DIRECTION OF PLATEAU HOUSE IN JANG'S SECOND TENURE
BY TAYE OBATERU
THE adage that it is not how well one starts a race that is important, but how one ends it, was apt for the Sixth Plateau State House of Assembly. It was engulfed in internal crisis and could not perform its legislative functions for almost five months until the end of its tenure on June 6 when the Seventh Assembly was inaugurated.
The political crisis which ravaged the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and saw many prominent members defecting to the Labour Party (LP), did not spare the house as about 11 members also jumped ship. How the saga ended is now history.
The attempt by the PDP in the state to declare the seats of the defected members vacant resulted in a legal battle, which rendered the House comatose. This led to a situation where the House, which adjourned for the Christmas break in December, could not do anything serious until its tenure lapsed because of the political intrigues of the time.
This problem was responsible for the non consideration of the state's Appropriation Bill for 2011 presented to the House by Governor Jonah Jang on December 20, last year. The bill had to be re-presented to the Seventh House on June 13, this year and was given accelerated passage in a record time of one week.
To many people in the state, the last assembly's refusal or inability to pass the Appropriation Bill was against the overall interest of the state. They see the impasse that made it impossible for members to sit as more self-serving than anything else. They are therefore full of expectations from the new assembly and not a few commended the express approval the new House gave to the budget proposal.
An apparently impressed Governor Jang, while signing the bill into law the following day, praised the members to high heavens, describing them as patriots who had the interest of the state at heart. He said their prompt response was a pointer to their preparedness to work harmoniously with the executive to actualise the dream of delivering goodies to the people in the next four years.
With the PDP having 19 of the 24 members, Jang, some have argued, should have no difficulty having a jolly ride with the House, but the experience of the past four years when the House, though dominated by the PDP became divided into camps in support of Jang and his then Deputy, Dame Pauline Tallen, is said to have proved that such cooperation could not be taken for granted. The desire to have an assembly that would cooperate with the executive arm in a manner devoid of bickering and muscle-flexing was said to have guided the emergence of candidates within the party.
This, sources say, was responsible for the party's effort to see that only those who would be loyal to the party emerged to contest election into the House. It is also no secret that high wire politics ensured that the immediate past Speaker of the House, Mr. Istifanus Mwansat, who was re-elected for a second tenure and wanted to re-contest the position abandoned the ambition and bowed to the party's wish to have Mr. John Clark Dabwan a former unionist emerge as the new Speaker. Dabwan was nominated unopposed since all the groundwork appeared to have been concluded before the formal sitting of the House to elect their officers.
An allusion to this was made recently by the former deputy governor, who in an interview, accused Jang of using and dumping the former speaker, a statement some have interpreted to mean that the governor had pocketed the House. The Assembly in a reaction, denied being a 'rubber stamp' of the governor.
House Committee Chairman on Information, Mr. Diket Plang, told journalists that there was no external influence in the choice of the new speaker saying: 'The fact of the matter is that, as honourable members, we decided on the election of the new speaker without any influence from the executive arm of the government because we are people of integrity and besides he (speaker) is amply qualified for the job'.
This reaction suggests that the House wants to, as much as possible, be seen as independent and not an appendage of the executive, a stance many believe is important for the check and balances principle in the Presidential System to endure.
As a civil servant, Joel Musa told Vanguard, 'while cooperation between the two arms of government is very important, the overall interest of the state and her people should not be compromised. In fact, occasional rifts are inevitable if the House would effectively perform her oversight functions so long as they are not allowed to degenerate.'
Undoubtedly, Speaker Dabwan is well placed to influence affairs and probably dictate the level of cooperation between the executive and legislative arms of government in the state. As presiding officer, how he handles matters would determine if the House would not be a mere rubber stamp as they have promised.
Apart from the speaker, other principal officers such as Deputy Speaker, Mr. Johnbul Shekarau; Majority Leader, Mr. Gyang Fulani and others are expected to play significant roles in how things move in the House.
The outspoken House Committee Chairman on Information, Plang, who is already being seen as a close confidant of the speaker, is also believed to be among those to influence the relationship between the two arms of government.
The five minority members, four from the Labour Party and one from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are also expected to serve as alternative voice of the people in the House. The immediate past Deputy Speaker, Alhaji Ibrahim Baba Hassan, who is now in the Labour Party, who is known for his outspoken nature is among those expected to play this role.
While it may be too early to predict accurately how well the House would perform its legislative functions in the next four years after barely three weeks of its inauguration, it is evident that the people's expectation from the members are high. How well or otherwise they perform would determine their place in history at the end of their tenure.