The 7th Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly being presided over by Aniekan Bassey who represents Uruan state constituency and elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is believed to have recorded many significant achievements since it was inaugurated more than a year ago.
Predominately made up of members of the PDP, the 26-member assembly has only one member who was elected on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The 7th assembly recently completed one year in office, thus giving room for an assessment of its scorecard, pitfalls as well as challenges.
After the initial intrigues that gripped the assembly over the election of the speaker and principal officers, it was time for the assembly which has only a female member, Charity Ido representing Ukanafun state constituency in Ikot Ekpene district, to begin the business of lawmaking and this was greeted with the initial enthusiasm and optimism.
When it marked its first anniversary last month, it has tabled several motions, adopted a good number of them and passed many significant bills with overwhelming support from a cross section of members cutting across party affiliations.
Comprising new and returning members, the assembly has been able to tap from the experience of some of the returning members who have garnered expertise in legislative business over the years.
One of the lawmakers who have spent three terms thus making him one of the most knowledgeable prominent members is Udo Kierian represents Ork Anam State Constituency in the assembly.
In all, 31 people-oriented bills had been brought before the house, out of which 11 had been passed while others are at the various stages of legislation which is between 1st reading and public hearing/stakeholders engagement, according to Aniefiok Denis, a member of the assembly and its spokesman
He said over 35 motions and matters of public importance have been raised on the floor of the 7th assembly and several committee reports submitted between inauguration to date.
One the bills passed by the assembly which has been signed into law by Governor Udom Emmanuel is the Violence Against Persons 2020 (Prohibition) bill which has received much applause because it came at a time reports of Sexual And Gender-Based Violence had continued to occupy the front burner of public discourse of recent.
One of the provisions of the bill is that those convicted of rape and other violence crimes and found guilty under the new law will face life in prison unlike in the past where offenders were jailed for few years.
In some other cases, offenders were often granted bail due to absence of diligent prosecution. It is believed that both the law enforcement officials and the judicial officers would work together to ensure that gains from the new law are maximised in bringing offenders to face justice.
For instance, the state police command few months ago, paraded a man who allegedly slept with his daughter severally in the church where he was the pastor, he was said to have impregnated his daughter and gave her money to abort the pregnancy. Nothing has been heard of what transpired after he was paraded.
With the new law, it is believed that it would be pretty tough for such cases to be swept under the carpet.
Quite significantly, the bill was sponsored by Aniefiok Denis, a lawyer and chairman, house committee on information and member representing Etinan State constituency who might have been worried by the upsurge in reported cases of sexual assault against girls, babies and women.
Apart from a law to establish Akwa Ibom state college of health technology also sponsored by Aniefiok Denis, intended to ensure that the institution is brought to up-to-date and well equipped in the training of the needed manpower in the health sector, there are also other significant bills including a bill for a law to establish Akwa Ibom State College of Science & Technology, NnungUkim, Ikono Local Government Council sponsored by Godwin Ekpo (Ibiono Ibom), a bill for a law to provide for the establishment of Akwa Ibom Debt Management office by Uduak Odudoh and passed and assented to, and a bill for a law to establish Akwa Ibom Bureau of Public Procurement and budget monitoring by Uduak Odudoh, passed and assented to.
There are also other bills including a bill for a law to establish the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly Legislative Fund Management and other matters connected therewith sponsored by Udo Kierian Akpan which has been passed, and a bill for a law for the establishment of Akwa Ibom Environmental Protection and Waste Management Agency by Mark Esset, a member representing Nsit Atai State constituency which has been passed, among others.
The importance of the bills passed by the assembly should be best appreciated given their contributions to governance and improving the welfare of the people and in helping to provide the people with ‘dividends of democracy.’
Specifically, the Akwa Ibom Environmental Protection and Waste Management Agency bill sponsored by Mark Esset brings to the fore the need for proper management of the environment in view of the challenges caused by rapid urbanisation, environmental disasters and oil production in the region that is home to the country’s oil wells.
Furthermore, the current approach to environmental sanitation in the state in which refuse is carted away by dilapidated trucks seen across the streets of Uyo, the state capital, needs a new consideration. In fact, in many instances, the refuse is left at the various dump sites in the city after the monthly sanitation exercise held every last Saturday of the month. Many analysts believe that with the new law on environmental protection and waste management, the state government would consider and adopt a new approach to ensure sustainable environmental policies and programmes.
Similarly, the assembly has been adjudged to have acquitted itself creditably in terms of its relationship with members of the public as seen in its readiness to organise public hearing and interactions on bills regularly, thus seeking the opinion and contributions of members of the larger society on many sensitive bills.
From the appropriation bill which is its statutory responsibility to vet and pass it accordingly, giving the executive arm led by Governor Udom Emmanuel the enabling law to spend money budgeted for in which it has regularly organised public interactions with members of the public.
Despite the achievements, the assembly has also courted controversies. First, the issue of autonomy for state houses of assembly which made room for financial independence of the legislative arm of the government in the states, almost polarised debate on the issue.
The assembly had voted against the bill which later forced President Muhammadu Buhari to use an executive order to sign the bill into law. This has however, been put on hold following a presentation by the state governors to the President.
Again recently, the suspension of two chairmen of local government councils in the state has not portrayed the lawmakers in good light, according to many observers. It seems to indicate that the assembly had overstepped its bounds by dabbling into local government affairs where each local government has a legislative council. The chairman of Uyo Local Government Council and that of Nsit Atai were suspended by the assembly for alleged gross misconduct and this singular action has further generated debate in many quarters.
Speaking recently, Denis, chairman, house committee on information, acknowledged the role of the assembly under a democratic governance saying the constitution in giving the legislature the “powers to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the state,” has helped to promote checks and balances.
In addition to the legislative achievements recorded, the assembly did not fail to provide a conducive working environment for its members as it witnessed “massive renovation of offices, committee rooms, replacement of furniture, generating set, repainting, landscaping” to earn it a “Working Assembly” led by a “Working Speaker,” during the last one year.