Issues As Oyo Assembly Lawmakers Boycotted Plenary | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Issues As Oyo Assembly Lawmakers Boycotted Plenary

Posted: Dec 6, 2015 at 7:49 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Recently, members of the Oyo State House of Assembly boycotted plenary to express their displeasure over unpaid wages, prompting the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi to intervene in the situation. Though the lawmakers have since ‘called off the strike,’ resuming plenary after some days,.

ON November 19, 2015, the Oyo State House of Assembly became the cynosure of all eyes, following the decision of 20 members of the 32-member assembly to boycott the day’s sitting over unpaid salaries and allowances. These members flipped the lid off a laden disquiet that has burgeoned since the eighth Assembly was inaugurated by state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, on June 10, 2015.

In August, Minority Leader of the House, Honourable Olagunju Ojo, had provided a precursor to the boycott action when he declared that all had not been well with members of the assembly since inauguration. Ojo voiced the lamentation of members over the non-receipt of their running cost allowance, constituency allowance, transport allowance, housing allowance and their salaries. He described what members had, so far, received from government as stipends.

That boycott, however, became full blown with news getting into town that all 32 members of the House had decided to embark on strike a week later. The strike, which lasted only a few days, had shocked watchers of political events in the states, with most of them divided on a development that was considered weird and intriguing.

Though the strike was halted following last Monday evening’s meeting with Governor Ajimobi at his residence, political observers have not ended discussions on what went wrong and whether similar things would not happen in the not-too-distant future given the circumstances that led to the failure of government to honour its commitments on the lawmakers’ allowances and salaries. According to them, the dwindling resources of the states following the decline in the international oil market and continued reduction in allocations accruing to Oyo State was solely responsible for the failure of government to meet the commitments. They added that it was clear that such challenges would arise following the state government’s inability to pay workers’ salaries for over four months until it received a bailout from the Federal Government.

As a result of the biting paucity of funds, state governors recently insisted that they could no longer pay the N18,000 minimum wage. Similarly, the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, disclosed at the weekend that governors were faced with the options to either reduce salaries of workers or retrench. These developments, political observers noted, were sufficient reasons the legislature in Oyo State became victims of the trying times though the state government should not have allowed the situation to get out of hand to the point of lawmakers embarking on strike. However, some of the observers questioned the decision of the lawmakers to boycott sitting for days, calling for their sacrifice in the face of dwindling allocation to states, especially since workers were facing the same situation without going on strike.

But some of the lawmakers justified the action, noting that while they had been diligent in the performance of their constitutional duties, to including presence at sittings twice or three times a week aside from oversight functions, the executive failed to fulfill its financial obligations to the legislature, culminating in the low morale among the lawmakers.

According to the members, justified the performance of their duties with the consideration of bills, including the Revenue Administration bill, Self-Accounting bill, bill to repeal Oyo State laws, bill to reconstitute ministries, bill for a law to provide for the Establishment of Oyo State Meat and Abattoir Regulatory Authority and for Connected Purposes. Also, they listed some motions considered at plenary like the one requiring Governor Ajimobi to constitute the governing council for Oke-Ogun Polytechnic, Saki and Ibarapa Polytechnic, Eruwa, motion on exploitative practices of filling stations in Oyo State, morbid state of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, Ogbomoso. Members had also referred to oversight functions performed by the Assembly on the IPMAN Ibadan depot crisis, security cases at LAUTECH, among others.

A member of the House, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The boycott was a failure of several efforts by the leadership of the House to suppress the looming crisis. Members were aware of the fact that principal officers, in being loyal, may not overtly participate in the planned boycott; that was why a majority of the members took their destiny into their own hands. My brother, all of us are badly affected and we knew we had to do something, because the hope of many members to settle the debts they incurred on electioneering once they got to office has been dashed. Many others have also acquired loans running into tens of millions to settle tribunal cases as well as members’ demands. Some of us could not even attend to family challenges. You know what I am talking about? People see you as a member of the House and think you have become a big man but in truth, it has not been easy.”

The member representing Ibadan South-East I, Honourable Fatai Adesina, also said the action was expedient because the situation had become unbearable for lawmakers. He said: “We have not received furniture allowance, salary, car allowance.  We need these allowances so that the public does not see us as part of the executive. What we have received so far is part payment of July and August salaries and running cost allowance. Since that time, nothing has been paid to any lawmaker. Our furniture allowance has not been paid. As a result, we use our personal money to run our offices since inauguration of the House in June.”

Commenting on the situation, the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Oyo State, Alhaji Yinka Taiwo, criticised the governor for what he described as the insensitivity of the executive to the legislature, noting that the strike action by lawmakers casted a blight on the “legislative heritage of  Oyo State, which dates back to the pre-independence days.”

Taiwo carpeted Senator Ajimobi for the development, noting that the state government should never have allowed the legislative arm to face financial crisis to the extent of its members embarking on strike given the importance of that arm of government to the development of the state. “Though the governor oversaw four years of financial abundance, he failed to save for rainy days. Now, he must put on his thinking cap and find solutions to the myriad of challenges facing our people, ranging from lack of salaries for jobs done to gnashing unemployment and general stalemate in governance,” he said.

But those close to government commended the governor for the quick and efficient way he handled the situation with the lawmakers, noting that the economic situation in the country and not the governor’s insensitivity was solely responsible for the situation.

At the meeting between Ajimobi and four representatives of the 32-members Assembly, the lawmakers, Sunday Tribune presented their case to Ajimobi, who assured that the arrears would be cleared as soon as the finances of the state improved. Following the rapproachment reached by the governor and the lawmakers, culminating in their return to holding sittings as scheduled and continuous performance of their statutory duties as legislators, the Assembly members resumed sitting on Tuesday, December 1, 2015. The members have continued to groan, in muffled tones, over their displeasure at the executive for failure to settle about three months of unpaid salaries and allowances.

When the Assembly was inaugurated on June 10, the Speaker, Honourable Micheal Adeyemo, had assured that the lawmaking business of the eighth Assembly would be as transparent as possible and that the leadership would be fair to everyone. Adeyemo had assured of the cooperation of the eighth Assembly with the executive arm of government towards a well-coordinated direction in governance and politics in the state. Both returning and new members of the House had expressed high hopes the quality lawmaking experience. However, about six months since their inauguration, members bemoan that the high expectations with which they assumed office has hit rock bottom, just as motivation to continue to perform has been dwindling, with the leadership of the House being questioned about the manner it has been handling the affairs of the House before the executive.

Honourable Adeyemo affirmed that the decision of the lawmakers to clamour for improvement in their welfare was legitimate, appealing to lawmakers on the need to be more diplomatic in addressing their grievances. “We don’t put condition to our sitting. The business and rules committee informs us that we have a job to do, and we sit. We are elected representatives. If the workers have been working without getting salary; we are responsible individuals and the issue of unpaid allowances should not stop us from performing our legislative work. We will continue to do it,” he said.

But beside the grouse of members over unpaid wages, members have also begun to express reservations over the running of the House, citing the failure to constitute House committees till date and why sittings do not hold whenever the Speaker was not available. The member representing Oyo East/Oyo West constituency, Honourable Muideen Olagunju, noted that non-formation of committees meant the House was being run in a straitjacketed manner, saying: “It is negatively amazing that up till now, we have not been able to form committees. I expect us to hit the ground running. Unfortunately, we are still stalling on certain critical aspects, which include forming committees. Committees make things work faster and more effectively. This is the sixth month of this Assembly and we are still in the process of doing things in a straitjacketed way. This is not encouraging for me who had looked forward to hitting the ground running.”

On not allowing the Deputy Speaker, Honourable Abdulwasiu Musa, to preside when he was away in Ilorin for the Conference of Speakers, Honourable Adeyemo “the LAUTECH issue was pressing at the moment and members had resolved to utilise the day to travel to Ogbomoso and attend to other oversight functions, as the committees had been given a deadline to make their findings and submit their report to the House.”

With the executive solely in charge of determining the finances that can be assessed by the legislature, meetings have continued to be held between the Assembly leadership and the governors. But for many members, particularly first term members, it has been a mixed experience. Most of those in this group have noted that the motivation to perform their legislative duties to the optimum level has continued to in the wake of unpaid wages, with observations showing that despite the ceasefire, things are not yet Uhuru, as the ceasefire was predicated on the payment of the funds owed the lawmakers based on expected improvement in the finances of the state. But a former Majority Leader of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Honourable Michael Okunlade, has, however, noted that the House of Assembly members might face the current crisis more than once if things continue the way they are economically, noting that the finances of the state might not improve impressively if it continues to depend on the allocations from Abuja. He called on the governor to quickly explore other options of raising funds, just as he noted that the House might continue to run into troubled waters if it continues to be tied to the apron string of the executive, noting that the much-sought-after autonomy for Houses of Assembly, which will put its funding in the first line charge, is the only solution to the problem.