Indy Press had an interview with the Speaker of the Independence Hall Assembly. In the interview with Rt Hon. Ajenifuja Stephen, talked about the journey so far being the speaker and also talked on the issue of amending the hall’s constitution. Excerpts below:
Could you tell me a little about your background?
My name is Mr. Ajenifuja Stephen, I’m the second born of three children, three boys. I attended Kiddies Foundation Nursery and Primary school for my FSTC, then I proceeded to Methodist grammar school for my JSSCE. I went to Federal Government College, Ogbomosho, where I spent 1 year before I sat for my SSCE also at Methodist grammar school. I then gained admission to study Environmental Health Sciences, at the Faculty of Public health, College of Medicine at the University of Ibadan and I’m currently a 400l student.
Mr Stephen, you are currently the speaker of the house and you represent the C1 constituency, am I right?
As you said, yes.
So, during the course of your election as a legislative member, did you have a pre-intention to become the speaker of the house?
When I got to the house, I had a lot of interest in the doings of the house so I was like ok I would go for a second term. I went for the speaker, no I actually went for floor rep again then I was like ok
I could do well as the speaker, I can do more than sitting as a member, I could actually go there and contribute my own and so yes, I went for the speaker. I had an opponent actually but with the grace of God coupled with the effort and support of people I won the post and that’s where we are today and we thank God.
So, you are a two-time legislator and currently speaker of the house?
So far how has been the journey as the speaker?
The journey has not been smooth so far, I won’t lie when you get into the position you think you can do better but you meet some things you just have to tighten your belt. However, we thank God because you can’t know it all. There are some things I learn and there are some things I’m still learning and there are some corrections being made. So it’s not like I had it perfect, we just started and this is, if I’m right, 7th week of resumption or 6th so we still have a lot to do because we just started the first semester.
It has been a very, very eye-opening journey because a leadership position is not something you take for granted, there are a lot of things, a lot of people would offend you and you are going to offend a lot of people vice versa. You can’t satisfy everyone, you just have to do your best. The independence hall in general is one very large hall so you have to be careful about the decision you make because every decision the house makes reflects on kantangites in general. I have to be careful about what I say, what I do and how people view it. So I just have to tread carefully but the speaker position has been an eye-opening position, it’s very enlightening but at the same time, it’s very tasking.
As the speaker of the house, like you, said there is still a lot of time, it’s just the first semester, so what are your plans for the house and the whole hall in general?
There are good plans for the house and the plans are in motion. For instance, today we started our fresher’s welcome, where we had the fresher vs stalite match and tomorrow we would have our freshers’ orientation and the freshers’ blast in the evening. That’s one of the, let me say good works of the house because number 1, independence hall is the first hall this semester, not this session, to welcome their freshers in all halls. Queens, Idia, Mellanby, they haven’t started so that’s one of the good things we have done because number 1 it boils down to the fact that if the Excos were to even bring a budget or something to the house and the house isn’t fast tracking, the house isn’t in motion or we are not in accordance, the existence of this freshers welcome, we won’t even be talking about it at all. So that’s one of the good plans for the house.
I can’t say I really have a plan because let me make something clear, the house is being run by many Honourable members, you know we have many floor reps in Independence Hall, I as the speaker can only be their voice, I can’t decide on my own. So, everything I’m saying is based on the decision of the house that’s what I’m trying to say, so anything, I would say that the plan I have for the house just basically plans to make sure that Indy Hall is being run, the traditions, the Indy Hall tradition is still in motion and all plans are being followed so that they won’t be any loopholes.
On the baseline, you become the speaker, you do not have any special plans, you just went there to be the speaker to just do the basics.
Ok, you are not talking about house responsibilities now, you are talking about me personally, my plans for the house?
Yeah, like your plans that you have, are you going there to be the speaker?
Ok, number 1, is to bring about unity in the house because I won’t say every tenure is 100% successful. The last time when I was in the house I saw something and I wanted to adjust the unity in the house. There is this saying that, “In unity, we stand, divided we fall,” so unity in the house is the first thing. Number 2, another plan is? Ok I think, I would like to keep that for future purposes, I won’t like to disclose it for some reason because I know anything published here, people would read it and I don’t want “but you said this, you said this.” So just let me keep it for now so that if it happens fine you would write about it and if it doesn’t so I just like to keep it.
But then you are the speaker…
The major thing is the house performs its functions. Honourable speakers past and present speakers, we all have good plans but the problem is there are some things you would try to do to make the housework, on the long run, it might not work the way you want it to, and there might be adjustments so if I tell you I want to do plan A and actually I work on plan B then you would say the speaker planned for this but this happened, the speaker is not a man of his word and that’s why I have to be careful.
So you say the basic plans you have for the house is to ensure the house carries out its duties…
Yes and as well as unity. There are other plans but it’s…
You don’t want to be held by your words?
Yeah, so that’s like evading accountability so in case you don’t live up to your word nobody is going to hold you by your throat.
Because actually it might work and it might not work so yeah but there are plans. Exactly
I have not really heard you talk about the house’s intent on the constitution. The constitution is archaic, mundane, it’s outdated and needs to be amended but then you did not highlight anything as regards the constitution?
As regards the constitution, I believe the constitution was last amended in 2006 that’s 16 years ago, that is 16 speakers and so far so good Indy Hall has always produced let me say one of the best sets of administrations considering all this. The last Administrator General, Olaogun Temitope “Dr Tee ”, won the JCI award, Fopa and that’s for administration and it was on this constitution he even ran the administration.
Actually, the constitution might have a lot of loopholes and there might be some amendments but even if it needs to be amended, it’s even a long due process, if I tell you we should start, if in the next week I tell you we want to start amending the constitution that means the next administration would still have to work on it because it takes a lot of procedure. We have to write a letter to the Dean of students affairs, you know it’s not something we can just do on our own, I can’t just say so they asked us to amend the constitution let’s meet and next thing we are drafting another constitution.
We have set up a committee for constitutional amendments, it has to go through a lot of due processes, the Hall warden has to be involved, the Dean of student affairs, all this process process process, it would take up to, let me say a session. So, it would be like the 2021/2022 house seat started the amendment of the constitution then 2022/2023 brought about the establishment of the new constitution. And so I believe the 2021/2022 house we are ok with the constitution, so we are not planning if there are further plans to amend the constitution it would be the decision of the house but for now, we do not plan to.
So you as the speaker are saying that the house does not see the need to amend the constitution and won’t because the process is long?
I observed that you have done a lot of research before you started interviewing but fine I would just start with this. You said earlier and I quote that according to the constitution that after 5 years, the house has the right to amend the constitution if the need be. There is a clause that if the need is, so I’m not sure. For now, we have not discussed anything about amending the constitution. There have been speculations that the constitution has a lot of loopholes there needs to be an amendment that is mundane as you said but even if I were to say want to amend the constitution, I can’t.
It’s the decision of the house. If the house says let’s move the motion to amend the constitution, then we start by forming a committee, then the due process but the house is not against the constitution. If the need be, maybe another speaker or another tenure would do that and if probably the 2021/2022 legislative house wants to sort that out there is still time but for now, I think like I’ve said Indy Hall has a tradition and we would stick to the tradition, I would stick to the tradition of the speakers and leave the constitution the way it is
The constitution does not recognize that there be a floor rep for D block. However the legislative has seen that it does not make sense that D block does not have a rep, it became a legislative tradition for them to elect people into that. Now that in itself is a loophole in the constitution that should warrant amendment. Currently doing that and following tradition borders on the line of lawlessness, so do we want indy to be a lawless hall?
Indy hall is not lawless. At the last plenary session, we elected a rep for D block in the person of Honourable Blessing, 600 level Vet, if I still remember. Ok fine, there is no provision of that in the constitution I understand but the house felt that there must be a voice for D block so I would reply to you on that note that if there is a need for us to make additional provisions which are not in the constitution we would do that. If we are to amend it would still be the decision of the house and if we are not going to do that then the next speaker or the next administration…I don’t know when that will come but all I want to say is that for now the house has not discussed anything about the amendment of the constitution and I can’t say I want to amend the constitution it’s the decision of the house. The only thing I can do is just to move the motion but I can only relate it to the fact that the house has to still decide.
The constitution does not make provision for the Bye-election that brought you and some other officers in too. After the institution of the KRIEC and elections are conducted, the constitution does not elaborate on how to fill up vacancies. So your coming into the legislative in the first place came from a lacuna in the constitution but you are now saying that as a leader you don’t see the need to take initiative and act and cover up all those lacunas?
It is just like saying that the past leaders did not have the initiative to cover up for these loopholes. Ok, I would not even judge my leadership based on past administration. If we are to start amending the constitution what is the assurance that in the next 10 years you would not still find a loophole? Ok, fine I admit the fact that there is a lacuna as you said, the bye-election was not there…
But not just a lacuna there are several lacunas
Ok fine even if we are to amend all that, another problem would stem up let me tell you the truth. Nigeria’s constitution was amended in 1999, are you telling me that there is no loophole in Nigeria’s constitution? There is and if the house of assembly next year still amends the constitution people would start complaining. Number 2, we might even have some new laws or some new draft or whatever but if we even do that there would still be, you would still come back or probably the press would still come back and say this. All I can say about that is when I was elected, there was no provision for that in the constitution but a floor can not be without a floor rep and the house had to take action. I’m not the first speaker and I won’t be the last.
The speaker then knew there is a need for the amendment of the constitution but he did not do it. I feel the amendment of the constitution is going to take a long process and if I’m even to start it, I might not be the one to even finish it because we talking about sitting down, enacting new laws into the constitution, reviewing it because we have to start from the beginning, we have to start from the root, we have to go back to the 2006 constitution, start from the beginning amend everything because actually when I read the constitution as floor rep like my first time, I noticed some provisions, I felt that there were somethings that needed to be corrected, there were some things that needed to be removed and there were some things that needed to be added but at the long run there is a special waiver for the house.
Now the bye-election was not based on the constitution it was based on another additional provision like ok lets bye elect so if in my tenure I could say this loophole let cover it, I might make another additional provision so all I’m going to tell you is that based on the fact of the amendment of the constitution, if I’m to start it we would still see about that and if it would not be in my tenure we would still see about it.