I don’t see the Lagos Speaker Obasa as a colleague, he is our father - Hon. Desmond Elliot - Paul Ukpabio's Blog


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Wednesday, 22 July 2020

I don’t see the Lagos Speaker Obasa as a colleague, he is our father - Hon. Desmond Elliot

Star actor turn politician Desmond Elliot took time off after attending plenary session at the Lagos State House of Assembly and attending to the needs of his constituency with regards to Covid-19 palliative sharing, to speak on the explosive controversies that have bedeviled the House in recent times. He spoke to Paul Ukpabio.

Recently some members of the House were suspended, what in your view actually took place?

According to what the Rt Honourable Speaker said and what the House said, it was insubordination. Obviously there must have been warnings. This is an institution that strictly adheres to rules. I will not say because I am an actor so when I get here I can do as I like. As a matter of fact, though it wasn’t by way of mis-behaviour but I mis-stepped. I was called to order and I even had to face a panel of investigation. That was in the 8th Assembly. Some of my colleagues and I went through that. And I had to re-trace my steps and fall in line. The truth is if you are in an institution, you must abide by the rules. Here we have standing orders and rules and we all abide by it.

Some of the suspended members said that speaker is high handed, what is his leadership style?

(Chuckles) I have never seen anyone who has shown more grace and professionalism than Rt Honourable Dr Obasa and I am not saying this because I need to curry favour from him. I don’t have to. But this is a man as we speak; he was here on Monday moving from one office to another. So when you say high handedness, arrogance and all those things that I keep hearing, I keep wondering. But don’t forget that he is human as well. But I also wonder why a colleague should complain because we all know and feel the overwhelming pressures of the nature of our work. But not only pressures from fellow colleagues, but pressure from the state, from your constituency, everything on you! So management skills are important. And the Speaker has able to display that management skills. In the 8th Assembly, he handled 40 members. And he is on it too with this 9th Assembly. I have stood up many times on the floor of the Assembly to say that members have to adjust, no one is perfect.  To my mind, I believe that the Rt. Honourable Speaker is just. I don’t buy the idea that he is high handedness or arrogant.

According to an online media, the speaker was alleged to be using his company for contracts are you aware of this?

Oh yes I am aware of the accusation, it is online. We read it on a weekend and by the following Monday, the Rt Honourable Speaker at Plenary put up a challenge, ‘you accuse me of this and that, but i don’t have all you have mentioned.’ He queried why the reporter did not do his investigations properly. And why the said investigative reporter did not speak to him, ‘to get my side of the story.’ The reporter didn’t do that. When I read it, I noticed that it was one sided because the reporter did not even mention that he tried to reach the speaker. I have also said it on the floor of the house that Mr. Speaker, I am not close to you unfortunately, but one thing I love that you stand for is integrity.

The Rt Hon Speaker tells us all that, whatever we do, we are not doing it for ourselves that we are representing an institution. I am not close to him but at such times I just sit and watch him. And I ask why he is always emphasizing the institution and he said because one day he will leave and we are the ones that make up the institution. So if we leave the institution stained, it is going to bring down the integrity of the institution. Lagos state takes pride in operating above the common standards of excellence and what are the common standards, it is justice, equity and integrity. I have stood on the floor of that House many times and called that man, a man of integrity before all these things started. Why would anyone want to dent his image? The Speaker threw a challenge, he said ‘if you think it is my company, then prove it!’

Weeks have passed without prove so what do you think?

I think that, these has all been ploys to destabilize the house. This is not the first time that members have had issues but nobody heard anything. I once faced a panel chaired by Hon Abiru, Hon Funmilayo Tejuoso, Hon Jimoh and one other Honourable who investigated me. I did my remorseful thing quietly. Honourable Olowo also went through all that no one heard about it. So why is it now that four of my colleagues are suspended that we are now seeing all these noise. Definitely something doesn’t sound okay. Why didn’t all these come out in the 8th Assembly, why is it just coming out now?

Would you say that the Lagos House of Assembly is independent of the executive?

We are totally independent of the executive, but don’t forget, it is not a conflictual relationship. You heard what Hon Femi Gbajabiamila said; he said that ‘because I am in the legislature doesn’t mean that I must fight with the executive.’  It’s just that whatever the executive wants to do must be appropriated by us in the disbursement of the funds. Even in making of regulations, it is subjected to approval by the House of Assembly. You don’t wash your linen in public even in your house! The Lagos House we are is bigger than us. We are sitting in offices that are larger than our persons.  That is why we have principal officers, that is why we have leaders, that is why we have caucus leaders and then we have the Speaker, so all these are there for conflict resolutions. So if I sit here and tell you there are no issues amongst ourselves, I will be lying.

Is it possible or right for all the members of the House to be comfortable with the Speaker all the time?

Of course not! How many people signed the suspension? Just 27, so that tells you definitely no.

Part of your Covid-19 palliatives to your constituency became controversial, have you been able to resolve it?

Oh that, I was not upset with the criticism but the fact that the story was not fully reported. I gave bags of rice, bags of beans bags of gari, packets of noodles, cartons of noodles but that was not reported instead, an initiative which I had stated earlier was makeshift and for the moment, and temporary so that people can easily wash their hands as they go about, was blown out of place. However, as at Monday, I changed the makeshift project to a standard one where people can wear facemask, wash hands and maintain social distancing, it is a work in progress.

What do you think of the Lagos Speaker?

This is someone that started his political sojourn from I believe before 1999 but came in as Councilor in 1999 and from there he came into the House of Assembly in 2003. He has served as House Committee Chairman on Lands and Housing; he has served 6 years as public account local. One of the juiciest committees is what is called public accounts local. And in those 6 years no chairman has spoken ill of him. He even uses it as his reference at parliamentary. He has also been chairman of appropriation and economic planning. How juicy can it get! So I can’t doubt the Speaker’s integrity.

Tell us about the immediate challenges you faced when you got into the Lagos House of Assembly and how you overcame them?

You see in the House, nobody sits you down and tell you A is A, B is B and C is C. Nobody does that. You learn from your mistakes and adjust. The only thing is that you are guided through on how to be a law maker, not the rudiments, you learn by yourself. So that was a bit of a challenge for me. But I have learnt the ropes. I am still learning still. It can only get better.

Let’s talk about politics generally. You are in it now. Are you hoping to go further having seen that it could be a bit rough here and there?

(Laughs) It is not just a bit rough here and there, it is rough! Politics is rough but it gives a sense of fulfillment to you as a person who has aspired. And I will tell you why. If you sleep 6 hours a day you are not ready for politics because in your head you are always thinking how do I solve these peoples problem, how do I represent them better. How do I succeed to do this, how do I get that? So you must have a team, people that you work it. It is huge. I hardly sleep and I am happy that what is in my head is not which club do I go to, how am I going to paint the town red, but how I’m I going to solve problems, how do I give people jobs, oh they need borehole here, and so on. It is about giving answers to issues in your constituent. It gives a sense of fulfillment.

How do you balance your work with the challenges of your home? 

You can’t do this job without an understanding spouse! So you need the right wife to help you to move your career, it is very important. Doing this whole Covic-19 period, we have been at work.

People believe that with the resources at the disposal of the state over the years, the level of development has been dismal. What is your assessment of this development?

It goes two ways, firstly don’t forget that Lagos state started experiencing this type of growth under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu carried on by His Excellency, Fashola, you should understand that Lagos state as an economy is a growing one. So saying that we should have surpassed it is very relative. The state is still light years above the others. And all these have been achieved by people in government who have been thinking outside the box. More people are flooding into the state from different parts, taking out of what you still manage to call development. To achieve the kind of development we expect, we must also development other parts of the country to meet up somehow.

How about your constituency?

Oh wonderful people. The Speaker tells us; don’t be too far from your people. He has been there since 1999 and in the house since 2003; I don’t see such a person as a colleague, that’s a father. He is like a father to me and to us. He is the oldest member there. So you see when people are carrying shoulder around him, I feel somehow. As a father, he is supposed to flog those people with cane! Sorry, I shouldn’t be that angry.
Do you miss acting?

I am not too far from the actors and from Nollywood. I love that industry, if entertainment was on the concurrent list, what we would have done with the industry in Lagos, would have been massive. I would have been doing agreements between Lagos State film industry and foreign countries. I would have gone to China, Scandinavian countries, India and England and we would have seen a lot of inter-partnership with people coming to shoot films in Lagos and get rebates and so on.

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