By Oluseyi Animashaun
The State of Osun 7th House of Assembly got inaugurated in June 2019 amidst mixed reactions from the citizens of the state – including the political class. To many, the house was going in the right direction, under the leadership of a new speaker, Rt. Hon Timothy Owoeye who is highly experienced, proficient and has spent more than enough time learning the dynamics and conduct of parliament. Others believed that he ascended to the distinguished seat on the wings of many of his party leaders and would, therefore, be too much in sync with the executive and party leaders.
Candidly, no ordinary citizen wants a parliament that is a mere object in the hands of the executive or a political tool for facilitation of only the agenda of the majority political party. The activities of such parliament would only amount to a farce, make a mockery of the fundamental principles of democracy and system of separation of power and so, those who were initially skeptical about the assembly probably had genuine reasons – or maybe not. Whatever it was, the new speaker, being a fourth-timer, is metaphorically in the dock of the public court of opinions. He had (still has) a burden to prove to the people of Osun that fairness cum objectivity and party-endorsement are not mutually exclusive and that experience truly counts in providing extraordinary leadership for the legislative arm of a politically dynamic state like Osun.
It is now one year since the assembly’s inauguration and the historical inaugural speech of the speaker – “as the great work continues” and without mincing words, it is clear that the 7th assembly is on track in playing its role towards delivering dividends of democracy to the good people of Osun. Within 365 days, the 26 members of the 7th assembly have demonstrated a collective commitment to the people and have taken actions that now put the assembly as one of the most innovative, strategic, peaceful and people-focused state assemblies in the nation.
The Owoeye-led parliament is unique in its ways. First, it spent a good time in ensuring that all members prepared adequately for the work ahead with a clear understanding of their parliamentary goals as an assembly. The honourable members of the house held a 3-day retreat and adopted their legislative agenda – a document that contains the policy framework and the strategic plans for the assembly. The agenda contains 6 major points which are quality legislation, effective oversight, accountable and democratic assembly, effective public engagement, legislative resource centre and e-parliament. The policy document is evidence of an assembly ready to succeed, noting that proper planning before action results in success.
The assembly then moved into serious work after the retreat and has thus far successfully passed 8 legislative bills. The bills include the State of Osun Anti-Kidnapping and other Related Crimes Bill, a law in response to growing rates of kidnap and related crimes in the state; the State of Osun College of Health Technology (Establishment) Bill which is considered long overdue by many citizens of its host community and the state at large going by the many achievements and advances of the erstwhile school of health technology; State of Osun Public Financial Management Bill designed to secure and entrench transparency and accountability of government revenue and assets; Osun Youth Development Commission (Establishment) Bill which is aimed at establishing a commission that will provide leadership in the setting of priorities and direction for all youth developmental activities.
Other bills passed are State of Osun Appropriation Bill 2020; State of Osun Local Government Areas (Creation and Administration) Amendment (No. 4) Bill; State of Osun Security Network Agency and Amotekun Corps (Establishment) Bill; and Osun Revenue Administration and Tax (Codification and Consolidation) Bill.
Also, the assembly has passed several resolutions and mediated with the executive over several issues received as public complaints or matters of public importance raised by members. Contrary to what some citizens thought ab initio, the current assembly has not – by any means – been a ‘rubber-stamp’ parliament, but has gone ahead to set standards for what a state house of assembly should be, in its conduct and modus operandi particularly in areas of quality representation, effective legislation, citizens engagement and transparency.
In a way that typifies how the best of leaders are those who are accessible and approachable, the 7th assembly, in its entirety has operated an open-door policy, with offices of its members open to the populace. There are no constituted bureaucracies for citizens, individuals and organisations who wish to meet any of the members on issues that affect them. As a matter of fact, it is now public knowledge that the speaker of the house is easily accessible to everyone who wishes to meet him and he gives them listening ears over their questions, requests, complaints or propositions towards better service delivery. It does not just end there – he takes up whatever is the outcome of such discussions.
Furthermore, the assembly is transparent in its business as evidenced by the cordial relationship it maintains with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the fourth estate of the realm i.e. the press and news media, making sure that they perform their duties and obligations without fear – just as it should be. This practice is obvious, for example, in the passing of the Osun Youth Development Commission (Establishment) Bill, a bill that was to a large extent, engineered by Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI), a non – governmental organization committed to youth development and advocacy.
Moreover, the 7th assembly has made major impacts on public engagement and communications. The speaker leads the way with how he operates his social media platforms. Together with some of his colleagues, their active presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has created a good image for the house, especially in the sight of the youth. The State of Osun House of Assembly which had little or no social media presence and only scanty resources available online before 2019 now has all its activities posted regularly online for public consumption and feedback.
Rt. Hon. Owoeye interacts freely with citizens of the state across social media platforms. He participates in online discussions pertaining to the yearnings and aspirations of Osun people and officially acts on important submissions made by social media users. There are many examples of such occurrence. Recently, the house of assembly intervened in a crisis at the Osun State University based on an interaction between the speaker and a student of the University on Twitter. On the same platform, a certain citizen of the state, a few weeks ago, initiated a discussion on the laws concerning Female Genital Mutilation practices in the state. The speaker engaged him and subsequently gave him an opportunity to visit the house together with his team of advocates to discuss their concerns. These are just two of many such online gestures.
Similarly, the assembly has demonstrated its penchant for innovations through the development of the ‘e-parliament’ – one of its legislative agenda. The e-parliament, which is a new web portal accessible to the public, provides information on all activities of the parliament. The portal which is still in the process of development is to provide details of members, bills, order papers, resolutions, votes and proceedings, fields for citizens to track the process of passing of bills, a special platform where citizens can submit complaints for assessment and action of the house public complaints committee and a segment which when fully developed, will give the public access to watch live plenary sessions.
The idea of e-parliament depicts the ingenuity of the members of the assembly and scores a 21st-century point for them. In a nation where important details of activities of government are shrouded in secrecy and public institutions resist digitization drives, that a state house of assembly could on its own think of such move is outright spectacular and commendable. Osun 7th assembly never knew a certain COVID-19 pandemic would later force institutions towards digitization when it blazed the trail for e-parliament, conveniently bringing the assembly to the electronic gadgets of people.
Indeed, the work of any parliament is all-encompassing, and a good parliament is one that consists of members who are vast and individually experienced in various fields of human endeavour. This has perhaps been the strength of this parliament. The house is blessed with a crop of intelligent professionals with expertise in different fields as well as in governance and together they have initiated a process that can become change-defining for state legislation in Nigeria. The members have all shown that they can be effective in their duties and fairly give oversight to the works of the executive, regardless of party affiliation.
Albeit, it is obvious that the assembly made marks in its first year, the truth is that there are still many things to be done. As members resume for the next legislative session, the assembly must continue towing the path it has set because citizens anticipate more innovations and improvements. It must continually strive to gain public trust by formulating laws on issues that affect the lives of people and by ensuring checks and balances where necessary.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning thereof. If IleriOluwa will be delivered, the effectiveness and order of the 7th assembly remains inevitable till the end of the administration.
Oluseyi Animashaun writes from Ilesa and can be reached via [email protected]