By Dickson Okafor
Honourable Dennis Aniefiok is the Deputy Leader and memberrepresenting Etinan state Constituency of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. He expressed his colleague’s position on the ban of open grazing in the southern part of the country by the Southern Governor’s Forum.
Aniefiok who doubles as Chairman, House Committee on Information gave insight on the position of the state Assembly in the ongoing constitution review.
He gave reasons for the cordial relations between the executive and legislature in the state.
You have been a lawmaker for 6 years with just 2 more years to the end of your second term, what are some of the achievements of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly within this period?
Yes, like you rightly observed, this is my second term in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. I ran for the first term in 2015 and my constituents re-elected me for a second term in 2019 hence, my two years in office. The 7th Assembly was inaugurated on June 10, 2019 which means, that those of us who are in for their second term must have spent another two years in office. So, we are looking at what we have done within this period so that after the remaining two years we can proudly say these are our achievements. Presently, we have sponsored 54 Bills, 19 of which have been passed into law and 42 Motions all of which are people-oriented. These are things that affect our people positively. In the health sector, we had the first Covid-19 index case of February 27, 2020, and a motion was brought the House “Infectious Disease PreventiveMeasures as Nigeria Records First Confirmed Casesof Covid-19” to prevent the the spread of corona Virus and to keep our people safe. The next step new took was move into the 26 state constituencies to sensitize our people on the need to wear face mask, wash their hands regularly with soap or use of hand sanitiser and observe social distancing. The motion also mandated the state Disease Control Unit to put in place a facility that can take care of those infected with Corona virus. Of course, you know that Covid-19 is a new pandemic, therefore, there was need for health facilities to be provided. We thank God that the governor immediately swung into action and constructed state of the art Isolation Centres at Ituk Mbang, Uruan Local Government Area. Don’t forget that before that time, we had Lassa Fever which was prevalence here in the South-South states. We also had another motion to that effect in terms of the Disease Control Mechanism. Through legislation, we encouraged the state government to acquire adequate machines to checkmate the disease and to be able to train and retrain staff in the primary health sector including nurses to enable us counter most of these diseases. Covid-19 is a disease the world never envisaged. The pandemic ravaged and and it is still ravaging most advanced countries with their technology and efficient medical facilities, but thank God in Nigeria the case is not as bad as we thought. We used to hear rising number of cases of covid-19 in thousands, but now the number of cases has reduced drastically. The insinuation was that people will be falling and dying in the streets, but because God loves this country, that did not happen. In the education sector, the governor has done massively well. As part of our constituency projects as lawmakers being closer to the people, through the Committee on Education, we nominated two classroom blocks in one secondary school each in our respective state constituencies. In the social sector even with the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, a lot of social vices including gender base issues sprung up, then as a House, we were proactive in our approach to taming them through bills, motions and oversights. We adopted and domesticated bthe Violence Against Persons Act and the governor was prompt to assent to it. Although we had one unfortunate incident that happened in the state, where one iniubong Umoren, a job seeker was killed. We through the House Committee on Security liaised with relevant security agencies to investigate, fish out and brought to book those who perpetrated the dastardly act.
Do you see the ongoing constitution review as antidote for agitations especially autonomy for state legislature, judiciary and the local government?
The role of the judiciary and the legislature are provided for in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We in the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly are waiting to see what will happen at the end of the Parliamentary Staff Association strike because the Governors Forum are meeting in that regard. In the Assembly, we are having a lot of discussions with the relevant authorities including the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State to see how the issue of autonomy will be resolved and strike action embarked upon by the Parliamentary Staff is called off. I believe something positive will come out of it. The Speakers Forum had a meeting and they had a position having reached a consensus. The Parliamentary Staff are insisting that they will not call off the strike without receiving positive reactions reflecting that the autonomy is granted.
How do you feel when you hear some people describe the State Assemblies as an appendage of the executive?
This is a mere assumption because as members of the state Assembly, we have cordial relationship with the executive. Most times when this cordial relations exist between the two arms of government, some label the legislature as a mere appendage of the governor. In democracy, the three arms of government operate independent of each other and it is called separation of power. And also, the doctrine of checks and balances apply as they check each other and by so doing the people can hold government and their representatives accountable. Our duty is to make laws and oversight the executive hence the budget of the state must be presented before the legislature for approval. It is our responsibility to ensure that what are contained in the budget are things that should improve the living standard of our people who gave us the mandate to represent them. Therefore, that the legislature and the executive are enjoying cordial relationship does not make the legislature an appendage of the governor. The constitution is very clear on the functions of each arm of government, the rules are outlined in the constitution and the lines are drawn and no arm of government should cross those lines. There is never a time my governor went out of his way to interfere in what we are doing in the House of Assembly. The Speaker is very independent, thorough and resilient in ensuring that the will of the people prevail. Like I said before, most people expect members of the House to engage the executive in a fight in order to be relevant, that can only happen when the governor try to usurp the duties and rights of the legislature.
Thank God Governor Udom Emmanuel has never imposed his will on the speaker or members of the House and that is why the relationship between the two arms of government in the state is cordial. As a team player, the Speaker has always carried us along in all his actions and that has brought stability in the House. For instance, our position on the ongoing constitution review is in line with other state Assemblies as conversed by my Speaker and the speakers of the other state Assemblies. Meanwhile, that is our position and the position of the forum and our position may not be the same with that of the governors.
What are some of the decisions the state lawmakers took that informed their position in the ongoing constitution review?
Like the autonomy I spoke about earlier, everybody seems to agree that there should be autonomy for the judiciary, state legislature and local government as well as state police, and gender equality. For instance, in my state, women have been given 35 per cent in both elective and appointive positions. Those are the issues we outlined. Also, there is the issue of so much concentration of power in the centre hence, the need for devolution of power. Again, there is so much concentration of power in the exclusive list. There is need for such powers to be decentralized or retain in the concurrent list or reduced. The issue of resource control is another issue we looked at. We believe that states or regions should control their resources and pay some percentage to the Federal Government. That is the position of the South-South geo political zone. This is the position conversed by the Attorney General of my state. We want to control our resources or economy and pay tax to the Federal Government. We don’t want a situation whereby those items we consume and paying vat on to be distributed to states where those items are not permitted by law to be consume because those state government put a law in place prohibiting the people from consuming such items. These are some of the generally agreed positions. On state police, a policeman from my place will know much of my place and where to go to than a police man from the other geo political zones. He understands the language hence if criminals are making plans, he will understand what they saying. But a policeman who does not understand my language will be caught unaware. Therefore, we call for police to be localized. I mean a police force that the governor can control as the Chief Security Officer of his state and also the governor can be held responsible for whatever action and inaction of the police hence he won’t have any excuse. We also argued and converse that there should a Court of Appeal in each state. In Akwa Ibom, we don’t have Court of Appeal. That’s also our position and indeed, the position of not only the people of South-South, but majority of Nigerians.
How can the governors be check so that they won’t abuse the power of controlling the police?
I know that there possibility of being apprehensive, but law enforcement officers all over the world are controlled by some persons. It has to do with leadership. If proper election is conducted and those entrusted with power are those we can be trusted, I mean those we entrusted our lives to, I believe the abuses of power and impunity we see in our nation won’t happen. Whether we like it or not yes, some persons are controlling some groups somewhere, but don’t forget that we still have decent police officers in the federal police.
With the recent decision to ban open grazing by the Southern governors, many have expressed fear that the bill if presented to the state Assemblies may not fly, do you have confidence in your colleague’s ability to pass the anti-grazing bill into law?
We have had that bill before and that is the position of my governor and the entire Southern governors. My governor spoke the mind of members of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and we in the House agreed with the position of Governor Udom Emmanuel. That is also is the position of the people of South-South and if the bill comes to the state Assembly, my colleagues and I will not hesitate to pass it into law. So, we are in support of the position of the Southern Governors Forum on the ban of open grazing in the Southern part of the country.
Finally, as the Chairman, Committee on Information, what is the relationship of the State Assembly with the media?
Very cordial, friendly, and fruitful I must say. The Nigeria Union of Journalist (NUJ) under the leadership of Comrade Amos Etuk is living up to the expectations of the people. I engage the different chapels of the NUJ almost on monthly basis. Whenever there is a doubt they come around for clarification and they have never been disappointed. We invite them for our plenary, public hearing, committee meetings and even oversight activities and verse versa. This shows the level of support and understanding that exist between the Assembly and men/women of the fourth estate of the realm. Even at that, we still have a few bad eggs who hide somewhere and send information to the public without having to verify them. But in all, we are in love and support to each other.