Rt Hon Mathew kolawole is the current speaker Kogi State House of Assembly. Recently he interacted with correspondents of National dailies in the state. Our correspondent Ibrahim Obansa brings the excerpts
The House in 2017 decided on some bills , some motions were also raised on the floor of the House and resolutions was passed. Among the bills passed last year was that of the criminal administration of justice which was passed by the House and assented to by the governor of the state, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. The bill is significant to the country and it has been domesticated in Kogi state to quickened the process of criminal justice .
Also in 2017 we have six bills that had passed through public hearing, some of the bills has something to do with traffic law, hotel and tourism, energy, water and pension reform. As soon as we return from recess we will attend to the bills by passing them into law.
On the why the state house of assembly had to rush the passage of the 2018 appropriation bill
We intend to pass the budget in the month of March after we return from recess by February 28th. But the need as shown by the executive arm of the government to commence the implementation of the budget compelled members of the assembly to quickly returned to the House to attend to the budget defence by Ministries, Department and Agencies.
Apparently, when we take a look at the 2018 appropriation bill , we discovered that some areas in the budget need to be jacked up. Actually the 2018 budget as presented to the House on December 21st, 2017 was slightly above N147 billion , but during budget defence we have to increase it to over N151 billion for obvious reasons.
For instance, the sum of N100 million was approrpiated to Kogi state university for accreditation exercise and during the defence of the budget the management of the institution complained vehemently that the sum allocated to the university will not be enough for the accreditation and having view the importance of accreditation of courses to the institution being the only state University, we don’t have any option than to jack it up to N500 million.
Similar consideration was extended to college of nursing Obangede where we also increased their budget for the purpose of accreditation. The House also consider and increased the sum allocated for road construction from Okengwe to Ayere due to some bridge that are involved.
So we have passed the 2018 appropriation bill and the state governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello has assented to the budget which is very ready for implementation.
There is the rumour of the state government plan to sell some assets of the government to finance the 2018 budget , what is the position of Kogi State House of Assembly?
I am just hearing this for the first time and there is no way I can believe what is being posted on social media. Again the House has not receive any letter from the executive arm of government of the state to that effect and if the rumour is true definitely the House will be communicated, but for now it is still a rumour.
What is the position of the House on the contentious local government autonomy?
Yes, the alteration bill emanated from the national assembly and we have fifteen alteration bills sent to Kogi state house of assembly. In fact, at the Speaker’s conference we have looked into the bill critically and discovered that one of the contentious among the fifteen items was that of the local government autonomy .
I am a product of local government because the votes that took me to the assembly came from the local government. I represent Kabba/Bunu state constituency and I want the local government to enjoy autonomy, but in a situation where we want to pass a law and we discovered that there is a petition , we have to refer the bill to public hearing and that is exactly what we have done , but some people see our action as throwing away the bill which is not true.
As I have said , the NUT sent a petition demanding that they should be separated from the local government autonomy, their grouse was that the local government Chairmen do not pay their salaries and allowances as at when due. The NUT also demanded that their pay should come directly from the federal account .
Even at the Speaker’s conference we resolved that the bill should not be pass until the contentious issues from the petition are solved and the only way it can be solved is by referring the autonomy issue to public hearing where the NULGE, NUT, Civil Society Organizations and the general public will sit down and discuss the issue and the petitioner has to convince us why they don’t want to be with the local government. So as soon as we return from the recess the public hearing will commence.
It was alleged that the state government took a loan of N10 billion without the approval of the House what is your take ?
The loan was taken by the state government through a consultant which does not require our approval. The aim of the loan was to augment what the government had to pay the backlog of unpaid salaries of civil servants in the state.
I was part of the committee to mediate between the Organised Labour in the state and the state government before the Labour call off their strike and part of the resolutions during our joint meeting was that government should pay the backlog of salaries it owed the workers in the state and what the government needed to pay the salaries was N16 billion.
But the state government then only had N6 billion from Paris Club refund and to be able to pay the salaries, government have to quickly source for funds to pay the salaries before Christmas and new year. So a consultant was contacted and the state government borrowed the sum of N10 billion.
Before the repayment the executive will have to write to us for the regularisation of the loan , that is when we will come in because the fund is a loan not grant . We thank God today that the noise about the non payment of salaries have died down in the state. I have to mention it categorically without mincing words that Kogi state is among the few states in the country that pay minimum wage as well as relativity to its workers which make the salaries and wages very high in the state.
There is a general outcry over the plan of establishment of cattle colony in the state, what is the position of the state assembly?
In Kogi state the issue of cattle colony has been politicized to distract and discourage the good intension of the government on the best way to solve the herdsmen and farmers impasse.
In fact cattle colony is a policy of the federal government to find a lasting solution to the incessant crises between the Fulani herdsmen and farmers. The federal government only urged the state government to key into it for the realization of the policy.
Obviously , the land Act has been existing for long in this country and the Act empowered the state governors to either approve or revoke any land as the case may be. The claim that the colony was targeted at taking people’s land is not true and the House of Assembly has no power to revoke the law.
The Fulanis and our parents have been living and doing businesses together without any crises. So if there is problem today I believe that it is better to solve the problem through dialogue which Governor Yahaya Bello has been preaching at many fora so that people of the state can live harmoniously in peace.
I am optimistic that the steps taken so far by the governor for the establishment of ranches will go a long way to solve the problem and will also boost the economy of the state.
The APC in the state in the last two years has been enmeshed in crises, what effort is the members of the party in the assembly doing to tackle the crises?
It is highly unfortunate that the crises in Kogi chapter of APC has lingered till now. The crises is within the executive of the party and I believe that whatever has a beginning must also have an end.
Sadly, even when some stakeholders were making effort to wade into the crises , the utterances of some of the executive members of the party in Kogi state does not help matters.
On our part as members of the party and with the governor as the leader of the party in the state , every problems within the party will be resolve so that the party remain strong to face the 2019 elections.