By: Habeeb Abdul
Miss Olatoye’s tenure extends back in time. After coasting to victory with a 55-vote margin over her opponent’s 29, she looked set to experience minimal partisanship from house members. Her background as clerk also meant that she was familiar with Council procedures from the get-go. But away from the glamour of her election, the 9th Assembly under Olatoye has had full hands with political issues – an inaugural power tussle with the electoral committee over the conduct of the elections, budgetary allocations for data and airtime used by Union executives, including Council members, and the most controversial, the case of misappropriation against the PRO. However, since the success of officeholders is not judged by the mere fact that they performed routine office duties, this article goes beyond the chatter into Olatoye’s manifesto.
Overlapping Content, Non-disclosure, and Stalled Execution
With eleven items that cut across internal and external affairs, the Speaker’s manifesto is a laden one. First on her list is a plan designed to increase the Council’s situational awareness. It relies on a paternal structure. Representatives present reports of issues in their constituencies and the house recommends strategies to handle them. Mostly, the matters tendered are resolved within the constituencies themselves. And the only cases that might qualify as extraordinary are those where the Council was lacking in jurisdiction.
Thematically similar to the first is another agenda aimed at co-opting student voices. The Speaker hinted at a plan to initiate public forums where student leaders are invited to table their pressing needs. Remarking on this, she stated: “For things like that to come up, there have to be situations that would lead to it, there have to be topics of conversation that people would have to come together to discuss.” The absence of these has so far prevented any from taking place. However, with an impending constitution review already planned, the premier lawmaker expects one to hold after examinations.
Also on the list is a plan to hold legislative workshops intended to train Council and non-Council legislators “on bills and other cogent aspects of legislative business.” But while processes had been set in motion to implement it, funding constituted a major barrier. Here, Miss Olatoye begins to hedge. She argues that the reality of constituents may warrant a shift from the manifesto and leaders have to prioritize. According to her, “in leadership, sometimes you don’t get into office and prioritize the manifesto over the actual needs of the people you’re leading at the time, while the manifesto is what you believed the people needed.” She further argues that while she has not exactly followed the contents of her campaign document, her leadership has been in keeping with its “spirit.”
Still, valid as the Speaker’s comments may be, her prior awareness of challenges may be in doubt. Funding shortages are not novel. And if anyone should be aware of problems that regularly dog the agenda of the legislative and executive branches, it should be a member whose previous clerical office was listed by the constitution as a principal position in the house.
On item five, which borders on the application of Council members to join committees based on areas they believe themselves to be competent in, Olatoye’s house has achieved success. On item six, however, the house seems to have diverted focus from empowering its members. The original blueprint outlined an intention to equip legislators with soft and digital skills, but that agenda was derailed by problems that included the months-long strike, funding, and an inability of the lawmakers to clearly define what such programmes should look like.
Currently, legislators within the 9th Assembly might very well be said to have waved farewell to notions of an upcoming empowerment programme. Asked about the possibility of resuscitating the agenda, the Speaker stated that the house is weighing options with an outward focus on the student community as a whole.
A number of conflicts arise here. On the one hand, it does not appear necessary for skill acquisition to have been established as a separate agenda from a preceding one on legislative workshops. Since both essentially reflect the same “spirit,” to loan the Speaker’s words, there is no real need to treat them differently. Additionally, while Olatoye’s refusal to disclose complicates the task of determining what the Council’s substitute programme may look like, the feasibility still comes into question. Will the same funding challenges hamper implementation? On what scale will any such programme take place?
Under item seven, the Speaker highlighted a plan to create a trust fund to aid indigent students of the university in settling school fees. To this, she responded with an admission of fault. “To be quite frank, I would take the blame for not doing my research before including that in my manifesto. Establishing a trust fund in the name of the university union or the SRC is actually not very feasible with the system that UI currently operates. The university management prefers for all activities of the Union to be tied to one account because the university has to audit that account.”
Olatoye stated that concentrating attention on the creation of a trust fund would have consumed administrative resources of the Assembly. As consolation, she takes solace in its liaison with the executive arm on the establishment of a student bursary. That, to her, is continuation of the intents of her original plans. The house is now looking to create other charitable projects that are unrelated to the payment of school fees. She will not disclose their nature but appears certain of some execution.
The capital project agenda under item eight is an area she openly expresses doubt. There is a possibility of sponsorship, but the lawmaker prefers to keep her cards close as a team researches feasibility. And in what begins to look like last-minute implementation attempts, Olatoye mentioned that while no mental health or gender-related programmes have occurred yet, the house is working on getting them off the ground. At the time of writing this report, the house was at the scriptwriting stage for video content.
Item ten, another heading which might have been better off subsumed under a general section concerning legislators’ welfare, relates to the provision of exam packages. The house has deprioritized this due to funding issues.
Item eleven’s existence in the manifesto is quite dubious. It is inherent in the duties of a legislature to work with other arms to achieve common interests, inspiring questions of whether it was merely used as a filler. However, asides from this, recent happenings involving oversight on the actions of members of the executive validate the potency of checks by the 9th Assembly. Despite that, Olatoye describes a dynamic relationship between both arms, one that neither prevents emphasis on proper discharge of duties nor discourages collaboration.
Overall, Speaker Olatoye excuses the lateness in implementation on the grounds that she desires thoroughness. She also maintained a cloak of mystery around the house’s activities and the bottlenecks it faces internally. In the interim, observation might be the best option. Perhaps late will be better than never after all.