-By Torobong Ekpo
“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” -STEPHEN GRELLET
This may have been the motivational force luring the youngest state legislator, Hon. Aniekan Etim Bassey, to singlehandedly, sponsor a 33-page Bill, which, if passed into law, will alleviate the suffering of at least eighty percents of Akwa Ibom residents, who are struggling to pay their house rents.
His entrance into the Sixth Assembly is synonymous with the elevation of Biblical David who rose from a mere hunter to Kingship. Amongst the contenders in the Uruan State Constituency of December 7th, 2014 Primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Hon. Aniekan Bassey, to me, was the least expected to be chosen as the flag-bearer of the party. He didn’t have the fat financial muscle, nor the relevant power-broking connections attributed to modern day politics.
Those who were closer to him then claimed he only had good antecedents, which were known to Uruan Inyang Atakpo’s indigenes, as such, his name was on the lips and hearts of the delegates, while political stakeholders watched his elevation with a knowing smile. Today, that man whose love and respects for all and sundry knows no bound, has been promoted from an ordinary lawmaker to the Deputy Leader of the State House of Assembly.
Worried by the incessant increase of house rents as well as the refusal by some landlords within the state to collect yearly rent as it is practiced in such places like Lagos, Anambra and Imo States, the listening legislator painstakingly sponsored a Bill, entitled “A Law to Provide for Control of Rent for Premises, Recovery of Possession of Premises and for Other Matters Connected Therewith.” Such a Bill, if given a nod by fellow legislators and subsequently signed into law by the State Chief Executive, will mandate landlords within the state to collect only one year rent from their tenants.
I had to bring this to the public glare so that anyone interested in such a Bill could proceed to the Hallow Chamber and watch deliberation on this all-important Bill, which has just passed through first reading process on the floor of the House.
A glance at the general application of the Bill shows that if it is eventually made a Law, it shall apply to all premises within Akwa Ibom State, including business and residential premises unless otherwise specified by the document.
Like the Rent Control and Recovery of Residential Premises Law of Lagos State; the Ghanaian Rent Act of 1963; the Guyana rent restriction act of 1941, amongst others, which have worked, the Bill for Akwa Ibom State, when passed into law, will make it an offence punishable to a fine of N100,000 or three months imprisonment for any landlord to collect rent that exceeds 12 months from any tenant, except as specified in the document.
It is pertinent to state here that research has revealed that about 70 per cent of residential and business buildings in the state are occupied by tenants, some with salary scale of between N240,000 (For PAs to PAs) and N600,000 (For GL. 7 civil servants) per annum. Thus, collecting two years rents for a self-contained of about N150,000 per year or a one-bedroom flat of about N200,000, will make the rich to get richer while the poor will be dining and wining in penury. Based on this empirical study, it is obvious the Bill is not only humanly driven, but economical, accommodating and in tandem with reality and best practices.
Also for some Landlords who prove stubborn to tender receipt to their tenants, the bill says that, such landlords shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable to a fine of N10,000 only. It also states thus, “As from the commencement of this law, every landlord shall upon payment of rent by the tenant issue a rent receipt to the tenant in respect of such payments. The receipt shall state the date on which the payment was paid; name of the landlord and tenant; description of premises in respect of which the rent is paid; amount of rent paid and the period covered by the rent paid.”
It is not a witch-hunting Bill as some may think. Part Two of the Bill enlisted the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants, while Part Three talks about the special provisions regarding mediation, claims against person in unlawful occupation, claims or defense supported by written deposition among others and Part Four and Five talk about warrant of possession and offenses and penalties respectively.
From my experience as an Assembly correspondent, I think this Bill is one of the richest and brilliantly sponsored Bill by a single legislator. It is a plus for Uruan State Constituency to have yet another sound lawmaker, who looked beyond his stomach to making an indelible mark in the sands of time. When a landlord or would-be landlord creates a Bill, such Bill may also affect the landlord or would-be landlord in the near future.
I had to embark on a scanty analysis of the Bill just to encourage those who may want to witness deliberation after it’s read the second time.
I wish to pause here and say that despite the manner in which the public underrated the youthful nature of the Sixth Assembly, the legislature has dazzled the public through its humanly and capital-driven issues as rose at the plenary.
The question I ask myself is: after passing Motions and Bills; what happens next? How far have they gone? Why is it extremely difficult to implement some of these Motions and Bills, perhaps, those passed into Law and signed by the Governor? Why does the Executive, technically, render the legislature incapacitated? Who will bail the legislature out from this occurring mess? Until we answer these questions, the good gestures of the present House of Assembly will be futile.
Some months ago, a Committee headed by the Leader of the Sixth Assembly, Sir Udo Kierian Akpan, was vested with the responsibility of retrieving Laws that were passed by the House of Assembly from its inception which are yet to be endorsed by past and present Governor.
I tried in futility to get hold of the exact number of abandoned Laws with the intention of exposing same to the public but I was not given the required information.
It is glaring that majority of the efforts of the legislature are thwarted by the Executive, especially when it has to do with signing of Bills into Law. I have decided to keep mute because ours is a state where constructive criticism is regarded as OPPOSITION.
When Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke was a floor member of the Sixth Assembly, he moved a Motion mandating the maker of Indomie Noodles to deviate from plastering walls and building of public schools with its advert and till date the situation has not changed, instead it is increasingly alarming.
The Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Nse Essien, in his magnanimity some months ago, moved a Motion appealing to the State Government to pay compensation to Ika/Etim Ekpo indigenes who were affected in Road construction and till date nothing has been done.
I understand the State Governor, in his executive capacity, has done marvelously well, especially in the last one year. I think he should also know that in as much as his second term depends on his present performance, that of the legislators also depend on their legislative; oversight and representative functions. Thus, where it is necessary to sign a Bill into Law, he should do that and where it is necessary to provide incentives to aid them in representative functions, he should also do same. Where it is necessary to disclose information for the oversight function of a legislator, he should follow suit.
I wept when a mere Chairman of Akwa Ibom Road Maintenance Agency, some months ago, embarrassed Prince Idongesit Ituen-led Works and Transportation Committee by refusing to disclose the exact amount used in acquiring the equipment on the ground that he was not appointed by legislature but by the Governor.
As for the Bill pioneered by the Deputy Leader of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Aniekan Bassey, it is a welcome development. The Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke-led Sixth Assembly may not leave any stone unturned in making it a reality. Again, my greatest worry is if the Executive will endorse the Bill should the Sixth Assembly pass it.
On my part, I have decided to “read-on-memory” or sometimes keep mute because we are in a state where no one criticizes the government constructively. Anyone who does that is either considered to be sponsored by the opposition or an idle mind that wants self recognition at all cost. Lately, such person is labeled A PIG.
Finally, if we can see issues with our visible eyes; if we can understand that it is not all critics that beg for lean envelop; if we can know that for every corrupt politician, there is always a dedicated leader, then we shall grow to be a one united state where the whole world will envy.
This is certainly one Bill with uncountable ovations.