By JOHN BULUS

The 36 member exclusive club of Speakers of State legislative houses has retooled its leadership. After years of quietness,  a refreshing sense of purposefulness is now in the air.

FOR the 36 state houses of assembly in Nigeria, it is a new dawn with the emergence of a new leadership to direct the affairs of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria (CSSLN). The seven newly elected executive members of the conference were inaugurated last weekend.

The Speakers’ forum came on stream at the return of civil rule in 1999 with former Speaker and now Governor of Rivers State, Hon Rotimi Amaechi as pioneer leader. Since then, the body has had a topsy-turvy march, which the new exco led by Speaker of Gombe State House of Assembly,  Hon. Inuwa Garba, is expected to straighten.

The new members and their portfolios are: Rt. Hon. Inuwa Garba (Chairman); Hajiya Munsurat Simo, Speaker, Oyo State (Deputy Chairman); Eugene Odo, Speaker, Enugu State (Financial Secretary), Lawal Zanaya, Speaker, Sokoto State (Treasurer); Oko Ude Chukwu, Speaker, Abia State, (Vice Chairman , South East); Adamu Ahmed, Speaker Jigawa State (Vice Chairman, North West); Otelemahaba Amachree, Speaker, Rivers State (Vice Chairman, South-South); Odewale Omiree (Vice Chairman, South-West) and Mohammed Ahmed, Speaker, Nasarawa (Vice Chairman, North Central).

This will be the third executive council of the conference. In 2007, the first leader, Amaechi, was succeeded by the Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Istifanus Gbana, who led the second executive council of the body.

The new exco members taking their oath of office

But at the expiration of his tenure late last year, Gbana played the Oliver Twist, asking for a second term. His ambition however got thwarted when three other Speakers from Kwara, Delta and Gombe indicated interest in the position.
And when eventually the election was held on April 12, 2012, the young Inwa Garba of Gombe State emerged the Speaker of Speakers.

Oath of office: On their inauguration last weekend, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who administered the oath of office on the new leaders and as well served as the Chairman of the ceremony that was held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja  said: “to those of you, who were elected and are being inaugurated into the executive committee today, I extend my hand of fellowship and charge you to remember at all times that public office is public trust. Consider your own as an important platform for mutual understanding and partnership with the federal structure”.

Tambuwal explained that the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives is ready to give a hand of fellowship to the state houses of Assembly to help them realize the political independence as well as their financial autonomy.

The event which was well attended by dignitaries from around the country became further interesting when it turned out to be a forum that featured goodwill messages from eminent Nigerians both in and outside the political firmament.

For instance, Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe State; National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Dr. Bamanga Tukur; former Governor of Gombe State and serving Senator, Alhaji Mohammad Danjuma Goje; Minister of Transport, Alhaji Abdulahi Umar; Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed; former Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Mallam Bayero Usman Nafada and a host of other personalities graced the occasion.

The FCT Minister, who was represented at the occasion, in his goodwill message, described the Speakers’ conference as the pillar, which “strengthens the foundation of our democracy” and advised the new executive to be of good conduct as their offices have now further come under public scrutiny.

Dankwambo, who spoke at the ceremony said, “our joy is full to witness one of our own sworn-in as chairman of the speakers’ forum.”  Noting that leadership could be very complicated, he urged the new leaders especially the chairman,  Graba, to employ fairness, equity and justice as his hallmark. Bamanga Turkur, who was visibly elated with the development in the legislative arm of government, said “I am very happy. I could see democracy in action. Our country has hope”.

The PDP chairman also said the forum could be used to promote peace, security and harmony in the country and charged the Speakers to use their offices to speak for the people. “Speakers are to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves”, he stated

Osun State Speaker, who was the Acting chairman of the conference prior to the election, in his speech, harped on the need to make the legislature, especially the states’ assemblies truly independent and free from executive interferences.

On his part, Inuwa Garba, in his inauguration speech, said that “the conference of speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria stands out as a value-creating forum in  Nigeria’s democracy”.

He emphasized that the instrument of dialogue would be duly employed to engage all arms of  the government and other stakeholders on issues that would move the country forward, adding that the security challenges facing the country would be overcome.

On the issue of financial autonomy for state legislative houses, the Speaker said:  “In fact, I must take it up because it is part of the yearnings and aspirations of the state legislatures in Nigeria for us to have our own financial autonomy so that democracy will be strengthened.

“When state legislators, who are in the equilibrium point of Nigerian democracy have their own autonomy, even the executive in the state and in the local government will be more comfortable in the discharge of their responsibilities as the executive arm of government.

“A situation where the legislature is always running cap in hand for fund is very bad and due to the fact now that there is serious awareness on the part of the electorate, they think the executives are conniving with the legislatures to do what they think, whether it is good for the populace or not. By God’s grace, we will pursue it and we hope to succeed.”

Indeed, like the Governors’ Forum, the Speakers’ Conference is yet another political pressure group which seeks not only the progress of individual state houses of assembly but also, the entrenchment of virtues and values that make democratic governance people-oriented.

By its responsibility, too, the conference acts as a veritable platform for members, who are all lawmakers to appraise government policies as well as the implementation of laws both at the state and federal levels.

As the new regime kicks off, many a member of the conference are optimistic that the legislative arm of government will experience better days just as the cause of democracy will be deepened.

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