Last week the prevailing calm in the state was punctured when from unknown sources news filtered that the governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodimma has signed a bill which purportedly empowered to arrest and detain people at his own pleasure. This did not go down well with Imo people drawing from the reaction of Imolites which trailed the ugly rumour. It generated so much uproar and opprobrium.
The matter was further fuelled when some of the legislators began to take turns to deny knowledge of the clause which was suspected to have been smuggled into the law after the passage of the bill. The originator of the bill, Hon Frank Ugboma, a lawyer and member representing Oguta state constituency, stocked the fire more in a press statement during which he washed his hands off the obnoxious clause.
According to him, “for the avoidance of doubt, the bill I presented had about 372 Sections. How and where it was amended, recreated and reshaped into Section 484 and beyond remains a mystery and legislative wonder of our time as what I presented and circulated to my colleagues during plenary, both in the First and Second readings did not contain such obnoxious and embarrassing Section 484. Neither was it deliberated in the House Committee on the whole. It indeed never existed in the House.”
Drawing from the above comment many fingers pointed to the direction of the Clerk of the House and the Governor as having tampered with the bill. The images and integrity of the duo have been maligned and impugned with disparaging comments. The comments that have trailed this matter clearly shows that some people want to make a political capital of the issue taking advantage of a non-existing situation.
Speaking on the matter, the House Committee chairman on Judiciary and Information, Hon Dominic Ezerioha, in an address to media men debunked all the accusation and counter accusations pervading the arguments dismissing it as an unnecessary noise. He has admitted that nothing was smuggled and that the bill was passed by the House including those who are making denials of the knowledge of such a clause.
He explained that after the originator of the bill made his presentation which contained the 372 clauses it was committed to the judiciary committee and input sought from other sound legal minds including those from the bar, the bench, the academia etc. Some of the essential ingredients from the national law which was being domesticated not contained in the draft bill presented by the originator were adopted.
It was the reason the bill which was eventually assented to by the governor increased from the 372 clauses to 540. The bill as reviewed by the Committee was thrown up to the Committee of the whole House at its third reading where it was passed by 24 out of 27 members sitting on the 5th of March 2020. According to him, the Speaker had invoked the House rules and standing on rules 80 (1) Mr Chairman moved to the last three (3) sections of the Bill- Sections. 538, 539, and 540 were agreed to.
The document obviously was a big volume to have been attended to in one plenary session. If they had passed a bill at 540 clauses which originally contained 372 clauses at first presentation some pertinent questions are bound to arise following the various disclaimers. Could it be that the actors to the drama have forgotten so soon what transactions they executed in the last six months or were they just playing to the gallery.
How come that the legislators were so quick to do a ‘Ben Johnson’ in denial of action they opened their eyes very wide in doing. In the said law it was discovered that at no time was the governor given any such powers to detain anybody at his pleasure. What clearly played out was a misinterpretation by those who had access to the bill and they singled out Section 484 and 485 to interpret as they deem fit.
News Echo wishes to express its displeasure over the manner the actions of the legislators have heated up the polity when there was no need for it. We need to remind them that as representatives of the people who are so much relied upon, they should exercise more care in responding to issues of public concern. We are disturbed and disappointed that many of them rather than douse the tension chose to stoke it.
Legislators are supposed to have at the tip of their fingers fairly good knowledge of the laws they make. Consequently, we are advising that the House devise a means of communicating each law they pass to their constituents. The uproar generated was clearly avoidable if the public were kept abreast of the law. The public hearing session which is usually not widely publicized is not enough. I am convinced we can do better.