Edward Samuel Aragbonfoh is the majority leader of the legislative arm of Ikeja Local Government Area of Lagos State. In this chat with FUNSHO AROGUNDADE, the Edo State-born politician representing Ikeja Ward D, expresses his fear on the coming 2011 elections and other issues
What gingered your interest in politics?
It is simply the zeal to serve. It is the urge to render selfless service towards ensuring the progress and development of my community. As you know that government is all about service delivery, then we need someone who is ready to render selfless service to that effect. When you look at our country now, the problem we are facing has to do with leadership. We have bad leaders and we need to bring up young crops of politicians to take over from the old breed. We need new generation of good leaders that are focused and determined to effect change in our polity as well as accountable to the people. Those are the motivational factors that spurred my interest in politics.
As a leader in your council, what would be your reaction to the general belief that the local government administration in the country is losing its relevance as people no longer feel its impact?
I beg to disagree with that notion. It is true that we are operating a three-tier system of government and the local government councils are created to bring governance down to the grassroots being the closest to the people. While I would not say of other states, in Lagos State, that is what is obtained. The local government administration in the state has impacted more on the people because almost every project you see at every nook and corner of the state is being executed by the state and the local governments. Hardly would you see any federal project in the state and when you watch the rapid transformation that is going on in the state, you will discover that it was as a result of the creation of additional councils in the state. Lagos State is peculiar and you can see the impact of the local government administration unlike in the northern part of the country, where practically nothing is happening. I did my youth corps service in Gombe State and I know that there is little or no development there. But when you talk of Lagos which is the commercial nerve centre of the country, the case is different. For example, if you look at our own old local council, Ikeja, it has been carved into three councilsâ€”two LCDAs and one local government. Take Ojodu LCDA for example, it used to be a rural settlement, but there is rapid transformation into urban area. There is good network of roads, jobs are being created and other business opportunities are boundless. If it was one local government, the rate of development would have been slow. Even in Ikeja Local Government, a lot of projects are being carried out to better the lives of the people in the area. That is why, if you look at the trend now, people are already clamouring for a larger chunk of the federal allocation to go to the councils for us to do more as the closest to the people.
What is your response to the assumption that the Lagos State Government has taken over the entire revenue that the councils would have generated internally, leaving them with almost nothing?
If you are conversant with the recent development in the state, a bill was passed into law on the internal generated revenue that is due to local governments a few weeks ago. Before then, we did not know where we stay, but now, all those areas have been spelt out and the local government councils now know where to generate their own income. The bill has been signed by the executive governor of Lagos State with clear perceptive of how each limitation is spelt out.
You talk about leaders accountable to their people, can we know about your stewardship to the people of your constituency?
As regards my stewardship, first and foremost, as a counsellor, my primary function is to ensure qualitative representation of my people and enact bye-laws that will bring development to our various wards. Although the council lawmakers are not expected to use either personal funds to execute projects, some of us have gone a little farther to do some things for our people. Personally, with the support of my able chairman, I have been able to attract development project like reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads to my wards in Ikeja. A number of drainages are also being constructed in the two communities, Anifowose and Ogunbiyi, that constituted my wards, while we have upgraded the only primary health centre in the area. In the areas of youth empowerment and education, I have been able to touch some lives. More than 15 deserving students in my constituency have been given GCE forms and during the MTN Street Soccer competition, I sponsored four teams to the tournament. The only primary school in my constituency, Anifowose Primary School, received desks and chairs, computers and electrical materials that will aid learning in the school. There are a lot of projects which have been completed, while others are in near completion stage.
How cordial is your relationship with the chairman, Wale Odunlami?
My relationship with the chairman, Wale Odunlami (FCA), as the majority leader of the House, has been very cordial. We, the lawmakers in Ikeja, are being given the opportunity to exercise our constitutional rights. The separation of power reigns supreme in our council as we embark often on our oversight functions.
What is your opinion on the burning issue of zoning that is almost tearing the country apart?
You see, there are some certain things that I believe we should have outgrown in this country and except we are still deceiving ourselves, Nigeria should be ranked among the developed countries. We should not see ourselves as a developing country just growing up. This is a great country with lots of potentials. In fact, sometimes I shed tears when I see how our leaders have failed us. The issue of zoning should have been a thing of the past. Everything should be based on merit. The issue of zoning is all politics and should be limited to those who have decided that they are zoning a position to themselves. That is their own agreement, it is not binding on the people and should not tear this country apart. Zoning will breed mediocrity. If not for zoning as being practised by some, we would not have had a president like (Umaru) Yarâ€™Adua. The problem is that a minute number of people that have formed themselves into a clique are running this country and they still want to hold on to power to dictate the future of this country. They are the proponents of zoning and would not want the best candidate to emerge. They donâ€™t have the interest of this country at heart and that is why we are calling for a revolution. Revolution in the sense that everybody should be actively involved in the Nigerian project, especially on the coming 2011 elections. We should insist on merit and shun zoning so that Nigeria can move forward and take her rightful place in the comity of nations.
The 2011 election is around the corner, do you also nurse any concern about this?
There is no fear whatsoever but all I can say is that it is now the right time for every one of us to stand out and be counted. We should be ready to fight for our right and a change in the system. People should ensure that they participate actively and know who govern them. They should be ready to vote, protect their votes and ensure that those votes count. Why I am saying this is because in the forthcoming elections, when people sit back and allow some charlatans who are not supposed to be the major players, they will dictate your future for you. For example, there is general apathy from the public during election period. There was this general idea of â€˜letâ€™s leave politics to those never-do-wells.â€™ People take politicians to be never-do-wells in the society and unserious bunch of fellows who are not educated. But now, we see new people coming up in the polity. For example, in Lagos State, we have a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in person of Babatunde Fashola is in charge and has already carved a niche for himself in public service. He has become a pride that a lot of people want to emulate and make a referral. Someone like him has encouraged other professionals to throw their hats into the rings.
How would you rate the achievement of Fashola as his tenure is gradually running to an end?
During our election, we went as far as pleading with people to come and vote and this shouldnâ€™t be so, it ought be a situation whereby the same people will hold us accountable for our actions in office. I have always told people that once you get into office through election and the votes of the people, you will know that you are accountable to them. You see, for whatever Babatunde Raji Fashola is doing today, he is not doing Lagosians any favour. It is only a contract between himself and the people of Lagos State and he is living up to that contractual agreement. The same thing applies to the people. Now, the people realise that Fashola is living up to his own side of the gentlemanâ€™s agreement to deliver qualitative service and they are now reciprocating with their support for his administration and our great party, Action Congress (AC). Fashola is aligning with the manifesto of our party and the worthy legacy that was left behind by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Government is all about continuity and when you are leaving office, you look out for someone who has focus and that is what is happening in Lagos State. The same thing should apply at the federal level. As at now, Lagos is the only state that I know is progress minded. The state has a lot of progressive leaders who want to build future leaders. It is not only Fashola that is moving Lagos forward, yes, he is there as the head steering the ship, we have others at the background. But because we work as a team in Lagos, we have a common goal and effecting the rapid transformation of the state through qualitative service delivery to the people.