The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly penultimatum week celebrated its silver jubilee. For the state legislature, the last 25 years have been eventful. As an institution, the state government’s lawmaking arm has made remarkable progress over the years in its core mandate areas of lawmaking, advocacy, oversight and representation.
No doubt, it has also suffered its fair share of setbacks mostly occasioned by the country’s wavering polity since creation of the state in September 1987. Intra and inter-party strife, executive interference, as well as members’ constant divide along ideological and party lines have in the past birthed some forms of instability in the state legislature. Between January 1992 and November 1993, for instance, less than two years of her existence, the first assembly had three different Speakers. Subsequent sessions also suffered a similar fate in terms of incessant leadership shifts.
Nevertheless, in spite of the above drawbacks, all the six assembles of the state legislature so far have a common history of leaving significant marks in their time. The First Assembly readily comes to mind as one which experimented requisite legislative frameworks and laid the foundations upon which subsequent assemblies were built. Ardent followers of the activities of the first assembly are wont to give credit to the Assembly for its vibrancy which has, over the years, been the hallmark of the Akwa Ibom State legislature. As democracy in the country deepens, successive legislatures in the state have continued to draw inspiration from the challenges and achievements of the first Assembly. Originally led by Jimmy Jimmy Ntuen, the first assembly made history in electing a woman, Obonganwan Grace Edim-Inyang of then Itu/Oma/Itam State Constituency, as Deputy Speaker at a time that women played less visible role in politics in Nigeria. The Assembly deliberated on 28 executive and private member bills, eight of which were signed into law, thereby attaining the feat of being one of Nigeria’s most dynamic state legislatures at the time.
The Akwa Ibom legislature made no less towering achievements in the second Assembly which came with the return of the Nigerian democracy in 1999. The 26-member parliament from the 26 restructured state constituencies had, by the end of the Assembly in 2003, received more than 50 bills. Again, the role of women in the promotion of democracy was seriously acknowledged with the formation and active engagement of the Legislators’ Wives Association, a platform for unity and constructive engagement of wives of the legislators.
The third Assembly, inaugurated on the June 2, 2003 also made remarkable achievements. The pro-people concerns of the Chief Nelson Effiong-led Assembly were reflected in the over 20 bills, multiple resolutions and motions passed by the House within its four-year lifespan. It was at this time that the People’s Assembly mantra became widely associated with the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. The fourth Assembly (June, 2007 – June, 2011) was a continuation of the streak of superior performances of the previous sessions. First headed by Chief Ignatius Edet, and later by Anietie Etuk, this Assembly profoundly stood out as one which took legislative oversight to unprecedented heights. Periodic briefings and consultations with constituents also became a norm in this Assembly. Several bills and resolutions were also passed, most of which were the anchor lines to the transformation projects of the then Governor Godswill Akpabio administration.
It is instructive to emphasise that three key mandates underscore the calling of a lawmaker. These are: representation, lawmaking and oversight. These functions were obviously achieved in the Fifth Assembly led by Sam Ikon. The proactive leadership of the house promoted legislative oversights in every sector of the state administration. At the end of its four-year run, the Assembly had successfully deliberated 35 bills, passed 23 into law and also passed 75 resolutions. The Assembly is reputed for establishing the “Peoples’ Assembly” mantra, wherein legislative innovations especially in oversights were paramount. There is no gainsaying that it was in the lifespan of the Fifth Assembly that the state witnessed strict government compliance with the open budget initiative, a global advocacy programme which promotes public access to budgetary information and the adoption of accountable budgeting system. Inspired by the then Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation and Finance, Onofiok Luke, the house subjected the annual appropriation bills of the state to public analysis and scrutiny. The Appropriation Committee constructively engaged and collaborated with civil society organisations, and accepted inputs from all stakeholders for sound legislative interventions.
The Sixth Assembly was birthed with the daunting task of raising the bar set by previous assemblies. However, without fear of contradiction, the present Assembly has surpassed the expectations of pessimists. Having served first, as speaker of a 109-member Nigeria Youth Parliament, and subsequently had a first-rate first term outing in the 5th Assembly, the Speaker, Onofiok Luke, brought a cumulative six years of legislative experience to bear on the house when he got elected in December 2015.
Luke has evidently taken the Assembly to the zenith of robust and innovative legislative engagement. His youthful energy and intellect backed by his commitment to the galvanisation of legislative support for the state’s sustainable development agenda, is evident in the manner that the house’s affairs have been piloted two years on.
With about 18 laws passed so far from 40 bills, at least 100 resolutions from 48 motions, more than 100 recommendations from matters of urgent public importance, public petitions and more than 40 public hearings, the Sixth Assembly under Luke is proving its legislative mettle. But beyond these numbers is the direct impact which the various legislation are impinged on the lives of the masses. With the socio-economic needs of the people being the centre-piece of the Assembly’s bills, resolutions and recommendations, the welfarist posture of the House is unequivocally defined.
Reference needs be made of the Youth Development Fund Bill, currently at the committee stage, seeking for the establishment and composition of the Akwa Ibom State Youth Empowerment Fund into which shall be paid all monies received as 10 per cent Oil Derivation Fund, grants, and subventions from National and Donor agencies for the purpose of youth development; the Social Housing Bill and the Primary Health Care Development Agency Bill sponsored by Speaker Luke, to meet government’s policy thrust on affordable housing passed as well as provide for universal health coverage. Assessing its involvement in the state budgeting process, the House passed into law the appropriation bill to the tune of N371.292bn for the 2017 fiscal year. This it did after a painstaking round of consultations with relevant stakeholders in a public hearing which is today the road map for the success of the government in efficient allocation and deployment of resources to health care delivery, infrastructural renaissance, industrialisation, comprehensive educational lifeline to our schools, teachers and children among others.
Soon to take off is a capacity-building project of the Sixth Assembly known as the Akwa Ibom Legislative Internship Programme (AKILIP). This is a 6-month graduate internship scheme to train young minds on skill acquisition and proper application of such skills as well as socio-political studies on legislative business, conflict resolution, selfless service, patriotic ideals, leadership and the philosophy of statehood. AKILIP, coordinated by Ubong Linus, a young diplomacy expert, happens to rank as the first major legislative internship programme to be floated by a state legislature in Nigeria.
Sustained economic development, as is being championed by the current administration in Akwa Ibom State, is often facilitated by three drivers – availability of security, infrastructure and sound legislation. An honest assessment of Akwa Ibom State in the last 25 years would reveal that the rising profile of the state’s economy has largely been prompted by the availability of these three instrumentalities in no small dose. As one of Nigeria’s must peaceful states and one where infrastructural development has been a top priority of government in the course of the last 18 years, sound legislation especially since 1999, has incontrovertibly been a backbone in Akwa Ibom’s development.
Kufre Okon is press secretary to the speaker, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. He can be reached on Twitter @Koophreh.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.