“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and action.” – Harold S. Geneen
By Substance Udo-Nature-
I had watched with filial pride and cloying ecstasy the boisterous sea of humans that trooped into the superfluously decorated longish lobby of the Assembly Complex for a lecture organized as part of events marking the Silver Jubilee of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly (17th to 22nd October, 2017). It was a gathering that gave no regards to political affiliations. Everything was attractive, sublime and resplendent; but the cynosure was the architect of the idea, the charismatic young man at the epicentre of the celebration – Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke. I had reached some spontaneous conclusions in that observation: Akwa Ibom people by geopolitical psychology may be polarized, balkanized or consummately critical of politics and political figures, but there exist those to whom populist solidarity is unconditional. How prophetic then Ralph Waldo Emerson must have been when he said that “The world makes way for the man who knows where he is going”!
Remembering with vividness the interesting circumstances that heralded his celebrated enthronement, I have keenly been following up his sure-footed and pragmatic steps. Just last Thursday, I realized that the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Akpan Luke, has spent 2 years in that lofty and demanding position, having assumed office precisely on December 21, 2015. How time flies! My concern however is not the spatial progression but the landmarks that have distinguished this great lawyer and law-maker in the state’s political narrative.
Let me first make this unsolicited confession: Even as you are reading this very line, I do not know Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke with the intimate familiarity that would make us greet each other without introductions. Yet I know him. I know him ordinarily as the incumbent Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. I know him as a-two time Member Representing Nsit Ubium State Constituency in the State House of Assembly. Then, I know him as a patriotic steward and fastidious master of inimitable excellence, the prodigious ideological great-grandson of Cicero, judging by his legislative dynamism.
It would mean that I know Barr. Onofiok Luke simply by the contagious fresh breath of life he has brought into legislative dynamics, the unprecedented and incontestable record he has set, and the impact he has created within and without that has built an ever growing world of admirers and loyalists around him. So I know him without sentiments. But mention my name and ask him if he knows me, he sure would twinge his face in inconsequential guesswork. Yet I am, like him, a proud son of the soil. I therefore remain one of Hon. Onofiok Luke’s unsuspecting and passionate admirers for no reasons than for who he is and what he has proven to represent in vision, character, leadership philosophy, altruism and patriotism as the 11th Speaker on the succession staircase of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. I should expect you to know why my confession is expedient. In a clime like ours where people only speak well of where they belong or for stereotype gratifications, objectivity and truth become pitiable victims of suspicion. This piece therefore is not to praise but to commend; it is not to glamorize but to state the facts as they can be verified; nor is it to build soft affinities that may becloud necessity.
After I had critically read through the Mid-term Report of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, which was made public during that 25th Anniversary, I can challenge the worst critic without apologies that, Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke’s two years of Speakership or leadership of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly have been commendably fruitful and second to none in the history of the State’s Assembly. It has been as momentous and eventful as it must be gratifying to those who are not suffering from congenital cynicism or political astigmatism.
First and foremost is the regained sense of dignity, public trust and respect the Speaker has brought to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly. In several fora, Members have freely confessed to the overwhelming unity of purpose, superlative sense of belonging and open-floor approaches the Speaker has diplomatically enforced in the House, which allow no room for ill-feeling, dissatisfaction, bickering, tribal conspiracy and filibustering that are usually the hidden weapon for the disgruntled. It is said that the Speaker sees diversity in opinions and ideologies as articles of faith for a healthy democracy. Standing on such firm ground, House Members enjoy both the statutory and personal latitude to give sufficient attention to their primary role of law-making, oversight and representation to effectively drive the corporate dreams and hopes of the Akwa Ibom people. And the result is not surprising.
Extrapolation from the Mid-term scorecard shows that in the last two years, a total of 41 life-touching and people-oriented bills may have been considered. That in split sum amounts to 24 bills still undergoing legislative procedures; 11 awaiting assent; and 7 already assented to. And there are more than 20 resolved resolutions. Out of these, Luke alone has sponsored about 7 private Member Bills, with 6 having been passed into law. The creative and provident dispositions of the House Members can also be seen in altruistic initiatives which copyright they collectively own. These include online publication of the state budget for the first time in the history of the Assembly; democratization of legislative processes; live airing on TV of proceedings in the House, and entrenchment of transparent and inclusive political culture to facilitate active participation of stakeholders. Others are timely interventionist agenda in matters that directly affect the citizenry, ensuring political stability and capacity building for staff of the Assembly.
I fear no contradiction to say that pretty more than half of journalists who are fond of disdainfully demanding from Assembly Members how many bills may have been passed over a certain period were never really interested in the possible answers, but a booby-trap to capitalize on and pick holes to enrich the editorial contents of vindictive bad press that is trendy. However, because such platitudinous queries might not always be deemed presumptuous, what the 6th Assembly has done, in all fairness to history, is something worthy of commendation and encouragement.
Indeed, no leg of the Assembly’s tripodal obligations has suffered any neglect. Oversight function, for instance, has been a matter of critical necessity in the last two years. Heads of MDAs have since come to appreciate the fact that the exercise was not meant to be a perfunctory formality designed merely to entertain the audience. Whether at plenary or Committee levels, any government official who is summoned to appear before the House now first have to drill himself before gathering his documents. I have seen some almost soiling the under during tough budget defense sessions. There were times in this state when whether or not to appear before the House was a matter of personal choice, and some Members were allegedly schemed against by the superpowers for daring to ask too many questions or insisting on transparency. Such a past is now in the dustbin. Moreover, the 6th Assembly has deliberately made representation no more to be measured by bogus promises or the size and number of automobile on a legislator’s fleet. The Mid-term report also presents what each and every Member has done for constituents.
In all of this, Gov. Udom Emmanuel must also be commended for cultivating the practicable habit of not interfering in the affairs of the House, which has been the undoing of governors in many Houses of Assembly across the federation, resulting in distrust and theatrical horse-trading that have caused serious injuries and death to fellow Members. The robust relationship that exists between the three arms of government, especially the symmetric synergy between the Legislature and the Executive, without subservience, must be indicative of their determined mutual commitments.
The success story of the 6th Assembly is a collaborative effort, it can be argued, but the pivot of the achievements essentially subsists in the vision and personality of the Speaker. Hon Luke stepped into that office fully conscious of the political and tribal geography of the State and the disturbing need to do something new by creating balance across diversities. Today, all principal officers in the Office of the Speaker come from different Senatorial districts or local government areas. Today, courtesy of the Speaker’s lateral thinking and populist bent, the 6th Assembly holds the enviable record of having had the largest number of public hearings, which means regular interactions with members of the public. This builds trust, strengthens bonds and lubricates feedback mechanisms. Most recent is the liberty with which members of the public contributed to the ongoing deliberations on the Review of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). Today, Hon. Luke has brought permanent death to the stigma of rubber-stampism that once sat like a ripe pimple on the beautiful faces of House Members. Let me pretend not to have heard that the word “Impeachment” is today a taboo amongst Members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
There can be no doubt that Hon. Luke’s humility to learn from others, his profound readiness to be a team-player, his dare to step forward for deserved opportunities and his unblemished credential of dedicated public service, anchored on stupendous cerebral endowments, must have placed him where he is today. I cannot forget to remember that the people’s Speaker has been the President of Student Union Government of the University of Uyo, the pioneer Speaker of the Nigerian Youth Parliament, and Personal Assistant to the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Sen. Godswill Akpabio. This Associate Fellow of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative who was elected into the House of Assembly in April, 2011 has served in numerous Committees. His prototype and pace-setting pet-projects include “The Onofiok Luke Legislative Internship Programme (TOLLIP)”; Constituency Transport Scheme; and Business Start-up Grants that are catalysts to capacity-building and emancipation of youths and women. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it”, Winston Churchill once encouraged.
Onofiok Luke the Cicero did not venture into politics with pretentions or by accident, but with a vision, preparedness and template that pointed to greatness. The barrister is an interesting blend of charisma, individual style, tenacious vision, youthful exuberance, intellectual sagacity and populist attachment that have marked him out as a legislator with a great future. Those who call him stubborn do so in fear and love of his rare bravery and forthrightness. Yet, lest we forget, this Luke is not infallible. He is but human.
Some people would never struggle to be leaders, their role began at birth; and Providence always manipulates affairs to safeguard their destinies. RT. HON. ONOFIOK AKPAN LUKE, the 11th Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, belong to that rare specie of living humans. A million congratulations to you, Sir, on the 2nd anniversary of your Speakership.
*Substance Nature is a consecutive two-time winner of the Best Feature Writer in Akwa Ibom State (2016/2017).