ADDRESS BY THE SPEAKER OF THE AKWA IBOM STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY, RT. HON. (BARR) ONOFIOK LUKE AT THE PUBLIC LECTURE TO MARK 25 YEARS OF THE AKWA IBOM STATE LEGISLATURE TODAY FRIDAY, 20TH OCTOBER, 2017 AT THE AKWA IBOM STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY COMPLEX
Address By The Speaker Of The Akwa Ibom State House Of Assembly
It is my singular honour today to welcome you to this public lecture to mark the 25th anniversary celebration of the Akwa Ibom state legislature. I begin by giving glory to God Almighty for the 25 years of legislature in our state. I welcome our Special Guest of honour, His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel, governor of our state, the chairman of today’s event, the Senate Minority Leader, our former Governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio, our Guest Lecturer, Senator Effiong Dickson Bob who is a former Deputy Speaker of this House at inauguration, and other invited guests.
The inauguration of the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly on January 20, 1992 began an era of actual self-governance for our people. Although the first assembly was short-lived, it marked a striking beginning of an institution that would give government back to the people. It was the birth of an institution that brought together men and women that would live true to their calling as representatives of the people. That institution today remains an assemblage of patriotic lawmakers who do not take for granted the privilege to serve our fatherland.
Today, we are here to celebrate 25 years of existence as a state legislature. The Legislature as an arm of government represents the people. It presents the problems, difficulties and demands of people before the government. It tries to ventilate their grievances and act as a link between people and government. In order to build trust, governments need to have an efficient and effective parliament that is able to legislate and communicate in an open and transparent way about the past and future decisions of the government.
By its very nature, the parliament has the foremost responsibility of getting the people to feel that their government is responsive by representing the interests of the citizenry. The art of representation implies that parliamentarians make conscious effort at building consensus, striking the right balances in policies and legislation, deepening parliamentary culture, and connecting with the needs of the people.
Also, the supervisory powers of the legislature is designed to ensure that lawmakers hold the needs and expectations of the people, to identify mistakes in government policy implementation, and to ensure that government takes remedial action when things go wrong. Has the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly in the last 25 years fulfilled these roles? By every honest assessment, the answer is YES. I am not scoring this institution a hundred percent, of course. I will be the first to admit that there is much more that should be done as we move from here.
However, over the past 25 years, this house has left a milestone of excellence through delivering on its core mandates. By the legislations of this house, so many academic and healthcare institutions in our state have been established, funded and stabilised; there have been agricultural reforms; infrastructural renaissance; and a boost in commerce and industry. Year to year, we have ensured the reflection of the choices and priorities of our people in the state budget through effective legislative participation in the appropriation process. Our outputs in all these years have been inspired by a combination of our commitments to service, our desire to do better, our deeply held political and policy beliefs and our intensely felt connections to our communities. These have been the deep currency driving the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly for the past 25 years.
Within this period, effective and vigorous oversight has been the peculiar features of the Akwa Ibom state house of assembly. We have placed side-by-side the priorities of our people with our oversight role. We have not used the tool of oversight to hinder government’s programmes.
We believe that oversight should be geared to ensuring government transparency, identifying ways in which government actions could be carried out more efficiently and effectively, and proposing alternative policy approaches to the other arms of government. We do this understanding the fact that progress driven legislatures do not use their oversight powers to block government from executing programmes for which it was elected. They do not misuse their powers by making populist and unrealistic demands from the executive.
We are driven first by the needs of the people and by our sheer passion as lawmakers in the last 25 years. This passion is the variable that is constant in our calling. This constant variable is expressed in how we individually love our service to be evaluated. Paramount among this is the feeling of being effective and being important in people’s lives, both as an individual through constituency service and collectively through legislative activities.
Grant Reeher rightly captures the lawmaking passion writing in his book: First Person Political, Legislative Life and the Meaning of Public Service, that there is a “gratified feeling of effectively contributing to raising awareness on important political issues that were of particular concern to the constituents, not only in the legislature itself, but also in the larger political system.” I am sure this has been the driving principle for each of our parliamentarians that have sat in the hallowed chambers of our state house of assembly over the past 25 years. This passion and commitment has run through the 5 previous assemblies, and remains a legacy that we are sustaining in the 6th assembly.
Getting the people to feel that their government is responsive is the foremost responsibility of the legislature. In the 6th Assembly, we have endeavoured to build on the formidable foundation of the past 23 years of legislative engagements of our state legislature. For instance, we have mandated ourselves to do much better and improve on our legislative functions especially as it concerns our agenda of participatory governance. We started participatory budgeting in 2013, a practice where we made it compulsory for appropriation bills of the house to be subjected to public inputs. As chairman of the finance and appropriation committee of the house who pioneered the open budget policy, I led the committee to ensure that contributions were received from different segments of the public to form part of what was going to be passed as the appropriation law. This practice has been continued in the 6th assembly. The public in Akwa Ibom State has been a principal partner throughout the process of appropriation and this house will seek to consolidate on this relationship and improve as we go forward for the collective development of Akwa Ibom State. Just this week at the National Summit on Inter-Party Relations and Budget Reforms Process in Abuja, Speaker Yakubu Dogara remarked that the 2017 federal budget was subjected to public hearing. The Speaker implied that what had started in Akwa Ibom state since 2013 was only just beginning at the federal level. I congratulate the national assembly for this major step in democratization.
Our determination to build through the legacies of this legislature led to our setting out a four years legislative agenda at the set off of the 6th assembly. We itemized our areas of priorities to meet the expectations of our constituencies and the people of Akwa Ibom in general. We tasked ourselves to rather cooperate and not fight with the other arms of government but also not neglecting our oversight functions of providing checks and balances of the activities of the other arms of government.
Expanding and deepening the legislative engagements with stakeholders of the civil societies, media, labour unions and traditional leaders, maintaining the political stability of the state to provide a conducive and safe environment for rapid development for our people are all cardinal mandates of our legislative agenda.
Our modest achievements in the past 2 years are a reflection of the strong foundations that our forbearers had built over the past 23 years of robust legislative engagement. This robust engagement is what has strengthened the trust the people have for the legislature. That trust is responsible for the confidence with which this house has carried out its legislative activities, knowing we are the holders of trust of the people, and the outcome of our activities meets the direct expectations of the people.
It is in celebration of the past achievements of the legislature that we have put together events to mark the anniversary of which this public lecture is one. And we have chosen the topic carefully to x-ray the contributions of the legislature to the development of Akwa Ibom state. Our choice of the Guest Lecturer is predicated upon his active participation in the legislative business at the state level from inception to his career peak at the senate.
In the course of this event today, the State House of Assembly will be inaugurating the maiden legislative internship programme. The Akwa Ibom legislative internship programme (AKILIP) is a capacity and career development initiative of this house that offer opportunities to Akwa Ibom graduates of higher institutions to supplement their academic trainings by learning and gaining practical legislative experiences at a close range. This exposure to public policy-making and legislative processes will sharpen Interns to acquire skills and knowledge they can apply in their chosen careers and future life experiences. As a House, we found the need to establish AKILIP, because we found the dire need to raise a class of young nation builders and coach them through the values of volunteerism, community development, entrepreneurship and development of leadership skills. We will also present our midterm report chronicling our activities in the last 2 years.
Let me note that the marking of this silver jubilee affords us as a parliament the opportunity to take stock of our achievements in the last 25 years and ready ourselves for a great giant leap from where we are. It is for us a time to reflect on the ethos of this great institution, to strengthen our commitment to our mandates, to look more closely inward and attempt to fill in the gaps; and to assess the best possible methods that we can adopt in the face of the urgency that comes with our development needs. As we roll out the drums to celebrate our 25 years of excellence, we do so conscious of the challenges that lie ahead of us. I use this opportunity to thank His Excellency the Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Mr Udom Gabriel Emmanuel whose cooperation and kind disposition towards the Akwa Ibom state legislature has heightened our output in the last two years. His support is commendable especially in the face of the state’s little income. I thank the judiciary which hand of fellowship has given verve and quality to the legislations that emanate from this house. I thank the parliamentary staff for their unflinching support. My gratitude to the media; you guys have been wonderful in objectively reporting our activities. I thank religious leaders and our traditional rulers, the elders, men women, the youths and students.
By our legislative agenda, the prospects ahead of this assembly and the assemblies after it are great. We have committed ourselves to laying the groundwork that would see to the continuous crafting of legislations which will change the social and economic status of the people of this state. We will continue to channel our energies towards development legislation. Already, to increase the quality of education in our state, we are mulling laws that will make provisions for special research grants to researchers. These legislations will ensure sustained academic exchange programmes between our schools and those in advanced academic environments. We are going to strengthen the free and compulsory education policy of government. And to give leverage to the investment drive of government, we are making laws which will promote investments and public private partnerships in the state.
To meet the social needs of the people, we are making laws such as the primary healthcare development law, the state health insurance scheme law, the social housing bill and the youth development fund bill. Our legislative reforms will continue to touch significantly on various sectors such as transportation, agriculture, trade, etc.
I call on the people to continue to give us their support. It is in search of this supports that we directly involve the people in our lawmaking process. It is why we hold public hearing on every single bill that has scaled through second reading. Truth remains that there is very little that can be achieved by government where the people perpetually antagonise government and its programmes.
The road to building a virile economy is an uneasy one; it requires collective willpower to walk through. The message of this assembly to Akwa Ibom people therefore is that they remain faithful to the Akwa Ibom dream and render the support that we require to make our state a stronger entity for all.
As for us in the house of assembly, we will continue to protect the interest of our people through making sound laws, and keeping the assembly’s track record of legislative excellence. I thank you.