Since the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly under Mr. Onofiok Luke’s Speakership committed the Real Property Charge Bill to committee after its second reading on the plenary session, in penultimate week, the sanctity and integrity of the sixth Assembly has been brought to public scrutiny and questioning by Akwa Ibom people.
The Bill is being sponsored by the member representing Esit Eket/Ibeno state constituency and chairman, House Committee on Appropriation and Finance, Mr Usoro Akpanusoh.
The lead sponsor of the controversial Bill, Mr Akpanusoh who has allegedly been paid N25m by the Revenue Consultant of Akwa Ibom state, Romflex, with an alleged agreement of getting N10m monthly as kick back from the consultant should this bill becomes a law, had while speaking to Radar newspaper on the benefits of the Bill, said if the Bill is passed into law, it would help to generate revenue for the state especially now that the country is in economic recession.
He denied any monetary inducement from the revenue consultant and challenged anyone to produce evidence of the bribery allegation. He cautioned that blackmail would not cow him to withdraw the bill which is for the good of the state.
- I am total opposed to the Bill – Ibesikpo Asutan Lawmaker
But Akpanusoh’s colleague and Member representing Ibesikpo Asutan state constituency and chairman, Committee on Rules, Business, Ethics and Privileges, Mr Aniekan Uko, disagreed with him. He had opposed the bill on the floor of the House before it passed through second reading.
Mr Uko had this to say when Radar newspaper’s team visited him in the Assembly Complex; “I am happy that I was present in the House of Assembly and that I also sat as a floor member because there can be only one Speaker at a time. Besides I was elected by my people, first as a member. So, as a Speaker it is not your duty to argue for or against a bill, you are the umpire, you can only contribute at the committee stage. More so, I am also happy that my name was not listed as a co-sponsor of the Bill because as a co-sponsor of any bill, the Speaker cannot give you an opportunity to argue against a Bill you are part of, rather others are to speak.
“On the day the Bill was presented for debate, I raised my hands and I declared my total opposition to the content of that document. I ended my speech by saying that even if the Bill scales through, that I, Aniekan Uko should be recorded as the only person who stood against the bill, should everyone favour the Bill”.
According to Mr Uko, the Bill is not a bad one, but the timing is very wrong, considering the economic hardship being experienced in the state and country.
He also reacted to the information making the rounds that lawmakers who are in favour of the said Bill are trying to turn the tide against lawmakers with antagonistic views by labeling them as enemies fighting against the leadership of the House, describing such as an attempt to divert the attention from the content of the bill.
The former Speaker reminded his colleagues that such perception could murder the spirit of parliamentarianism and robust intellectual input required in every legislative document, adding that arguing for or against any bill does not amount to opposing the leadership of any legislative House, rather, the main aim of a legislative House is to deliberate on the pros and cons of any Bill that is tendered before it, with the aim to arrive at a good decision.
- The Bill is a witchcraft – Radar Publisher
The publisher of Radar Newspaper and public affairs commentator, Franklyn Isong, had also argued against the enactment of such a law in the state at this present economic situation.
Isong stated the reasons for opposing the Bill on his Facebook timeline, describing the Bill as a ‘witchcraft’ meant to bewitch the little resources of people of the state. He noted that the bill is not in the best interest of the people which they (lawmakers) were elected to represent. He called on the lawmakers to terminate the process of making the law.
When the media campaign against the bill gathered momentum, some lawmakers who were named as the co-sponsors of the Bill have come out to disassociate themselves from the Bill.
- Truth is, times are hard – Ikono Lawmaker
According to member representing Ikono state constituency, a co-sponsor of the bill, Mr. Victor Udofia; “The truth of the matter is that, I have had a copy of that Bill as I was not around. I’m sure the Speaker has committed it to a committee, so that at the committee level we will look at it.
“I can only speak as a person. I cannot speak as a government official. Things are very difficult, times are hard. An average man cannot even pay his children’s school fees. What the bill is talking about is not something strange; it is something that is workable in America and China, but we are looking at the current economic meltdown. So, I’m sure that we will look at it at the committee level.
“It does not mean that exactly what is in that bill, is exactly what is going to be passed, when it gets to the committee level. We will scrutinise it and look at the merits and demerits. It is not compulsory that all the clauses must be approved,” Udofia stated.
- It is not compulsory that the Bill must be passed – Eket Lawmaker
The member representing Eket constituency, Mr David Lawrence, said that he is not bothered by the perception of the bill.
In his words; “For me, I think it is normal for a section of the public to respond like this, but at the committee level, the bill will be streamlined and if it is the wish and thinking of Akwa Ibom people that this bill is really going to make a negative impact on the people, it is not compulsory that the bill must be passed to law.
“We will do the needful, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly will do the needful and at the end of the day, the opinion of the people will prevail.”
- This Bill is not public friendly – AKHA Deputy Leader
While the deputy leader and member representing Uruan state constituency, Mr. Aniekan Bassey in his disapproval to the bill, stated; “When Usoro sent that Bill to me, I told him that the bill was not timely and is not a good bill for us. I gave him an instance that even in America when Obama took over, there was economic recession and he had to cut taxes of middle income earners and even brought Obama-care to take care of those who could not afford medical bills. So, how come you (Usoro) want to tax people in this economic recession? And he said that the Bill was just for the multi-nationals, so that was why we had to delay that Bill. If you look at it, Nse Essien, Mark Esset and Uduak Udoudo did not support that Bill, but our names are there. Why?
“I told Usoro that this bill is not public friendly so that has been my stand and I still stand by that. I’m not in support of that bill.”
- I cannot be part of it – Uyo lawmaker
The member representing Uyo state constituency and Chairman, Committee on Health, Mr Monday Eyo, a co-sponsor of the Real Property Charge Bill has joined his colleagues disassociated himself from the Bill while speaking to Radar newspaper.
His words; “Yes indeed, I was a co-sponsor of the Bill, but that Bill has generated a lot of issues in the state. I was coopted in to be a co-sponsor of the Bill. But the bill has generated a lot of issues in my constituency to be precise.
“I was elected to protect the masses; the people of Uyo, if you check pages of newspapers and internet you will see that the Bill has generated a lot of problems. I have received several text messages on the Bill, and since I was elected by the people, I have to listen to their voices, so I dissociate myself from the Bill.
“I can’t be a representative of the people and they are against the Bill and I go and do something else, so I have to listen to them, so I disassociate myself from the bill.
- The Bill is anti-people – Ikot Abasi Lawmaker
The member representing Ikot Abasi state constituency, Mr Uduak Udoudo, had while speaking to Radar newspaper on the Bill, distanced himself from it.
He asserted; “I was not even there when they brought up the Bill for deliberation. I want to disassociate myself from that Bill, because it is anti-people. I was elected to lead the people and not to sponsor Bills that will inflict pains on the people. My consent was not sort when they include my name as a co-sponsor of the bill.”
- My name was smuggled into it – Nsit Atai Lawmaker
In his statement by the member representing Nsit Atai state constituency, Mr. Mark Esset, he stated that; “As a representative of my people, I owe them the responsibility of making laws that are people oriented and have positive impact in the lives of my constituents. It will amount to a disservice to my people, if I choose to be a part and parcel of any Bill that is perceived to be ANTI PEOPLE.”
“My name was smuggled in as a co-sponsor of the said bill without my consent.
“To prove beyond reasonable doubt, I challenge my colleague, Hon. Usoro Akpanusoh, who is the Lead Sponsor of the contagious Bill to make public, any document(s) that can verify if truly I appended my consent to be a Co-sponsor of the Real Property Charge Bill.”
- I can’t dent my tomorrow with such a Bill – Onna Lawmaker
In his reaction; the deputy chief whip and member representing Onna state constituency, Mr. Nse Essien told Radar newspaper that; “It is unfortunate that my name is there. A lot of journalists have asked me why I’m there.
“Let me say this, I cannot be blackmailed. I cannot be rubbished. I am a politician. I have my future to protect. My people have called me, sent me text messages asking me why I should be part of that and I have to say before God and man, I have had reasons to oppose this Bill at the Executive Session of the House of Assembly.
“You see, what we do at the executive session is that we harmonise positions before we come to plenary, that Bill had been scheduled half of last year because more than twice, I have a reason to say this is anti-people’s Bill that if we say that we are the people’s assembly, that we should not be part of this Bill.
“And so, if I had opposed it at the executive session twice, I would have spoken against it when it was brought before the plenary of the House. But, the Bill was brought when I was not there in the chamber.
“So, I cannot be part of a Bill that is anti-people. I am a true reflection of what the people have done for me. I cannot dent my tomorrow with such a Bill.”
- It’s indiscipline for them to disassociate themselves – Akpanusoh
Speaking to Radar newspaper in a telephone conversation, the lead sponsor of the Bill, described the actions of the co-sponsors who have disassociated themselves from the Bill as a high level of indiscipline, adding that the House of Assembly has clearly stated procedures for a member to deny to be a co-sponsor of a Bill, which his colleagues failed to adhere to.
Usoro said; “I have told you that for a member to go to the press to say that he is not a part of the bill is high level of indiscipline. The bill was read the first time and after the reading the second time, it was referred to a committee of the House which is still undergoing legislative action. The committee is entitled to do a public hearing if they so desire, to do so.
“For a member whose name was among the co-sponsor of the bill to go to the press to deny it, has shown a high level of disrespect to the leadership of the House and high level of disrespect to the constituted authority which is encapsulated in the Standing Order of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
“And of course, the bill has Sections in which a member can clearly state the Section he is dissatisfied with. You cannot say the entirety of the bill is wrong.
“So going to the press to say that I cannot be part of the bill, you are disassociating yourself, that means, that you cannot be part of the House of Assembly which your people mandated you to come and speak for them.
“You that are saying that you were not in the sitting are you saying that the House of Assembly should have waited for you to be back in the state, who are you?
Describing the bill as timely and apt, Usoro Akpanusoh noted that any area they feel will be detrimental to the public at the committee level will be amended, adding that the bill is passing through a process.
“The bill is timely, is apt and it can only be now,” Akpanusoh stressed.
“My own duty is loyalty to the government of the state and the people of Akwa Ibom State. My position as the chairman of Appropriation is to generate money for this state. Let us leave sentiment out of it.
“I have presented four Bills. Have you ask those members how many Bills they have presented? One has already been signed and passed into law by the Governor. Ask other members, how many Bills have they presented?
“The bill is in the public domain. My constituency is part of that public domain and they are aware of it. If my constituency says this Bill is not good, they will mobilise themselves and come to the House of Assembly to say that the Bill is not good. So my constituency is progressive people, the other set of people are being sentimental,’’ he said.
- Those disassociating from the Bill are frustrated – Mbo Lawmaker
On his part, the member representing Mbo state constituency, Mr Samuel Ufuo, a co-sponsor of the Bill has asserted that those his colleagues disassociating themselves from the Bill are doing so because of frustration.
- It’s sheer cowardice of the co-sponsors – AKHA Spokesman
On his part, the chairman of House Committee on Information and member representing Ibiono Ibom state constituency, Mr Ime Okon, described the actions of the co-sponsors as sheer cowardice and playing to the gallery, because a section of the public have criticised the Bill, adding that they (co-sponsors) want to prove that they are more public than other members.
“I think it’s sheer cowardice, if the first reading was made on the 24th day of May 2016 and you saw your name as a co-sponsor and you did nothing about it, only for the second reading to be done and some member of the public are not comfortable and you think you can now tell the people that you are not part of it, what do you call that? That is playing to the gallery.
“As far as I’m concern, it is cowardice and afterthought because the bill has been criticised by the public and they want to proof that they are more public than the other members.
“Me as a person, I have my reservation towards that bill, but, the truth is that, such a controversial bill must go through public hearing at this point so that members of the public and stakeholders will now come to talk about the bill.
“For me, I know that there is need to bring up bills that will be of financial benefit to the state but, we should not do it in such a way that it will affect the common people,” he said.