David Lawrence represents Eket constituency in the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). A deputy chief whip, he speaks on his experience as a first time lawmaker, the possibility of the PDP returning to power at the national level and other issues.
Many Nigerians assume that it is the duty of the lawmakers to meet the needs of their constituents by providing infrastructure instead of lawmaking. How have you been able to senstise your constituents to know what the constitutional duties of a lawmaker are?
The society generally believes this and they see an average lawmaker as someone who is holding their trust not only to make laws but also to meet their needs. There are the ones that are reasonable. In our days, there were those who could not afford school fees or medical attention and they believe that their representatives should shoulder some of their responsibilities. But in terms of writing it in the constitution, it is not part of the legislative duties of a lawmaker.
Tell us more about the recent empowerment programme you embarked upon in your constituency?
The issue of empowerment basically is new to the legislature. What we ideally have is what we call constituency briefing, where you tell your constituents or give them your score card, what policies you have been able to bring to bear in the House of Assembly, what you have contributed in enhancing the policies of government in terms of oversight functions and so on. This is just a new dimension to it. It has become fashionable to set aside a day to brief the people of your work as someone carrying their mandate and also show them some benevolence, but in this case, it is just a day you talk to make this open demonstration but empowerment as far as the lawmaker is concerned is a daily affair.
From the time we went into office, we embarked on empowerment programmes like scholarships and paying stipends to some of our constituents, for example, in my case, I have over 35 people I pay allowance to from inception till date. Last month we paid bursary to about 300 students from my constituency. On this one, the state assembly is seen to be the peoples’ assembly. Almost all my colleagues have also done their constituency briefing and empowerment but mine is one of those that stood out because of the quantum that was given out. We did that to appreciate people and most of them are recognised like the vehicles we gave out under the constituency transport scheme because we expect most of them to use it to generate income for themselves. Those we gave fridges are expected to use them in their fish related business as my place is a riverine area. They use the fridges to stock fishes.
There is this impression in some quarters that the House of Assembly is a rubber stamp to the governor, how true is this?
It is not true. If you are rubber stamping development, you rubber stamp industries, you rubber stamp infrastructure, you cannot call that rubber stamping. We are christened, ‘The Peoples’ Assembly.’ Whatever would be to the benefit of the average Akwa Ibom person, we as legislators support such programmes of the government. There is no programme that the executive would bring that is inimical to the progress of an average Akwa Ibom person that we would rubber stamp, we would kick against it. No responsible government would embark on a policy that would negatively affect the citizenry. Most of the bills that we passed, I think about 70 per cent of the bills are private member bills. Those are the ones that come from members of the House of Assembly. For instance, my bill which has to do with a bill for a law to create a signage and advertisement control agency. Those are the kinds of bill we make. The ones that come from the executive are just 30 per cent. Most of the policies are from the legislature, so there is no way you can really say that we are rubber stamp.
If it comes to maybe the government trying to take advantage of what we call counterpart funding with the federal government and it requires some approval of some policies which is co-funded by the state and national government, we’ll allow the state government to do that because at the end of the day, it is beneficial to the average Akwa Ibom person. I don’t think that we are really rubber stamping except we are rubber stamping development.
The work of the legislature is done in two parts; the executive and plenary sessions. In the executive, the house keeping that needs to be done must have been carried out. For example, if the governor sends a message to the house that a particular part needs to be corrected, such is taken care of at that level of engagement which is the executive session done at the plenary. By the time we come out, we would have contributed by making our input in such policy and by the time it comes out to the plenary it is refined. When the governor sends messages to the house, it has to go through excruciating legislative processes from the committee, public hearing where the public is invited to come and make input and after the committee level, it has to come back as a report to the general house whereby the issue is discussed again before it becomes a law.
2019 is around the corner, how vibrant is the PDP to continue in power?
In my small enclave I normally say politics is a game of numbers and if you have line up the numbers of the APC and the PDP in my constituency, the ratio will be 70/30 in favour of the PDP. At the state level, the PDP is also more in number and it is the people that make the party. If you have majority of the politicians in Akwa Ibom as members of the PDP, then you can rightly say that the other parties do not exist. Apart from that, the governor himself is coming from a high professional background and with the amount of money that comes to the state compare to what used to be, we can say he is a very good manager of funds. What he has been able to do with the little funds he gets compared to what comes in before, show that the man has done so well. We believe the party has a support base and the leader of the party, Governor Emmanuel is taking the party and government to a very high height. PDP is Akwa Ibom and Akwa Ibom is PDP. I think we are very sure and hopeful that the PDP will continue to be in power in the state even beyond 2019.