By Gabriel Efo
For about three months, Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) had gone on strike in states across the country to protest the failure to implement financial autonomy for the legislature. With this, activities at the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly were held in abeyance. The Assembly gates were under lock and key. Lawmakers were forced to work from home, leaving a little vacuum in the running of the state. There were Matters of Urgent Public Importance to attend to and Bills to propose, and possibly passed into Laws. All these were piling up unattended.
However, after this period of quiescence, the strike ended and the Assembly Complex came alive again. Legislative business had recrudesced in earnest! Considering the time lost, the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey, a man so pragmatic, who knew the Seventh Assembly had much on its plate, wasted no time in leading the Assembly to get to work.
On Tuesday, June 22, 2021, the parliament resumed plenary. The first thing members dealt with was a news item published by a local tabloid, alleging that Governor Udom Emmanuel had doled out N35m to each member of the Assembly for the purpose of Thanksgiving Services in their respective State Constituencies. They vehemently frowned at the story, which they described as a figment of the author’s imagination.
Member representing Nsit Atai State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Mark Esset, who brought the matter to the floor of the House, condemned the publication, stating that the media house was out to tarnish the image of Honourable Members of the House.
Rt. Hon. Esset had charged the House to take up the matter to serve as deterrent to other media houses who may intend to publish a false information such as this in future.
Lawmakers who took turns to condemn the vilifying publication were Member representing Ibesikpo State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Uko; Member representing Oruk Anam State Constituency and Leader of the House, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan; Member representing Ini State Constituency and Chief Whip of the House, Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Bassey, and Member representing Esit Eket/Ibeno State Constituency, Dr Usoro Akpanusoh.
Others were Member representing Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Uduak Odudoh; Member representing Eket State Constituency, Rt. Hon. David Lawrence, and Member representing Etinan State Constituency, Barrister Aniefiok Dennis Akpan.
The Speaker, who charged media organizations to be constructive and development-oriented in their criticisms, referred the matter to the House Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Public Petitions as a matter of “Threat to the Lives of House Members.”
Same day, the House received an Executive Bill, a Bill for a Law to establish Akwa Ibom State Audit Service Commission, Offices of the Auditor-General for Akwa Ibom State and Auditor-General for Local Governments and for other matters connected therewith. The Bill passed first reading.
The House also received a report from the House Committee on Public Accounts on the arrears of two years audit reports of the Auditor General for Local Governments on the accounts of the 31 Local Government Councils for the years ended 31st December 2015 and 31st December 2016. The Chairman of the Committee and Member representing Ukanafun State Constituency, Dr Charity Ido, while presenting her report, opined that the Law will empowers the Commission with requisite power to foster probity, transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.
“With the establishment of the Commission, there will be a degree of autonomy for the offices of the Auditor General for the state and that of the local governments to carry out their mandates without fear and interference,” she had stated.
Lawmakers who spoke in support of the Bill, as it then were, were Member representing Ikot Abasi/Eastern Obolo State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Uduak Udoudoh and Member representing Oruk Anam State Constituency and Leader of the House, Rt. Hon. Udo Kieran.
Dissolved into a Committee of the Whole and presided over by the Speaker, the House took up the new Bill clause by clause with amendments to the existing Audit Law, Cap 17 Vol. 1, Laws of Akwa lbom State of Nigeria 2000, and enacted on June 20, 1997, saw many amendments and expunge of unwanted clauses.
The Commission, when established, will be saddled with the responsibility to formulate and implement audit guidelines, advise the State Government and Local Government on policy issues relating to audit matters, advise the Governor on the need to provide welfare for staff of the office, implement ethics and code of conduct for auditors employed in the offices, implement Government policies on audit matters as well as perform such other duties and functions as are necessary under the law establishing it.
Obviously in a bid to make up for time lost, the House adjourned sitting to the next day.
On Wednesday, June 23, 2021 when the House reconvened, the Audit Service Commission Bill was read a second time on the floor of the House. Two Bills were also read the first time during the day’s plenary. The Bills were a Bill for a Law to Provide for the Acquisition of Ranches, Grazing and Administration of Livestock 2021, sponsored by Barrister Victor Ekwere of Mkpat Enin State Constituency, and a Bill for a Law to Regulate Rights and Obligations under Tenancy Agreements and Relationships between Landlords and the Tenants including the Procedure for Recovery of Premises and for Connected Purposes, sponsored by Barrister Otobong Bob of Nsit Ubium State Constituency.
Member representing Etinan State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Aniefiok Dennis Akpan and member representing Ikot Abasi State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Uduak Odudoh, took turns to speak in support of the Bill, stressing the need for it to be passed to law.
In its usual style, the House, on Thursday, June 24, 2021, held a public hearing on the Audit Service Commission Bill to allow for contributions from members of the public before it is passed. At the event relevant stakeholders and interested members of the public got the chance to make inputs to the bill before being passed into law.
The Bill, on Monday June 28, 2021, was read the third time and subsequently passed into law. After the Bill was passed into law, the Speaker asked the Clerk of the House to forward it to the State Governor for assent.
Earlier at the plenary, the House considered a Motion sponsored by the member representing Uyo State Constituency, Hon Anietie Eka, on the urgent need to relocate illegal abattoirs situated across the state.
Moving the motion, Hon Eka decried the menace of hazardous wastes and offensive stench and odours emanating from such illegal abattoirs in many residential areas across the state. He particularly mentioned the serious health and environmental hazards to over 4000 residents living within Usanga Udoh Lane and other Streets in Uyo metropolis respectively.
He decried the carbon monoxide emitted with serious air pollution caused by operators of those illegal abattoirs through the burning of old tyres for hides and skin defurring as well as livestock smoking which are inimical to the health of the people.
“Those illegal practices, according to the law maker, have resulted in accumulation of soot and potential other health implications such as skin irritation, blindness, respiratory effects and cancer, among other health hazards that may affect the people living within such areas.
Many lawmakers who supported the Motion, called for immediate action on the matter by government.
In their resolution, the House urged the Akwa lbom State Environmental Protection and Waste Management Agency to search for and identify such illegal abattoirs around the state with a view to nipping their operations in the bud.
In another development, the House considered a Motion on the urgent need to arrest the menace of substance abuse amongst youths and students in the state.
The Motion which was sponsored by the Deputy Leader of the House and Chairman, House Committee on Information, Rt. Hon. Aniefiok Dennis Akpan maintained that substance abuse has become a serious concern to public health both in the state and Nigeria.
He listed commonly used and abused substances to include cannabis, cocaine, codeine and psychotropic substances such as amphetamine, heroine, diazepam, rohypnol, opioid and tramadol
Moving the motion, Barr Akpan said Nigerians are concerned with the incessant patronage of hard drugs by our pupils in primary and students in secondary schools as well as under graduates in the universities, who use those drugs as boosters for their egos and self confidence, all in their attempts to molest, rape and carry arms against their teachers and colleagues.
He noted that all the rising cases of militancy, banditry, cultism and kidnapping etc could be attributed to substance abuse by our youth which have led to increase in morbidity, mortality and insanity among our young people. He, therefore, called on relevant government agencies to take a holistic view about the menace with a view to addressing it urgently.