Between loyalty and rubberstamp legislature in Akwa Ibom State
Not many citizens of Akwa Ibom State seem to be enthusiastic about the capability of the newly inaugurated State House of Assembly, led by its Speaker, Hon. Aniekan Bassey, to operate independently of the executive arm, headed by Governor Udom Emmanuel. Apart from the composition of the Assembly, which is dominated by faithful Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members, there is also the sentiment that the legislative arm of government has a lot in common with the immediate past assembly which the former Speaker, Mr. Onofiok Luke, led; he now represents Etinan Federal Constituency in the National Assembly.
There are concerns that the Bassey-led legislature may wear a similar outlook like the immediate past one, which several citizens of the state regarded as an extension of the governor’s lodge judging from its composition and the manner some of its principal officers were elected. A respondent in the state told The Guardian that this might automatically reduce the law-making body to Emmanuel’s puppets to do his bidding.
The former Speaker Luke, a two-term member of the chamber, enjoyed the cordiality, protection and love of the governor, who is said to be his ally and friend. Such fraternity, many people said, couldn’t have been made possible without the support of other lawmakers. Emmanuel had allegedly worked behind the scenes to ensure Bassey emerged as speaker in spite of the fact that some forces vehemently opposed to his (Bassey) speakership, just like the governor did four years ago to ensure Luke became the speaker.
Luke, on the other hand, was alleged to have supported Emmanuel’s reelection in the last gubernatorial polls, especially during the trying times of PDP after the defection of former governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to All Progressives Congress (APC).
Before now, observers said the interactions among Emmanuel, Luke and the new speaker was so cordial that the governor did not only attend all legislative programmes, he was also seen to be supporting each of the legislators financially and morally when necessary.
Emmanuel and Luke stood firm in the midst of political crisis, especially when the five lawmakers, whose seats had been declared vacant, allegedly sought to impeach the immediate past Speaker of the 26-member assembly and the state governor. The romance between the governor and the sixth assembly is allegedly being transferred to the seventh, with some concerned citizens noting that the governor is planning to install another of his loyalists. Others are of the opinion that the next legislature may fail in checkmating the excesses of Governor Emmanuel just like the sixth that approved whatever budget the executive presented before it in an atmosphere of conviviality. This, they say, negates the principle of separation of powers, which is to ensure that no one arm of government exercises power to the detriment of the society.
Though there may be no need for constant legislative-executive wars, but observers say there is need for some checks and balance, which is necessary to get the best out in a particular governance policy directive or issue.
However, the governor had insisted that the unwavering loyalty of the legislative arm should not be seen as weakness or mistaken for a rubberstamp. Emmanuel had at various times expressed disgust over a rubberstamp assembly, but rather said he preferred one where lawmakers would engage him constructively and freely air their opinions on governance issues.
Emmanuel said progress could only be achieved when the executive and legislative arms of government synergise in a very responsible manner in the overall interest of the people.
According to him, the domination of PDP members in the assembly does not mean that lawmakers would not meet the expectations of the people who voted them into office. In his opening remarks at the pre-induction workshop organised for the incoming assembly members, the governor acknowledged the sixth assembly’s role in the successes recorded by his administration in the first term.
His words: “I have enjoyed tremendous partnership and support of the sixth assembly. There is nothing as bad as trying to do something and people don’t appreciate it. I came in and opened my heart to the house, and I got maximum support of that house.”The governor, who spoke to serving members as well as members-elect, noted that the house showed him a lot of understanding with the key projects which government had to build in order to enhance the economy of the state. He urged the incoming assembly to gear up for greater partnership, as there is more work to be done. He, however, sought the support of the newly-elected members of the 7th Assembly to further develop the state in his second term, and consequently move the state away from its dependence on oil.
“I need your support to create change and build human capacity of the Akwa Ibom people,” he said. “As a state, we must to show deep sense of seriousness. So, the seventh Assembly has a lot of work to do.
“We must build our economy, plan and rise above the belief that Akwa Ibom will always have oil money to spend. Our problem in Nigeria is that we do not plan. We can make the state a travel hub.”
On the hand, Luke said, “It is worth the mention that Governor Emmanuel has proven his mettle as a democrat in words and in action, allowing for the independence of the state legislature, the very reason that Akwa Ibom Assembly is one of Nigeria’s most fecund and most stable legislatures. I have no doubt that this plausible disposition will last through the lifetime of the incoming Assembly.”
He added that the pre-induction workshop was necessary to equip the incoming members for the lawmaking and leadership challenge ahead. He said that for the lawmakerS to stand out, “We need to be intellectually prepared. A sound lawmaker is a product of many intellectual meetings; he or she is a creation of excellent legislative ideas some of which are exclusively obtainable in environments like this.
“I guarantee that these legislative ideas will stand you out of the pack; they will give you a head-start in the ever-demanding world of lawmaking; and above all, the ideas will help to empower the institution as a sustaining factor in our democracy.”
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