“Whatever value you are going to add to the society is a function of your preparation, knowledge and exposure” – Barr. Onofiok Luke
On Saturday, October 3, 2020, the member representing Etinan/Nsit Ubium/Nsit Ibom Federal Constituency of Akwa Ibom State at the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke, had an interface with stakeholders of the federal constituency.
The meeting which was held in Uyo had in attendance some former and serving legislators at state and national levels, local government and ward leaders as well as eggheads from the academia, regardless of party affiliations.
The essence of the meeting, according to the national lawmaker who initiated and sponsored it, was to give firsthand update to his constituents on the controversial National Water Resources Bill and Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as they may affect the federal constituency and Akwa Ibom State as a whole.
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At the end, Rt. Hon. Luke, who is also the immediate-past speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, presented draft copies of the said bills to his constituents for what he said was to avail them privileged and ample opportunity for “a detailed study and scrutiny of the bills” for their informed contributions.
Prior to the presentation of the prototypes, Barr. Luke, chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, however, provided insights into the status of the said bills and why it was necessary that his constituents had fair knowledge of the contents as well as the immediate and deferred implications on the federal constituency, Akwa Ibom and the nation’s petroleum industry.
Luke argued that as representatives of the people, the stakeholders deserved to be kept abreast so that they could have advanced knowledge and quality contributions to the bills and possibly educate others in the constituency. He maintained that, that was why, rather than go unilateral, and in his characteristic culture of inclusiveness, it was necessary he debriefed and tapped from constituents, whose perceptions will in turn augment his arguments in presenting their collective stance during future deliberations on the bills at the National Assembly.
The lawmaker categorically hinted that the National Water Resources Bill may only have been suspended but not totally abandoned, and therefore was bound to be re-considered in the future. This, he said, was the very reason the time left should be put to good use in creating awareness, educating constituents with the aim of generating discourses that would address the pros and cons in the bill before its final discussions at the National Assembly.
“You are the representatives of the people at the state constituency and at the ward levels and you form critical part of the people who gave me the mandate to represent you at the National Assembly. In the last one year, I’ve had cause to take positions; I’ve had cause to take decisions on behalf of the federal constituency speaking authoritatively on national issues. That is because I know the leanings of members of the federal constituency. I promised to do consultation; I promised to reach out to stakeholders in the federal constituency when it comes to critical decisions. That is the situation we are at the moment”, Luke observed.
There were more he needed to tell about the bills. “First, you must have heard about the Water Resources Bill that was before the National Assembly. Prior to Tuesday this week, the bill was passed, but when we reconvened, because of the agitation, because of the advocacy, because of the cries from Nigerians, we decided to take it to the floor and a position was taken that due process must be followed”, he disclosed.
“I want to say that the bill was not killed; the position of our standing order in the law is that for you to hide under the provision of the standing order that asked for bills that were passed in and by the previous Assembly that were not assented to by the President or that were not concurred by the Senate, there is a leverage within the law that you can pass the law without passing through the normal stages of first, second and third reading. And that was what was done on the 3rd of July, 2020”. These clarifications were very liberating.
However, as Luke further explained, a fellow legislator was able to put up a convincing logic that exposed the grey areas in the Water Resources Bill. “But my colleague, Benjamin Jumbo from Benue, representing the views of all of us, came under Matter of Privilege and was able to argue that we did not do the right thing. The provision of that standing order states specifically that the bill must be read for the third time and copies shared to all members.
“These two critical requirements of the standing order were not met. So, on the basis of this, the House took a decision and the bill was only withdrawn. The speaker has given directive to the chairman, Rules and Business that the bill should be slated immediately. So the bill is going to come back; and it is very contentious. So I need the collective inputs of people of the federal constituency, the legislators, and professionals and experts in water resources management who can help give us sound views on these issues in the general interest of all Akwa Ibomites and Nigerians”.
On the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the lawmaker told the audience: “The second is the Petroleum Industry Bill which has had a long journey in the Legislature in the last 10 years or thereabout. This bill is going to change the entire petroleum and oil and gas industry in Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State which the federal constituency is part of. So whatever decision is going to be taken by this piece of legislation that is going to be passed will affect one way or the other or impact on the economy of Akwa Ibom State. It is in understanding this that I decided to bring the two bills to you for your earnest contributions, so that you can study them.”
Among other accruable advantages, it was impossible for the stakeholders at the meet to hide their joy and pride for being offered front desk opportunities by this proactive and exceptional representative, to drive discussions on the two important bills. Speaking on behalf of the home-based delegation of disparate stakeholders, member representing Etinan State Constituency, Rt. Hon. Aniefiok Dennis, said Luke has further proven his mettle by raising the bar of people-oriented representation:
“We knew who we sent to the National Assembly to represent us. So we sincerely thank and commend Barr. Luke for what he has done. You are always on the side of the people. We are not surprised by this innovation you have taken pains and committed resources to bring to us. We will study this bill clause by clause, word by word. This is not just a piece of paper. This bill affects us directly; it affects the grassroots”, Hon. Dennis stated.
That the inclusive forum was arguably the first to be undertaken by any National Assembly member of his batch from the state on the two contentious bills on hand was another testimony to Barr. Luke’s demonstrable capacity, clairvoyance, populist consciousness, leadership acumen and proactiveness in pioneering worthy causes for public good.
Recall that one of the trending grievances against the recently passed Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) was that the people were not given ample space to make contributions. While this thesis remains specious or debatable, the discreet and strategic step taken by Barr. Luke in engaging the people on the said bills ahead of time will certainly checkmate such excuses.
Although not a novelty in his service record in the Legislature, Hon. Luke whose political philosophy is influenced by former American President, Bill Clinton, has set a template for other legislators at both state and national levels on the best way to go about issues that affect the growth and development of the people. This, indeed, is a paragon of effective representation.