By Uwakmfon Dan
In a recent discussion with a colleague, we considered various reasons for the seemingly snail movement in the development of most African Nations, with particular interest in Nigeria. We concluded that around the world,
there is a growing enlightenment and interest, more than ever before, in issues related to democracy and good governance. We noted too, that for any clime to witness monumental development and seamless governance, there should be some sort of constructive relationship, or to say the least, understanding amongst the various tiers of government.
The implication of our submission is that despite separation of powers, every arm of government would have to cohere for a workable system. Coincidentally, this is the stance of the 7th Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, inaugurated on June 10, 2019. With its moniker, ‘the Working Assembly’, the House understands the need to synergise with the Executive and the Judiciary to achieve sustainable development in Akwa Ibom State. Made up of 26 vibrant and eloquent personalities drawn across the state, the current Assembly also understands that the Legislature, in the performance of its key functions of legislation, representation and oversight, can actively engage in the development and implementation of laws, policies and practices that promote democracy and good governance. It was on this underpinning, that Aniekan Bassey upon resumption of office, pointed out that the Assembly, under his watch, would not see separation of powers as an avenue to antagonise other arms of government, rather, as a means of ensuring proficiency in governance.
What the Speaker meant is that though separate, each arm of government must always find a way to converge for the sake of the people. The legislature needs to make laws and perform its oversight functions in a manner that will at least, assist the Executive and the Judiciary to perform optimally. They must agree and disagree when need be, but not at the detriment of the people. That is ‘collaborative governance’. it reduces political frictions that could hamper delivery of democratic dividends to the people.
Collaborative governance produces beautiful results in a functional legislative atmosphere; so 365 days after its inauguration, it can safely be said that the 7th Assembly, strengthened by the sterling leadership qualities of its Speaker, has clearly distinguished itself as a ‘Working Assembly’ with people-oriented features which have produced beautiful results.
Within 365 days, the 7th Assembly has received and considered no fewer than 30 Bills, including the 2020 Appropriation Law, out of which, six have been passed into law with others at various stages of legislative processes, according to the Clerk of the House, Mrs Mandu Umoren. This is a laudable feat within one year.
Some of the Bills passed into law include the Revised 2020 Appropriation Law, A Bill for a Law to Provide for the Control of Physical/Urban and Regional Planning Activities, the Establishment of Urban Regional Planning Agency and Area Planning Authorities in Akwa Ibom State, A Bill for a Law to Establish Akwa Ibom Bureau of Public Procurement and Budget Monitoring, Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Bill; Akwa Ibom State College of Health Technology Bill and the Akwa Ibom Environmental Protection and Waste Management Agency and the 2020 Appropriation Bill.
Others are: A Bill for a Law to Establish Akwa Ibom State College of Science and Technology, Nnung Ukim, Ikono and A Bill for a Law to Provide for the Establishment of Akwa Ibom Debt Management Office.
In 365, more than 35 Motions and Matters of Urgent Public Importance have been raised by the present Assembly, which include the recent ‘Incessant and Unauthorised Encroachment of Communities in Ini Local Government Area by Neighbouring Abia State Communities’, ‘Need for Teachers Training and Re-training on E-learning Tools in Preparation for Post Covid-19 Education Modles,’ ‘Concern Over Deeply Excavated Gully Abandoned in Akwa Ibom State College of Education, Afaha Nsit: A Call for Immediate Intervention to Avert Disaster’ and ‘Trespass And Sale of Government Land; A Call for Urgent Action.’
Collaborative governance has fostered unity in the 7th Assembly and Speaker Aniekan Bassey deserves commendation. Aside the ‘Right Honourable’ appendage for ‘ranking’ Members, a first time spectator at the gallery of the State Assembly will definitely find it difficult in identifying first time lawmakers and returning Members. This is so because the current leadership of the House give every Member a level playing ground. In legislative business, second term lawmakers may enjoy more privileges and opportunities than their first term colleagues, but Speaker Aniekan Bassey has been fair in ensuring a balance. This has fostered unity among the lawmakers and has impacted positively on oversight duties of the House.
A Working Assembly understands that environment influences employees’ motivation and is critical to how productive and efficient they can be. With this in mind and informed by the deplorable state of the Complex which it met, the House ordered a total rehabilitation of the entire Assembly Complex and offices. The move was speedy and within few weeks, the Assembly Complex wore a new look, befitting of a place where laws are made. Today, almost all the offices at the Assembly have been renovated, with total repairs of water channels and conveniences that were hitherto disfunctional.
The Assembly is relentless in improving productivity and reducing absenteeism, lateness, truancy and other poor work attitudes by according absolute priority to staff welfare. Under the 7th Assembly, staff salaries and other entitlements are paid as and when due. While some workers in other establishments groaned during the COVID-19 lockdown, those at AKHA had cause to smile as the Speaker ensured that palliative items were shared to them. From cleaners to drivers, to those in higher ranks, everyone got home satisfied.
Recently, what seemed to be a power challenge at the Assembly Complex for about a week was addressed, with the purchase of a 500KVA Cummins Power Generator to supply power to facilities within the Assembly premises. The new generating set came as a replacement to the faulty FG Wilson 500KVA Generating Plant which serviced the State Assembly for the past 8years. The move wasn’t just aimed at preventing what could have forestalled legislative engagements at the Assembly, but a pointer to the fact that the 7th Assembly is committed to delivering people-oriented legislation, despite a plethora of discouraging factors.
The ‘Working Speaker’, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey is aware that aside overseeing the House of Assembly, his constituents should be given a sense of belonging and also feel the impact of quality representation. He understands that he is first a Representative of Uruan Constituency before a Speaker, so in the heat of the COVID-19 lockdown, he ensured that palliative items were procured and distributed amongst his people, to cushion the effect of the lockdown. The gesture knew no political ties, APC, PDP or what have you. That is what governance is.
A Working Speaker is accessible, humble and unassuming. He must be pragmatic and accountable. He must report and reach out to his people at every point. Therefore on December 25, 2019, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey held a Town Hall Meeting with his constituents. He dislikes darkness, thus, he informed his constituents that some communities that were hitherto in total blackout had been reconnected to the national grid. Those from Uruan extraction can testify to this. He told them of solid moves at ensuring that ongoing projects within the area are completed.
Again, Rt Hon. Aniekan Bassey knows that he is Speaker of all. So, he initiated the Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey Youth Entrepreneurship Support Scheme (RHAB-YESS), a scheme aimed at mentoring and supporting young entrepreneurs to gain financial independence and greatness as enshrined in the Dakkada philosophy of the Governor Udom Emmanuel. Apolitical, the initiative is for all Akwa Ibom youths and has been of immense help to many who desire financial freedom.
The Speaker rewards loyalty, so at the Town Hall Meeting, he doled out cars, mini buses, tricycles, motorcycles, generating sets, washing and sewing machines, business starter packs, educational grants, wrappers and other cash gifts to the people. That is the trademark of a working Speaker.
Another quality of a good leader is ability to influence his followers positively. If a leader is generous, his followers should not be different. On that basis, while the State Government donated relief items to vulnerable people across the state during the COVID-19 lockdown, Members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, on hand, complemented the gesture. They distributed bags of rice, beans, garri, cartons of instant noodles and other foodstuff in their respective constituencies. Everyone, especially, the poor, got a helping hand, either from the state government or the House of Assembly. That is the dividends of collaborative governance.
Having reached one year since its inauguration, the 7th Assembly remains poised to continue churning out laws that will cater to the needs of the people, with the domino effect reflecting conspicuously on the entirety of the state.
With its seamless collaborative efforts with the Executive and Judicial arms of government having so far yielded remarkable fruits, the Assembly, it is safe to say, will build on the already established order as it engages gear for another rollercoaster ride in the next three legislative years.
(Uwakmfon Dan is a Member of the Press Corps, Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.)