the main opposition party (PDP). In my second election into the House, I won by a margin of about 14,000 votes in 2011. But in 2015 elections, I won by merely 4,000 votes. Though substantial, it has never been that close before. This has actually taught me a lot of lessons. I realize that I need to connect more with my people, so that all our programmes will be known to our constituents.
There is so much furore about what legislators earn particularly at the National Assembly. Is it the same at the Lagos State House of Assembly too?
I don’t think so. I cannot say precisely how much the National Assembly members earn except what we read in newspapers. Even at that, I will like to defend this position a little. I am not saying that we cannot adjust but you will agree with me that our democracy is an evolving democracy. Because of the level of poverty in this part of the world, legislators are usually faced with so much challenges and demand from our constituents.
Sometimes, I see people draw inferences. I see people make comparative analysis of how much a British lawmaker and Nigerian lawmaker earn. And I say is a different thing altogether. I am sure that the constituents of members of British parliament would not have to bother about non-availability of light, of water, good road network and the likes because they are in a developed economy. Of course, they may have paid for all these things but because they are available has a multiplier effect on the growth of their economy.
I wonder if an English man will ever meet his member of parliament that he’s been thrown out of his house and he needs to rent another apartment. I wonder if a British boy seeking admission into the university will ever go and meet his legislator that he should pay his school fees because all of these things have been provided for by the government.
But here (Nigeria), it is a different thing altogether. As long as these people will remain those that will determine who they will vote for, it behoves on us to at least give a listening ear and to at least, give and support their cause.
– TOLANI ABATTI