Honourable Illiasu Ibrahim, a member of the Kwara State House of Assembly representing Ipaye/Molete/Oloru constituency, has continued to weather the storm in his quest to offer democracy dividends to his constituents. In this interview with our correspondent in Ilorin, Olanrewaju Lawal, the former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, speaks on the secret behind his influence in his constituency and other national issues: Excerpts.:
How far have you been able to address challenges and problems facing the people of your constituency?
My people were facing a lot of challenges at the initial stage before this current democracy. In 1988, when I started involving in Kwara politics, in Oloru, my home town, there was no electricity despite the fact that Shao which is about nine kilometers from my town had got electricity many years back. The dam constructed in 1980 was completely broken down. I wrote a memorandum through the state government to Bi-water Company to assist us and it was done. Since then, we have been enjoying regular water supply. As for electricity, Shao, a town closer to us had its electricity in 1979-80. I approached the state government when I learnt that former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) was visiting Kwara State in 1990, I wrote a memorandum and forwarded it to the Government House.
The memorandum which enumerated what my people needed and our plight was read by Gen. Babangida while he was addressing us. I later made the photocopy of the speech and I wrote another memorandum to then Minister of Power, Nura Imam, through our Military Administrator, Alwali Jaji-Kazeem. In 1993, the electrification project of my town started and in 1997, we had electricity in Oloru. Today, more than 30 communities have benefited from this electricity in my constituency. We are happy that there are many basic amenities on ground. But what makes me sad today is that since I was elected to the Kwara State House of Assembly, I have not been able to see my State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfattah Ahmed. I have a project now designed for my community which is tarring of township roads. It has been re-appearing in annual budgets of the state for the past five years now; but unfortunately, it has never seen the light of the day. Every year, the House approves N100 million or N120 million for that purpose, but at the end of the day, our hope would vanish.
There is another bridge that annually cuts off my community and Jeunkanun community during the rainy season. If we approach local government, they would tell us that there is no money to implement that project. Whenever I complain before my colleagues, they would tell me not to complain again because the Kwara State University is sited in my constituency. I am happy that the university is in my local government, but the tuition fees of that university is N100,000.00; tell me how many of my people could afford this money to send their children to this university? They can’t even afford N1,000.00 primary school charges. My people are employed as messengers, labourers, cleaners and vigilante; while other areas have their people as administrative and management staff. So, in what way have we benefited? All we are asking for from the state government is to make our roads motorable. Each time I asked the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works about the Oloru road, he would tell me that it has been approved but no cash backing.
What is your reaction to the defection of G-5 governors to APC?
Before, they were G-7 and now we learnt that they are G-5. But only one person would be president at a time. Let me tell you, the crisis in PDP was caused by Bukola Saraki, because he wants to contest for president in 2015. This is somebody who ruled Kwara State for eight years and allegedly sold off all our parastatals. We did not like Bukola Saraki right from the beginning. It was Baba Saraki we loved and we are trying to transfer that love to him. When late Governor Muhammed Lawal took ANPP from late Dr. Olusola Saraki, I was the one that prepared PDP grounds for Baba Saraki. If I did not do that, would Bukola be able to be Governor of Kwara State? Go and ask him, he knew what I am saying and his God knows this. So, I give these G-5 few months now, they would become nothing and be as useless as church rats. The real politicians in PDP are at the grassroots. Go and write it down, PDP will rule this state again.
You were suspended by the state House of Assembly for championing a struggle against alleged corruption. What is the latest development?
The whole issue started on May 17, 2012. I was away to perform pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. A colleague called me and said “things have gotten rotten in the House.” I made enquiries and she told me that they had concluded arrangements to impeach the Speaker. As a Chief Whip, I felt concerned, because members would think that all principal officers were party to what the Speaker did. When I returned from the holy land, I went to greet the Speaker and narrated what happened to him while I was away and he thanked me for always advising him on different issues.
I told him that when Hon. Bio Ibrahim was the Speaker, he always called all members and informed us about the total sum of money the state government allocated to the House; how the House would spend it and the balance. I told him his predecessor, Hon. Babatunde Mohammed also followed the same path. But the Speaker did not follow these paths. The first blunder he committed was selection of standing committees without consultations with principal officers. He just distributed papers which bore the names of the committee members and their executives. I challenged him that he did not have the powers to do that, but he told me and others that he had executive powers to do that. When he checked the House rules, he could not get the portion where he had such powers.
I told him that this was parliament which is different from State Executive Council where the head was Commissioner and had powers to do anything. All members must deliberate on issues and reach agreement collectively as against only one person dictating to others. When Dr. Bukola Saraki came around, the issue was raised and he advised Atunwa to always carry others along.
The Speaker also denied secretaries of House committees their sitting allowances. I plead with the Speaker on the need to reason and approve the allowances and he later called the Director PFS and approved their entitlements. The Speaker, despite my honest and sincere advice to him, went ahead to award contract of cleaning the House Assembly complex to a firm with the sum of N18 million without the knowledge of other principal officers and members of the House.
He signed the agreement all alone. Meanwhile, somebody had sent in N2.5 million quotation which he didn’t approve. He went ahead to award the contract to the former. He also went ahead to award another contract to the tune of N33.88 million. I have in my file all the drafts he used. That is another offence. Now, the big trouble started when we were to go to Malaysia. Before members of the House knew what was happening, the Speaker had bought our flight tickets. When he informed us about the trip, I blamed him for not demanding for the file used by his predecessors. I told him that, all members were supposed to be part and parcel of the decision making instead of him alone making such decision. I asked him how much the State Government approved for the trip. How much was our Basic Travelling Allowance (BTA) for 12 nights? My investigations revealed that the Speaker cut down our 12 days stay in Malaysia to eight nights instead of increasing it to 15 nights.
If someone wants to travel to Malaysia, a business ticket is about N1.2 million, while economy class is about N300,000.00. But our Speaker bought N1.2 million business ticket for all of us telling us that he wanted us to be comfortable. In the past, I told him, if we were going to such a foreign trip on official assignment, his predecessors would give us our money and we used to go and buy economy tickets for ourselves and the remaining balance shall be used to buy things for the people of our constituency. I asked him that when he told us that he wanted us to be comfortable; would our people at our constituencies be comfortable too? I told him when we returned from the trip that, I would demand for the details of the trip from him.
When we returned, I discovered that there was difference of N900,000.00 on 24 members. If I had that money, I would be able to take care of my people at my constituency. In Malaysia, the Speaker booked for $140 per night five-star hotel for us while there were five-star hotels that cost $20 or $40 per night. Just few months after he assumed as a legislator, the Speaker contested for chairmanship of the Nigerian Speakers’ Forum even when he knew he was a new comer. He committed not less than N200 million into the campaign and, at the end of the day, he failed.
When we returned from our trip, I discovered that N135 million was approved by the state government. For our trip to USA in 2008, led by the former Speaker, Hon/ Bio Ibrahim who was also a former Minister of Sports and Transport, N80 million was approved and out of this money, each member got not less than N2.5 million. We were able to take care of our people in our various constituencies. But with N135 million now, no member benefited up to N1million.
Therefore, I wrote an eight-point petition and forwarded it to the Speaker to give explanations. In fact, the chairman of the panel that investigated the matter told me that Atunwa, whom I alleged of misappropriation of House funds, ought to have been suspended but that unfortunately instead, the petitioner was suspended. Hon. Kamal Fagbemi, the chairman of Ethnics and Privileges Committee who investigated the matter came to meet me in my legislative quarters after Kwara South caucus meeting. He explained the resolution of the caucus that I should be persuaded to withdraw my petition. But Fagbemi told me that, all members knew that I was on the right path and should continue.
I swear to God who made me, he was here in my house. Hon. Fagbemi also went through the petition again and we assessed it. Hon. Fatai Bakini also read it and commended me. I later discovered that my colleagues whom I was fighting their course had betrayed me. Bukola Saraki told them to suspend me and all of them did that even when the House rules do not give them such powers? But I thank God that I am alive today. My suspension was a good thing for me. I was able to travel abroad and in the process treated myself. I came back healthier and regained my strength. When I resumed on 17th of August, 2012, I was isolated for ten months until May 2013/ There was no microphone on my seat; I could not contribute to issues on the floor of the House and when they asked me to go to my normal seat, I thank God. I was made a member of the Committee on Health and Environment. My five months’ salary is still with them. They have not paid me till now.