Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is not subservient to anybody -Speaker

Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is not subservient to anybody -Speaker

Elder Samuel Ikon is the speaker Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and the current chairman, conference of Speakers of State Legislature of Nigeria. He is also the PDP candidate for Etinan Federal Constituency in the March 28, 2015 general elections. In this interview, he spoke on a number of issues ranging from the autonomy of state legislature, the recent action of the Speaker to vacate the seat of some members who cross carpeted, his ambition as well as the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly under his watch. Happy reading! 

How would you rate the performance of the 5th Assembly under your leadership?
I will say the 5th assembly has done well and improved on the performance of previous assemblies in many areas. This assembly should be credited for being the first to pass this number of private bills. We passed the Magistrate Court law which increases the number of jurisdiction the magistrate court can preside over, we also passed the Customary Court of Appeal Bill into law which allows for the decongestion of the High Court and allow cases at the Customary Court to progress to the Customary Court of Appeal and we have also passed the Multi-Door Court Bill and these are all private member Bills.
 We also moved on in the area of protecting Women and widows who are maltreated in various forms by in-laws upon the death of their husband, as a House we passed the Widow’s Right Bill which now makes it a criminal offence for any kind of unacceptable practice to be meted out on a widow. We looked at the future of the children and how it can be protected because once the mother is sent out upon the death of the father, you realize that it becomes very difficult for the woman and her children to survive. The bill has been amended to include the widower. You can also recall that when there was serious security challenge in the state we in the House of Assembly called for the redeployment of the commissioner of police. I cannot understand when some people write in the papers that the House is being tele-guided and I wonder where these people have been when we are doing all of these? Are they not in Akwa Ibom? Are they not reading what we are doing in the House of Assembly?  Another plus for the 5th assembly is the number of public hearing that we have had to handle making it possible for the public to bring in its own imputes, views, impression and ideas before the Bills are passed. This interface was never there but we brought it to ensure that there is that public content in the laws that we make.

Why did the House reverse itself in the Governor and Deputy Governor pension Bill?
We remain the people’s assembly and so when we passed the amendment of the Bill the people felt otherwise and we listened to them. Let me clarify few things about the law, it was not a new law but an existing law which we wanted to amend in order to block the leakages that existed in the original law by fixing maximum limit, not exceeding this, from zero to this amount. But as a people’s assembly, we listened to the general impression and reaction and we felt that it was necessary to give ears to it and sustain the confidence that had existed between us and the people by doing the needful.  It is also important to note that this was not peculiar to Akwa Ibom, several states have bigger packages than that of Akwa Ibom and our intention was to block the leakages and ensure there was no situation where people took undue advantage of the lacunas and ambiguities within the existed law to exploit the state. This is a House that has always been on the side of the people, brought lots of reformation, this is the first House of Assembly that has three arm joint sitting and that was when we had Cross River, Anambra and Akwa Ibom sat at once, we also had joint sitting with Delta State where the resolution of that sitting has been implemented by Mr. President. These are the things that we have done, a House that has added value, deepened the legislative procedure, we have the best standing orders and right now under the auspices of Conference of Speakers that I chair we are harmonizing the standing orders.  Across the 36 Houses of Assembly, Akwa Ibom House of Assembly standing orders is one of the two that they are using as a model. These are things that should make sense to a people, I often say people should take the bills we have passed into law and look at the content, evaluate the content and have the basis to criticize us and not this blanket criticism.

What is the situation on the quest for financial autonomy for state legislature by the speakers’ forum, has it been captured in the amendment? Is it true that you are an appendage of the executive?
The separation of power at the state level is very clear, the only infraction we had was the fact that the legislature did not have its financial autonomy and under my leadership as chairman of Conference of Speakers we were able at the last amendment to pass it. In fact, I put my office on line. When I addressed the leadership of the National Assembly, I told the senate president that I would resign as chairman of conference of speakers if the autonomy of the state legislature failed this time.

…Did it not fail?
It did not!

…You mean 2/3 majority voted in support of autonomy?

More than 2/3, we had 29 out of the 36 states and that is why I am still chairman of conference. We were able to achieve that because of the leadership we have in the conference. We are not subservient to the executive, what we have done is to do our job within the ambit of the law, no sensationalism and rascality. Very often you see a few act of rascality being celebrated but it doesn’t make sense. Where we have issues, complain and petitions coming we summon and explanations are given and we address it. We don’t need to rush to a media conference and say the House is summoning A,B C and at the end they come and defend themselves and there is no case and so what happens? The very people telling us we are subservient will turn to say they bark without biting. So you cannot go around satisfying people’s whim and caprices, you have to stick to what you need to do and do it well. Why do I need to do my job well?  I keep telling people that ten or twenty years down the line my actions and inactions will be called to question and I can’t be subservient to anybody who will not be there to defend me, so I need to take decision and actions that I can defend and stand by. The 5th assembly that I preside over is not subservient to anybody. The unfortunate thing is that some sections of the society expect some sectionalism and rascality and under my watch I will not subscribe to that because after the noise, no substance, where does it take you to? It begins to demean your integrity, demean your capacity of leadership showing that you don’t even know the issues. It is like jumping on the matter without getting the fact. Like what happened in the House a few days back, I have read so many reports and write up and have seen how ignorance has been exhibited. People even asked if the speaker had the constitutional right to take such decision.

Didn’t you err in declaring the seat of your colleagues vacant considering the relevant provisions of the constitution that stipulate the required minimum number of members that can constitute a House?
I did not err. That is why I am a lawmaker, a seasoned lawmaker because I must know the laws of the constitution in order to make good laws. That was why I was amazed that a former lawmaker could address a press conference to say this, it shows the level of his ignorance of the provision of the constitution, we must be versed in the issue that we intend to criticize. I can state this clearly, I drew my powers from section 109 sub1 (g) and sub 2. Sub 1g is very clear that once you leave the party on whose platform you went to the assembly, you must quit, Sub2 empowers me to vacate seats where I have the evidence. The People’s Democratic Party whose platform they came to the House had sent a letter notifying me that people have cross carpeted and wondered why I had not invoked relevant sections of the constitution. The constitution empowers me to do that and I had evidence which was the letter from the party which also explains why it was four and not five. The constitution did not empower me to vacate somebody seat on the basis of hearsay. I did not know that my other member had left the PDP, even if I had the information, where was the evidence? I will not sit there and take an action that can be challenged.
Now section 91 that says every House of Assembly must have at least 24members minimum but you see the framers of our constitution were aware that there could be situation where the House might not beup to 24  members and they made a provision in section 102 that the House of Assembly could conduct its duties not withstanding any vacancy in its membership, so when I see a former lawmaker go and address the press and say AkwaIbom State House of Assembly does not exist again it shows the level of his ignorance of the laws and I wonder which constituency will send that kind of person to represent them.

…When you say former lawmaker do you mean those who served up to 2011?

Even those who served up to 2015, I wonder how somebody will go to the public on issues he don’t have full grasp and section 96 sub1 goes ahead to state the required quorum which is one third (1/3) for activities of the House and at times I read that only 10 members took a decision I see the level of ignorance being expressed by people who should know.In a House of 26 members if nine people take a decision it is binding because that is what the constitution allows.

Obong Kufre Etuk who until the vacation represented Uruan State Constituency said that you were served with a court order restraining you from taking that decision, were you served any court order?

I will like to correct an impression that by the vacation of his seat he ceases to be a member of the House, I challenge anybody to produce that court order, I will not respond until the accuser brings forward the court order. It is not a hidden document, and the court has resumed and there is no strike. So let us see the court order.

…assuming there was no court order before Tuesday and they now go to court and the court decides that the status quo be maintained, to you what will that staus quo be?

It will be as of today because the action has been taken and since there is no provision for reinstatement so if we did not vacate before they return that is a different thing but even if you come now there is nothing to be done again because it is not a party thing and I have been saying, if one member had decamped to PDP I would have vacated the seat. I am on the side of the law, sentiments could be expressed but truth is sacrosanct and we cannot embellish or cover it.

How about the holier than thou attitude here where lawmakers at the National Assembly defects and no seat has been declared vacant? Is it because you are the chairman of Conference of Speakers, you want to teach others how to do their job?
Well, I have said this before, we will not copy illegality from the centre if the national assembly is doing something which is not right, all the states that had similar case have vacated their seat where there was a case of defection. Ebonyi has done it, Niger State have done it where the speaker there is a constitutional lawyer a former Attorney General of Niger state. Imo is an APC state, they did the same thing. It is not peculiar to us. I want to be remembered as someone who stoodon the side of the law.

What about your ambition to represent your people at the Federal House of Representatives and we know you contesting against an incumbent, what are your chances?
It willbe foolhardy to ignorean incumbent in office but like I said we have to understand the issues. I am seeking for that office because to me as a person I have not seen the representation that I wanted. We went to our different legislative houses at the same time in 2011 and I can show at least 18 projects I have facilitated to my constituency. I have also done eight personal projects in different communities directly and not government funded. So let the people feel your representation, I have trained 320 youths in various vocation, I have empowered over one thousand women with funds to trade. In terms of facilitating employment, I have in my record 126 that I have facilitated to be employed in the last three and half years. This is representation, this is what we are talking about and you go to the National Assembly and for three years I can’t find one project facilitated by this man who represents in my local government neither in the other two Local Government Areas. If I can’t find one of my constituents who come to me and say help me thank our House of Representatives member assisting me to get a job at the National level. even on the floor of the House I have not seen my representative doing what I would love to do, if I have seen all these I would have love to give him the privilege of going back but I want to effect the needed change in the federal Constituency. Mr. President has for once in the history of this nation, given back the wealth of this nation directly to the people. Fertilizer is now given directly to the people and all that racketeering is gone, we have various programmes like the SURE-P, YOUwin, graduate youths programme and many others, programmes that we as representatives are expected to facilitate for our people to access. Most people here don’t even know some of these things but as representative of the people at that level you should know because these things are there in the budget that passes through the National Assembly. As a representative, I want to be able to facilitate these things for my people while I do my job in the National Assembly so I am coming with an approach that will be result oriented. We are talking about a man with the capacity to bring about the benefits of democracy and give that sense of representation that we have not felt in the last couple of years.

Thank you very much Mr. Speaker
The pleasure was mine

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