Are Benue lawmakers self-serving?

KULA TERSOO writes on the cat and mouse relationship between the legislative and executive arms of government in Benue  state

Since its inception almost two and half years ago, the 7th Benue state House of Assembly has come under series of criticism ranging from passage of bills  emanating only  from the executive and the arm twisting of  the executive to the detriment of the Benue masses.
Many are of the view that that until the Assembly gets a stable leadership, that installed by the lawmakers themselves, nothing better and meaningful  will come from it.
But it is  about a full year now since the lawmakers installed a leadership of their own under the Speakership of Barr. Terhile Ayua, following the sack of  Hon. Terhemen Tarzoor and Barr. David Iorhemba  believed to have been foisted on them  by the executive.
Tarzoor was sacked by the court while Iorhemba resigned his position when it became imminent that his colleagues had collected more than two third signatures to do away with him as Speaker.
It has been observed that since its inauguration, the 30-man Assembly which until recently has 20 members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and 10 members of the All Progressive Congress (APC), only finds it gratifying to go for the executives’ juggler when a sensitive issue  with  direct bearing on the masses is tabled before it.

In 2011, the Assembly turned down a sponsored journey to Obudu Mountain Resort for a retreat, claiming that the money for the retreat could be put to use for the   benefit of their constituents.  This, many applauded the lawmakers, reasoning amongst other things that at last, a people oriented Assembly was on course.
But no sooner had they rescinded and went back for same retreat that the public realized that the lawmakers were only into an unimaginable game, insisting each of them must be given at least a Prado Jeep as a condition for attending the retreat.
Also recently, tension has been mounting amongst  members  over allegations of bribery regarding  the Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P) from local government councils in the state.
The lawmakers who engaged themselves in accusation and counter accusation, accused  one another of  allegedly  collecting money from the local government areas in the state to cover up alleged mismanagement of SURE-P funds. It was also learnt that the crisis is centred around  the disbursement of over N200 million released to the 23 local governments in the state for the execution of projects under the programme
Governor Gabriel Suswam had announced his administration’s intention to commence full utilization of the funds as sent for the scheme by the federal government and ensure that every kobo is judiciously used.
He said his administration “has received a total of two billion, one hundred and sixty one million, sixty three thousand, eight hundred and twenty Naira (N2,161,063,820) only as SURE-P proceeds and I am willing to apply it exactly where it will benefit a common man”.
And not long after the governor’s declaration,  the House  quickly passed a resolution that the exercise should be stopped and went on to constitute a five- man ad-hoc committee to get to the root of allegations that councils in the state had already mismanaged and variously embezzled the funds.
The Committee which is headed by the Chief Whip, Hon. Christopher Afaor was charged with the responsibility of investigating the implementation of SURE-P projects in the state and establish how much was approved for the local governments in the state by the federal government from 2012 till date and how much was actually released to them by the state.
However, the beans were allegedly spilled when after some  discoveries were made and reports written, some members allegedly negotiated with some council chairmen and some underhand deals were reached with the exclusion of some legislators.
Again, the 2014 appropriation law which was presented to the Assembly by Governor Suswam got a similar treatment as with the flimsiest excuse of non availability of enough copies, the bill was delayed until the lawmakers traveled for yet another retreat at Obudu.
There are already insinuations that it was a ploy to drag  Suswam to once again oil their palms before passing the budget.
But a political analyst, Agazer Tarkula said  there is nothing wrong in the lawmakers arm twisting the executive, insisting that as long as they often get a positive response for their constituents anytime they do it. He however decried a situation whereby in most instances, such demands are selfish to the lawmakers.
Engr. Baba Agan who is the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) state Chairman said, “ what do you expect a people, most of whom are seen the other smooth side of life for the first time?”
“Since they were inaugurated, have you heard anyone of them bring forward a bill to be deliberated on on the floor? They wait for the executive to prepare one for them so that they can demand for bribe and other inducements before passage”.
He insisted that until the electoral process in the country is transparent right from the polling booth where people would be allowed to assess their candidates and vote for the best, the country will continue to suffer.
But a lawmaker, Hon. Benjamin Adanyi representing Makurdi South said it would be sheer blackmail  for anyone to think “we  are often strangulating the executive for personal gains. It is always our intention to be meticulous in representing the Benue public.”
On  Sure-P, he said “this  became necessary when it was discovered that what the Governor presented to the Assembly as monies that accrued to the state since the inception of the program was at par with what his appointees variously quoted in the past and what the Assembly in the course of their oversight function stumbled on hence the need to critically look into the matter.
He debunked insinuations that the 2014 budget was been delayed for a particular bargain by the Assembly members, but insisted that it will be unfair for members to be at the whims and caprices of the executive just to impress them.
For the lawmakers, it is incumbent on them to convince and prove cynics wrong on these allegations held against them. But above all, both the executive and the legislature must strive individually and collectively to strive in the cause of the people.

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