INTERVIEW WITH HON SPEAKER, CRHA, RT HON ETENG JONAH WILLIAMS

Less than one week after Governor Ben Ayade signed the proclamation notice, the 9th Cross River State House of Assembly convened and elected its officers with Rt. Hon. Eteng Jonah William elected as the Honourable Speaker on Platform Interview with MOFINEWS Magazine, Rt. Hon. Eteng bared his mind on his plans for the 9th Assembly. The Excerpts: 

Mr. Speaker, how do you assess your first 100 days in office?

Hon Speaker: Well, it’s refreshing, challenging but we are equal to the task. You know when you start off a project you don’t just look at the beauty of it. You also look at the hurdles you have to cross. Before I ran for the election to be Speaker, I knew there were going to be hurdles to cross (and) to an extent… we are crossing those hurdles. For me it’s okay, it’s something I really expected.

How many bills has the 9th Assembly passed so far?

Hon Speaker: In the 9 Assembly we’ve not passed any bill. They are all in the process. A bill is not passed in one day. At least it goes through a process (for) a law that has to last for a time. Not for a short time… so that posterity (will be better for it). You don’t pass a bill in one day because every day you’ll need to do an amendment. It has to go
through a process. You list a bill which is the notice, after the first stage, it goes into the second stage… which is at the time inputs are made and (go into) debates on the floor. After that, you commit it into a committee. That
committee calls for public hearing when the public will be (invited) to come and make inputs especially professional bodies that have (something) to do with that particular bill. (That is) interested bodies and organizations, persons
that are knowledgeable concerning the bill itself… So a bill is not something (that) you just wake up (and start making a bill); it’s not like a motion that you can write today and take it tomorrow. But so far we have started with
about six or seven bills (that are) in the process. Some have even passed through the second stage.

Sir, how are you faring in terms of your oversight functions?

Hon Speaker: The aim of the 9 Assembly will be to do more of oversight functions which we have already started… The Committee on Agric is interfacing with (the management of) all the (agricultural) estates like PAMOL and the rest. Before now we’ve even visited some of the government projects like the rice seedlings and the Ayade industrial
park. We’ve gone to Biase where the institution… the Teachers (Continuing Education) Institute is located… We are going to do more of oversight functions. The only challenge we’re facing right now is that we are waiting for one
or two vehicles that (would) take us everywhere. That is what has slowed us down. But it has not stopped us from doing our oversight functions. Everything we’re doing in the 9th Assembly…One, the Governor in his second term
inauguration said he is going to be in the field… (and) explained that the theme of his government in this Ayade
Second term Government is putting your hands on the plough which we are going to follow suit. For us, we are
putting a tab on them to ensure we increase our oversight responsibilities.

What is your assessment of the performance of the 2019 budget implementation and your expectation of the 2020 estimates?

Hon Speaker: …You’re coming from the Ministry of Finance where (the) releases are resident. Because I don’t think for the House we have any challenge with releases. Releases have to do with what is available. You don’t
release what you don’t have… It is what you have that you release. And that’s why from your Ministry, the Ministry of Finance; they should be able to tell us what they have (from) the actual so that we know where we should go… But from the 9th Assembly, we are determined… If you say you want to create an industry, and you start the process, you have given us the room to go into it… But when you say you’re creating an industry but the process is not being done, we’ll not start forcing you to start implementation of your budget… That’s where the issue of the current budget lies. If you have a big budget you need to know the philosophy behind that budget. We need to know if it is possible for the implementation of such a …budget of about N1.3 trillion (N1,300,000,000.00). Do we have it? Can we achieve it? But we only know that this budget is not what we have. It is what we expect. So it makes it a little bit more difficult to start putting pressure on the Executive to implement. You only put pressure when you ask oversight of what they are doing, not what they have not started doing… You need to get that right. It is what they are doing (plan to do), if they started doing it… not to start putting pressure on them that you must start doing it… Are you giving them the funds? No. It is only when the funds are available that you can… Like now if they start the construction of a road, you’ve given us the leeway to start doing our oversight function. But when there is nothing like a bridge,
what are you “over-sighting”?

How are you tackling capacity building for members especially to get the first timers acquainted with the workings of the legislature?

Hon Speaker: We have done like two trainings – one at Enugu and we’ve done one here (in Calabar) since we came into office. It’s a continuous process… We’ve just done about four months or so. In my inaugural speech I said it… You cannot cut corners… We must train for people to get to a level that you want them to (perform). So capacity building is one of our cardinal points… If you read my inaugural speech, I said it clearly that training is key to effective legislation.

Until we get our autonomy where things are done from here and by us, we may not be able to make any headway in terms of infrastructure

Why there clamour for an Assembly Commission and what is the situation in Cross River State?

Hon Speaker: It’s a must for us to have autonomy. When I use the word “must”, I mean it. In the 8th Assembly it was not signed into law. But as I speak to you… just on Thursday (9th October, 2019), our last sitting day, it came up; we mentioned it. And that bill, we’ve started the process. You can’t have autonomy without Assembly Commission. And we are clamoring for an Assembly Commission and we hope that this time around it must be assented to

But so far we have started with about six or seven bills (that are) in the process. Some have passed through the second stage

 

One of the first motions taken and moved in the 9th Assembly was the call for enforcement of the ban on commercial motor cycle operations in the state. What prompted this call and why are you not looking at the virtual blanket ban as it affects those operating in the outskirts of Calabar especially the rural areas?

Hon Speaker: We’re maintaining what we have… Before we went on recess, there was a motion to that effect…;
trying to ignite that bite for all the agencies that are saddled with the responsibility of controlling the motorbikes. We cannot afford to go back. Little by little we will give (the law) it a bite. We must remember that there is a law. Of
recent what we are saying; we’re only calling on the implementing agencies to enforce that particular legislation… It was not a blanket ban as such. There were designated areas like 8 Miles and other areas (on the outskirts of Calabar Municipality) that were (allowed) that window to operate. It was not that total that if you’re living in that forest, you should not operate, No! Go back to it (the law) and you’d see that there are designated areas that (they) were allowed to operate.

Hon. Speaker, could you assess the relationship between the Legislature and the other two arms of
government in the state?

Hon Speaker: Cordial relationship. We have a very cordial relationship between the three arms… Like I tell people,
you did not elect us to come here to wear boxing gloves to fight. It is that synergy between the three arms of government that will give us good governance… In Cross River State we are too matured to fight on the streets. Because most people will say if you’re not fighting you’re a rubber stamp. To me, it looks cheap. Because we’ve overused the word “rubber stamp”; because when we were elected you did not tell me, “When you get there start fighting”. We said use the power of the tongue to convince (others); dialogue is the key word. If they are not doing
well in the Executive, we have a way of telling them; by way of motions, by way of writing. It is not only (by) publishing or writing

We are going to do more of oversight functions. The only challenge we’re facing right now is that we are waiting for one or two vehicles that (would) take us everywhere.

on the pages of newspaper that we (get the message across). But when they don’t… I give you a couple of instances. When the issue of RUGA (Rural Urban Gracing Areas, a policy proposed by the Federal Government but suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari because of the controversy it brewed) came up, and there was an outcry, we
invited the (state government’s) Committee on Lands and said no, we don’t understand what the committee was doing when our people were crying (out)… because we work for the people, not for ourselves… We invited them here
for a public explanation which they did and till you can see that you are at home with this committee because the House invited them and they came and explained to the… The Environment too… They said they set up a Committee on Environment… they said Calabar was getting dirty. We invited them here to come and explain to us. Shortly after
that they promised us (the) environmental sanitation (exercise) which was optional but we started seeing an improvement. I give another instance. There was outcry for water… there was no water in CRS especially in Calabar and its environs. We invited the Water Board Managing Director and gave him an ultimatum. And true to his words, as I speak to you, we’re not complaining again. These are all the instances where we have to put the bites on the
relationship with other arms of government. Once you’re not doing the right thing, we call on you too. The same way, even the Judiciary. When the kidnap issue came, we (referred them to) the law, the Anti-Kidnap Law (which) they said they had not seen. We took it to the Chief Judge… So don’t tell us there are no laws to checkmate such (unwholesome) activity (kidnapping in the state). So for us, we don’t just sit down. We want justice for our people and that’s all within Cross River State…

Please Sir, enlighten us on the rationale for including Niger Mills PLC and other private companies in your House’s oversight schedule.

Hon Speaker: It’s not about interest. They are working in CRS. The smell coming out of there, it’s Cross Riverians that suffer. When you pass through that area, you would understand what we’re talking about. We need to monitor
their operations even if it’s a private company when you are working in CRS… The pollution there is not for Imo State indigenes or for Rivers State indigenes… It’s Cross Riverians and the hazards affect Cross Riverians… We’re writing a letter to them (other companies operating in CRS because) when you’re working in CRS, you must conform to) certain rules guiding the operations… The welfare of Cross Riverians (also matters)… They are working there… what are the terms? Don’t just take us for a ride… You come here and take away everything… One of the things that came with PAMOL and the rest,… they are also looking at the employment in the establishments; is it only Cross Riverians who are meant for menial jobs while the managerial jobs are given to outsiders and you are working in
CR? We need to look into this.

How is the state legislature addressing the issue of Cross River State being deprived of its quota in the Federal Public Service and Junior Staff positions in Federal MDAs meant for the state’s indigenes?

Hon Speaker: That is why we have a Committee on Public Petition. If you are hot informed about a particular development, we cannot act. And our brothers in the APC (All Progressives Congress)-led government at the Federal (tier) are controlling it because there is a political angle of it; they need to also put in (their) efforts… We have a Federal Commissioner… I think he is from Akwa Ibom (State)… representing Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Since
it has happened we need a desk office, a Cross River desk office. The desk officer… if he is representing us, we (could) summon him to come and give us information. He (shouldn’t) just sit there without giving us feedback. We need feedback so that we can act; so that we can also use our brothers and sisters at the National Assembly to ask (for our

They (Cross Riverians) should exercise patience. They should show understanding. Let them give us basic information that would help us to work together…

summon him to come and give us information. He (shouldn’t) just sit there without giving us feedback. We need feedback so that we can act; so that we can also use our brothers and sisters at the National Assembly to ask (for our quota). But we must have the correct information about that.

What are the other challenges of your office?

Hon Speaker: As a Speaker, you are first among equals. First, you have to bear with your members who are your colleagues and your mates. Thank God, I have very wonderful colleagues that understand that Mr. Speaker is not
a magician and that the resources available to the state are not allowing us to provide everything we look for; that is due to us. And they must have to understand the way government is being run (and that) we have very little resources that come to us. So the issue of money is a very big challenge because there are things I’ll like to do. I will like to renovate this place but I have to wait… And that takes us back to the autonomy question. Until we get our autonomy where things are done from here and by us, we may not be able to make any headway in terms of
infrastructure… Maybe one day, we’ll wake up and find that we have autonomy, we can then handle the things ourselves… This is the budget for this and the budget for that… because it comes to you direct from the federation
account. So you must work. Then the issue is the expectations. We have a lot of expectations from the people. How do we manage these expectations? These are all challenges. But God on our side, we’ll be able to handle them. So
far so good

We need feedback so that we can act; so that we can also use our brothers and sisters at the National Assembly to ask (for our quota in the Federal public service).

What is your advice to Cross Riverians:

Hon Speaker: They should exercise patience. They should show understanding. Let them give us basic information that would help us to work together, let them collaborate with us. As a Cross Riverians, we must cooperate, work as a team to make progress. >>>

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