From Tony John, Port Harcourt
LAWMAKING is not all comers’ affair, as it requires wits and intellectual prowess. But, it is unfortunate that some politicians see it as an act of ego boosting. As regards legislating for a state, some lawmakers simply make mockery of themselves during plenary. Their arguments lack facts and, even the foundation and presentation of the facts, turn the exercise into jamboree.
However, Rivers State House of Assembly, Port Harcourt, has made name for itself, in its own way, starting from the Seventh Assembly. One would say that the Seventh Assembly laid a precedence that the Eighth Assembly is following.
The State House Assembly having survived the 2013 crisis, where the complex was shut down till May 31, 2015, is yet to recover from the quagmire. The House of Assembly witnessed for the first time, in the history of the State, crisis which turned the state upside down, affecting the entire three arms of government.
The Seventh Assembly had a sharp division, where 27 members of the Assembly pitched tent with former governor Chibuike Amaechi and, their subsequent defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The other five lawmakers remained in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, the legislators, who were tagged five anti-Amaechi lawmakers, were, also, called the ‘five musketeers’. They were Evans Bapakaye Bipi, Martins Amaewhule, Michael Chinda, Victor Ihunwo and Kelechi Nworgu. After a long time, another lawmaker, Ikuinyi Ibani (House Whip) joined them.
A flashback on the genesis of the crisis followed the sack of Chief G.U. Ake, as chairman of the State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and declaration of Bro. Felix Obuah, as chairman by a Federal High Court in Abuja. The latter is still the party’s chairman . The backlash was the abrupt suspension of the chairman of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area and successor of Nyesom Wike, Prince Timothy Nsirim, by the House of Assembly under the speakership of Rt. Hon. Otelemaba Dan- Amachree.
This move by the Assembly caused serious disagreement between the five musketeers and 27 perceived Amaechi loyalists. On July 9, 2013, a coup was plotted allegedly by the five anti-Amaechi members to impeach the speaker, Dan-Amachree. The resultant effect of the coup was the attack on Michael Chinda by the Leader, Chidi Lloyd with Mace. The fight spilled over to the following day and the Assembly Complex was shutdown. The injury kept Chinda out of the system till the end of the Seventh Assembly.
Also, within the period, the arrowhead of the anti-Amaechi lawmakers was Evans Bipi. He was the self-acclaimed speaker of the Assembly, having believed that the July 9, 2013, purported impeachment was successful. His group condemned every sitting held at the new venue, saying it was not in line with the laws that established the Assembly.
However, history was recorded on June 1, 2015, when the state Governor Nyesom Wike, announced the re-opening of the Assembly Complex. Wike had during his May 29, inauguration at General Gowon (Liberation) Stadium announced that the Assembly and Judiciary would be reopened on June 1. It is remarkable to note that the six anti- Amaechi lawmakers and only one of his loyalists, Josiah Olu, representing Eleme Constituency, made it to the Eighth Assembly.
Within the period of crisis, there were series of legal battles involving the lawmakers, government and the party. Following the closure of the Assembly Complex by Police, the pro- Amaechi lawmakers relocated sittings to the old Government House Chambers. They remained there till the expiration of the Seventh Assembly.
On June 1, Governor Wike dissolved the Seventh Assembly and a new speaker, incidentally the last member of anti-Amaechi group, Ikuinyi Ibani, emerged for the Eighth Assembly.
Martin Amaewhule was elected Leader of the House, while Evans Bipi became the Whip. It was a PDP-dominated House with 31 members, and APC had only1. The commenced business after the governor had inaugurated them.
The lawmakers, as expected, did not waste time to dissolve or recommend for the governor to sack, where necessary, all the structures, commissions, parastatals and agencies established by the former governor.
On June 8, the first four Commissioners and seven Special Advisers were screened and confirmed by the lawmakers. On June 11, last year, the House approved the N10 billion for the state government following the request by Wike.
Also, on June 17, the House of Assembly repealed the controversial State High Court Amendment Law, 2015. The law was made by the Seventh Assembly at the peak of the appointment of Chief Judge of the State upheaval. The lawmakers, on June 23, demanded proper handover from the former governor, Amaechi, by writing to the National Assembly and Attorney General of the State to compel him to comply.
On June 30, the second loan, N20 billion was approved for the Governor by the House of Assembly. Also, the lawmakers recognized Sir Celestine Omehia, as former governor of the state. Amaechi did not recognize him as such.
In their further sittings, members of the Assembly repealed the Council of Traditional Rulers Law 2014. The new one was sponsored by Governor Wike. In July, the lawmakers approved the conversion of bank loans to Federal Government’s bond. Similarly, on July 29, the Assembly approved a bill to rename the State Polytechnic to Ken Sara Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori.
During Governor Wike’s 100 days in office, the lawmakers after inspecting the projects executed by his government within the period under review, passed a vote of confidence on him.
Meanwhile, about 22 of the House of Assembly members, whose victory at the April 11, 2015, election was challenged, lost their seats at the Court of Appeal. Among the persons affected were the Speaker, Ibani and Leader, Amaewhule. The Assembly adjourned sine dine, probably to enable those affected to prepare for a rerun election.
But, on December 23, last year, the House reconvened for Governor Wike’s 2016 budget of N307 billion tagged ‘Budget of Consolidation.” Wike made the presentation at about 5:20pm.
The budget presentation came barely two weeks after the Assembly had passed the 2015 Supplementary Appropriation Bill of N104.2 billion. Wike’s budget was N31 billion less than former Governor Chibuike Amaechi’s 2015 budget, which was N338 billion.
The state government proposed N120 billion for recurrent expenditure in the fiscal year, while N187 billion was earmarked for capital expenditure. In 2015 budget, N219 billion was for capital expenditure, while N119 billion was recurrent expenditure.
Wike stated that the proposed budget would be financed through traditional sources of Federation Account and Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR). Governor Wike also mentioned that the government would diversify the economy of the state from oil to agriculture and industrialization.
Responding, Speaker of the House, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani lauded the governor’s 2016 budget estimation, wishing that no personal interest would override corporate interest.
There was shocker. Less than an hour after passage of the budget he presided over, Ibani resigned. But, a source said he only stepped aside on personal ground. So, a new speaker, Dabotoru Dima Adams, representing Okrika Constituency was elected.
On April 8, 2016, the State House of Assembly passed a resolution authorizing the state governor, to obtain a N10 billion loan from the Excess Crude Account (ECA).
The approval was made through voice vote by the lawmakers present at the sitting, following a letter of request from the governor to the House through the speaker. The loan, according to the letter dated April 5, 2016, when obtained, would be used to fund some development projects in the state.
It read: “You are aware of the huge infrastructure development challenge and our efforts to address the situation. Since we came on board, we have not only remobilized all contractors handling major road sites, but have also awarded new contracts for the construction and reconstruction of new roads and other projects.
“We have also advertised for tenders for the Bori-Saakpenwa road, the Obiri Ikwerre-Airport bypass, while the contracts for the comprehensive rehabilitation of eleven secondary schools and some of the dilapidated general hospitals are also due for award.
However, our major constraint is inadequate resources, which is worsened by shrinking returns from the Federation Account.
“On the strength of the above, it is my desire to obtain a N10 billion loan facility from the Excess Crude Account to continue funding our numerous development projects. The loan, which attracts a single interest of nine percent and 20 years repayment period, is quite favourable to the reality of the state’s economy,” the letter read in part.
In their various contributions, the lawmakers supported the loan saying it would facilitate the governor’s drive to develop the state. Speaking, Opurum Iruanya, representing Etche I, submitted that the road projects embarked by the governor had yielded positive results and called on the House to approve the loan.
Commenting, the Speaker, Dabotoru Adams, said the loan worth it, considering the percentage of interest rate and the projects for which it would be used for. Eight lawmakers including the Speaker were present at the sitting.
The recent approval was given to Governor Wike to take N10 billion bailout fund from the Federal Government. The approval was given during plenary following a notification letter from the State governor to the Speaker, Dabotoru Adams, informing him of his intention to apply for bailout fund from the Federal Government.
Governor Wike was said to have stated in the letter, that the fund would be specifically used for salary and pension payments. Wike stated further in the letter that the monthly N3.5 billion received from the Federal Allocation could not meet its obligations on the monthly wage bill of workers and pensioners. According to the governor, the N10 billion bailout fund would be collected from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Before the lawmakers were allowed to debate the matter, the Speaker of the House, Adams, told his colleagues to approve the governor’s request, to enable his administration fulfill its obligations to Rivers people. Adams said the State Government had not gone for the bailout fund before, adding that the need for it became inevitable due to drop in Federal Allocation.
Leader of the House, Martin Amaewhule, Whip, Evans Bipi, and others lawmakers, who contributed during the debate, agreed that there was need for the governor to go for the N10 billion bailout fund, due to the dwindling economy.
On April 22, the only APC female lawmaker-elect, Engr. Victoria Nyeche, failed to be sworn-in as member of the Eighth Assembly of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
Speaker, Dabotoru Adam, announced on the floor of the House that he received a court order restraining the House from administering an oath-of-office on her, pending the decision of the court on a matter of impersonation leveled against her.
The Petitioner, Livingstone Wechie, had earlier filed an interlocutory order of Court against the lawmaker-elect, which was granted by Justice Adolphus Enebeli of the Rivers state High Court.
So, the court stopped the swearing-in of the defendant representing Port Harcourt City Local Government Area (PHALGA) Constituency 1, for impersonation, wherein she wrote a petition to the Chief Judge Nigeria (CJN) against the Assembly’s confirmation of Chief Judge of the State, using the letter head of the Assembly.
Wechie, in his petition, alleged that the defendant addressed herself as member of the Assembly, even when she had not been administered oath of office or sworn in. The order was granted on April 20, 2016, thereby stopping her from being sworn-in along 11 others.
However, the embattled lawmaker-elect, who was among the 25 pro-Governor Chibuike Amaechi supporters in the Seventh Assembly, flayed the decision of the court and Assembly.
Engr. Nyeche expressed surprise at the order, saying that what played out was a clear indication of a lawless state, stressing that she has not received any order to that effect.
She expressed: “I feel very saddened for what is happened today. It is an indication that Rivers State is not governed by law. I am surprised that the Speaker said he had a court order. I have not been served the court order.
“This is to show you that the State is not governed by law. It is a calculated plan to stop me from serving my people. I have my Certificate-of-Return issued by INEC and it is surprising that the decision of a lower court could overrule the decision of Court of Appeal that upheld my victory.” The embattled lawmaker-elect said she would approach her party, APC, for the next step to take.
Nyeche’s victory at the April 11, 2015, House of Assembly election, was upheld by the Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal , which threw out Jones Ogbonda of PDP
Nine PDP members were among the 11 lawmakers that took oath of office. They included: Manna Martins (Ahoada East Constituency 1), Inye Edison (Ahoada East Constituency 2), Major Jack (Akuku-Toru Constituency 1), Samuel Ogeh (Emohua Constituency), Martins Amaewhule (Obio/Akpor Constituency 1), Michael Chinda (Obio/Akpor Constituency 2), Christian Ahiakwor (ONELGA Constituency), Kelechi Nworgu (Omuma Constituency) and Tonye Smart (PHALGA Constituency 2).
The last were members of APC, which included, Benibo Anabraba representing Akuku- Toru Constituency 2 and Andrew Miller, Opobo/Nkoro Constituency.
In a related development, the House of Assembly has confirmed the appointment of the President of Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Christy Nwankwo. The confirmation followed a letter from the State Governor, Nyesom Wike, requesting the lawmakers’ approval to make her substantive president of the Customary Court of Appeal.
Both the Seventh and Eighth assemblies have a common feature. It is clear to note the influence of the executive in their deliberations. With all fairness, Rivers residents are yet to see members of the Eighth Assembly put up strong arguments on the floor of the Chambers. Members of the Seventh Assembly were believed to have scored better in this regard.