Raymond Ozoji, Awka
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended provided for three arms of government for the smooth running of the affairs of the nation at the local, state and federal levels. The same constitution also made provisions for the independence and separation of powers and obligations amongst these organs of government.
These organs of government which include the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are naturally supposed to have clear-cut responsibilities distinct from one another as checks and balances but in reality, the status quo remains a hard nut to crack. The legislature which is the primary focus for this intellectual voyage is constitutionally vested with the responsibility of law-making, constituency representation and oversight duties. These tripartite core functions of the legislature may find its autonomy at the Senate and Federal House of Representatives where both combine forces to checkmate the excesses of the Executive arm.
But what obtains at the local and state levels? In Anambra state, for instance, the question remains whether the legislature is dead or still alive as held by the citizenry. While the current legislature under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Uche Victor Okafor has from inception maintained a robust cordial relationship with the Obiano administration devoid of rancour and acrimony, some citizens still believe that the incumbent legislature is docile and dormant.
To this end therefore, Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) believes that what Anambra citizens need is a more mature legislature not the current composition he described as mere rubber-stamp. Although he was cognizant of the existence of an infinitesimal representation of the PDP in the 7th state assembly, he emphasized that the six members of the PDP extraction could do nothing but succumb to the whims and caprices of the APGA-led legislature.
Nwobu was of the opinion that a multi-party assembly members would have been more vibrant, virile, vigorous and vehement enough to perform its constitutional role of checks and balances on the activities of the executive arm but he is disappointed that the current unitary party formation of the state assembly may not be courageous enough to exercise its constitutional powers to the expectations of the citizenry.
Nwobu said, “The 7th state assembly in Anambra state is a reflection of the inability of the institution to play its role. The 7th assembly members have demonstrated themselves as more of an extension of the executive arm of the state. A legislature has to think deep over every of their legislative duties but that is not the case here. I will urge Ndi-Anambra to create a legislature that will act as checks and balances on the executive not the rubber stamp we have now. What Anambra citizens need is a mature state assembly that would be answerable to the people and not to their paymasters and godfathers. I look forward to a legislature with composition of other political parties to enable them to contribute to governance issues and development of the state. The current members of the 7th state assembly are all playing to the gallery with their political parties and the six house members of the PDP can hardly make any difference because they are in the minority. As it stands today, the legislature is not playing its constitutional role in Anambra state.”
But in contrast, the Deputy Majority Leader of the 7th Anambra State House of Assembly and member representing Orumba-North state constituency, Hon. Emeka Aforka, opposed the submissions of Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu, saying that anyone who spoke ill of the 7th state assembly was only being economical with the truth because the current legislature was proactive and that its committees were functional. The Deputy Majority Leader who also doubles as the Chairman Committee on Public Petitions maintained that those saying that the 7th legislature was a mere appendage of the state government were doing so because they wanted the legislature and the executive to be at loggerheads to the detriment of the citizenry. Aforka categorically stated that the incumbent legislature was one of the most organised and reputable state legislative houses in the country and that there was a harmonious working relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government in Anambra state.
Aforka said, “I stand to be challenged and I want to say unequivocally that Anambra State House of Assembly of today, the 7th assembly, is super active. It is very vibrant and dedicated to its legislative duties. We have a lot of committees of the House of Assembly and all the committees are working round the clock and doing their oversight functions as required. The legislature is carrying out its legitimate legislative duties as it concerns the welfare and well-being of Anambra people. We hold our executive sessions, plenaries and committee sessions regularly. So who is saying that we are not working? The 7th assembly is very super active and vibrant. There is no cause for alarm and we are not leaving any stone unturned because we are conscious of our legislative functions of law-making, oversight duties and constituency representation. So the House of Assembly from my own assessment and evaluation is functioning optimally. It is a total misplacement of information for anyone to say that the legislature is dead or inactive. It is the antics of our enemies to say that we are dormant.
“I have no apologies for anybody who is having discomfort that the 7th assembly is dominated by APGA. Afterall, the National Assembly is dominated by the APC and people have not hugged transformer. So why should the composition of the 7th state assembly be a headache? It has even created a cordial relationship between the legislature and the executive, between the legislature and the judiciary. There are no incidents of civil unrest and no distractions whatsoever. People think it is only when there is quarrel between the legislature and the executive that the state assembly is active. No. Anambra will be more progressive if there is cohesive understanding and cordial relationship between all arms of government. So there is no apology to anybody because APGA dominated the 7th assembly.”
Granted that Hon. Emeka Aforka and Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu did not see eyeball to eyeball on the independence of the legislature especially as it concerns being insulated from the tutelage of the executive organ, Hon. Patrick Obalum Udeoba of Anambra-West state constituency and Chairman, House of Assembly Committee on Transport, corroborated what his colleague said that the current legislature was not dead neither was it docile as held by the PDP state chairman Chief Ndubuisi Nwobu.
Udeoba said, “The 7th assembly acts as checks and balances on the activities of the executive and all the committees of the state assembly are at work. We are not rubber stamp. We are doing our legislative business properly.”
But Chief Chris Udeze, the state treasurer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Anambra state differed from the submissions of the lawmakers, saying that the current legislative arm of government had not met the expectations of the people.
Udeze said, “I can unequivocally say that the 7th state assembly in Anambra state has outlived its usefulness. They have become more like a rubber-stamp. Even in the 6th assembly, things were not this bad. I am looking forward to an assembly that will give a good account of itself.”
On the contrary, Hon. Nonso Smart Okafor, the lawmaker representing Nnewi-North state constituency in the 7th legislature, said it would be judgemental for anyone to refer to the incumbent legislature as dead or inactive. Okafor said the legislature is alive to its constitutional obligations. He said they had made laws and that prominent amongst the laws was a private member bill he sponsored known as the Anambra Youth Development and Empowerment Commission Bill. Okafor said it was the first private member bill and had scaled through the third reading in the 7th assembly and currently awaiting the governor’s assent.
According to him, another very important bill currently being debated is the Riverine Area Development Commission Bill being sponsored by the lawmaker representing Ogbaru 2 state constituency Hon. Somto Udeze.
Again, Nonso Okafor noted that a number of executive bills had passed through the 7th legislature. He said the state assembly was not dormant because members had undergone both local and international capacity building programmes to enhance their legislative competence. He noted that the state assembly had not fallen asleep but alive to its oversight duties too, stressing that he belongs to about ten committees and they have not rested on their oars in carrying out oversights on ministries, departments and agencies of government.
He said virtually every lawmaker of the 7th assembly had a motion to his credit and they had also not relented in bringing the problems of their various constituencies to the state assembly especially as it concerns road construction and rehabilitation, erosion control, employment concerns, to mention a few even as he recalled that during the heat of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers returned to their constituencies with palliatives to cushion the devastating effects of the pandemic.
The Nnewi-North constituency representative disclosed that lawmakers distributed food items, hand-sanitizers, facemasks, hand-washing materials and a host of others as part of their contributions to curtail the spread of coronavirus disease in Anambra state. In spite of the fact that one is entitled to his opinion, Hon. Nonso Smart Okafor believes very strongly that the 7th legislature is not dead but alive to its responsibilities. He is cognizant of the fact that the public has a duty to assess the performance of the legislature; that if the public feels the legislature has derailed and deviated from its constitutional mandate, it is the duty of the public to pinpoint the lapses and also the duty of the legislature to live up to the expectations of the masses who elected them into office.
Again, he corrected the erroneous impression that the 7th legislature is a stooge of the executive arm; saying that it was only natural for a symbiotic relationship to exist between the ruling party at all levels of government. Although he said a democratic setting allows the opposition to checkmate the party in power, it is not enough grounds for hostility, animosity and acrimonious relationship to exist between the legislature and other organs of government. To this end, therefore, inasmuch as the 7th state assembly is dominated by the ruling APGA, Okafor still maintained that the legislature had not failed in acting as checks and balances on the policies and programmes of the state government even though he sees public opinion as a veritable tool in keeping government organs in check especially the legislative arm.