Opinion: Imo State and an absentee legislature By – WALTER DURU
In modern democracies, the legislature performs three conventional functions of representation, lawmaking and oversight responsibilities. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has provided the legislature in different sections, the powers to perform these functions at both the central and state levels.
The legislature controls through legislation, all economic, social and political activities of the state or country. It also scrutinises the policies of the executive and provides the framework of the judiciary to operate.
Contrary to the above norm, in Imo State, there are three arms of Government – the Executive, the Executive and the Executive. The executive has one name – Rochas Anayochukwu Ethelbert Okorocha, who rules the state as a conquered people. The state House of Assembly is a mere O yes rubber stamp. In Imo, it is the state versus her citizens, instead of the state for the citizens. I challenge whoever that thinks otherwise to prove me wrong, with verifiable facts and superior argument(s).
Anyone dreaming that recent developments at the state House of Assembly suggest they have woken up from slumber should wake up from that sleep. It is a huge joke and there is nothing like Imo State House of Assembly; instead, we have Okorocha House of clowns, in practical terms. What we have occupying the exulted positions of state lawmakers is a bunch of timid opportunists and puppets, who believe that their ascension to the state legislature is a special favour from the governor of the state, hence, they owe him reverence.
How else do you describe a state Assembly that cannot boast any meaningful people-oriented legislation since its inauguration? How else can one explain the fact that the only time people hear about the Imo State House of Assembly is when there is a budget or supplementary budget to “adopt”, not pass, as this Assembly has never scrutinised any budget proposal submitted to it? The budgetary process is done in utmost secrecy and is a mere ratification of the governor’s submission. Sometimes, the budget is signed and spending commences before the so-called annual budget proposal is submitted to the Assembly. A majority of the lawmakers do not know what goes on in the legislature. Most legislative decisions are taken in the executive chambers. Another time you hear of the Assembly is when there is a request for loan for the use of the “maximum ruler” or when there is an obnoxious anti-people bill, usually sponsored by the executive, through one of the puppets? A typical instance is that of the anti-media bill, smuggled in through the Deputy Speaker, Ugonna Ozurigbo, the other day.
They are at the beck and call of the governor and have and will never investigate whatever the executive is doing. No questions are ever asked; by the way, who, in the state Assembly has the guts to contemplate questioning Okorocha or any of his allies?
I simply smiled when a civil society colleague in Owerri attempted preaching open budgeting to the Imo State Government. Without apologies to a few of the lawmakers that relate with me, I can bet that a majority of them do not even have copies of the annual budgets of the state they claim to be passing. Has the Assembly ever interrogated any budget proposal by the executive? The Imo State Annual Budget is a secret document that only the governor and his cronies have access to. How then can the citizens be involved in the business of governance? How can they track government spending and budget performance?
How many bills that can promote good governance, enhance accountability, improve the socio-economic well-being of the citizens and secure the livelihood and future of Imo people have the present legislature passed? If it is not abortion bill today, it is anti-media bill tomorrow; from one obnoxious move to another.
From the complete absence of due process and rule of law, to the waste of scarce resources on trivialities; from non-payment of workers’ salaries, gratuities and pension of retirees, to issuance of dud cheques to pensioners; from failure to account for bailouts, Paris Club refunds and even the over N1tn that reportedly entered the state in the last 70 months among others.
Nearly seven years into the present administration in the state, no local government election has been held. Where are the hundreds of billions accruing to the 27 local government areas of the state? Are they the billions said to have been spent on statues? Now, Imo has Ministry of Happiness, with the governor’s younger sister as commissioner. Yet, mum is the word from the legislature.
What about the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, which funds should be statutory? At some point, Okorocha claimed to be saving the ISOPADEC billions for the construction of a Maritime University in Osemotor in Oguta Local Government Area. Where is the Maritime University, nearly seven years after and where is the money?
Sadly, members of the legislature that should have been the hope of the people to check the excesses of this government in Imo go cap in hand begging for contracts and favours from the executive. At some point, the governor engaged them with executive functions in the local government areas.
How can you have a docile and complicit state assembly and still expect to have a responsible executive? The fact is that the Imo Assembly is responsible and should be held responsible for the misdeeds of the state executive.
Recent developments in the State Assembly may have been fueled by the fact that the governor is sitting on their constituency allowance and may have reneged on earlier promises. Ultimately, the surest way forward is for Imo citizens to take their destiny in their hands.
The sorry state of Imo State today should be a lesson for all. 2019 is around the corner. Ndi Imo should not only be interested in who emerges the governor of the state, but those that are going to the state assembly.
In addition to the business of lawmaking, one of the functions of the legislature in every democracy is to serve as a check on the activities of the executive. In today’s Imo, where are the laws made by the present administration and what checks have they provided? What oversight functions have they performed? Who do they represent?
Building a vibrant legislature is one sure way of deepening democracy, checking tyranny, promoting good governance, ensuring checks and balances and indeed, safeguarding the future of the people. The time to reclaim the people’s state is now.
- Dr. Duru is Executive Director, Media Initiative against Injustice, Violence and Corruption, Owerri: firstname.lastname@example.org