Return of Ibani as speaker and balance of power in Rivers
• Constituents canvass vibrant representation
The return of Ikunyi Owaji Ibani as the Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly last weekend was no surprise to keen observers having won his election at the December 10, rerun poll.
However to some, his return as head of the state legislature remains puzzling.
Adams Dabotorudima had on Friday resigned suddenly paving the way for a new speaker to emerge. Incidentally, he emerged speaker on Friday, December 18, last year shortly after Governor Nyesom Wike presented the N307billion Appropriation Bill for 2016 to the House.
The Guardian learnt that the need to balance the power equation across the three Senatorial districts of the state, informed the recent change of guard in the leadership of the legislature.
Dabotorudima who resigned to pave way for Ibani’s return hails from Rivers East Senatorial district same as Wike. The Governor is from Ikwere local government area (LGA) of the State, while Dabotorudima comes from Okirika LGA, which along with Emuoha, Etche, and Port Harcourt council areas make up the same Senatorial district.
The Deputy Speaker, Marshal Uwom is from Rivers West Senatorial district, which includes the Orashi, Kalabari, and Bonny among other Riverrine areas. That leaves Rivers South East Senatorial district without a representative at the top echelon of the power structure.
This vacuum was actually created when the Appeal Court sacked Ibani, who comes from Andoni council area in Rivers South- East Senatorial district, from the Assembly.
Ibani, a ranking member of the House, began the journey to the Rivers State hallowed chambers in 2007 during the administration of former Governor Chibuike Amaechi; he was in the 6th and 7th Assembly as well as the 8th Assembly. He served as the speaker from June to December 2015, and subsequently resigned after the Election Petitions Tribunal annulled his election to the House.
Fortunately for him, the Supreme Court upheld Wike’s election who fought vigorously to ensure that Ibani and others were re-elected back to the House.
Besides, sources maintained that given his commitment and loyalty to the Wike, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leadership and PDP members of the House considered him better suited for the speakership.
In addition to his tact and vibrancy during his brief stint as speaker of the House, it was gathered that Ibani has the ability to manage and maneuver through delicate issues especially with the presence of more All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers.
Ibani was among the lawmakers loyal to Amaechi in the 7th Assembly but given his relationship with Prince Uche Secondus, former acting chairman of the PDP, who is his political godfather, he was advised to end the link if he treasured his political carrier when Amaechi and Secondus fell out.
Accordingly, Ibani who decamped to APC with other 25 lawmakers loyal to Amaechi was forced to return to PDP by his godfather three months to the 2015 general elections. His return to PDP was a huge setback to pro- Amaechi’s lawmakers who described his defection then as “a frustrated politician who did not have any political relevance.”
As compensation, he was given a grand reception by the Wike’s camp that described his return as homecoming of a lost child. He won the Assembly election and thereafter was elected speaker in June.
Sequel to the Tribunal’s sack of 21 PDP lawmakers loyal to Wike, including Ibani, as well as the dismissal of Wike by the Appeal Court, the leaders of the party were advised on the need to replace the Speaker by another lawmaker not affected by the Court ruling.
The consideration was the implication where a vacuum may be created for APC to take over the leadership of the House if the apex court passes similar judgment on the lawmakers and the Governor, hence the emergence of Dabotorudima.
At the time, the Assembly had only five lawmakers left, including one APC member. After series of consultations, the Governor and his camp chose Adams Dabotorudima to replace Ibani, with the assurance given that he (Ibani) would be returned as Speaker if the court rules in his favour. The deal was fulfilled last weekend.
“Honourable members, kindly permit me to rise from this seat as Speaker and pave way for the election of a new Speaker,” Dabotorudima stated and forthwith personally nominated Ibanyi to be elected as Speaker, The deputy speaker supervised the election and Ibani was elected unopposed by 23 lawmakers.
There was conviviality as Ibanyi commended the former speaker for exhibiting a trustworthy character by allowing him to return once again as speaker unlike others who would have created chaos out of the situation.
He called on all the lawmakers to set party politics aside and work as a team to bring the much-desired peace to the State and dividends of democracy to the people of Rivers State.
According to Ibanyi, “I commend Rt. Hon Speaker Adams, He can indeed be trusted, and others could have done otherwise. Let us work as a team, let us work for corporate interest; setting party politics aside, we should work as brothers and sisters, so that Rivers State, our people can experience peace.”
Some analysts have however argued that where the speaker comes from does not matter in this present time, insisting that what matters is one who poses the requisite leadership qualities; someone who has the peoples need at heart and is able to deliver the dividends of democracy.
For instance, a political analyst, Omenazu Jackson said in an interview with The Guardian that: “I am not concerned about the zoning issue, as long the individual has leadership quality, and have the people at heart, He can serve, in this era, where one comes from does not matter”
Nonetheless, he charged the House to become vibrant and critical on its duties, and avoid a situation where every executive Bill gets express passage.
The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Speaker, Onengiyeofori fynface dismissed the insinuations that the Speaker was returned because of zoning formula and the wish of his godfather.
He claimed that the Speaker was elected based on his quality style of leadership and his verse knowledge in lawmaking.
In contrast, a PDP stalwart who spoke anonymously contended that the return of Ibani as Speaker was the only good thing PDP has done well, saying it was not wise to for one Senatorial district to produce the Governor and Speaker, thereby leaving another without anything.
The State Assembly has been perceived by the public as a ‘rubber stamp’ right from the time of former Governor Peter Odili, through Chibuike Amaechi’s tenure to the few months of Wike. Most proposals, reports or bills especially from the executive usually receive express passage with no or little debate on it.
The few exceptions where the House experienced little changes were when the 7th Assembly had a sharp division following Amaechi’s defection to APC with 27 lawmakers solidly behind him.
The others including Evans Bipi, Matins Amaewhule, Micheal Chinda, Kelechi Nworgu and Victor Ihunwo who were tagged anti-Amaechi legislators remained behind in PDP. They opposed the express passage of some bills then before the July crisis erupted that resulted in the ‘Amaechi lawmakers’ relocating their sitting venue to the Government House where they carried out legislative business without the pro-Wike’s group until the end of their tenure.
But since Wike assumed office, the same game has continued to play out; the legislating business has more or less reverted to the old routine of express passage of bills without critical evaluation.
With the swearing in of additional legislators last week which brought the APC members to seven and PDP 23, it is expected that the House would witness some vibrancy. The results for Etche 1 and Etche 2 rerun elections are still being awaited.
An APC chieftain, Andy Nweye expressed hope that the House would become active in lawmaking considering the good number of the opposition lawmakers, who according to him are well experienced.
However, he advised the lawmakers to work as a team to bring the State to an amiable height and avoid anything that could lead the State back to political stalemate