Refocusing the Ebonyi Legislature


Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Hon. Francis Nwifuru is fast improving the state’s legislature and the government appears the better for it, writes Benjamin Nworie

It was a special supplication to God during the inauguration of the present session of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly that peace reigns between the lawmakers and other arms of government in the state. This special request to God was most expedient if the ignoble past and excruciating experiences of the last assembly were put into perspective.

The peace in the state assembly was worked for and it came as planned. Whatever might have caused the many impeachments and chaos in the last session was assembled in thought, starting from its leadership. And no matter what it would take for peace to return to the assembly, the state governor, David Umahi was ready to pay
the supreme price. The governor started by recognising the need for internal independency of the issues and activities in the assembly.

Besides, the governor equally understands the efficacy of separation of powers and “independence’’ of the Legislative arms in the state and had always allowed the lawmakers to freely operate without meddling in their internal affairs.

This was because the lessons of the past are still fresh in the memories of political observers in the state, a period when impeachment and suspension of members were the only “diplomatic way” of settling any impasse and misunderstanding; a period where two speakers emerged and were operating from various corners with the overbearing influence of the executive, almost dictating every single action in the assembly.

It was a period when the “Speaker” was just a ceremonial head, taking instructions from power brokers and any attempt to disobey such instructions received the stiffest sanction of impeachment, as suffered by former speaker, Ikechukwu Nwankwo and later Chukwuma Nwazunku, but he dodged it because of the political realignment that rescued him from the hands of the power “predators” in the state.

These ugly trends necessitated the need for a “messiah” who would bring peace and unity to the assembly. It was, however, not a task for charlatans or political jobbers, who are bereft of wisdom in handling issues. It needed a consummate politician, who knows his onions and could stand firm to defend a cause he or she believes, not for subjective or parochial interest. The Speakership position needed a peace advocate and respected lawmaker, who would uphold the welfare of members at all times, without compromising.

After a long search, the Izzi-born politician, Hon. Francis Nwifuru emerged Speaker of the assembly in an election that was monitored and more or less, supervised by Governor David Umahi. But before the election, all eyes had been on Nwifuru because of his antecedents and goodwill.

And on assuming office, Nwifuru has displayed impressive wisdom, charisma and openness to carry business of legislation to another level, perhaps from what it used to be.

In his first assignment as the Speaker during the screening of Commissioners and other appointees of the governor, there was a major departure from “obsolete” screening method, where no credentials or petitions were considered against any nominee.

But in the case of Nwifuru, he stuck to the idea that members should “drill” any nominee to ensure that the person has something to offer in their various areas of engagements. For him, it was no longer a “bow and go” tradition.
This was contrary to the sycophancy witnessed in the past, where any nominee could freely come not to be screened but to receive the highest praise in his or her life time. Now, any plenary presided over by Nwifuru is fascinating, educating and most importantly, a theatre of intellectual display and works.

Sometimes, those at the gallery are enchanted with the way and manner, the Speaker handled all issues, especially when old members wanted to use experience and knowledge to intimidate the new ones.

As an advocate of the rule of law, Nwifuru, in the course of his legislative functions, has maintained strict adherence to all the enabling laws for any debate, motions and submissions to pass through on the floor of the chambers not on individual favoritism. No wonder, he was recently conferred with the honour as the Fellow of Corporate Administrative Institute (FCAI).

Particularly of commendation are the cordial relationship and fair hearing always accorded all members to express themselves during a debate. This, however, does not include the speedy passage of bills and approvals from the governor that are meant to enhance the smooth running of the government.

Such approvals like the one hundred and thirty million naira (N130m) request made by the governor to empower selected 2565 Ebonyians. Members are also not left out in their readiness to bring matters of urgent public importance to the floor of the house because of the much-anticipated cooperation of the Speaker for its accelerated hearing.

With his growing impacts in the legislative business, more also, as his position has further exposed his leadership prowess, the Speaker has now become the political head of the populous Izzi clan and a good example of purposeful leadership.

His popularity blossomed during the last election, when he defeated his
village brother, Edward Nkwegu, who contested the governorship election and made sure that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won in all the wards, against the Labour Party. This uncommon victory further revealed Nwifuru an emerging political force in Izzi land.

When he shared the experiences of the past election and how he triumphed in spite of the strong forces that tended to frustrate his return to the assembly, Nwifuru said it was the art of God and test of popularity and the anger of the Izzi people that the past administration did not cite any project in Izzi throughout its eight years.

He also recounted that his re-election and supports for all the candidates of the PDP have once more brought peace and unity in Izzi land, as stakeholders are now at peace with one another. An indication to this effect was the civic reception extended to the governor by the people of Oferekpe, where the event was a carnival of great personalities who came from all parts of the country to witness the honour to the governor and their son, Nwifuru.

Observers contended that the event was a huge success and display of overwhelming acceptance of the Umahi administration by the people. Perhaps, not many were comfortable with the popularity of the Speaker in lieu of political struggles but the governor is said to be completely pleased with his forthrightness and sincerity in the scheme of things to the extent of describing him as a “beacon of Hope” and “a stable political character”, having known him for many years.

Worthy of commendation also is the free-hand given to the state house of assembly to operate “independently” by the state governor and Umahi’s proactiveness to nib issues that may have pitted the two important arms against each other in the bud, thereby resolving the political impasse in the state.

For instance, when the assembly summoned three commissioners to clear some issues, the invitation did not go down well with the governor, who retorted that the assembly has “no right” to invite his commissioners without passing through him. This disagreement elicited “offensive” reactions from both quarters but with the wisdom and ingenuity of both leaders – Umahi and Nwifuru – both parties were able to douse the tension admirably.
The Speaker also played prominent role in what would have created sharp division and verbal attack between the members of the state executive council and the state legislators over a comment credited to him against the Exco members.
In resolving the matter, the speaker, who addressed newsmen in Abakaliki, claimed that he couldn’t have called some commissioners corrupt and incompetent in a government he strongly believes as the best with seasoned technocrats and administrators. He however charged members to take their oversight functions seriously to checkmate and oversee the activities of the ministries and agencies in the state, so as to complement the efforts of the governor in his transformation drive.
The Speaker noted that he would not probe his predecessor, Nwazunku following a petition written against him (Nwifuru) over an alleged misappropriation of constituency projects of about three years ago consecutively, amounting to over two billion naira and which led to his invitation by the anti-graft agency, some weeks ago.
Nwifuru’s invitation to answer for issues when he was not the Speaker, observers noted was the height of tolerance, resilience and probity any public officer can display. He noted that most of the issues in the petition were projects awarded and executed by the past leadership of the last assembly.
To show transparency, Nwifuru asked the anti-graft agency to visit the assembly on a fact-finding mission on the content of the petition, as he would be glad to render any help that may be needed from him for the diligent fight against corruption in the country.
It is against this backdrop that speculations were high that Nwifuru was being propmted for the House of Representatives to represent Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency in 2019. The position is currently occupied by a third timer, Sylvester Ogbaga, who’s also rumored for a higher position in the state. If the permutation is anything to go by, the choice of Nwifuru for the House of Representatives, sources noted will be a huge investment and noble choice for a better representation.
However, as Nwifuru enjoys public goodwill and admiration, the people were of the view that he should continue to uphold the welfare of his
colleagues to avoid matching the “banana pills”, which truncated the peace of the last session and he is perceived as closely romancing the executive.

These ugly trends necessitated the need for a “messiah” who would bring peace and unity to the assembly. It was, however, not a task for charlatans or political jobbers, who are bereft of wisdom in handling issues. It needed a consummate politician, who knows his onions and could stand firm to defend a cause he or she believes, not for subjective or parochial interest. The Speakership position needed a peace advocate and respected lawmaker, who would uphold the welfare of members at all times, without compromising