The House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the Kogi State House of Assembly crisis may have overreached itself by the decision to suspend further sitting of the state’s legislature, write OlawaleOlaleye, OmololuOgunmadeand AnayoOkolie
The undercurrents that eventually led to the impeachment of the Kogi State House of Assembly Speaker, Hon. Abdullahi Bello and other principal officers can be located in the jostling for the governorship seat in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that invalidated the extension of the tenure of some governors, including that of Kogi, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, in December 2011. THISDAY had reported several weeks ago that some politicians in the state, at a secret meeting, had perfected plans to edge out the speaker as well as others and had decided on their replacements. The plan, however, was thwarted by the refusal of majority of the lawmakers to play along then.
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) member in the House, Hon. Henry Ojuola, from Yagba East State Constituency, had told THISDAY that the move was masterminded by some people outside the legislature but that it would not be possible because most members were still comfortable with the speaker’s leadership.
“The speaker, as at today, has the support of majority of members in the Assembly and as such, those canvassing for his removal should desist from their plans.”
Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. SeiduAkawuSalihu, described the move as “ill motivated and unwarranted” and said it was being orchestrated by “some self-serving politicians in the state.”
Minority Leader of the Assembly, Hon. YoriAfolabi, who also confirmed the plot, accused the executive arm of government of initiating the move. “It is no longer news. Every member is aware of the move. The plot will fail because the speaker has not committed any offence that warranted his removal, therefore, a majority of us are solidly behind him,” Yori said.
THISDAY findings had also revealed that the lawmakers were allegedly offered between N2 million to N5 million to support the plot. But they allegedly rejected it because they were averse to the impeachment move at the time. They were said to have considered it a slap on the entire legislature and described the plot as an undue interference in their affairs.
The insinuation apart, the state Governor, AlhajiIdris Wada, in an interview with journalists before the impeachment, affirmed a cordial relationship between the legislative and the executive arms of government in the state. The speaker was also sure there was no discontent between the two arms of government.
The situation, however, changed last week, when the lawmakers, true to speculations, impeached the speaker and other principal officers of the House. They were reportedly removed by 17 out of the 25-member House and the speaker was immediately replaced with Hon. LawalJimoh, a member representing Okene constituency II in the state.
Also removed along with Bello were Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emmanuel Mebije; Majority Leader, Hon. YakubuYunusa; Chief Whip, Hon. SaiduAkawuSalihu and Minority Leader, Hon. AdeyemiAbidemi. They were all replaced by Hon. Atule Christopher Okoche (Deputy Speaker); Hon. AliyuAkuh (Majority Leader) and Hon. Sunday RaishiweShigaba (Minority Leader).
Hon. Gowon Paul Haruna from Dekina constituency I, who moved the motion for their removal said: “Majority of members of the House of Assembly have lost total confidence in the leadership of some of the principal officers of the state Assembly.” The motion, which was seconded by Hon. ShehuIdris from Lokoja II constituency, was ratified by others at the special plenary summoned for the specific purpose of restructuring the House leadership.
Haruna, while justifying their action, said the leadership of the former speaker did not respond positively to the recent killings in Okene as well as the flood that submerged nine local government areas of the state.
Other issues raised against the speaker included his decision to reconvene the meeting of Assembly for an “emergency sitting since the House was on Sallah break,” following the appointment of Liaison Officers I and II by the Governor. They described the move as illegal. “The move was just to paint a picture that the House was not aware of the appointment whereas his (the speaker) interest had been considered.”
The change in the House leadership, no doubt, unsettled the politics of the state. The impeached speaker for instance, insisted he was still in charge. The tensed situation, however, paved the way for a shutdown of the Assembly while heavily armed security operatives were deployed to prevent workers from gaining entry into the Assembly complex.
Bello described his removal as “illegal and unacceptable,” and claimed that majority of House members were still in his camp. He also noted that the impeachment was carried out when the House was in recess.
Whereas the anti-Bello lawmakers had claimed that 17 of the 25-member House sacked the House leadership, 13 members had dissociated themselves from the purported impeachment, saying they remained Bello’s supporters.
The claim and counter-claim arising from the impeachment stoked the crisis in the state such that propelled the intervention of the leadership of the House of Representatives. The House’s intervention followed a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Nicholas Ossai (PDP/Delta) and which gave an insight into the crisis in the state. The motion urged the House to intervene immediately.
Ossai said the state could not afford a political crisis while still battling with ecological problems caused by the recent flood.
Consequent upon this, the House mandated a seven-man committee to investigate the matter. The committee, led by the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon Ahmed Murktar Mohammed, immediately left for Kogi State on a fact-finding mission. Other members of the committee include Hon. Ibrahim El-Sudi (PDP/Taraba), Hon. Pally Iriase (ACN/Edo), Hon. Sokonte Davies (PDP/Rivers), Hon. NkemAbonta (PDP/Abia), Hon. Adams Jagaba (PDP/Kaduna) and Hon. Ali Ahmad.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. EmekaIhedioha, who presided at the plenary session, urged the lawmakers to avoid being judgmental as it would be rather hasty to draw any conclusion. He said it was better to set up a committee to interface with the two factions in the Assembly crisis and ascertain the circumstances that led to the sacking of its leadership.
But following its fact-finding mission, the House committee, last Monday, suspended the Assembly’s activities. The mediation committee, which sat at the chamber of the Assembly, said its purpose was to ensure that the constitution was not breached.
While the drama of the House’s intervention had raised concerns on the legality of the action, a new development crept into mix. Some of the lawmakers that purportedly carried out the plot were unable to present the signed document containing the names of the 17 members who approved of the action.
For instance, Hon. LawalAbdullahi, one of the lawmakers who allegedly signed the document, had denied being part of the plot. Thus, while the anti-speaker lawmakers protested that they were not informed of the House’s sitting, the committee insisted that aside the fact that the sitting was announced on NTA, the Clerk of the Assembly was told to inform members. Sixteen of the 25 lawmakers were however in attendance.
Following the meeting with the state lawmakers, the House committee chairman announced the suspension of all the activities of the Assembly pending the resolution of the crisis. “We have informed the Inspector-General of Police, which has been communicated to the Commissioner of Police and the SSS that no sitting should be allowed till we conclude our fact-finding mission,” Mohammed stressed.
But the question is that at what point does the National Assembly wield the big stick in such a matter? Some analysts in the state believed that the committee lacks the power to shut down the state legislature since the situation on ground is not that of an emergency.
The Ogun State House of Assembly was shut down for close to a year in 2010 by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) on the orders of the state government under former Governor Olugbenga Daniel. Overtures to both President Goodluck Jonathan who assumed office then and the National Assembly to intervene in the crisis failed. But, that the House of Representatives, within a week of the Kogi crisis waded in and this has raised questions by some stakeholders who not only think that the action of the House was uncalled for, but also a move that may have exposed the bias of the legislature.
Former Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Senator OlorunnimbeMamora, criticised the decision of the ad hoc committee and said the move may suggest a kind of “meddlesomeness” in the Assembly’s affairs.
Mamora who spoke to THISDAY in a telephone conversation, said he was worried by the committee’s action and that any intervention at all by the National Assembly must be on a friendly basis and in cognisance with Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution, which according to him, borders on insecurity and public order in the affected state, adding that such intervention must be with a view to finding amicable solution to the crisis.
According to him, any matter that violates Section 92 of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that impeachment of the Speaker of a House of Assembly must be carried out by two-third majority of all members of the House, can only be reversed by a court of competent jurisdiction. This was the case when former Oyo State Governor, AlhajiRashidiLadoja, was reinstated by the court, which declared his impeachment by the state House of Assembly in 2005 as illegal.
Emphasising that the National Assembly lacks the power to suspend activities of any Assembly, Mamora said the National Assembly is only empowered to legislate for any Assembly if a state of emergency was declared in such a state and that since no state of emergency has been declared in Kogi, “care must be taken not to give the impression of meddlesomeness.”
“My own understanding is that it is within the context of declaration of a state of emergency in a state that the National Assembly can legislate for a House of Assembly just as was the case in Plateau and Ekiti States. What exists in Kogi Assembly is just a skirmish just as was the case in Ogun in the last term and the National Assembly did not suspend the House’s activities,” he said.
Mr. BamideleAturu, lawyer and human rights activist, also frowned on the entire process. He said: “Let’s begin by looking at the impeachment of the speaker. The impeachment of the speaker was not done in compliance with the law. Twelve of 25 lawmakers didn’t have the required majority to do what they did. So, it was unconstitutional on the part of those who claimed to have impeached the speaker.
“The constitution didn’t support what they did. Having said that, when a House of Assembly can’t perform its function, the National Assembly can make laws for that House but there are clear circumstances under which that can be done. Why the National Assembly can make laws in times of emergency, it has no power to suspend the functions of a House on the ground of internal crisis,” he said.
Aturu added: “If that is the case, the National Assembly can intervene in any crisis in a House and then begin to take decisions for them. I don’t think the situation in Kogi warrants the intervention of the National Assembly as it has done now. So, the House must go back to their original foundation and nullify what they had done. That resolution never took place in the first instance. It was not in their power to do so. They must comply with the law because what they did was of no effect. Some forces outside the House were behind it. And the National Assembly must withdraw the suspension.”
A former Lagos State House of Assembly member, Hon. AdeniyiFabikun, accused the executive of being behind the impeachment, which he said was illegal. “Though, I agree that the House has the right to regulate its own rules and pick anyone it wants to be its speaker; that means the impeachment can be done any time but must comply with the constitution which they didn’t do.
“However, I don’t think there is anything in the constitution that says the National Assembly can suspend the House sittings. They can advise but not to the extent of suspending the legislative business. I never read that in the constitution. They overstepped their bounds.
They ought to call the two factions but they can’t usurp the power of the House. If the executive wants it to settle, the matter will be settled. The purported impeachment was an illegal exercise. If it is taken to court, it can’t stand. So, the legislators should heed the advice of elders and stop making themselves a laughing stock. They still need the two-third of the House to impeach the speaker,” he also said.
On his part, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Steel Development in the House of Representatives, Hon. AmekeChriscatoIkechukwu, said the leadership of the House of Representatives set up the ad hoc committee to go and know what the problem is and sort it out.
He said: “Each time we act under the law, we don’t seek the consent of the Senate. What we do is to set up a committee to investigate the matter so that we will know how to resolve it. We are not supporting any side and have not also concluded on the matter. They have started saying that the House has taken decision and that is not true.”
Also, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. AfamOgene, said Section 11, Sub section 1 of the constitution, said the National Assembly might make law for the federation or any part thereof with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order and to provide, maintain and secure such supplies and services as designated by the National Assembly.
Another section pertinent to that, Ogene said, is the sub section 4 of the same Section 11 which says “at any time when any House of Assembly of a state is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that state, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of that state with respect to matters of which the House of Assembly may make laws as they appear to the National Assembly or expedient until such time when the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions, and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly sequel to this defection shall have effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the state.”
He said the House did not interfere as long as the Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business. In the case of Kogi State for instance, “they are unable to hold a meeting or transact business. So, for the House of Representatives, what we did was to send a fact-finding team, we have not taken a decision on the matter even though it is inherent as stipulated in the constitution; it is in the powers of the National Assembly to so do but it hasn’t gotten to that level.
“So, what the House of Representatives had done was to send a high level fact-finding team to meet with the contending parties so that the situation does not degenerate to such that the National Assembly would be compelled by the constitution to assume its (Kogi Assembly) functions.”
Another House of Representatives member, Hon. ChudiUwazurike, who is also member of the Governing Council of the National Assembly Institute for Legislative Studies said “based on a unanimously endorsed motion by Hon Ossai Nicholas Ossai of Delta, the House of Representatives reacting to the most recent constitutional breakdown in state Houses of Assembly, this time Kogi, decided to invoke its powers under Section 11 (4) of the 1999 Constitution over the purported removal of Speaker of the Assembly, Abdullahi Bello, which does not appear to have followed due process.”
“Among questions that defy logic is the need to understand how in this day and age, 12 legislators in a 25-man chamber could purportedly remove the speaker and others without an open rendering of their offences? And all the principal officers were at the same time accused of similar charges with everyone guilty as charged without being allowed a defence?
“An impeachment is simply a notice of grave infractions by key officials – what ought to follow is a trial in which defendants must be acceded to their democratic rights of robust defence. But announcing the charges and reaching judgment in a simple voice acclamation, is a setback for the legislative strides and the capacity building Nigeria has attained in the last 13 years, hence the need for the House of Representatives, mindful of its duties vide Item 68 of the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution as amended.
“That is the basis for the setting up the seven-man ad hoc Committee led by Hon. Mohammed Murkthar Ahmed, which has now ordered a suspension of all plenary, pending a resolution that would restore the primacy of due process. The great satirist and author H.L. Mencken once quipped that: “The cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!
“In many of these ego clashes and political brinksmanship, there is often more than meets the eye. There is no question that ever since the confusion that arose in the last election, which saw three officials claiming the gubernatorial seat- former Governor Idris, the eventual winner, Governor Wada, and the speaker Bello who were all sworn in before the Wada-Idris face-off was resolved, there was no love lost between the two PDP chieftains- Governor Wada and Speaker Bello.
“It seems this crisis is payback; a grudge match that is capable of throwing the flood-embattled state that is home to the confluence of the two mighty rivers that define Nigeria, into a needless turmoil. The move by the National Assembly, recalls, the veteran US presidential candidate of half a century back, Adlai Stevenson that ‘Self-criticism is the secret weapon of democracy, and candour and confession are good for the public soul.’ One is inclined to join in the well-meaning call to the state Assembly combatants to step back from the brink because this crisis could last months and delay the budgetary timelines,” he added.
He said the mandate of the National Assembly as stated in Section 11 borders on the maintenance of order and good governance in states whose assemblies are locked in a deadlock, and dysfunctional. What usually follows such travesties is a gradual erosion of public trust and a descent into disorder.
The lawmaker noted that preventing the crisis from degenerating is in the larger national interest and that should be what should preoccupy the minds of stakeholders in the state.
He explained that the Abuja-initiated intervention was timely and if it would take the sealing off briefly of the state Assembly, to get everyone back to the path of due process, then so be it. Kogi State will survive.”
Although, majority of the lawmakers who spoke have only defended the action of the House bearing in mind the implications of a divergent view, that other stakeholders think differently raises curiosity about the House’s mode of intervention, especially when the Senate, as some had reasoned, should have been considered before taking such a decision.
Overall, what observers feel is paramount now is the need to return sanity to the state without unduly subverting the cause of justice as prescribed by the constitution. It is important, therefore, that this action, as brazen as many think it is, yields result in the final analysis without indications of a compromise. That is the only thing that can bring a bit of sense into what many think is an unacceptable action from the House committee.