BARRY AGBANIGBI, Asaba
The current sixth session of the 29-member Delta State House of Assembly (DTHA) was inaugurated on June 7th 2015 by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa. Rt. Hon. Monday ovbigho Igbuya and Hon Friday Sanebi were elected as speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively for the Assembly.
But on May 11, 2017 Speaker Igbuya was removed from office in a palace coup following parliamentary misconduct. His impeachment by the members was widely celebrated across the state. The celebration, which began at the Assembly complex by the workers, spread to other major towns such as Warri, Ughelli, Agbor, Ogharri (home of his godfather – Chief James Ibori), Mossogan, Jesse, Asaba and his native home, Sapele. ‘It was not unexpected’, said Barrister Efe Amos, a Sapele indigene adding: “Close followers of events, political associates of the former speaker and political analysts knew the final verdict would be what it turned to be” The deposed speaker, according to the lawmakers, was allegedly fraudulent and was often into shady deals” with some contractors. They alleged that his running of the Assembly was equally laden with fraud.
Rt Hon Monday Igbuya’s 23-month rule was characterized by crisis. ‘’It was an accumulation of atrocities against the entire Legislative arm of Government”, said an Assembly source. The development in the House led to the emergence of Hon. Sheriff Oboriowori from Okpe Constituency as the new Speaker while Hon Friday Sanebi from Ndokwa East Constituency, retained his position as Deputy Speaker.
The 5th session of the 29-memnber Delta State House of Assembly (DTHA) was inaugurated on June 3, 2007 by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. Rt. Hon. Olisa Imegwu and Hon. Funkekeme Solomon were elected speaker and deputy speaker, respectively, for the Assembly.
However, activities at the House are a clear pointer that it has got a chequered experience since its inauguration in 1992 by former Governor (now late) Felix Ibru. The then 38-member Legislature had Hon. Emmanuel Okoro as the pioneer Speaker, but his tenure was short- lived, lasting only 23 months before all democratic structures nationwide were dissolved in the November 1993 military coup led by the late Gen. Sani Abacha
When Democracy returned to the country on May 29, 1999, the second Assembly was inaugurated on June 3, 1999 by former Governor James Ibori. However, Hon. Francis Magbele emerged speaker of the House and barely three months into office, he was impeached and replaced by Hon. Ken Omatsone. In March 2000, Magbele returned as Speaker but his tenure was dogged by ill-health which necessitated the appointment of an acting speaker. The then deputy speaker, Hon. Pius Ewherido (now late), was elevated to speakership in the acting capacity from May 2000 to March 2001 when Magbele passed on. The House then elected Hon. Basil Ganagana as substantive speaker.
On the inauguration of the third session of the House on June 3, 2003 by Governor Ibori, Late Hon. Young Igbrude was elected speaker by fellow legislators, following his impeachment on allegations that bordered on mismanagement of funds and lack of commitment.
The inauguration of the Assembly in June 2007 brought in Hon. Olisa Imegwu and Hon. Solomon Funkeke as speaker and deputy, respectively. Their tenure, lasting less than one year, was married by crises emanating from what observers saw as a battle for supremacy between the two former most senior members of the House. At two separates times, protesters allegedly loyal to either of the men, invaded the premises of the House, disrupting normal proceedings. The climax of the crisis was the impeachment and removal of the speaker and his deputy on April 22, 2008. They were swiftly replaced by Hon. Martins Okonta and Hon. Basil Ganagana as speaker and deputy, respectively.
In June 2011, Hon. Victor Ochei emerged as the speaker while one-time speaker of the House and former deputy retained his position as deputy speaker.
Since then, stability has not returned to the House as members now appear preoccupied with issues of contracts, lavish birthday ceremonies, elaborate marriage anniversary etc. Since the inauguration of the first Assembly in January 1992, DTHA has been characterized by instability and internal friction compared to other state assemblies in the federation. There is also noticeable hitch towards legislating laws that could touch positively on the lives of ordinary Deltans.
But the new Speaker Sheriff believes that there has been a great adherence to the principle of transparency, accountability and collective bargaining by the lawmakers since he assumed leadership of the House. ‘’We use a principle of servant master to ensure that whatever we want to do is collective. That is how it has always been’’, he explained.
One accusation usually made against the states assembly in the country is that most of them have become mere rubbers stamps of the executive arm. Some critics are of the view that such state legislative Houses pass all Executive Bills sent to them by the state Governors without any major debate or scrutiny. They claimed that such legislators have been compromised and are in the pocket of the Governors.
Those who have watched DTHA in session would agree with the accusation judging by the poor debate and poor assessment of issues raised. But the new Speaker was quick to remove DTHA from the list of such legislature. He told journalists at a recent media briefing that ‘’those people who say the House is a rubber stamp legislature are mischief makers. Does conflict bring any good?’’. He went on to say that the House he presides over was not a rubber stamp. “We’ have our own constitutional mandate to carry out responsibility to curb the excesses of government. And when they deviate or violate the constitutional provisions, the House has the right to check them. So, we are not a rubber stamp,’’ said Hon. Friday Sanebi, the deputy speaker of the House.
The cordial relationship between the legislature and the executive has been commended in most quarters as facilitating the peace and development of the state. As the Speaker puts it, ‘’we have a governor that operates within his executive powers. Then, we have the legislature that operates within their mandate given to it by the Constitution. And again, when both are explaining their own part at the end of the day, we would agree on the way forward’’.
Relationship with the Executive has been cordial, therefore, to the speaker; the state executive has demonstrated that it has human feeling. It is proactive in dishing out the dividends of democracy to the people’’. On the whole, there appears to be a consensus among the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-dominated House that there is no need to fight the Governor. ‘’If Delta State must progress’’, Hon. Sanebi said, ‘’we must give the executive the enabling environment to achieve the desired result’’.
In the area of over sight functions, DTHA appears not to have lived up to expectation. The House could not be said to have resolved most petitions brought before it and acted as required. Government projects are not subjected to scrutiny to ascertain whether they are commensurate with money appropriated for them..
Also, the House intervention could not resolve some major conflicts among communities or industrial dispute. For example, it could not ascertain the true position of staff employment at the Delta State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (DESOPADEC) following complaints and protests by some staff of the commission. In addition, activities at the local governments are closely not monitored to ensure that the council officials adhere to constitutional provisions and rule of law.
For EDHA, it has not been a fulfilled journey from January 3, 1992 to date. A fair assessment of its record reveals that it has not largely adhered to its constitutional responsibilities positively. The lawmakers could not pride themselves for the instability that has been the strong point of the House.
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