SILVER LINING OF A’IBOM LEGISLATURE, 1992- 2017
It takes more than a run from ‘Barracks Road End’ (Wellington Bassey Avenue end) where Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was birth on January 20, 1992 to Udo Udoma Avenue, the current location where its massive edifice sits.
Activities which heralded it birth to many may have said the Legislature then was a ‘child of circumstance’; realities then made it so. But the outcome of that circumstance prepared the ground for the Legislature which the State has now, after 25 years!
Not just known as the ‘soul of democracy’ but living its tenets makes it worth discussing. Without Democracy, there can not be a Legislature, and without Legislature, there is no Democracy!
No wonder, there was no better choice of an accommodation to debut the Akwa Ibom State Legislature than the former Old Uyo Provincial Hall at Barracks Road End which hosted meetings by great sons of the State agitating for creation of Akwa Abasi Ibom State. After its renovation, it was deemed fit as a liberation ground to further, freely, discussed the development of the State and the wellbeing of her people. Significant as it may have been, many wouldn’t have given thought of it.
The preceding events of the Military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, at the centre; the 31 States then concluded plans on their elected Civilian Governments, but with fear of the government at the center made active politicians to go on hibernation just to stay safe due to blurry forecast of the next move of the Government at the center. This paved way for political ‘new-breed’ to venture into the political arena. These colouration gave birth to the one year democratic experience between January 20, 1992 and November 17, 1993 until the Presidential election which was shifted to June 12 1993 was annulled; bringing in General Sani Abacha.
There have been intermittent breaks by military Governments since independence on October 1 1960; but from September 23 1987 when Akwa Ibom State was created, there have been two, which after 1993 to1998, posterity beckoned on Democratic experience again in 1999 and this has been uninterrupted for eighteen (18) years.
There were forty-eight (48) Legislators in the first Assembly; though they did not complete their four-year-tenure. That 22-months-and-29-days House as was led by Chief Jimmy Jimmy Ntuen of blessed memory was able to pass ten (10) bills which included; Laws Authentication Law; Appropriation Law; Supplementary Appropriation Law; Private Medical Certificates and Medical Reports (Validation) Law; Appropriation Law, 1993; Customary Courts (Ammendments) Bill; Uyo Capital City Transport Corporation Law, 1993; Legislature and Judiciary Self-Accounting Law, 1993; and The House of Assembly Service Commission Bill. It is worthy of note that the Governor then, Obong Akpan Isemin gave assent to eight (8) and vetoed two namely; The Private Medical Certificates and Medical Reports Validation Bill; and Legislature and Judiciary Self-Accounting Bill, 1993.
However, there were 28 bills which reached the floor of the House; one overidden bill by the House; 62 motions reached the floor of the House and 16 were passed; 39 motions were pending at the Committee level; Four (4) motions defeated on the floor; Three motions (3) were withdrawn by sponsors; while one (1) was dead in printing process.
Relationship of the Legislature with the Executive and the Judiciary cannot be overlooked. It is the period where the Legislative – Executive relationship was strained due to scarce resource as occasioned by obnoxious ‘on-shore, off-shore’ formula applied by the Federal Government in the sharing of oil revenue. Legislature and the Judiciary were on the same page as they fought for their financial independence.
In ‘The Pioneers’, Dr. Okon Ekanem says “In 1992, a downward trend was witnessed in the flow of funds from the Federal allocation from Abuja to the States. The case of Akwa Ibom was pathetic. The little that could have been due to the State was denied in the name of ‘on-shore and of-shore’ formula applied in the sharing of oil revenue.
“A stage was therefore set for the First Akwa Ibom State Legislature to be born under poverty stricken state economy and to survive under stress. And like any creature so born, fed and nourished in poverty, its survival was left to chance. As a fall out, cold relationship sometimes developed between the executive arm and Legislative arm. And this bordered on alleged ‘starvation’ of the Legislature of funds by the Executive.
” Political muscles Flexing started to develop. In the ensued political muscle flexing, the Legislature’s quest for self-accounting as a means to ease financial flow to the House could not receive acceptance and endorsement of the Executive which is essentially the superior organ in the day-to-day administration of the State”.
The working condition then could be akin to a utility vehicle attached to the House officers which out of pity was released to the Clerk of the House for ‘smooth-running’ of legislative task. This made the speaker then to be going to work in his private car. The ambience of lack of residential accommodation, inadequate accommodation further stewed the strained relationship between the Executive and the Legislature occasioned by scarce resources.
Legislative-Public relation was relatively cordial though older politicians were of the view that the ‘new breed’ politicians were focused on chasing money and pleasure rather than making laws which manifest in the frequent altercations among politicians at all levels. But generally, the House enjoyed public support as shown in the case of opposing the sale of Breweries’ Generator.
There was no change in the leadership as there was well- defined Majority and Minority leadership in that House.
The Second Assembly was a mixture of of political gladiators from the 31 LGAs of the State. Now, the Seats in the third arm were reduced from 48 in the 1st Assembly to 26 in the 2nd Assembly. This is when Majority and Minority Political Parties’ leaderships were really felt in the third arm. The vibrancy of the the House was based on this mix which contributed to the active lobbying and called for various forms of agitation for development as it concerns their respective interests.
The 2nd Assembly which was innaugurated on Wednesday, June 2, 1999 experienced two leadership and completed its full four year tenure. They had Barr. Bassey Essien as the first Speaker and subsequently, Chief Peter Linus Umoh who led that House till its expiration.
That House considered 53 bills which 47 were Executive bills while six (6) were private member bills. Forty-five (45) of these bills were passed by the House and 39 of them were assented by the Governor.
Second Assembly was the first to embark on constituency projects in the federation as contained in the words of the 1st speaker of the 2nd Assembly, Barr. Bassey Essien.
“I’m a very modest person am not into telling people who I am or what I do. But I can vividly remember it was during our time that the first constituency project ever implemented anywhere in this country was initiated by us (AKHA) that was in year 2000; even the National Assembly did not implement any constituency project yet,” Essien said.
He also added that the decision was to draw dividends of democracy to the people.
However, despite the minimal resources made available to the 2nd Assembly, they achieved much as they ensured that Assembly Complex at Udo Udomma Avenue was completed and commissioned before the end of their tenure.
It is worthy to state that the total impress used to run the House then was N600,000 and Speaker’s salary then was N25,000; while other members had N15,000.
On June 2, 2003, the third Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was innaugurated. This House was birthed into a serene environment compared to the Traditional Rulers Council Chambers which housed the 1st and partly the 2nd Assembly. Two members; Rt. Hon. Ukata Akpan (Ini) and Rt. Hon. Aniefiok Thompson (Nsit Ubium) were from the immediate predecessor; a Speaker, Rt. Hon. Nelson Effiong (Oron/Udung Uko) was a Chief Whip in the first Assembly and Rt. Hon. Chrysanctus Etteh (Okobo) was also a member in the first Assembly.
It is worthy of note that the third Assembly broke the jinx and enjoyed stability in leadership. The House had a single Speaker, Rt. Hon. Nelson Effiong, throughout its four term.
Unfortunately, the third Assembly witnessed the demise of two of her members; Late Hon. Joseph Esitikott (Nsit Ibom) who was replaced by his wife, Hon. Sarah Esitikott. Another fallen member was Late Hon. Ernest Ukochio II who represented Ibeno/Esit Eket and was also the boss of the current Speaker of the sixth Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke. This member was later replaced by Rt. Hon. Okpolupm Etteh.
This changes caused the Majority and Minority leadership status of the House then to be altered. The death of the Minority Whip, Hon. Esitikott made the Minority Leader, Hon. (Obongunwana) Iniobong Ekanem, a leader without follower as they were just two members from the opposition party. However, the House became fully a PDP House as Late Esitikott was replaced by his wife on the platform of the ruling party (PDP); while the Minority Leader secretly decamped to PDP. This changed the Majority Leader, Hon. (Dr.) Etido Ibekwe’s position to a House Leader.
What was perculiar about the third Assembly was the declaration of every last Tuesday of the month as “Akwa Ibom People Day”. It was a day where public office holders like Commissioners and Special Advisers under invitation will appear before the House to give progress report of their Ministries/extra-ministerial departments and attend to questions from members of the public.
Also, it is in this House that wedding bells rang the most. Four members did tie the knot with their spouses during the tenure of the third Assembly. They were; Hon. (Sir) Ekpenyong, Rt. Hon. Udobong Ekpo, Hon. Eduok Eduok and Hon. Chris Udofia.
The Legislature then received 31 bills which 18 were passed and 14 assented to by the Executive.
The fourth Assembly was innaugurated on June 5, 2007 and that House had two speakers. The Rt. Hon. Ignatius Edet and Rt. Hon. Anietie Etuk’s Leaderships. Though turbulent as will be described by historians, they collaborated with the Executive Arm to achieve the uncommon transformation by the leadership of the State then.
All the 26 members of the fourth Assembly were PDP members and three clerks served during this tenure.
The House engaged in capacity building programmes through organisation of workshops to train and re-train members and staff of the Assembly towards work efficiency. Also, they saw to the construction of a large capacity petrol station with car servicing facilities.
However, 26 bills were received. Twenty-four (24) were passed out of which 17 were assented to. Forty-two (42) resolutions were made to persuade government of the day to engage in programs to fasten up development in the State.
The fourth Assembly was dissolved by exactly 3:30pm on Friday June 3, 2011.
With her own perculiarity, the fifth Assembly which was christined “the People’s Assembly”, came on board on June 6, 2011 with 26 members and could be attested as another House apart from the third Assembly which experienced stability in leadership under Rt. Hon. Samuel Ikon as Speaker for the four year tenure.
No death was recorded but five (5) seats were declared vacant at the wee-hour of that House. This decision by the leadership of the House was in view of the movement of the five members from the ruling party (PDP) to opposition parties to further their political ambitions.The State Constituencies affected were; Mbo (Rt. Hon. Alice Ekpenyong); Nsit Atai (Hon. Sarah Elijah); Uruefong Oruko (Hon. Bassey Etienam); Ini (Rt. Hon. Paul Owo); and Uruan (Hon. Kufreabasi Etuk).
Comprising of intellectuals who added value to the development of the State through good laws and resolutions, the fifth Assembly can not be forgotten with its alleged ‘Obnoxious Pension Bill’ which caused a chasm amongst members as some members outrightly opposed the bill. However, the vibrancy of this House at that time can not be underestimated.
In the valedictory speech to mark the end of the fifth Assembly, the speaker, Elder Samuel Ikon on Friday said the fifth Assembly, under his leadership, passed 23 bills and 75 resolutions in four years.
The Sixth Assembly commenced on June 8, 2015 with Rt. Hon. Aniekan Uko as the first Speaker. Later in that year, the Court of Appeal nullified his election and the vacuum needed to be filled which Rt. Hon. (Barr) Onofiok Luke emmerged as the second Speaker of the Sixth Assembly.
The Sixth Assembly has christened itself as “the People’s Assembly” making it responsible to engage in legislative business having the interest of the common man at heart.
The House in two years of existence has considered 47 bills which are at different stages of legislative procedure.
The bills cover areas like education, health, governance, youth development/empowerment, economic and revenue generation, environment, judiciary, security and social development. Also, over 100 resolutions have been made by the present Assembly; and over 30 public hearings have been witnessed so far by the Sixth Assembly.
The House in two years has minor changes in positions of House officers and reshuffling of committee heads. All, in the reasoning of the leadership of the House, is to smoothened the wheel of administration in the Third Arm of Government.
As the Sixth Assembly celebrates 25 years of Legislative Excellence in Akwa Abasi Ibom State, the people of the State look forward to a more robust Executive-Legislative relationship.
They seek a Legislature which will always defend the right of a common-man, will never bang the gavel in support of any matter which is not in the interest of the people.
Akwa Ibom indigenes seek a voice through the legislature which will be proactive on issues concerning the interest of the State, maintaining peace and unity amongst indigenes, dissolving ethnic barriers across board and encouraging spirit of sportmanship defying political divide.
The Sixth Assembly should see themselves as Pioneers who will set the tone for a new era which succeeding Assemblies will follow in pursuit of policies and programmes to advance the State and its citizenry through its legislative strides.
It should be an era of selfless service laced with transparent leadership and effective representation which truly, the Legislature will maintain its essence, ‘The Soul of Democracy’.
(Sent on Date: 16 Oct 2017 6:49 p.m to Nigerian Pulse mail and published in Nigerian Pulse Newspaper of Tuesday, Oct 17, 2017.)