BY CHIOMA ONUEGBU
Honourable Emmanuel Terhile Ayua the Speaker of Benue State House of Assembly was among the 19 Speakers present at the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures held recently at Le Meridien Hotel Nwaniba Akwa Ibom state. In this chat with some newsmen during the 3-day retreat he spoke on few issues bothering on the running of state legislatures, and insecurity in the country. Excerpts:
What are those issues confronting the interest of state Assemblies in Nigeria?
The issue of funding remains the sole issue. It is assumed and rightly so that in a democratic dispensation such as ours, each arm of government should have some measure of independence from the other, unfortunately due to funding issues and certain constitutional lapses the state assemblies have found themselves in a situation that we have to approach the executives for funding.
That is why, collectively, we agreed and decided that we will continue to sustain our efforts towards the issue of financial autonomy of the state legislatures to really go through during the constitution amendments that is presently with the National Assembly. And secondly, administratively, Benue state does have Assembly Service Commission which means the power of employment, appointment and discipline does not reside with the legislature as an arm of government but with the executive. Even if we have erring staff within the service of the assembly, we don’t have any power to discipline them, we still have to refer them executive for discipline which is also a serious administrative shortcoming for the assembly.
There are some many other challenges. We are supposed to ordinarily oversight the executive, but sometimes it is a little bit awkward asking the person you are supposed to oversight to provide the money which you can use to carry out the oversight function. You know that oversight function no matter the good reason behind it is often perceived as witch hunting.
No matter how you look at it, oversight is seen as a witch hunting and that perception could also impair the release of funds to enable the legislature oversight them effectively. There are several issues but these are the key ones, they all revolve around the issue of funding.
Some delegates of the National Confab have recommended that the legislature should be run on a part time basis, what is your position on this?
Well in our situation in Nigeria, I don’t think we have reached that level of democratic advancement that can successfully handle this job on a part time basis. Even full time as it is, the challenges are still enormous but I want to believe that with such it will be tasking on the side of the members in the performance of their legislative duty.
What is your position on the current security challenges facing Nigeria?
The situation is regrettable that we have come a long way as citizens of this country and with the struggle for advancement to be able to also stand neck to neck with other developing countries in the world. A crisis such as this is a major setback. First, it kind of confronts our resolve to move forward, and secondly, there is too much of human and material losses for a country like ours that is struggling to stabilise democratically and we don’t want this to continue. In this retreat we also gave words of encouragement to the President that he should continue to sustain the effort in curbing this insurgency which appears clearly to be induced from within the country.
You are in Akwa Ibom for State Speakers retreat will you say the purpose of the retreat was realised?
Yes, to a large extent. For one, most Speakers, representatives attended and so the idea of getting together has been achieved. Secondly, the papers that were presented all aimed at ensuring the stability of democracy in Nigeria were well taken by the presenters/resource persons and even though they are familiar issues, it is a question of reiterating our position that as speakers of state legislatures we need to support the other arms of the government; that is the Executive and the Judiciary and form a stronger partnership that will ensure the stability and good governance in the country.
So, the papers were well taken and as we go back, we will reflect deeper on some of the key issues that were raised in those papers. To this extent, I will say that we achieved our aim and with the assurance that we need to do what we are able to do to ensure the stability and sustainability of democracy in Nigeria.