An unprecedented reform is coming to the houses of assembly in the six Southwest states of Oyo, Lagos, Ondo, Osun, Ogun and Ekiti. Members and leaders of the six state houses of assembly have introduced some legislative rules that will ensure strict procedure for removal of speakers and their deputies, as well as creation of a council with the status of the National Council of State that will offer advisory services to the assemblies. The new rules will apply in the six assemblies once adopted by next month. Bisi Oladele and Joseph Okwuofu (Ibadan), Adesoji Adeniyi (Osogbo) and Ernest Nwokolo (Abeokuta) examine the reform seen by many as a new innovation in regional development.
The news of the meeting of the leaders of the six houses of assembly in Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Lagos, Osun and Ekiti states in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, last week suggested another political move that was expected to spring some surprises. But the outcome of the closed-door meeting revealed a move by state legislators in the Southwest region to key into the regional integration efforts of leaders of the region.
The meeting had in attendance speakers and other members of the leadership of the six state houses of assembly. They adopted proposals of a uniform House Rules that will apply in the six state assemblies. The adoption of uniform rules was a product of months of discussions on how to limit executive interference in the affairs of state assemblies for the purpose of leadership stability as well as how a new structure could allow the assemblies tap from the experience of former speakers and other leaders.
The Chairman, Speakers’ Conference of Nigeria and the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the decision to harmonise the house rules was beyond politics but for the progress of the region.
Obasa said: “This is beyond politics, but a way to develop our democracy in the Southwest. Having same rules in the state houses of assembly in the region will beautify our democracy because there can’t be democracy without the parliament.
“It will also remove the acrimony that we witnessed in the past where few people try to remove the speaker or change the system in the parliament.
“Once we have uniformity in our rules, nobody can do something otherwise and get away with it. It will checkmate the excesses of the executive in influencing the leadership of the houses of assembly without conforming with the provisions of the law because there is no way one may try to change the rule of the house without considering the effect of such on other houses. The new rules have a mechanism to checkmate impeachment because you cannot act in isolation. If you do, we in the other parts of the Southwest states can come together and insist that you follow our rules.”
In the proposed harmonisation, each house of assembly will have its own House Rules crafted under the name of the house of assembly. But the rules will be the same across the six state assemblies in the region.
For instance, while the Oyo State House of Assembly will have its House Rules that guide operations of the assembly, the rules will be the same as those of other states as adopted by the Southwest state legislators.
The Deputy Speaker, Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Abdulwasil Musa, explained that many rules will be introduced with the purpose of ensuring certainty, stability and promotion of independence of the legislative arm of government. The new rules will limit manipulation of the state assemblies by the executive arm.
One of the new rules is the one that prescribes definite method of electing the principal officers which shall now be the secret or open ballot system.
Musa said: “The new rules will also include that which streamlines the processes for removal of the speaker and deputy speaker. Currently, members can remove the speaker or his deputy without prior notice.
“A new rule prescribes the procedure similar to the impeachment of the governor. Minimum of one third of the members of a house will have to sign an impeachment notice while detailing the allegations against a supposed erring speaker or deputy.
“After presenting the notice at plenary, a committee will be set up to investigate the allegations. The speaker or his deputy will also be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in writing. If found guilty, minimum of two third of members will have to vote for his removal for it to be legal.
“The new rules also provide for a legislative advisory council where former speakers, deputy speakers and clerks meet with current house leadership, performing advisory roles. This is similar to the Council of State at the national level. The council will meet once in six months at the minimum.
“Under the new rules, a new assembly is empowered to continue or to start from the beginning any bill which the former assembly could not complete.”
Effect on existing rules
The existing rules of the state houses of assembly will be affected immediately each house adopts the harmonised rules. From the adoption of the new rules by each house, the old rule gives way for the harmonised rules.
The new rules are aimed at fostering integration in the region. The lawmakers view the move as “a major step towards political and economic integration of the region,” Musa affirmed.
They also believe that the move will bring about certainty in procedures across the Southwest state assemblies as well as stability in the leadership of the assemblies.
The state assemblies will adopt the uniform rules at different times from now till middle of May, thereby creating a regional co-operation platform for the Ninth Assemblies in the six states.
Legality of the move
The lawmakers generally believe that the rules cannot be successfully challenged in court because each house of assembly enjoys the freedom of association and each house is empowered by the Constitution to adopt its rules of proceedings.
Reviewing the move, the Majority Leader, Osun State House of Assembly who is also the Chairman, Southwest Legislative Reform Implementation Committee, Hon. Timothy Owoeye, said the aim was to exchange ideas and programmes for the progress of the region. He pointed out that the move was in line with the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN).
His words: “Currently, we are harmonising our standing rules of the houses of assembly in the region. At present, we are making a landmark achievement as far as legislative business is concerned. Apart from that we are working with the executive to achieve the Southwest development agenda which has the legislative backing. So, we are coming together to speak with one voice.
“This has not happened in the history of the Southwest. We are also looking at having a situation where the houses of assembly in the Southwest will come together to have a big dream to have a unified medical centre or mechanised farming system which will be able to feed the entire region. This has nothing to do with party affiliation but governance.
“Part of our aims is to achieve progress and stability in the Southwest houses of assembly as contained in the document of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). It is quite obvious that other regions are engaged in intense competition with the Southwest and we must not sit back but move on to show clear and quality leadership as legacies bequeathed to us by our great leader and sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.”
The Speaker, Ogun State House of Assembly Hon. Suraj Adekunbi, said the move was aimed at making the assemblies “more effective, efficient and responsive to the people in a manner that would fast-track even development in the region as conceptualised by the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN).”
Adekunbi revealed that the House Rule being used in the state was formulated in 2007, stressing that time and exigencies of their responsibility have proved it to be inadequate, hence the amendment to accommodate the laudable agenda of DAWN.
He described it as a positive development, saying that it is one of the legacies the current legislature would bequeath to the future generations to appreciate.
Adekunbi assured that the new rules will be adopted when the House resumes.
Commenting on the Southwest parliamentary regionalisation, the Director-General, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, described it as a welcome development.
He said: “The states of Southwest Nigeria predominantly are of the same people, culture and outlook. Their aspirations are similar and so also are their challenges and opportunities. It is a matter of enlightened self-interest that their legislative approach be similar and interconnected.
“The regional integration process in Southwest is an opportunity to leverage economies of scale and socio-economic advantages. It is pragmatic that the rules, conventions and laws that guide public institutions especially must reflect the peculiarities of a region divided into sub-national but united by history, aspirations and value system.”