I have followed the mild drama playing out in the state House of Assembly occasioned by a publication in the Global Concord Newspaper where the list of would-be beneficiaries of the Anchor Poultry Borrowers Scheme was published. The member representing Essien Udim state constituency, Nse Ntuen, and his Ibesikpo Asutan counterpart, Aniekan Uko, had raised the issue on the floor of the house, alleging fraudulent practice in the process of selecting the 3,862 beneficiaries of the scheme by the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Technical Matters and Due Process, Ufot Ebong.
The matter was thereafter referred to an Adhoc Committee chaired by the member representing Itu state constituency, Idongesit Ituen. On November 3, 2016, the committee commenced public hearing on the matter and has two weeks to submit its findings to the House.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, the committee through radio and television, invited all persons connected to the scheme to appear before it on Thursday, November 10, 2016 (the following day).
I applaud the renewed spirit of members of the sixth House of Assembly in its attempt at ‘oversighting’ the other arms of government, in this case, the Executive. I believe also that the sixth Assembly which code-named itself as the “People’s Assembly” is now on the move to clear off public perception that it is neither a “Deaf and Dumb Assembly,” nor a “Sleeping Assembly”.
But, I am quick to disagree with the approach of the Adhoc committee investigating the scheme. Agreed, the committee has the right to summon anyone to appear before it using either ACTUAL NOTICE (personal contact) or CONSTRUCTIVE NOTICE (contact by proxy or substituted means) methinks, the committee would have given her invitees, at least, 48 hours Notice to appear before it. This is reasonable time for the invitees to be prepared to face the committee.
I also disagree completely with the haste at which the committee issued a warrant of arrest on one of her invitees, Ufot Ebong, for not ‘honouring’ the committee’s invitation. No doubt, the committee under section 129 (1d) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has the powers; “to issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House of Assembly or the committee, and to order him to pay all costs which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect to obey the summons, and also to impose such fine as may be prescribed for any such failure, refusal or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable in the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law.” But, this constitutional powers, howbeit, should not be used frivolously by lawmakers, else, it becomes abuse.
Again, without prejudice to the powers of the House of Assembly, and before being misconstrued as holding brief for Ufot Ebong, I think the committee did not exercise patience to see if Ebong who is said to have travelled out of the state on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, to represent Akwa Ibom State in Morocco in the ongoing International Conference on Climate Change would not return to the state after the Confab to answer to his summon.
I dare say that the warrant of arrest on Ufot Ebong, as it were, remains an abuse of what the drafters of the 1999 constitution contemplated. Because, before WARRANT is issued, the constitutional provision for it (i.e., Section 129) gives clear conditions with emphasis that the affected person(s) “…fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House of Assembly or the committee…” I am yet to be informed if this section has been fully taken into consideration by the AKHA committee before the warrant was issued. What I read in the media is that the committee rejected outrightly the excuse of Mr Ebong.
If these media reports are true? Then, one would have thought, the proper action to have taken by the committee would be to exercise restrain. And, get more time from the House of Assembly, if the adhoc committee was running out of time. Moreso, since Ufot Ebong only got to know of his invitation by the committee through a third party (Constructive Notice), while on transit to Morocco, according to media reports.
As far as I know, the warrant is as good as dead! It was a NollyWood drama. The purpose of the script was achieved. It was meant to seek media attention. The “People’s Assembly” may have been so under reported in the media. But, now, all media houses (Print and Electronic) reported the Committee’s warrant of arrest and by so doing, the House of Assembly. And, the committee became heard by those who didn’t know of its sitting. For example, at the weekend, a colleague in Abuja put a phone call through to me just to confirm if the WARRANT was actually issued.
Finally, let me end this piece with what I told my Abuja friend on phone; “Pally, abeg, leave matter for Mathias.”
*Franklyn Isong is a public affairs commentator cum social critic