Who will emerge as the next Speaker of the Imo state House of Assembly? -Onwuasoanya Jones.

3D Character and Question MarkNow that the elections have been concluded and certificates of return issued to the twenty seven members-elect of the Imo State House of Assembly, it will not be out of place for us to begin a discussion on who is best fit to call the shots at the incoming sixth Assembly of the Imo State House of Assembly. Considering the unwritten zoning proviso, we sure know that the Speaker of the House will most likely come from any of the six LGAs in Imo North Senatorial District, also known as Okigwe zone. This is simply because the other two zones in the State have produced the two highest offices in the State; the Governor and the Deputy Governor. Therefore, the next on the tripod, is the Speaker and should- if the wind of change does not blow away that understanding- necessarily be retained by Okigwe zone, just like Orlu retained the governorship slot, while Owerri also retained their deputy governorship slot.

It will be easier for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to pick one of their own to fill the position this time around, considering that they won five of the six State legislative seats in that zone. Unlike in 2011 when some of the elected members of the House had to jump ship from the PDP to APGA, in order to secure leadership positions in the outgoing fifth assembly, five of the incoming members won their elections on the platform of the ruling APCthis time around.

Talking about ranking membership of the house, just one of the elected members from Okigwe zone is a two termer, the others, including Lady Joyce Nwawuike who won on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are all debutants in the State legislative business. Acho Ihim who is returning to represent Okigwe State Constituency on the platform of the APC, will clinch the speakership without any opposition if the Party leadership in the State and majority of the members of the Sixth Assembly decide to adopt the discarded practice of considering ranking in the choice of house leadership. It may be important to remind us that this practice was not used in 2011, even though we had some ranking members in the persons of Hon. Simeon Iwunze and Hon. Ngaobiwu. What worked then was Party loyalty and the person most considered to be less antagonistic of the Governor. While I do not personally subscribe to such considerations in the choice of a speaker of a legislative assembly as it is a clear evidence of unwieldy encroachment by another arm of government into the activities of a separate arm, I am aware that our democracy is yet to get to the level where such considerations will not play in, in filling such a sensitive position. If the executive arm of government has to play such an influential role in picking a Speaker of the House, then, the autonomy that is so vital for an effective legislature would have been eroded.

Till our politics grows to the point where we produce legislators who are in full grasp of what their roles and powers are in a democracy, we will continue in the mess where the chief executive parades him or herself as a Lord whose actions cannot be questioned. Ours is such a questionable democracy that lawmakers interested in occupying one leadership position or the other in the congress invest more in securing the support of chief executives than they bother about lobbying their colleagues. A present example is the shameless pilgrimage being paid to the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari by those personally interested in heading any of the two chambers of the National Assembly and their promoters. This has led the President-elect into making a careless statement about who and who is and isn’t qualified to be Speaker and Senate President. Here in Imo State, some of elected lawmakers have shamelessly gone hats in hand to appeal to the Governor and those seen to be very close to him, to support their aspiration to occupy one position or the other in the House of Assembly. This is regrettable.

For Hon. Acho Ihim who is the current image maker of the present House of Assembly, it is only a matter of time before he takes over as Speaker of the IMHA, and he is going all hog to ensure this does not slip off his grip. His huge spending in the media is obvious to any follower of Imo politics, his nocturnal meetings with some of Governor Okorocha’s closest aides and confidantes have not been missed by eagle eyed journalists in the State and beyond. However, if merit and efficiency are to be considered beyond ranking and all such vain considerations, Acho Ihim should be far below most of the APC lawmakers in the pecking order.

As the spokesman of the Imo State House of Assembly, Ihim seems to have spent most of his time scheming to oust the incumbent Speaker than concentrate on his primary assignment of laundering the image of the assembly and ensuring that the activities and proceedings of the assembly are well covered by the media. During one of the most stormy periods of the exiting Assembly, Acho Ihim was caught napping as he could not effectively galvanize the media to put the records straight in the faceoff between Speaker Benjamin Uwajimogu and Citizen Samuelson Iwuoha. Instead of being friendly with the media, Acho Ihim was always joining issues with reporters and even harassing some of them whom he feels are not patronizing the assembly well enough. He once labelled a reporter, “Bloody-He-Goat” for daring to report an alleged faceoff between the Governor and the House.

Apart from his bad image with the media, Acho has also been accused by his constituents of being ineffective and irresponsive to their demands as his constituents. Even those who are in the same Party with him are not left out in their disavowal of Acho Ihim’s legislative docility. On September 18th 2014, Trumpeta Newspaper carried a news article with the heading; “CONSTITUENTS BLAST ACHO IHIM, SAY HE IS A FAILED LAWMAKER”. According to the Newspaper, a group under the aegis of Okigwe Concerned Progressives Stakeholders which comprised of top appointees of the present government and top chieftains of the APC in Okigwe LGA came down heavily on the man who represents them in the House of Assembly, accusing him of not having anything to show for the years he has spent in the House, alleging that the lawmaker has failed to call a constituency briefing for the many years he has been in the House. Acho Ihim’s loyalty to the Party is also in serious doubt, as he is seen by many as a fair weather politician, who goes to wherever his interest is best protected, without an iota of care about the collective interest.

But for the scandals that she has had to struggle to clear her name of, it would not have been a bad idea for Dr. Mrs. Uche Ejiogu to succeed her brother and benefactor, Speaker Benjamin Uwajimogu. Apart from the fact that it will provide us a grand opportunity to rewrite a history that has not seen any woman hold the position of Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly since the creation of Imo State, it will also ensure that the political structure in the State remains unchanged; Ihite-Uboma would have retained the office of the Speaker, just like Ideato South and Mbaitoli LGAs retained the governorship and deputy governorship. However, Uche Ejiogu as Speaker may not go down well with many people within and outside the State who have some issues with the former Education commissioner’s handling of both the SUBEB and the education ministry, where many wrong stories ranging from financial malfeasance to job racketeering trailed her reign. However, it will not be a surprise if the emerging Iron Lady of Ihitte-Uboma politics emerges the Speaker considering her closeness to the Governor.

The best person among those being speculated to be interested in that office, in my objective thinking is Mr. Chinedu Offor who will be representing Onuimo State Constituency in the incoming sixth Assembly. A consummate communications expert who resigned his job with the Voice of America to take up appointment with the Okorocha Government, Offor, though not completely without faults stands head and shoulder taller than all the other elected State legislators from Okigwe zone, as he has less scandals to contend with and has also shown himself to be efficient in all the jobs he has handled since the inception of the Okorocha administration.

If equity must be considered, Mr. Chinedu Offor should have no rival for that office as he comes from the LGA that remains the most marginalized when it comes to sharing of political offices. Okigwe LGA, where Acho Ihim comes from produced Hon. Mathew Omegara who will be serving out his second term as a member of the House of Representatives under the platform of APC, Ehime Mbano has produced the Senator-elect in the person of Chief Athan Achonu, while Ihitte-Uboma has the incumbent Speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, who is a potential federal appointee. Obowo has Deacon Chike Okafor who has been elected to the House of Representatives and being seriously considered for the position of Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Equity demands that Onuimo be considered for the Assembly’s top job, especially now that they have produced a fine gentleman as their representative.

Chinedu Offor is also a committed Party man and has shown himself to have a strong working relationship with the Governor. While I do not believe in having legislators who are too close to the Chief Executive as the Speaker, I cannot claim ignorance of the sad fact that such is seriously needed in anyone who wants to occupy the position of a Speaker. If Chinedu Offor emerges like I wish he does, it will be important for him to understand the huge difference between being the Governor’s aide and heading a legislative assembly. He must assert himself, and provide the House with the autonomous leadership it requires in order to effectively checkmate the excesses of the executive arm of government. Till then, I will reserve further advice till the house members finally choose who will be their Speaker.

KA IMO DI MMA OZO!

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