*Mr Luke Onofiok, Speaker, Akwa Ibom House of Assembly
By Innocent Anaba
Mr Luke Onofiok is the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. He was honoured recently by Eket branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for his contributions to the development of the state. In this interview, he speaks on the challenges of law-making, how to address the challenges facing Nigerian youths, the face-off between the executive and the legislature at federal level and sundry national issues.
How would you describe your experiences as the Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly?
I will start by giving glory to God Almighty for the grace that He has made available to me to be able to pilot the affairs of my state’s House of Assembly for the past three years. Looking back, I thank my colleagues who allowed themselves to be used as vessels of honour for the actualisation of this feat through their votes, electing me as their speaker. It has been quite challenging in the sense that this is a very challenging time globally for anyone to be in public office.
There is general lack of trust on the part of the followership to the leadership because of the lessons of the past. So there is this profiling and stereotyping that if you are in public office, you are there for self aggrandizement, and probably for power mongering, so no matter the good leadership qualities and traits you posses and no matter the values you are trying to showcase in the office, you still have people looking at it from the other angle because of perception. It is not enough to be a good leader, you need to have good followers who believe in your leadership capability and in your sincerity of purpose. And so, if you have a position where there is a general apathy and cynicism, that makes discharging your duties very burdensome because for you to succeed as a leader, you need to get the buy-in of the followership and right now, it is difficult to get that buy-in no matter what you do, so you have to work extra hard.
So how have you fared with your colleagues?
We have fared very well, there are 26 of us in the House of Assembly. We have been able to surmount those challenges and I believe that with the one year remaining, we will be able to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of Akwa Ibom people who gave us their mandate to be their representatives in the State House of Assembly.
What do you mean by the problems and challenges of law-making globally?
First, the challenges of law- making globally is mostly getting to have the requisite synergy between the legislature and other arms of government. Globally, the executive feel that the legislature wants to gag the executive with too much of regulation/legislations. Now, the legislature feels that the executive too wants to water down their powers by trying to get certain things done by executive orders, things that would have ordinarily been done by legislation and things that would have gone through the legislature, so you have that altercation.
Can you give specific examples?
There are things the President of the US as a stablised democracy, from where we got our presidential system of government, would like to do, you see Donald Trump coming up with executive orders to do certain things, you see the legislature, the Congress saying no, there is need for the legislature to have acted on this first, if they can have that in a developed democracy, you then wonder what is happening in developing countries that are trying to practice democracy. That has been the challenge, the challenge of getting all arms of government to see themselves as parts of the same government for the development of a particular polity which is your geographical entity, be it the country, the state or the local government area.
What other challenges do we have?
The other challenge is the issue of the changing world and the disruptive nature of technology. It has introduced certain things that legislation is running to catch up with so, it becomes very difficult to legislate, to be able to regulate that environment where everyday, there is one technological development or the other that is bringing up one issue or the other.
Can you give examples?
Today in Nigeria, though other climes have been able to resolve it, there is the issue of telecommunications regulation. We had the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Act of 2003, between the year 2003 and today, there have been emerging issues within the telecommunication industry that needs regulation which the legislature should be able to rise up and face. One of them is the convergence of media.
What do you mean by this?
Before now, there were distinct platforms for content, different regulatory framework and different platforms for the delivery. The internet, the broad band, now with the blurring of the lines between these distinct platforms, there is the need for converged regulatory framework for these things so, this is what I will be urging the legislature especially in Nigeria, to rise up to. I am using this as a case study though other climes have been able to address it. South Africa has been able to address it through the Independent Communication Act of South Africa, ICASA, they have been able to regulate convergence, the ROSCNOZOR in Russia has been able to have a common regulator for that economy. I am using this illustration to show you the speed at which technology has grown and then the need for the legislature to catch up with that speed of technological development.
How can we resolve the face-off between the executive and the legislature at the federal level?
This is a very big challenge, though I am a member of the PDP, it is the nation first before political party affiliation. I did not support President Muhammadu Buhari during the election because I had my party candidate then, President Goodluck Jonathan. But when Buhari emerged, because of my love for my country, I had certain expectations which included that with his integrity and reputation, Nigeria should be set aright on the path of rebirth but unfortunately, certain people entered and seized power. I don’t want to blame the President totally, but I blame him as the head. And when they took power, they did not put the interest of the country at heart. I had high hopes when President Buhari took over the reins of power but right now, I am saying if he cannot set the country on the right track, who is the right man to do it?
What do you mean by this?
Buhari came in with high level of goodwill and integrity and if he cannot perform, it looks as if the problem of Nigeria is beyond human capacity. I’m saying all these things to lay a background, I feel that certain persons in the executive arm of government have not given the legislature their due respect. First, we started with politics, why didn’t the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, try Saraki before he became Senate President? They humiliated him though I am not holding brief for him, but his trial at the CCB is seen more as victimisation and a political fight. Now, we have found out that every Senator that raises his voice to say that this is bad or this is not good, is being victimised with trumped up charges, this is not good for our democracy and with this, the legislature needs to fight back to protect themselves and to protect the institution.
The sanctity of the legislature was defiled by a group of people who went in there to seize the Mace. I am not holding brief for anybody, whether a senator should be suspended or not, there should be discipline. If somebody is suspended for not behaving according to the rules, the dictates and the spirit of the office according to the tradition of the legislature, the person should be disciplined and appropriate procedure followed so with this fighting forth and back, the cabals from the executive are trying to control the legislature. Take for example, the fight against corruption.
What is wrong with the fight against corruption?
This same legislature pointed out that the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was corrupt, he was protected though he was relieved of his job much later, up till today, he has not been prosecuted. Okay, let me tell you something; if Babachir declares for another political party today, you’ll see what will happen to him, that is not the best way to go. If we want to fight corruption or do anything, we must look at the country, look at the rule of law but as the power mongers are doing what they are doing today, I wonder the type of country they want to leave behind. I have refused to make certain comments on national issues so that people will not feel that I’m being partisan but the truth is that we need a bi-partisan approach to solve the problem of Nigeria and the only way is mutual respect for others. For example, when the Senate invited the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, if the IGP could not appear, he would have written to the Senate to say ‘due to one reason or the other, I cannot appear of this date, give me another date to appear.’ On the other hand, if he had appeared before the senators, they would not have swallowed him, but for him to blatantly refuse to appear before the senators is a bad precedent, tomorrow he will not become IGP again and his son might become a senator, so what will happen? We must always consider the result we want to leave for posterity. I consider what he is doing to tackle insecurity and corruption within the police force and the country but I think he should do that within the ambit of the rule of law and respect for every government institution. The Senate too should be able to respect other arms of government which they have done by passing the budget so there should be mutual respect for each other.