Unlike in the past, the election that led to the emergence of the current Speaker of the Bayesal State House of Assembly was competitive and contested by notable legislators without the noticeable influence of the state governor, Seriake Dickson.
Observers say that the emergence of the new Speaker, Kombowei Benson, on February 20, 2012 was another message to the people of the state and the political class that the old order may have become a thing of the past and that the actions and posture of a new order under the new administration may be different and focussed on the restoration agenda of change.
Konbowei Benson is an indigene of Korokorosei community, Apoi-Olodiama development area in Southern Ijaw local government area. He holds Higher National Diploma from Akwa Iborn Polytechnic, Post Graduate Diploma from the Institute of Administration, Lagos and a master’s degree from the Delta State University, Abraka, all in public administration.
The new Speaker was a onetime deputy minority leader in the Southern Ijaw legislative assembly and former chairman of the Southern Ijaw local government council, before contesting the Southern Ijaw constituency IV seat in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 1997.
Rt. Hon. Benson, until his elevation to speaker of the House was the chief whip and chairman, House Committee on Environment, Oil and Gas. He is the ninth Speaker of the state House of Assembly since 1999.
While many see his emergence as part of the political road map to balance the equation of power sharing among the different senatorial districts of the state, others see his emergence as an opening of a new template upon which the state House of Assembly could start afresh and redeem its battered image in the journey of restoring the lost glory of the state in terms of quality development and growth. They called on the new Speaker to review the functions of the House and deliver quality legislations.
Before now, the ranks of opposition and the civil right activists in the state have written off the House of Assembly as being a “rubber stamp” to the executive arm of government that are merely involved in what they termed “legislative transaction” on behalf of a governor. Many argued that the major function of initiating bills and passage that bothers on human development, capacity building and transparency in governance were never discussed.
Rather, facts available showed that in the legislative year under the former Speaker and immediate past acting governor, the House of Assembly was only able to pass 37 executive bills and six House members bills - a performance the leadership of the Action Congress of Nigeria and the Labour Party considered low and a clear affirmation that they were rubber stamps in the hands of the state executive arm of government.
The former assembly and its leadership were allegedly used and engaged in battles against the perceived enemies of the former governor. Few of such cases include the processes that led to the impeachment of the former deputy governor, Peremobowei Ebebi, the probe and indictment of the incumbent governor over alleged N150 million law library fund, the removal of the Kolokuma/Opokuma council boss, the approvals for loans and other things.
Although some of the members of the State House of Assembly including the past chairman of the House Committee on Information, Communication and Strategy, Hon. Robert Enoa, stood out among the pack, the former Assembly became an avenue for financial transaction without proper accountability measure put in place. Probes into some local government councils and fund diversion were turned into a theatre of fun.
In the word of the Action Congress of Nigeria, “The Bayelsa Assembly has not only performed low and woefully, its members have exhibited grave incompetence and poor knowledge of legislative business as it concerns promoting and enacting enabling laws that will enhance the development of the state and the welfare of the people.
“It is shameful, unimaginable and sad that with the poor showing, the law makers did not comply with legislative sitting days of the year and only sat to assent to bills by government that will serve their selfish interest.”
But Kombnowei Benson in his acceptance speech during a reception in his honour said though the demand on the state House of Assembly is high and the rating of the past legislative business low, his leadership would ensure that a new order of performance among state legislators is introduced and dividend of democracy and restoration change is ensured with the fair understanding of the executive’s policies.
According to the new Speaker, “With my emergence, old things have passed away and all things have become new. That is my mission statement. All old political ways of doing things have passed away and all things should become new”.
He commended those that contested the position of speakership with him and said they were part of a process for change.
“What we are celebrating today is because of them and I promise to treat everybody equally.”
In his solidarity message to the new Speaker, Governor Seriake Dickson, congratulated Kombowei Friday Benson and commended the process that led to his emergence as the new Speaker. He applauded the lawmakers for their high sense of maturity and conduct in the choice of their new leader.
A statement by the senior special assistant to the governor on media and public affairs, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, said the governor being a former parliamentarian and also one who is well known to be inflexible on matters of integrity and transparency,
felt highly elated at the peaceful and democratic manner through which the new Speaker emerged.
The statement further added that the Speaker’s emergence was devoid of any form of interference from the executive arm of government, adding that the governor being a former lawmaker himself recognizes and respect the wishes and the right of every single member of the state House of Assembly to elect a leader that will preside over its affairs.