Ekemini Simon

It was in the powerful days of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Second term administration. The National Assembly members were faced with a task of making a homogrous decision. A decision that would not only set the pattern for the near future, but that which will permanently change the political narrative of the country.

There was a serious power play. Many Federal Lawmakers were bought over by the master of the game. Many simply wanted to remain in the good books of the then President. Such ones were very ready to amend the Constitution to enable the President seek for a third term in office.

The Country was divided in the debates. But one thing was glaring- majority were against the third term agenda of President Obasanjo. The decision was not to be taken through a referendum. This decision was to be taken by Lawmakers whose mandate Nigerians had given. Will their decision reflect the choice of majority of Nigerians or will they allow their selfish interest and fear of falling off the good books of the Executive take the day? Nigerians were watching.

Addressing plenary before a vote on the issue, the then Senate President Adolphos Wabara made a statement that forms the thrust of this piece.

Boldly, he charged his colleagues that it was the time to answer to their father’s name. As inspirational as the statement was, it did not only remind his colleagues the gravity of the decision they were about to take but that which will be a guiding principle to any lawmaker who wants his action to be a reflection of the wishes of the people’s mandate he holds. That was the guiding principle that helped the Legislature in that era triumph over the trial that was before them.

Today, the legislature in Akwa Ibom State is on trial. A trial to choose either to please the Executive over the people whose mandate they hold. A trial whether to respect a written law or make nonsense of it. A trial whether to keep to their words or chew them back and most importantly, a trial to answer to their father’s name.

Few days from now, the tenure of the present Local Government Transition Committee will elapse and as indicated through the body language of the governor, a request to the House of Assembly to give a nod for a new Local Government Transition Committee is imminent.

For the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly to give the approval, they will for the fifth time amend the Local Government Administration Law.

It could be recalled that since the sixth Assembly was inaugurated, the House of Assembly had on July 10, 2015, January 12, 2016, June 8, 2016 and January 11, 2017 amended the Local Government Administration Law numbering a total of four times in a bid to give legal backing to Local Government Transition Committee put in place by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel.

Devoid of the fact that the provisions of the Akwa Ibom State Local Government Administration Law seeks to override the provisions of Section 7 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution as amended which provides for “democratically elected Local Government Councils” which should make such a law null and void, the fact still remains that the incessant amendment of the said Local Government Administration Law makes a mockery of the law itself.

Of course it will be unanimously acknowledged that there is no known written law in the world that has passed through the cold hands of incessant amendment the way the Akwa Ibom State Local Government Administration Law has passed within a period of two years.

In fact, this aberration was itself acknowledged by the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly recently. While declaring open a One-Day Public Hearing on bill for ‘a Law to make provision for Local Government Administration in the State and for matters connected therewith’, held at the House of Assembly complex, in the presence of the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Felicia Bassey, House Leader, Rt. Hon. Udo Kierian Akpan, Chief Whip, Hon. Bassey Ekpenyong, Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. David Lawrence, Hon. Idongesit Ntekpere, Hon. Barr. Aniefiok Dennis, Rt. Hon. Friday Iwok, Hon. Aniekan Uko, Hon. Otobong Jonathan, Hon Idongesit Ituen, and Hon. Effiong Bassey, the Speaker, Rt Hon Onofiok Luke inspired by the Spirit of Candour noted to the acceptance and applause of his colleagues and the public: “today again, we honoured our resolve to run an open legislature. We don’t have monopoly of everything. What we are doing today is seeking to put a stop to the incessant amendment of Local Government Administration Law which has been embarrassing to our State.”

Certainly, it is time for our dear Speaker to work the talk thus not allow our dear State pass through such demoralizing embarrassment. And glaringly, the task won’t be difficult since the members through their applause showed the world they are ready for a new narrative.

Of course the positions made by the State Lawmakers on January 10, 2017 during the last amendment with a call for the State Governor to conduct LG elections as soon as possible is still fresh in the minds of Akwa Ibom people.

However, frequent statements credited to the State Governor makes the reports that filtered after his last meeting with the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission more confusing to say the least.

After Governor Udom’s meeting with Special Adviser Bureau of Political And Legislative Affairs Barrister Ekong Sampson, Chairman Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission (AKISEC) Dr Gloria Ukpong and members of the Commission at Government House, Uyo fortnight ago, reports trickled that LG election is underway.

However, several statements credited to the Governor points to the fact that he does not see it as being imperative for the State to have a democratically elected administration.

In fact, while interacting with the press community recently, the Governor as usual among the excuses given for not conducting Local Government elections stated that ” Conducting Local Government now is playing to the gallery. I will not venture into anything that is not in the best interest of the State”. And that clearly is his stance.

But the government of Akwa Ibom State is not a monarch system where it is run by the detects of an individual. In a democratic State, the Constitution overrides all opinions.

Probably feeling pity for a State like Akwa Ibom, the respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria Jibrin Sam Okutepa ( SAN) recently stated: ” Any State Governor that still appoints and run our Local Government Councils on the basis of caretakers is guilty of breach of Nigerian Constitution”.

There is no gain pointing out that the Court severally has ruled against Local Government Caretaker or Transition Committees and impressively many States of the federation have adhered to the detects of the law.

Nearby States like Abia and Ebonyi whose Financial strength can not be compared to Akwa Ibom State have acted in accordance to the demands of the Constitution of the Land by conducting their Local Government Elections thereby rendering the State’s argument for not conducting the elections because of lack of funds unsustainable.

Who will then mandate the State Governor to do the needful? Certainly the House of Assembly. By not obliging to the Governor’s request to give legal backing to another Local Government Transition Committee, the House of Assembly will be helping the State Governor see the need to toe the path of supremacy of the Constitution over personal inclination and wishes.

Already, the evils of these illegal committees (as pronounced by the court) is clearly seen in the narrative of Itu and Ukanafun Local Government Councils.

It is however imperative to note that this bold step advocated should not be misconstrued as a charge for the State Legislature to be at loggerheads with the Executive. That was not the case when the National Assembly rose to the occasion during Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda.

The 6th Assembly has overtime pride itself as the Peoples Assembly. It is then time to prove true to their name.

This is not time for our dear lawmakers to be enveloped with trepidations of being in the bad books of the Executive. Rather this is time for them to start to realize more than they ever wanted to, that doing the right thing doesn’t always make one feel good.

It is time for them to reflect on the wise words of Proverbs 22 :1 that “A good name is to be chosen rather than great wealth and to be respected is better than silver and gold.” And when that is done, they must have answered to their father’s name.

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