By Chioma Onuegbu
THE apparent division in Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly seemed to have worsened following the recent decision by majority of the members to strip some of their colleagues of their leadership positions.
APART from three House Committees, two principal offices affected in the minor changes announced by the Speaker, Barr Onofiok Luke at penultimate Tuesday’s plenary were the offices of the Deputy Chief Whip and Deputy House Leader, which were formerly held by Nse Essien and Aniekan Bassey of Onna and Uruan state constituencies, respectively.
The Speaker had announced that the changes were “in the best interest of the House”.
Although the Speaker also made changes in most House Committees in October 2016, the recent reshuffle seems to have attracted more arguments and comments from members of the public in view of the lingering internal wrangling in the legislature.
Many in the state, however, were not surprised given recent allegations of blackmail and secret plots by some members to remove the Speaker.
It was widely speculated that about seven of the 26 members of the House had been engaged in secret meetings to remove Hon Luke.
But the internal wrangling among the two factions only came to the fore following unexpected reactions of the factional lawmakers towards the Proposed Property Tax Law, which had generated serious controversy in the state and deepened the division among the lawmakers.
Prior to the introduction of the Property Tax Bill, most of the lawmakers including the Speaker had always dismissed the speculations within Uyo, the State capital and in the social media that the House was divided.
Even the reactions of some of the lawmakers after the Tuesday reshuffle revealed that they were not happy and comfortable over the crisis rocking the legislature as a result of interests.
At the same time, they seemed not to have any regrets in view of their decision to strip the erring colleagues of the relevant leadership positions, as some of them who spoke separately to newsmen on the matter described what transpired as a normal parliamentary process.
Fielding questions from journalists immediately after the Tuesday plenary, Chairman House Committee on Information, Ime Okon who replaced the former Deputy House Leader averred that their decision was in line with the Standing Order of the House of Assembly, 2011.
Okon explained further that in adherence to the Standing Order, seventeen (17) members of the House out of 26 had written and signed the request for the change of baton in the affected offices, noting that Standing Order 10 rule two of the House also gave the Speaker of the House the powers to effect any change in the leadership of House Committees as he deems fit.
He added, “For you to lead your colleagues, I think it is a function of confidence. If they don’t have confidence in you, then you may not be able to lead successfully. Even the law states that ‘whatever we the lawmakers may see as misconduct may be so taken as misconduct.’
“The most important thing is that the House of Assembly should be seen to move as one. Then, if there is anyone or office that is seen to hinder the wheel of progress, then there must be a need for adjustment for the House of Assembly to move on.
The member representing Ini State constituency, Emmanuel Ekpenyong Bassey and Chief Whip of the House who commented briefly on the matter simply said, “All I can say is that it is a normal parliamentary practice and that is the much I can say on that.”
Expectedly, a Lawmaker who happened to be among those affected when the leadership of most House Committees was changed last year who did not want his name mentioned said the action of the Speaker to remove lawmakers that are not loyal to his leadership was a normal practice not only in politics but in all fields of human endeavour.
However, a reliable source privy to the happenings in the House disclosed to Vanguard that apart from the fact that lawmakers from Uyo Federal Constituency had been angry that Speaker Luke took over the slot meant for their area, that the leadership crisis in the House heightened after some of them were removed from chairing juicy committees.
Our source further revealed that the aggrieved lawmakers were not happy as they were no longer enjoying such privileges like travelling abroad they used to enjoy when Aniekan Uko was the Speaker before he was sacked by election tribunal.
Meanwhile the recent remarks by the state governor Mr. Udom Emmanuel during the occasion of the 45 Birthday of Rev Ntia Ntia of Full Life Gospel Centre on the Controversial Real Property Tax Bill did not come as a surprise to many in the state who were of the opinion that the governor should have intervened on behalf of the former deputy Chief Whip who is his representative in the State Assembly.
The governor had condemned those who criticized the Proposed Property Law saying, “Our people don’t understand how government works that is why people will go on the internet to condemn the Real Property Charge Bill. Many of them own properties in Lagos and they are paying taxes for house, cars and everything but they don’t want it here in Akwa Ibom, and our people will complain that government is not providing social services.”