Civil society organizations in Imo State have criticized the state’s House of Assembly for passing a controversial bill into law and failing to carry the people along in its lawmaking.
Two civil society organizations told SaharaReporters that the lawmakers did not conduct public hearings for most of the pieces of legislation they passed into law.
Programme Director at Development Dynamics – a civil society organization in Imo State, Jude Ohanele, said the House of Assembly denied people the opportunities to participate in the process of making laws for the state.
“People just hang around the House of Assembly to share public resources but no sign of governance,” Ohanele says. “You don’t even know when they talk about bills. The House of Assembly says nothing about what they are doing. You will wake up one morning and hear that the governor has signed something into law.”
News broke last week that the state’s governor, Hope Uzodimma, had signed a controversial bill on the administration of criminal justice into law.
Two sections of the law, 484 and 485, give the governor unfettered power to order a person’s arrest at his pleasure and detain the individual where he pleases.
Any victim of the governor’s whims can only be released based on the obtainment of a license, and the license can be revoked if the governor so chooses.
Ohanele said CSOs in the state were as shocked as the rest of the country about the controversial law because the state’s House of Assembly has no straightforward rule for engaging with citizens.
“You can never get to the House of Assembly in Imo and get a copy of a bill that is under discussion. It is a very useless House of Assembly with little or no citizen’s participation.”
He said the people in the state only got access to a bill under consideration if only the sponsors decided to make it available, adding that the last time his organization received a copy of a bill was in 2016.
“We did so much work in the past to build their capacity. At some point, there were a few legislators that understood what the legislative process should be.”
The Executive Director of the Citizens Centre for Integrated Development and Social Rights (CCIDESOR), Ogechi Ikeh, described the lawmakers as lawbreakers.
“In Nigeria, lawmakers are lawbreakers. The criminal justice bill should go through a public hearing. Our way of doing things here is not like a democratic rule. This law has become controversial now because it didn’t go through a public hearing.”
The lawmaker who sponsored the bill, Frank Ugboma, had in a statement last week, claimed that the controversial sections of the bill were not included in the legislature sent by the House to the governor.
Ugboma said the bill was doctored and he had sent an amendment to his colleagues.
“That is how lousy the legislatures are, which citizens group did they consult to now be the witness to say that this is not the copy that was sent?” Ohanele said.
“It is just their word against the governor’s because we do not know when they were discussing it.”
The media adviser to Hope Uzodimma, Oguike Nwachukwu, said in a statement last week that the governor was not to be blamed for signing the bill.
He stressed that Uzodimma, who has been accused of using security officials to threaten retired workers in the state, only performed his constitutional duty by signing the bill into law.