Elizabeth Ativie, the newly elected Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly spoke to some journalists on why they moved against the former speaker and other issues. TITUS AKHIGBE was there. Excerpts:
What necessitated the action that brought you in as speaker?
The former speaker, like I said in the chambers, was very corrupt. His high handedness in managing his colleagues… We’re all equals, he is just one among equals. We all contested for election and came to the house together. We also elected him to be our speaker. But to the extent that the majority leader, who is the leader of everybody in the house, including the speaker, does not know anything about the finances of the house.
What comes in and what goes out of the house he doesn’t know, and that is not right. And all the resources that come to the house are stipulated; how it should be used in the house. He came up with his own ideas and he just moved everything. Members were not being taken care of properly. To the extent that, you can even observe that members were living like paupers. I don’t want to go into his reckless spending. Almost one year in office, members cannot even feed properly.
The most annoying one is each time members complain that the POC (Principal Officers of the Council), they’re supposed to take care of members; they are given the responsibility of liaising, doing all the letters to the executive…because we don’t have autonomy, whatever approvals, they bring them to the house. So, we left that for them to do that’s why they’re elected. So, they failed because those resources are being diverted for personal use and it is not used for what it’s meant for.
The most painful thing was that when we asked him, (deposed speaker), he told us that it was the chief executive that was not releasing it and now ignited us to be fighting the chief executive and that led to almost three months of war between us and the chief executive. But the chief executive one day told the leaders of the party that he’s going to expose these things. It’s enough.
The fight is enough. Then he called a meeting of honourable members and he was asking us what are the issues? And we were saying our money has not been released. He said okay out 14 items, he has paid and released 12. He started enumerating the figures to members’ hearing. We have heard that kind of rumour before but when asked he (former speaker) will deny. That’s why people wonder why do you have to wait for almost one year because we believe whatever he told us until the man opened up and he (former speaker) did not deny it, he did not argue with the man. That was where members came back and said, “ha, this must stop.”
Otherwise… One year is gone now. We just have 2016, 2017 and 2018 we’re preparing for another election. So, when will you be able to do something in your constituency that you can use to campaign. Now, we’re going for governorship election. We cannot even go home to talk to our people because those things we have done that brought us back that our people saw that made our people vote for us to come back, we cannot do one-tenth of those things.
So, what has happened?
Members started going into papers, civil servants were bringing them out and it became very clear. Some members said, no, they can’t lead us again. Those people that were fingered, that is the speaker and his deputy, they said they have to go. We now did a little adjustment.
Apart from that you also know that our level of productivity has gone down as a house. When the head is rotten, what do you expect from the rest part of the body? This new set of lawmakers are educated. Many of them are widely travelled. Some of them are former local government councils chairmen. They are not babies, you cannot cheat them. Some of them are activists. The moment that cheating was established anger flared. In the process of trying to take care of this anger more revelations came every day. Another revelation: yesterday a certain amount of money was paid into his personal account.
That was why I announced that we’re setting up a committee. We actually set up a committee to look at our finances from June last year to May this year because every day, new revelations are coming out. In fact, I just told some people that I won’t start spending any money there until proper auditing is done then the line is drawn, everyone knows where I am starting from.
I don’t want to be part of that mess. I have come a long way. My integrity, my personality and all that I have achieved I have achieved in this state as a former youth leader in this state; former youth leader at Ondo APC knocks AAAU Management over imposition of reparation fee Polthe federal level; leader of women and youths, I have to sustain that integrity that I have built over the years.
I have just told my aide now that we’re going to write on Monday to the chief auditor to send us an auditor to come and audit the account of the establishment so that after this I will now have my own clean slate. At the end of my tenure let people come and audit me too. We’re going to bring sanity to the house. Of course, if you’ve been entering that chambers you will see that in recent times when we’re sitting, some hoodlums will be at the gallery. That has not been part of our business. It’s responsible people that come to the gallery and watch their legislators talking about their issues. But this time what you see is hoodlums.
Why are you afraid?
Right from day one when he started he has been bringing these hoodlums. Why are you afraid that you are going to be removed if your hands are clean, if you believe in what you are doing or you have the calling of what you’re doing? Why are you afraid? Right from the day he started, hoodlums all over the whole place you’ll be walking at the corridor you’ll see all sorts of boys, all sorts of human beings and we don’t have such people. Have you not noticed it? His press secretary was on a local radio station this morning claiming that his principal is still in charge.
Have you taken over the office fully now?
Yes, we have been working now. Today, we had some familiarization visit to the commissioner of police, the DSS, and we’ve frozen the account. We’re working now. It’s not radio matter.Were you not there yesterday?
Have you retrieved the assembly properties that are with the former speaker?
You know there are processes to that. We have to follow due process. We’ve asked the clerk to write to him to deliver those things. Even the mace. He took the mace away. We have also asked the chief whip to go and collect the mace. The talk in town is that the change in leadership in the house is because of the perceived fight between the governor and his deputy. Is this true? No, far from that.
We have no business with what is happening in the executive We’re all politicians from our various constituencies. We have leaders. We have our constituencies mindsets. You cannot go against your constituencies mindsets. It is a cheap blackmail. I read in one of the papers yesterday that we were made to go and do that so that we can impeach the deputy governor. Far from the truth. He is still the one that is getting people to write these things so that there will be diversionary therapy. (General laughter).
He wants to divert us. You know, while we have not made all these things public we have already set up a committee of five persons headed by Honorable Emmanuel Agbaje, who is a seasoned accountant. They are going to get us results. Like I said in my speech, if he is found wanting he would be prosecuted. But if he is not found wanting we’ll recall him from suspension let him also feel what other members have been feeling (General laughter).