Nseobong Okon-Ekong dialogues with Hon. Ime Okon, former Chairman of the Committee on Information of the Akwa State House of Assembly on how the legislature managed the crisis of defection of its members that nearly set the state on fire
What is the established tradition of the AKHA for choosing its leadership? Is it by zoning or another criteria?
For an inclusive government and to get all sections of the state to have a sense of belonging the party has always zoned political offices amongst the senatorial districts. Currently, the position of the Governor is Eket, deputy governor Ikot Ekpene while the speaker is in Uyo. In selecting a speaker preference is given to members with cognate legislative experience, that is ranking members.
Same arrangement goes for other leadership positions ; zoning and legislative experience. The new speaker is from Uruan. With this choice, you can see that there is a deliberate move to bring all segments of the state into the top hierarchy of governance. Though the former speaker who is now a member of the House of Representatives was from Uyo senatorial district like the current one, this time, it has move from Etinan Federal Constituency where the former speaker belongs to Uyo Federal Constituency and then we zeroed in on Uruan area. This is an area that has never had this kind of appointment since the return to democratic governance in 1999. The Governor Udom Emmanuel administration is methodic in its approach to carry the people along. The governor himself desires to touch every part of the start. Though you can say that Governor Emmanuel was not directly in the choice of the speaker of state house of assembly, but as the leader of the party in the state, he was part of the consensus building that saw to the emergence of the new speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Aniekan Bassey, the 7th speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, who represents Uruan State constituency.
Though the AKHA is dominated by one party, it does not guarantee a rancour free emergence term. What can be done ensure a smooth tenure?
Consultation amongst members and critical stakeholders is the key starting point is that the members were given a free hand to choose the leadership that will enjoy their confidence.
The 6th Assembly has gone down in history as the one that had the interest of our people uppermost in every transaction in the house. Under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, we ran a very open and transparent assembly. We made sure that before any bill is passed into law it is subjected to public hearing where the inputs from the people are collated for inclusion in such bill. The 6th assembly has passed the highest number of private member bills. Maintained a good relationship with the executive to facilitate the development of the state while jealousy guarding its independence as an arm of government. Through constituency briefings the 6th assembly has given back to society by way of empowerment in various forms more than any other assembly. The assembly also succeeded in managing the unfortunate issue of defection by some members professionally such that its sittings were not disrupted and governance of the state was not impeded. You will recall that this was one of the most trying period in Akwa Ibom State. The attention of the world was on the state, albeit for relatively negative reasons. I pray that we will never witness such trying period again. Nobody envisaged what happened. It came upon us suddenly and we were able to manage it to best of our ability, God being on our side. It could have been worse. It could have become more messy. For instance, if the then Speaker, Rt. Hon. Luke was greedy, he could have taken advantage of the situation. Majority of the assembly members were solidly behind him and he could taken them wherever he wanted. Thank God that he saw the bigger picture and decided to work for the peace and stability of the state.
Some people think, the leadership of the outgoing AKHA became too close to the Executive to the detriment of performing its role of checking the executive arm of government. How do you see it?
Separation of powers does not mean separation of government so the synergy and collaboration between the exco and the legislature is necessary to drive the development and progress of the state. We sure do have disagreements but these are always resolved in the overall interest of the state. Fisticuffs and wrestling bouts between the exco and legislature rather impede governance and the people are at the losing end. One thing you could not accuse us of is that we were pocketed or became a rubber stamp legislature. With someone like Rt. Hon. Luke in the saddle as speaker it was not possible to overwhelm him. This is someone who has a track record in the legislature from his days as a student. He can’t be easily cowed. He had the stature to intimidate the executive if he wanted to, it was not the other way round. But after all said and done, we were not in a situation where we needed to throw our weight around. We had a duty to perform and we did it to the best of our ability.
What would the outgoing legislature be remembered for other than the struggle to kick-out your colleagues who changed political party loyalty?
That struggle, as you call it, was historic. Many people did not realise that we were in a make or mar situation. Many hawks were waiting in the wings to jump on the situation and feast on it. The leadership of the House deployed ingenious tact to deal with it. The truth is that Hon. Luke cautioned all of us to continue to accord our estranged colleagues all their due respect. That is why the whole thing played out as a mild drama. One wrong move and the state could have been engulfed in a huge flame of violence with damaging consequences. Managing that crisis alone was a big task that we collectively won. Everything else that we did, in terms, of legislative duties are carefully documented and they are available for posterity.