By Henry Ekpe
Since the inception of the current Democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999, this is the 9th set of Imo House of Assembly.
The House of Assembly is the Legislative Arm of Government, with the Executive and Judiciary making it three in all in the State.
The trio are equal and separate, according to the constitution. But the Financial power the Executive has above the Legislature and Judiciary makes both remote controlled by the Executive, who collects the Funds from the Federal Government Allocation, and then shares to the Legislature and Judiciary.
Therefore, because of this ugly situation, there is an outcry for the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature to have autonomy, by giving the Judiciary and Legislature direct access and control of their funds.
This will remove the Legislature and Judiciary from being apron strings of the Executive.
It is learnt that it was in the pursuance of this clarion call that six members of Imo House of Assembly were recently suspended by the Speaker, Rt Hon Paul Emeziem.
Those suspended include both members of the Ruling All progressive Congress, APC, and opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
However, there is nothing new in the current suspensions, since we have seen it happen before, including even removing the Speaker of the House.
Those sent home include the Minority Leader, Anyadike Nwosu (Ezinihitt Mbaise) and Phillip Ejiogu (Owerri North) all of PDP.
APC members suspended are Hon Kennedy Ibe (Obowo) Micheal Crown Njoku (Ihitte/Uboma), Uche Ogbuagu (Ikeduru) and Nelson Ezerioha (Oru West).
While the suspended members are not saying that suspension is not part of parliamentary business, their argument is: what have we done?
They questioned the offence that led to their suspension, which the Speaker described as “unparliamentary behavour”. They also still kicked against the process that led to their ordeal, saying that whoever is accused for any offence has the right to be heard, especially in a democracy and much more in the House of Assembly that are Lawmakers.
Many political pundits had wondered how even some of the Lawmakers who were not around when the incident happened were still suspended, asking if they committed the offence while absent, or committed it by proxy.
However, one thing clear is that the Legislature remains active in politicking even when elections are over. So, Imo Legislature will not be different. But rule of Law should be adhered by those who profess Law, since he who preaches equity must have clean hands.
Unfortunately, the Imo House of Assembly as we used to know it has lost its boisterous nature and robust activities that led many to troop to the Chamber and listen to the Lawmakers debate Bills.
Today, the Imo House of Assembly has lost its power and glory. There was the hope that with Young Turks now taking over the Imo Legislature things will get better for the Lawmakers, the masses and that State.
Although the Executive usually tried to use its Financial power to capture and control the Legislature in Imo State, but we have also seen where Legislators stood their grounds, dammed the consequences, and placed the Executive on its position because of service to those who elected them into office.
Before now, Imo Lawmakers quarreled over issues pertaining to their constituencies and constituence, but what we hear these days is about how booty-sharing turned the Chamber to a war zone.
During the Achike Udenwa era, Imo Legislature had Five Speakers. In the first four years of his tenure there were, Rt Hons Agwuocha Chukwukadibia, Nnaemeka Maduagwu, Ernest Ibejiako (for twenty four hours) and Godfrey Dikeocha.
In Udenwa’s last term of four years, Rt Hon Kelechi Nwagwu was there all through, but fended off various attempts to remove him as Speaker.
Throughout this era, the Speakers of Imo House of Assembly need not tell Imo people that they are Head of the Legislature. Both in appearance and conduct, it was clear.
The House was so independent minded that it could summon the Governor in a House of PDP members in majority. This could not stop Udenwa from sending the statutory funds meant to run the House.
You cannot see any of the Speakers acting errand Boys for the Governor. This brought respect to the seat of Speaker, and to all his members.
The Lawmakers of that era were top rate: Ezeadi O Ezeadi, Dan Nwagwu, Standford Onyirimba, Jeff Ojinika, Agaptus Egbeogu, CNC Onuoha, Gozie Nwachukwu, Gerald Irona, Bede Eke, Oliver Akpaka, Ogu Onyeama, Onyeji (Villapham), Oliver Enwerenem, Obichere, Jasper Ndubuaku and others.
It was a House of Men, where Principal Officers of the Legislature protect the interest of the entire House than individual interests.
From observation and studies, it is quite clear that the Legislature performs better and protected where there is cohesion within the members.
Indeed, under such synergy and corporation among members, the Executive finds it difficult to toil with the general interest of the entire House.
In 2007 when Gov Ikedi Ohakim assumed office, Rt Hon Goodluck Opiah was the Speaker until Amaechi Nwoha was installed briefly to finish the tenure.
Even though Ohakim came in under Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, apart from Hon Damian Ogu from Onuimo constituency who was of PPA, the rest twenty six members (26) were PDP.
Despite this scenario, Ohakim had a harmonious relationship with the Legislature because of how Opiah carried himself and the House.
Before Opiah visits Government House, Owerri, there must be something important that needed his attention. He only comes on official functions and prefers staying in his office at the House of Assembly, or Speakers Quarters.
I was in that administration so I know what I am talking about.
Opiah cannot visit Government House, and sees the Governor granting Press Conference and joins. He tactically distanced himself from showing himself in “Executive Functions”. He let the separation of power to work, but not corporate with the Executive, by facing his own assignments.
From 2011, it was difficult in Imo to differentiate between the Legislature and the Executive. The Governor then was Senator Rochas Okorocha.
The first Speaker then was Late Senator Benji Uwajumogu followed by Hon Acho Ihim, Lawman Duruji, and Chinedu Offor.
It was during the Okorocha administration that Imo Lawmakers became supervisors on road contracts. Some of them were appointed into Government Task Forces. One of them was incharge of Motor Parks in the State.
Legislatures who were elected by the masses to go to the Legislative House and speak for their people became inferiors to Governor’s appointed Commissioners and Aides.
I saw where a Speaker was asked to wait for Chief of Staff. And he patiently sat in the waiting room until the Governor’s Aide was through with his visitors. That was an aberration! That is the level we are in Imo!
That Speaker came to beg for his allowances and that of his co-members. From a Chief of Staff to a Governor.
Under the Okorocha era, the House of Assembly passed what it called a Rolling Budget for the Governor, which covered for a period of four years.
When a Legislative House had passed a four year Bill in just one day, what other assignment does it have in the following days, months and years?
Now, Governor Hope Uzodinma in sixteen months in office has produced Two Speakers, namely Rt Hon Chiji Collins and Paul Emeziem.
Chiji Collins was more tolerant, because his heart has the size of his Body.
But he was not trusted by Gov Hope Uzodinma, not only that he assumed office as Speaker under Rt Hon Emeka Ihedioha Government, but because Chiji was Senator Ifeanyi Araraume’s political associate.
Now, the House under Rt Hon Paul Emeziem has been under turnoil.
In the first place, Paul Emeziem emerged Speaker because of zoning formula. He comes from Onuimo LGA, in Okigwe Zone who are entitled to produce the Speaker.
This is because Owerri Zone occupies the Deputy Governorship Seat under Prof Placid Njoku while the Governor is from Orlu Zone.
If not for that, Emeziem as a first timer and is not supposed to be Speaker, because there are others from Okigwe Zone senior to him.
But those ones are not trusted by the Uzodinma administration, so Emeziem emerged.
Majorly, Emeziem originally was from All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. After being Executive Local Government Chairman of Ounimo LGA years ago, not much was heard of Emeziem again, until Senator Ifeanyi Araraume dusted his political career in 2019 and he became a Lawmaker for Onuimo LGA.
Therefore, Emeziem is under pressure to impress Governor Uzodinma that he has severed political cord from the Isiala Mbano political Dean who made him.
So, Imo Assembly, as presently constituted has its Principal officers hooked on remote control from outside the Legislature. They can’t help it.
That the House is breathing today is because of these suspended members, who had given debates in the chamber a semblance of legislative fire power.
The PDP Lawmakers remain the corner stone, which makes the House have opposition voices that adds robustness in the deliberations.
Now, with Emeziem, and his Principal Officers suspending the vibrant voices in the Imo House of Assembly what is now left in Imo Legislature? It is quite unfortunate.