By Henry Ekpe
The framers of Nigerian Constitution, which was an adoption of the United States of America (USA) model, was designed into three arms, that in unison make up the Government. And it was for each Arm to check the other.
They are the Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature. While the Legislature makes the Laws, the Judiciary interprets it and the Executive implements it.
Since 1999 the present democratic dispensation was born in Nigeria, Imo State has had Nine Assemblies, meaning that the Imo Legislature has ran for Nine tenures with different group of Lawmakers for twenty one years now.
Imo Lawmakers or Legislators are twenty Seven in number, representing the twenty seven Local Government Areas of Imo State, otherwise called constituencies. Therefore, whoever emerges as the Legislator from any of these constituencies is in the House of Assembly Courtesy the people of that LGA, who have the constitutional power to recall which ever Lawmaker that does not meet his onions.
These Legislators after election gather in the State capital, where they elect their own officers on their terms and caprices and have the power to remove or sack any of the officers who fail to leave up to expectation. The Speaker is the chairman.
However, Imo House of Assembly, by Law, is expected to be Independent, as their main job is to originate and pass Bills for Imo people, which would be signed into Law by the Executive (Governor).
In order words, the life of the entire Imo people, in terms of promulgation of Laws, depend on these twenty four men and women, who ought to operate with the protection of their constituents as the first of their priorities. However, any State that has a bulk of Lawmakers who rather than think of their constituents, bother only about their own personal welfare and pocket, is doomed.
This type of Lawmakers could be described as Merchandizing than facing the responsibility for which they were elected in office by the teeming electorate of their constituencies, which is to make Laws that will protect and benefit the masses, and the State.
In the life of Imo State since 1999, we have had various Houses of Assembly with their officers, led by the Speaker.
Since 1999 Imo State has had Speakers of House of Assembly, like Rt Hons Agwuocha Chukwukadibia, Godfrey Dikeocha, Kelechi Nwagwu, Goodluck Opiah, Benji Uwajumogu, Acho Ihim and Chiji Collins.
However, it is pertinent to state here that the vibrancy, robustness or otherwise of each given House of Assembly is dependent on the Speaker and the caliber of persons that make up that House.
Unfortunately, as time went by, we have seen the Imo House of Assembly drifting out of reckoning, principally occasioned by the general decay that has ravaged Nigerian Democracy. Rather than deepen, Nigerian Democracy since 1999 has continued to nose dive down towards ruddlessness.
This general despondency in our democracy has harshly affected Imo House of Assembly that even the Lawmakers have lost focus and the reason or what their real assignments are in the Legislature.
In 1999, Imo had a House of Assembly so robust that nearly all the members were there for their constituents first and foremost.
And the Imo House of Assembly then was made up of different political parties, as All Peoples Party APP and Peoples Democratic Party PDP, had their members in the House.
This situation improved the activities of the House, as even members of PDP could criticize the Governor on the floor of the House.
You will see the likes of Hon CNC Onuoha of the opposition party having a dig at the Governor, and some of his colleagues from the ruling party will see reason with him, provided his action was altruistic.
You could say that then Imo House of Assembly had “Men” and not “Babies” and they were careful of what their constituents could say about them when they return home.
We had late Hon Onyeama (Nkwerre) Gozie Nwachukwu (Ngor Okpala) CNC Onuoha (Isu), Jasper Ndubuaku (Isiala Mbano) Sanford Onyirimba (Ehime Mbano/Majority Leader) Chuma Nnaji (Deputy Speaker/ Njaba) Enerst Ibejiako (Owerri Municipal) Dan Nwagwu (Obowo) Jeff Ojinika (Orsu) Gerald Irona (Oguta) and others.
At this period, the House wielded its independence enormously with pride and could even summon a Governor to the chamber. Then, the Speaker of the House cannot be treated as a “School Boy” by the Governor.
But unfortunately, as things went on, Imo House of Assembly gradually lost its bark.
I remember when I was the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ikedi Ohakim, before Speaker Goodluck Opiah visits the Government House, it must be on official function. And whenever he decides to come on his own, the entire Security in the Government House would be put on notice, so that his car does not spend a second at the Gate.
And he had express entrance into the Governor’s office who discharges whoever was in his office and cannot be delayed for any reason.
Just a few years ago, to my greatest shock, I saw a Speaker of Imo House of Assembly, struggling to enter the office of Chief of Staff to a Governor, while I was already seated inside with some Newspaper publishers. To my coldness, the Speaker was asked to wait until the Chief of Staff was done with the visitors. Which Governor dare does that to a Kelechi Nwagwu, Goddy Dikeocha or Agwuocha Chukwukadibia as Speakers! Where do you even see them, if not in their offices?
These days, a Speaker begs to see the Governor. They run after the Governor uninvited and are treated as one of the Aides of the Governor than a Head of another Equal Arm of Government. Don’t mind that it is the Executive that releases funds to the Legislature, but a respected Speaker, with strong members can always get the right and due of what belongs to the Legislature. The problem is that Imo Legislators think that to derive more power or opportunities they must operate singly. You cannot bend a bunch of brooms, but can when it is single.
In 2007 when Governor Ikedi Ohakim was elected into office, he came under the platform of Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, with only the member from Onuimo constituency, while the rest were on PDP platform.
For the first year Ohakim was in power, every entreaties towards converting the rest of the Lawmakers to PDP failed. Instead they made use of their majority to always make the Governor bow to their demands.
Has Imo people asked how Ohakim was able to work with an Imo House of Assembly that had twenty six PDP Legislators without getting impeached? This was coupled with the over twenty litigations against his election. Things have really changed in Imo House of Assembly.
Because the present crop of Legislators are more concerned with personal matters than that of their constituents, they could be toyed with by any Governor.
We all are witnesses how Legislators of other parties hurriedly joined Governor Emeka Ihedioha to PDP immediately he was sworn-in. The moment the Supreme Court made another pronouncement, they all moved in droves to the present Governor Hope Uzodinma and his party.
Without sounding immodest, what do these Imo Lawmakers take the people for? They think they are fools? In 2023 many of them will realize that Imo democracy is deepening. What happened in Edo State will be a child’s play in Imo. Mark my words.
Between 2015 and now, the present Speaker of Imo House of Assembly, my good friend, Rt Hon Chiji Collins has traversed through three political parties all in the bid to secure his position as Speaker.
He started under APGA, moved to APC, ran to PDP, and now back to APC. This is a fact and verifiable. If you have such a Leader in politics you will be confused. Could this be why the present Imo House of Assembly is facing much problems and unstable? When the head is not steady, what do you expect of the body?
It was during the reign of late Benji Uwajumogu that Imo people went wild with the “Abortion Law” saga. In the end, the Law was abrogated following public uproar.
Now under Chiji Collins, the burning issue is that of the vexatious “Detention Law” which gave the Governor power to detain citizens at his “Pleasure”.
Experts have been debating the controversial Law and how useful or not it is to Imo people. But the man who sponsored the Bill, Hon Frank Ugboma has made it clear that what he saw as now Law, was not the Bill he spearheaded.
Shocking and surprised is that a majority of Imo Lawmakers swore that that portion was not smuggled in. What a shame!
So, they are inadvertently admitting that they were aware of this draconian Law at this time of our development and history.
Did the Lawmakers consult their constituents, who may fall victim to this Law, before they all agreed to it? Is this the type of Lawmakers that are representing Imo people? Do they realize that they are sent there by the people? Do they know that without the people they have nobody to represent? Do they know that whatever they do in Imo Legislature must come back to hunt and even haunt the masses?
So, when are they going to pass a Bill on free Education to all Imo children of Secondary School age?
When will they move the Law that will checkmate looting by the Executive and Others? We are waiting.
They must realize that they are carrying their various constituents on their shoulders now, until they leave office.
However, Laws are not made with vengeance, vendetta or predujuice. Laws are made for man, and not man for Law. Man was in existence before Law and only made Laws for a peaceful and organized environment.
So, any Law found harsh by the people must be repealed. Because if this Law is allowed to exist, it is at “Pleasure” of all other Governors that may lead Imo in the future. Imo House of Assembly should redeem itself by listening to the majority cry of people they are representing.
By Henry Ekpe