Within Nigerian context, the nomenclature ‘Speaker’ of a Legislative Assembly is a commonly title held by Presiding Officers of Parliamentary bodies (State Houses of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives), while first among equals in the Senate is referred to as Senate ‘President’.
Constitutionally, after the proclamation of the New Assembly by the State Governor, the election of a new Speaker remains the foremost task of any Assembly before it can conduct any other business and all members are eligible for the Speakership position.
However, within an atmosphere where power must be evenly distributed across the existing Senatorial Districts of a State, then, the templates of zoning comes in to play and Speakership and other two first citizens’ positions narrowed down to the favourable Senatorial District, a typical case of Akwa Ibom State.
Analyzing the current political structure of Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel who was recently sworn-in for a second term in office hails from Eket Senatoral District while the Deputy Governor, Mr. Moses Ekpo (Uncle Mo) is of the Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, so apparently, the Speakership position resides within the zoning of Uyo Senatorial District.
With this in mind, as the Sixth Assembly of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is drawing down the curtain of its four years Parliamentary mandate in the next two days, Thursday, June 6, 2019 to be precised, Akwa Ibom populace, the Executive Arm and the Judiciary are anxiously awaiting who emerges the 12th Speaker in Seventh Assembly of the State Legislature.
It is a general belief of greater percentage of Akwa Ibom political pundits that irrespective of the fact by virtue of zoning, that Speakership position of the Seventh Assembly goes to Uyo Senatorial District, the pendulum of Speakership swings confidently within Uyo Federal Constituency (Atai Uyo) which constitutes four State Constituencies of; Uyo, Ibesikpo Asutan, Nsit Atai and Uruan, respectively.
Peradventure, as predicted, the ruling party (Peoples Democratic Party) the Executive and the 25 Assemblymen (Essien Udim State Constituency undecided, thus excluded) heed to Atai Uyo producing the next Speaker of the Seventh Assembly, then, suffice it to say, Hon. Anietie Ekah (First Timer)- Uyo State Constituency, Rt. Hon (Elder) Aniekan Uko (First Speaker Sixth Assembly, Returning Member-elect)- Ibesikpo Asutan State Constituency, Rt. Hon. (Elder) Mark Esset (Returning Member-elect) – Nsit Atai State Constituency and Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey (Returning Member-elect)- Uruan State Constituency are prospective Speakers of the incoming Assembly.
For whosoever emerges as the next Speaker of the State Legislature as Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke, Speaker, Sixth Assembly of Akwa Ibom Parliament gallantly bows-out of office on Thursday, June 6, 2019 for a higher legislative engagement as the representative of Etinan, Nsit Ubium and Nsit Ibom Federal Constituency at the Federal House of Representatives, it is expected of his successor to get acquainted with the roles, responsibilities and challenges of the number one position in the State legislature for a sustainable partnership between the Executive, Legislature and judiciary as experienced during Barr. Luke’s led Legislature.
Above all, the incoming Speaker should understand that separation of powers and legislative independence exist for the ultimate purpose of defining the relationship and harmony between legislature, Judiciary and Executive Arms of Government, for promoting unity and not disunity, bearing in mind, each arm is more inter-dependent than they are independent of one another.
Elucidating the role of the Speaker, It is also incumbent on the new Speaker to acknowledge that a Speaker is a non-partisan, neutral presiding officer of the State Legislature, although first above his speakership position, he is a member representing a constituency, he is not responsible for serving a particular political party although by implication of 25 Members of the House flying the brilliant, elegant and prosperous colour of PDP, the later maybe needless to say.
Pertinently, I warn, pertinently, it is not expected of the Speaker to give up his party membership when he is elected. He will not enjoy the opportunity of casting votes in the House unless there is a tie, neither will he enjoy the privilege of participating in a debate unless he is the lead sponsor of a bill, where the Deputy Speaker presides over deliberations while he takes the lead in deliberations during the second reading of his bill at the plenary.
In the chamber, the Speaker will be vested with the responsibilities of enforcing and interpreting the House’s Rules as laid down in the ‘Standing Orders’, and his rulings shall not be appealed by any member of the House.
However, aside from the Speaker making decisions based on precedent on issues and situations that are not covered by ‘Standing Orders’, he is also expected to maintain decorum in the House.
Holistically, the responsibilities, functions and duties of a Speaker of the State Legislature among other things includes; directing all activities of the House and its Committees and presiding over the proceedings of House within the scope of State House of Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, opening, suspending and closing plenary (sittings).
Others are; ensuring observations of the State Legislature’s Rules and ‘Standing Orders’, recognizing and calling on members to participate in proceedings, closing debates, putting maters to vote and announcing the results of votes and referring to committees any business that concern them for perusal to facilitate further legislative considerations by the House within a given period of time.
Going by the above narratives, as Speaker Luke bows out from his Speakership position in the loudest ovation after piloting a robust and vibrant legislature that has recorded giant strides in legislative business of the State, it now behoves on the incoming Speaker of Seventh Assembly to emulate the sterling leadership approach of Speaker Luke for good governance and delivery of services to the electorates.
The battle for the seat that will set the new template in synergy with the Executive for the next four years will be surely in Uyo Federal Constituency and it lies at the doorsteps of Aniekan Uko (Ibesikpo Asutan), Mark Esset (Nsit Atai), Aniekan Bassey (Uruan ) and Anietie Ekah (Uyo), time will tell, history beckons in a few days and the future of Akwa Ibom State will chart a greater course.