Rt. Hon. Peter Onwusanya, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, posits that through its oversight functions, the legislature had been working in synergy with the executive “to attain the height we are eulogising today”
It is 15 years of unbroken democracy; what does it mean to you as a politician and to Delta State?
My joy has no bounds, having witnessed 15 years of steady democracy in Nigeria. It therefore means that the prayers of Nigerians have been heard by God. For our democracy to survive for 15 years is worth celebrating. It means so many things to politicians. One, we have to ask ourselves, what is the dividend of democracy. What have we achieved in 15 years of democracy? Who is a politician? An elected politician is a representative of the people. It therefore means that there are always expectations of a feedback of the dividends of your representation. And the overall review of 15 years of democracy has shown that there is no way that those who have felt it can compare democracy to any other form of government. It is the best in terms of infrastructure development, human capital development, peace and security irrespective of the shortfalls we are experiencing now.
When Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, did you expect it would last this long?
No. Actually in 1999 when democracy was coming up, many persons were very sceptical; they were not too sure of what will come because we were just trying to exit from the military dominance for a long time. The interest was not there, people adopted this attitude of lets-watch-and-see. And the earlier callers in terms of elective positions had it on a platter of gold. But the moment we left 1999 to 2003, people began to feel that, I think there’s hope, and we have witnessed it, and I believe and know that there is hope.
How far do you think military incursion into our political space has affected our psyche as a people?
The military is an authoritarian system, but democracy is a different ball game. Democracy has organs of government, and there are checks and balances. Somebody can query your appropriation, that is, the budget. There is a representative to speak for his or her own people in the National Assembly, in the state Assembly. There is a voice the people have, but in the military, nobody dared challenge them. And it is very evident that what we have achieved in the democratic setting for 15years cannot be compared to about 20-something years of military.
So, how will you assess the democratic journey in Delta in the past 15 years?
The evolution of party politics started in Delta State like in every other state in 1998. And in 1999, we had the first democratically elected government in Delta State, and they did their best up to 2007. In 2007, the democratic process took another turn for the better in Delta State, improving on what we had on ground. From 1999 to 2007, there was a foundation, so you cannot write off the era. But from 2007, there has been added value and improvement, what I consider as a wonder.
Can you explain further what you mean by this?
What I mean by wonder from 2007 is that after the change of baton from our great leader, Chief James Ibori to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan in 2007. Ibori did his own part, had some ideas on ground, the foundation was laid. It will not surprise you to know that Uduaghan was part of the team from 1999 to 2007. He served as a commissioner; he served as secretary to the state government up to 2007 before his emergence as governor. And I believe that between that period of service and when he became governor, he was exposed to so many things, and he has learnt so many things in terms of probably where we got it wrong between 1999 and 2007; where we had our shortfalls. To the good side of 1999 to 2007, that prepared him enough to tackle the shortfalls and to add value to where we had an advantage. That brought the wonders we are talking about.
Can you mention these wonders?
The wonders are too numerous to mention. First we will talk about the three-point agenda of the governor. It is a module for easy administration of the state. And for a man to compress so many ideas to a three-point agenda, first has really distinguished him from the ordinary person. It shows that his mental industry is at work. And he compressed whatever policies or ideologies that have been in place before him, and reduced them to three points, which encompasses the needs of the people. First, he started with Peace and Security, and this shows that without peace and security, there is no meaningful impact any government can make to a society in chaos. Before he came on board, restiveness in the core Niger Delta area were so pronounced. The first thing he did was to ask, ‘how do we address this situation, to give us a very peaceful and conducive environment before we talk about development?’ As the chief security officer of the state, it is his responsibility to add value to all the security arrangements in the state to make sure that the restiveness was brought under control. And the moment we got it right on that premise, one was proud to say Delta State is one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. The next stage is about the ethnic crisis. He was able to resolve some disagreeable issues within the state. Emphasis is on this peace and security because before then, the restiveness of the youth could not even allow infrastructure development in their area, and that brought one slogan we call – Deve! Development levy because nobody was in control, anybody could pick arms and resist government development.
Now let us look at some of the laws that have been made over time by the legislature to encourage development?
I will say in 15 years, the legislature is consolidating. And by the Nigerian constitution, I think Section 4, subsection 7 gives the Assembly power to make laws for peace, order and good governance for the government. That is the essence of democracy. And if any arm deviates from these three directives, the judiciary comes in to interpret it. It therefore shows that the legislature has the role which it has played in democratic governance for the past 15 years. In the constitution, there are oversight functions. The first one is appropriation. Appropriation is the working tool of democracy. Without appropriation, the physical development we have witnessed in the past 15 years cannot be there. The grand norm which is the constitution, also gives the Legislature the power to audit public accounts. It gives them the same power to summon, question or bring to fore, any criminal or suspected misapplication of the appropriation. And these are the basis of development in terms of democracy.
Would you say your Assembly has effectively carried out these functions?
Yes! I am very proud to be a member of the fifth Assembly in Delta State. Why I said I am very proud, there have been a cordial relationship between the Legislature and the Executive.
Why is it so?
Why it is so is that when you advice the Executive, they react according to your advice. Because the purpose of the three organs of government is for advancement of the society, the people we represent. The Legislature in Delta State for example, in the area of peace and security – in the time we had menace of kidnappers, the assembly rose to their responsibility – an anti-kidnapping and cultism law was passed. There was a division between the Legislature and the Executive. And in a meeting, we agreed and we felt that our governor is a medical doctor like he explained to us which is true, and medical doctors are not to kill. He believes in the law but the aspect of death sentence he said no! I rather go for life term. The legislature needed a draconian law as a deterrent or to put a check to the menace. We vetoed that law and it is in existence today.
Do you think the law will be effective if the governor refuses to sign the death warrant?
It does not really matter. For example, we are in the third year of his four-year tenure. By His grace, probably the man that will take over from our governor will not be a medical doctor. But the law is there. That is one aspect. The other aspect of peace and security is that we went further as a House, and you know the constitution frowns at state police system. We circumvented that state police and it has now become a norm in Nigeria as a nation. We created what we called the – Vigilante Law. And, by the law, we now have community police from the ward levels that reports to the local government level, to complement the national police activities. We went round; fortunately, I was a member of the security committee that went round the state and discovered that there is need for this homegrown policing; and a law came out of it, for establishment of vigilante groups in Delta State. We moved further, how do we now fund it? How do we make it a more realistic and acceptable idea? We went for the Trust Fund; the law for the Trust Fund again has been passed and has received the assent of the governor. How to get funds to finance these vigilante groups, to finance security system in Delta State, should not be left to government alone. So the Trust Fund, the Anti-kidnapping Law, and the Vigilante Group Law, are some of the contributions of the legislature towards the first agenda of the government in the area of peace and security.
How has the legislature contributed to the “wonders” of the Uduaghan administration?
The Delta State House of Assembly, the fifth Assembly that I represent, has had cause to pass three Appropriation laws and following the implementations of the budgets, and because of the close monitoring, supervision and oversight functions, you can now see the wonders we are talking about. The schools in Delta State are the best in Nigeria. Before now, we were talking about Rivers State but when Delta State stood up, the story changed. We have a committee in the House called Special Duties, and it takes care of oversight functions of directorate of infrastructure, and it has been wonderful. Have you gone round to see the magic in our education sector? It is as a result of the legislature living up to its billing and responsibility. Oversight function has taken us to the health sector, which is appropriated for in those budgets for the years. And through close monitoring, we have one of the best teaching hospitals in Nigeria today at Oghara. There is another one in Eku. The one in Asaba now is going through a transformation to live up to the standard of the capital. And appropriation is about – the roads, the micro-credit, the scholarships; all these things are contained in the appropriation. I think that encompasses all the discussions. At the end of the year, after the oversight function, we audit the public account. Did you misapply those budgetary provisions, or did you use them for what they were meant for? We have really done the needful in terms of the responsibility and duties of the legislature for appropriation. These are the paramount functions of administration and the Delta State House of Assembly had been synergising with the executive to attain the height we are eulogising today.
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