THE EVOLUTION OF THE PLATEAU STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
One of the most vital and yet most controversial efforts in human endeavours is the attempt to chronicle the history of a particular place, people or events. The need to be conversant with past events is an essential variable for the development of the present in order to ensure a fruitful future as well as to put into perspective, that event in its most objective form.
The history of the Plateau State House of Assembly should therefore, be viewed from this perspective. In this discourse therefore, attempts will be made to review the history of the Plateau State House of Assembly, presenting its evolution and progress up to the present moment. This will help us not only to assess, but also to appreciate its progress and challenges.
The Plateau State House of Assembly is an offshoot of previous legislative structures, which dates back to the pre – independence era. It started from the then Northern Regional House of Assembly, which today are State Assemblies after States creation in 1976. As generally accepted, democratic governance is the aspiration of every civilized nation and in spite of its expensive nature, it is still the most preferred system of government. Nigeria’s choice of the presidential system entails the upholding of the principles of separation of powers and the rule of Law; and also ensuring the mobilization of the people for development.
Despite the world’s acclamation of democracy as the most accepted system of government, Nigeria has had the most unfortunate experience of the persistent incursion of the military in Nigeria’s political terrain. This sad aberration has continued to wreck adverse effects on the psyche of the people. Each time the military strikes, it is the legislative arm that bears the brunt. In this regard, the Nigerian legislature had always lacked the benefit of past experience. Despite these ugly experiences, the legislature had made efforts to perform its functions and to provide the necessary laws for the governance of the people.
Like many other States in Northern Nigeria, Plateau State was an area administered by the British. Before the amalgamation of 1914, the Royal Niger Company administered Plateau. The Company was an equivalent of a government by the Provision of the Berlin Conference Charter of 1885. But by 1900, the Charter was revoked and the areas of the North under its control, from the Niger up to the North was taken over by the British Government and named the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.
Subsequently, Provinces were established to ease the Colonial Administration. Following the adoption of the Indirect Rule system, where the Emirs and Chiefs became part of the administrative set up. Up to the 1930s Plateau State was part of the Bauchi Province in spite of its distinct culture and history. Representation into the Northern House of Assembly became an uphill task for the people of Plateau State.
This necessitated and precipitated the struggle for liberation from the Indirect Rule system. There was also the vexed issue of the Hausa – Fulani domination of the Minority ethnic groups, which brought about the struggle for self-determination by the Minority groups of Plateau and of course, the whole of Northern Nigeria.
The result of this struggle led to the nomination of the Members of the Minority groups into the Regional Assembly. Between 1945 and 1950, the Regional Government of the then Northern Nigeria for the first time nominated people to represent Plateau into the Northern House of Assembly, namely S.O. James a Yoruba man representing Mines and Power (NESCO), Rwang Pam and Madakin Jama’a to represent the non-Muslims. Rwang Pam was later to become the Gbong Gwom Jos.
Da Moses Rwang Pam, a World War II veteran who returned in 1946, led a pressure group that added impetus to the people’s efforts at mobilizing against the domination of the European Miners. These pressures culminated in the meeting of the Minorities in Bukuru in 1950, and despite the political pressures from the Northern Peoples’ Congress, the Minorities resolved to form a political party known as the Nigerian Non – Muslims’ League, with Pastor David Lot as the first Leader while Moses Rwang was elected as the Secretary.
This move generated a lot of opposition from the Northern elements, ostensibly because of the religious posture of the political party. On a second thought however, the leaders of the party changed the name to the “Middle Zone League”, with the sole objective of maintaining the Middle Belt identity and recognition.
Having put an organised party in place, election was contested into the Northern House of Assembly where the following represented Plateau Province from 1950 – 1955. They include: Moses Rwang, David Lot, Michael Audu Buba, Auta Nizam and Patrick D. Fom. As elected representatives, they were no doubt the first Hon. Members that formed what is today referred to as the Plateau State House of Assembly.
THE PLATEAU STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY AS A DISTINCT LEGISLATURE
In analyzing the political history of Plateau State, it is unavoidably necessary to recognize and give credit to politicians such as Solomon Lar, Joseph Damla, Abubakar Isandu, Alhhaji Isa Haruna and Alhaji Aliyu Zungu, who were elected into the House of Representatives between 1955 and 1966. There were also many other unsung heroes whose efforts have created a unique identity for Plateau State.
This democratic experiment was however truncated in 1966 when the Military struck. With the demolition of democratic structures and the phasing out of the Legislative arm, our journey to democracy came to a temporary halt. It was during the period of military interruption that States were created where Benue and Plateau Provinces became Benue – Plateau State in 1967. Again in 1976, Benue – Plateau State was split to become two separate States, i.e. Benue and Plateau States.
With the exit of the military, the Second Republic commenced in 1979. The new Constitution operating in Nigeria came into force in October 1979 thereby heralding the dawn of a new civilian era. This Constitution contained some unique features, which includes the adoption of the presidential system, which hinges on the separation of powers between the three functional arms of government viz: The Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary. Hitherto, the Regional Constitution had operated a Parliamentary system, where the Legislature and Executive operates as one entity, since Members of the Executive were also Members of Parliament.
The Legislative Arm under this new arrangement was to play a number of roles in the affairs of State; most important of all is the prerogative of making Laws for the orderly running and development of the country. The Legislature was also to serve as a check on the Executive and protecting public interest by ensuring probity through its power of investigation.
Section 84 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979 established for each State of the Federation, a House of Assembly. In the same manner, Section 4 (6), of the Same Constitution empowers the State Houses of Assembly to make laws for peace, order and the good governance of the State, with respect to matters not contained in the exclusive Legislative list and matters itemized in the concurrent list of the Constitution.
THE PLATEAU STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY IN THE SECOND AND FOURTH REPUBLICS.
The Plateau State House of Assembly came into existence in October 1979, following the completion of elections and the coming into force of the new Constitution. In all, forty-eight Members were elected under different Party platforms as follows: Nigerian People’s Party – 32 Members. Later, two of them were appointed Commissioners while another was appointed as the Sangari of Karshi in Uke LGC; the National Party of Nigeria had 9 Members; Great Nigerian People’s Party – 3; Unity Party of Nigeria – 1 while the People’s Redemption Party had none.
In this Assembly, there were seventeen standing Committees, during which 24 Bills and 49 Resolutions were passed. This democratic process was again disrupted following the coup of 1983. When democracy returned to Nigeria again, it was through parties instituted by military fiat, namely: The National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). During this period, 46 Members were elected into the Plateau State House of Assembly 37 representing SDP and 9 representing NRC. Between 1991 and 1993 when this dispensation lasted, the Plateau State House of Assembly passed 21 Bills and 23 Resolutions.
Following the drama that ensued in the country with Chief Ernest Shonekan as head of the Interim National Government (ING), replacing General Babangida, who stepped aside in 1993, and General Sani Abacha’s subsequent removal of Shonekan in the same year, all democratic institutions were again set aside; thus bringing the country back to another Military Dictatorship.
It was during the Regime of General Abacha that Plateau was again split into two following the creation of Nasarawa State in 1996. With the eventual return of democratically elected government in 1999, Chief Joshua Dariye was elected the governor of Plateau State under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) flag, while 24 Members were elected into the State House of Assembly. Nineteen (19) of these Members were elected on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) while five (5) were elected on the platform of the All Nigeria People’s Party (APP). During this dispensation (1999 – 2003), thirty-one (31) Bills and sixty-six (66) Resolutions were passed. The dispensation, termed “4th Republic, First Assembly”, ended peacefully with elections in May 2003.
The Plateau State House of Assembly consists of six different Departments, which are as follows:
• Administrative Department
• Legislative Matters’ Department
• Publications Department
• Legal Services Department
• Planning & Library Services Department
• Finance and Supplies Department
• Other major Units in the House of Assembly include: Security, Audit, Budget, Information, Printing, Photo / Video and Clinic.
LEGISLATIVE MATTERS’ DEPARTMENT
This Department is usually described as the engine room of the Legislature. It deals with the facilitation of all the legislative activities of the House of Assembly as well as handles everything that affects the welfare of the Hon. Members of the House. This Department ensures that the proper procedure is always followed in the course of taking any legislative decision among which are: Passing of Bills, Resolutions and Matters of Urgent Public Importance.
This is the Department that deals with the Staff of the House of Assembly and all the activities taking place within the House of Assembly. Under the Department, we have the Secret and Open Registries, the Maintenance, Transport and Clinic Units. The Secret Registry keeps record of every staff of the House including all the top Members of the House and Government Parastatals. Those who work in the Registry usually swear on oath not to disclose any information to any body.
On the other hand Members of the House of Assembly have free access to the Open Registry. It usually keeps records of the day to day running of the House of Assembly.
This is the Department that deals with the official documentation f the House of Assembly. Under this Department, we have the Reportorial Unit consisting of Verbatim Reports and the Editorial; the Information Unit, Photo / Video Unit, Printing and Computer Units.
LEGAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT
This Department renders Legal Services to the House of Assembly as well as Hon. Members of the House. It also renders services to all Departments of the House. The major functions of the Department include among other things: Drafting of Bills, Proof reading to see if other draft Bills brought from outside meet the required standard of draftsmanship, as well as vetting clean copies of Bills before onward submission to the Executive for assent.
PLANNING AND LIBRARY SERVICES
The Planning and Library Services Department of the House is vested with the responsibility of feasibility planning for the House of Assembly as well as being the repository of information search in the House of Assembly. This Department also takes charge of budgetary matters for the House of Assembly and is directly responsible for making the House budget as well as vetting and scrutinizing the State budget to ascertain its appropriateness before passage by the House of Assembly. The Budget and Library Units are the Major Units under this Department.
FINANCE AND SUPPLIES DEPARTMENT
This is the Department which deals with the preparation of salaries, allowances, claims and benefits of Hon. Members as well as staff of the House of Assembly. With the harmonization and computerization of salaries in the State, the Department serves as liaison between the Staff of the House and Consortium on the Administration of Salaries, located at Government House, Rayfield.
By virtue of work schedule and linked to this Department is the Audit Unit although it is directly answerable to the Office of the Clerk to the House. It undertakes the intelligent and critical examinations of the Books of Accounts of the House as well as the scrutinising of any payment voucher raised by the Finance Department of the House of Assembly.