Legislative Autonomy: In Praise of Buhari and the 6th Akwa Ibom Assembly

Members of the 6th Akwa Ibom Legislative Assembly in a delibration during one of their sitting

by Kufre Okon

Nigeria has taken one more step away from its current pseudo-democracy. President Muhammadu Buhari has signed Executive Order No. 10 of 2020 for the implementation of Financial Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary.

That’s so much in one autonomy, and means a lot for balance of power as it should be in the most basic democratic setting.

It feels refreshing to be alive today to see the fruition of the struggle of the immediate past state legislatures in Nigeria. I am happy that when the story is written of our strive for democracy, Akwa Ibom will be mentioned on the very positive side. I am thankful to God that in that mentioning, the name of Rt. Hon. Barr Onofiok Luke Like and that of 13 other brave members of the 6th Akwa Ibom Assembly, will not be missing out for their bravery.

Ordinarily, there would be nothing brave about a state House of Assembly supporting a constitutional proposal for its own independence from the executive arm. But politics has an insane way of turning logic on its head and this was our experience in the immediate past assembly. Many state governors in Nigeria were against financial autonomy for their state assemblies. In fact, almost all of them. You cannot blame them, they had their reasons – some valid and others simply self-serving and anti-democratic. It was however left to state assemblies to take advantage of the saving powers put in their hands by the National Assembly to make a definite change. And we almost lost it in Akwa Ibom but for 13 members of the then 6th Assembly who heroically stood in defence of democracy.

Today is not the day to tell the story of how 12 members of the 6th assembly voted against their own autonomy not because they really desired to do so but because they couldn’t muster the courage to take a principled stand to save the legislative institution from the claws of the prevailing politics of that year. It is not the day to tell the story of how we all sat there watching lawmakers lift their hands high up to vote against Akwa Ibom’s support for legislative autonomy in Nigeria – their own freedom. I froze sitting right there in the gallery watching these people, those who were voted to represent the conscience of the people.

I remember the shock reverberating in the then speaker’s voice when he repeated the question:

“Dear Honourable Colleagues, may I please repeat the question: those against the vote by this honourable house for amendment 3, a vote for the financial autonomy for state legislatures of Nigeria, please lift your hands clearly again so we count”

This time, 12 hands were up, plus an infamous ‘half hand’ by a member who was clearly struggling to free herself from the strangulation of her conscience. It was an epic vote, a moment in horror for everyone who witnessed.

These people would later try to save face by talking about local government autonomy which was already a controversial item at the time given National Labour’s position. But this is now history.

Today is the day to thank President Buhari for getting this right. His administration will at least be remembered for this one thing. We must also thank the 8th NASS for their doggedness. It is the day to celebrate our ultimate victory, victory for our democracy and victory for the brave members of the Akwa Ibom 6th assembly who stood on the side of conscience and who saved our state a huge embarrassment. I remember all these great guys today. I remember them for buying into Speaker Luke’s philosophy that the institution’s interest, by every intent and purposes, had to tower above that of any individual interest regardless of what was at stake. These brave members distinguished themselves, choosing to be politically incorrect for the sake of democracy. And for this, they will surely live to be favoured by democracy and everything that has to do with it. All of them, no matter what party they belong today, will reap the fruit of their faithfulness. God bless our state legislature, and God bless and flourish democracy in our country.


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