Hon. Onofiok Luke: My Lawmaker of the Year.
Hon. Onofiok Luke: My Lawmaker of the Year By David Augustine This is perhaps the second time in all my journalism years that I am lending myself to pick a person that I think in my judgment has done well in his place of service for the year. The first time was in 2010, when I chose, as my man of the year, Mr. Sam Itauma, a selfless individual, who against all odds made his house home to countless rejected kids, sentenced to life on the streets by an uncaring society. It was that pearl of humanity Itauma that had to risk his life to save children labeled “witches”, by society and left to die in the hands of hunger and vagaries of the elements. He experienced the worst kind of ingratitude by society to his kindheartedness, when he had to run for his life from the hands of people that had the responsibility, in the first place, to save such vulnerable kids. He is still in exile today in far away United States, not because he stole, but because he “caused us embarrassment” by exposing our nakedness. Today is not for Sam Itauma. His place is already well assured.
Our subject today is a man who took notice of his destiny early in life. He was equally disadvantaged early in life, when he lost his father at a tender age. This disadvantage would have meant many things to many kids of his age, but he had a mission in life to fulfill. He took up courage and gave life the push that cleared a path to who he is evolving into today. Where other children would have recoiled into their shell, he challenged his circumstances with an uncanny spirit of self-resilience.
His mother taught him respect and he is still holding unto it till date, but he taught himself the virtues of courage in the face of danger; he imbibed the ethos of standing up when it mattered most and the heart to question the ubiquitous man-made obstacles that daily harass the youths of his time. While in the University, a law student, he combined the refining effect of legal education with his inherent raw courage to question most of the dehumanizing, but institutionalized policies that see students as less than human. He had the additional garb of linguistic eloquence that stirred the fire of aluta in the students. He became their rallying point; the one who spoke when others were retreating; the guy who knew the students and their concerns on campus. His election as the SUG president was the turning point of this man's political career. He confronted the system in a way that was alien to both the students and the authorities. He had the power of elocution and could draw diagrams of students' plights with words.
The face off was long, but he endured. He risked his future and the anguish of a mother who was praying for the day he would be out of school. He paid with his education, but he was a man born to fight. He fought and eventually conquered. That serves as the background to the life of the member representing Nsit Ubium in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon Barr Onofiok Akpan Luke. Hon Luke cut his legislative teeth at the national turf. He was elected the first Speaker of Nigerian Youth Parliament in 2008, a position he held till 2010. His stint as the National Youth Parliament was characterized by a dynamism that ensured a prominence for the parliament that one is not sure, has been sustained by successive speakers. His election into the state house of assembly in 2011 was therefore a fulfillment of his lifelong dream of advocating for the people using the platform of politics. In a polity where leadership recruitment process is skewed to favour the never-do-wells and people of inferior intellect, but blessed with brute force or resonating voices of sycophancy, the likes of Luke making it, was but the hands of God and the inevitability of the star to shine, no matter the condition. The result is that he has left no one in doubt as to his abilities and capabilities as a politician and especially, as a lawmaker.
The inimitable Mr. Umana Okon Umana, in his birthday message to the young lawmaker to mark his 35th birthday in 2013, described him as a rising star. Yes indeed, he has lived up to that epithet. With the quality and indeed the quantity of his contributions in law making, he has shone like a million stars. Last year when the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly had a joint session with their counterpart in Delta state, Luke emerged the center of attention with the shear brilliance and eloquence of his presentations. He clearly became the toast of the joint assembly and the pride of his Akwa Ibom colleagues. He had from inception of his membership of the house delineated his function as a member into three broad areas; law-making, Oversight and Representation. For the two years in the house, he has to his credit five bills, two of which have been passed into law, while three are at various stages of legislative attention. Among those already laws are those for the establishment of an agency for HIV/AIDS control, as well as the law that amended the state's magistrate courts laws of 2000. Those still pending in the house include the bill for a law to protect the physically challenged from discrimination, and the bill to provide for safety of employees in construction companies and industries in the state. These are purely human interest bills aimed at protecting the most vulnerable segments of our society. In oversight, he has been as active as possible in vital committees of the house, working within the limits of systemic speed bumps, to ensure that government acts in ways and manner that would guarantee good governance. As chairman of the crucial Finance and Appropriations, he has been saddled with the responsibility of allocating funds to power government activities. Again, within the limits of systemic arrangements, he had done a yeoman's job of that committee. As a creative young man, he introduced for the first time in the state's legislative history, public hearings on state budgets.
The intention was to give the people an ample opportunity to contribute to the governance and finance administration process of the state government. He reported recently that the outcome of the stakeholders' public hearing and “collective position on the budget was what informed the House of Assembly's ultimate approval of about 470 billion naira for the 2013 fiscal year.” With the presentation of the 2014 budget to the house, the Onofiok Luke Finance and Appropriations Committee, again engaged stakeholders, finance ministry officials as well as their counterparts in the ministry of economic development and principal officers of the house, on a one day budget meeting, where their views, criticism, recommendations, were collated to form part of the working tools of the committee.
The public was also briefed by ministry officials on various aspects of the budget. This was an innovative way of making the budget, what one of the stakeholders and chairman of the state Civil Liberties Organization, Barr Clifford Thomas called, “the people's budget”. The young lawmaker and lover of Nigerian youths, is also actively involved in other areas of the house activities, either as member or vice chairman. Some these committees are, Information, education, public accounts, parliamentary advisory matters, Judiciary, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Public petitions, health, Economic development, youths and sports, security, special projects, monitoring and implementation. In the area of representation, Hon Onofiok Luke has equally proved his mettle. He has been able to attract a number of projects to his constituency, but the queen of his contributions to his people is the introduction of a legislative internship programme for the youths.
Through his The Onofiok Luke Legislative Internship Programme (TOLLIP), 15 Akwa Ibom youths, five from Nsit Ubium and ten from other parts of the state are given the opportunity to learn the rudiments of legislative engagements. It is aimed at giving the youths a close insight into the workings of the legislature, which is the fulcrum of any democracy. He aims to fire the youths up in democratic governance. According to Luke the programme “provides interns the platform to hands-on learning of basic legislative engagements from a close range”. Apart from this, the interns are also exposed to “trainings in community development and volunteerism, entrepreneurship, talent discovery, peace building and conflict resolution”. These are core values that would develop our youths for a greater tomorrow.
Hon Onofiok Luke is a man who understands the language of poverty; the rhythm of want and the agonizing music of going to bed at night in an empty stomach. He is a Christian, whose religious piety tallies with the saintly Mother Theresa (not the imposturous Mother Theresas of this world), who admonished that some people can only see the image of God in the bread you have to offer them. As a leader, he walks the streets and hamlets of his constituency in pain, feeling, as it were, the nudging hunger etched in the sad faces of the deprived. In 2012, he decided to make a difference. He understood that it was practically impossible for him to take care of the entire community, but again, like Mother Theresa, he decided to just “do” for a few. He gave seed money, ranging from N50, 000 to N100, 000 to 40 Nsit Ubium people made up of market women, widows, youths, the handicapped. He also presented 11 cars and two buses to supporters and groups. In 2013, he upped the ante, this time giving out N100, 000 to 170 constituents, made up of 10 widows, 15 other women, 34 men and 91 youths as well as two buses, one each to Traditional Rulers' Council and students and ten new cars to other supporters. His investments in the lives of these men and women did not come because he had too much on his own, but because of his abiding love for his people. To youths of Akwa Ibom state, Hon Luke is gradually creating an image of the pathfinder, one they could look up to when the chips, as they say, are down. He is a model for youths of Nigeria that have become pawns in the hands of politicians. He says his mind at very critical situations. His recent brush with some elements in the state is a testimony of the awe and selfish jealousy harboured against him by some political hawks. These political predators would stop at nothing to ensure that he is brought down. But he has continued to enjoy the overwhelming support and rabid loyalty of the broadest spectrum of youths in the state.
Perhaps Luke's boldest political moves for the year 2013 was his audacious effort at reconciling the gladiating duo of Senator Effiong Bob and Mr. Umana Okon Umana, both senior political figures from his constituency. To some, it may appear a token display of political gaming, but to many it was a first step to the desired reconciliation between the two. Luke's internal strength is often masked by a frail physic. He has the humility that besots him easily to the old and young alike. I remember a visiting friend once asking me if Luke was playing politics or whether he was that humble. The question was elicited by the member's insistence in always going to meet the visitor in his hotel room, no matter how humble the hotel might appear. Another senior civil servant based in PortHarcourt was humbled when the young man had to rush across a crowded room, barefooted to meet and greet him.
To many, these may mean nothing, but in a clime where when you are with the most infinitesimal speck of political power, you become lord, such humble manners raise questions. But that is the man Luke. He is at home with the rich, the poor and the down-trodden, My man of the year has passed through the rough and tumble of politics; had the best of times; enjoyed the love and adoration of those who are close to him and those who merely know him by reputation. He has displayed statesmanship; a messenger of peace; a political meteor shinning and giving direction to Nigerian youths on the way to follow; a friend even in crisis; a pillar to the helpless and a fearless defender of what is good, righteous and beneficial. He has carved a niche for himself with his high profile legislative presence; his unequalled understanding of the Nigerian political landscape.