Lawmakers must take their job seriously

For a record fourth time within a period of two years, the Edo State House of Assembly produced a new Speaker last week following another free-for-all fight that has become its tradition. Although the frequency of impeachment of speakers of Houses of Assembly may seem like a circus by some unserious political jesters, we are increasingly being marked down as a country where a constitutional instrument meant to enhance good governance is being abused and desecrated. These desperate moves have put the democratic experiment and our country at great risks and should be checkmated before we are tripped over the precipice by the inordinate ambition of a few.

At a session filled with drama in Benin last week, 19 members of the state House of Assembly removed the speaker, Mr Justin Okonoboh; his deputy, Mrs Elizabeth Ativie and Majority Leader, Folly Ogedengbe, over alleged abuse of office. The lawmakers accused the speaker of illegal award of contracts and high-handedness. They consequently elected the former Chief Whip of the House, Mr Kabiru Adjoto as the new speaker while Victor Edoror was elected deputy speaker and Rolland Asoro became the new majority leader.

However, both the impeached speaker and his deputy are still fighting on. “What they did was illegal,” said Mr.Justin Okonoboh. “Those who purportedly impeached me have been suspended. This cannot happen at this time that we need peace in Edo State for development. All they said about me was rubbish. These people have been very ambitious; they are only after their selfish interest. I remain Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly.”

While we urge the Edo State House of Assembly to put its house in order, we are nonetheless worried about what has become a national problem. With very little excuse and sometimes for pecuniary reasons, legislators have no qualms about impeaching their speakers. Yet behind most of the impeachments is the overbearing disposition of the executive in these states where the governors lord themselves over the legislative arm of government which they seek to emasculate as was, for instance, the case in Kogi before it was resolved. But our democracy cannot develop under such a situation.

It is noteworthy that speakers do not have absolute powers of their own. They remain “executive heads” of the legislative branch by virtue of being elected by their peers; in other words, they are first among equals. But the moment some of them are elevated to the office, they begin to hobnob with the executive branch, sometimes turning themselves into errand boys of their governors at the expense of the legislature. That has led to the undoing of some speakers. But the manner in which many have lost their jobs calls to question the seriousness with which the lawmakers perceive their assignment.

Although there are constitutional provisions for removing speakers and other erring public officers, assembly members most often invoke flimsy excuses for seeking the ouster of the incumbent office holder. Unfortunately more often than not at the bottom of the impeachment saga is the trust deficit between a speaker and his colleagues who often suspect that their leader may have been collecting financial inducements from the executive and failing to bring it to the table for fair sharing.

The immediate consequence of this interminable bickering in the legislative houses is its toll on the quality of debate and legislation for good governance in our country today. The ultimate victims of this unfortunate state of affairs are people of their states who are denied quality and effective representation. It is therefore time the lawmakers in the states put an end to the nonsense.