The 15 members of Kogi State House of Assembly standing with their Speaker, Momohjimoh Lawal (4th from left)
Following the bitter power tussle currently rocking the Kogi State House of Assembly, the House of Representative has constituted a fact-finding mission to look into the crisis. Yekini Jimoh, in Lokoja, looks at the crisis and the effort to resolve it
The faceoff that broke out recently among members of the Kogi State House of Assembly is assuming new dimensions almost on a daily basis. National Assembly members from Kogi State have intervened to try to resolve the crisis, which started from disagreements over the leadership of the Assembly.
The state House of Assembly is made up of 25 members, with the Peoples Democratic Party having the majority of 14 while All Progressives Congress is in the minority with11members. Five members of the Assembly took part in the rerun state assembly election held penultimate Saturday following court judgements.
Sometime last December, after the governorship election in the state, when it was obvious that APC had won, there was an attempt by some members of PDP and APC led by Hon. Godwin Osuyi from Ogori/Magongo constituency of Kogi Central senatorial district to impeach the speaker, Rt Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal, who happens to be his kinsman.
The reason given then by the Osiyi group was that Lawal had failed to represent the interest of the entire members of the Assembly and that he embezzled funds meant for members.
The speaker and his supporters quickly adjourned indefinitely, apparently, to avoid being impeached by the Osuyi group.
But due to court judgements, some members of the APC and PDP lost their seats, reducing the number of legislators in the Osuyi group drastically and virtually incapacitating the group.
When Alhaji Yahaya Bello was sworn-in as governor of the state, he tried to see how he could work with the legislative arm of government.
THISDAY gathered that the embattled speaker held a closed door meeting with the governor, allegedly, over an attempt to replace him with one of the seven members from APC. A source alleged that the governor offered compensations to Lawal and the other PDP members to support Hon. Ahmed Imam Umar of Lokoja 1 constituency. Though, Lawal has denied ever collecting money from Bello for himself or other lawmakers. Bello has said he never interfered in the affairs of the Kogi State House of Assembly.
PDP National Leadership
Due to the bribe allegations, the national leadership of PDP recently summoned PDP members of the Kogi State House of Assembly to Abuja for an emergency meeting. The party directed its members in the Assembly to maintain the status quo as efforts were being made to resolve the crisis. But they wondered how APC with five members will take over the leadership of the Assembly from PDP, which has 14 members.
As a result of the intervention of the National Working Committee of PDP, all the aggrieved members of the party agreed to retreat from the impeachment moves for peace to reign.
But barely a week afterwards, after the clearing of the deputy governor nominee, Hon. Simon Achuba, and the list of 21 special advisers for the governor, the situation took a different dimension. Five members of the Assembly, mainly members of APC, led by a PDP member, Hon. Friday Sani, who is the Chief Whip, allegedly, impeached Lawal as speaker.
It was authoritatively gathered that the five lawmakers of APC, including, Sani, held a meeting with the deputy governor, Achuba, in his office where the plan was hatched.
The purported impeachment of the speaker did not take place in the chamber. It took place in Sani’s office.
On the day of the alleged impeachment, journalists were barred from covering the proceedings, as security men ordered them to wait outside until the end of the sitting.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the alleged impeachment, Sanni said the impeached speaker had not demonstrated capacity to lead the Assembly. He said the Assembly could not be led by anyone as a soul enterprise, to the disregard of house rules.
Sanni claimed the Assembly had followed due process to remove the speaker, saying 15 members signed the impeachment notice, whereas only seven members were required to form the quorum to remove any principal officer.
“With the Court of Appeal ruling, which sacked five of our members, reducing it to 20, only seven members are required to form quorum and we have more than that,” he said.
Sani said the Assembly had for some time remained closed and inactive following the ineptitude of the house leadership, adding that the change in leadership was meant to improve productivity, unity and togetherness.
Reacting to his removal, along with other principal officers of the Assembly, Lawal said he remained the speaker, declaring his impeachment as null and void. He alleged that Bello wanted him out as speaker of the state House of Assembly at all cost and to replace him with an APC member.
According to him, 15 out of the 20 members of the Assembly passed a vote of confidence on him, stressing that the purported impeachment does not hold water.
Also speaking, the deputy speaker of the Assembly, Hon. Ali Aku, alleged that Sanni and his group forged their signatures, adding that it is not possible for few members of the legislature to impeach 15 members that are loyal to the speaker.
Following the closure of the Assembly complex by security agents, the 15-member Lawal group in the Assembly, including the speaker, have relocated to Abuja, where they have held a sitting of the legislature.
They issued a summon to the state governor to appear before the faction. Achuba was not speared, as the factional lawmakers served him an impeachment notice and suspended the five members who impeached the speaker a fortnight ago.
The Lawal group of legislators said the governor was also to explain why permanent secretaries, directors, accountants, cashiers of parastatals, agencies, ministries and councils area had to be sent on compulsory leave.
They said the five members who sat and impeached Lawal, were suspended for acting contrary to the rules of the Assembly and “claiming to have sat without a quorum and forgery of signatures of 10 members in the purported impeachment.”
The suspended members are Sani, Umar Imam, John Abah, Lawi A.T Ahmed, and Bello Abdullahi.
During the sitting in Abuja, which was presided over by the embattled speaker, a member, Hon. Omits Jimoh, a PDP lawmaker from Yagba East moved a motion urging the Assembly to summon the governor and begin the impeachment process of the deputy governor. The motion was seconded by Hon. Ali Aku, another PDP member, from Omala. The sitting had the maze, the symbol of authority of the Assembly, strategically positioned.
Hon. Omiata, in a motion, stated that the dissolution of the local government service commission, which, he said, was a statutory body created by law, was illegal and should be reversed, adding that “abolishment of one per cent from the joint account of state and local government without repeal of the law be disregarded and the status quo be maintained within.”
He added that all “institutions or directives of the state government with respect to Local Government Service Commission, State Joint Local Government Account, Universal Basic Education, Pension Bureau, contrary to the extant law that established them, be disregarded.”
The lawmaker insisted that the House of Assembly, being an institution created by law, “whose operations are guided by prescribed laws and rules, has no reference to recognise any person or group of persons as the leadership of the Assembly other than Hon Momoh Jimoh Lawal, as the speaker of Kogi House of Assembly.”
Omiata explained that the governor should by no means and in whatever guise communicate, receive or recognise anything from the group of five led by Hon. Ahmed Umar, the factional Speaker, and that any transaction from the executive to or from the group of five shall be considered as fraudulent and met with legal resistance.
He, however, said the council chairmen embarking on exercises that were capable of breaching the peace of their council areas should desist and return to status quo. The 15 members that sat adopted all the motions and adjourned till March 8.
Conference of Speakers
Meanwhile, the Conference of Speakers of State legislatures of Nigerian have condemned the impeachment of Lawal, insisting that due process must be followed. In a statement by its chairman, Hon. Ismaila Kamba, the conference said the flagrant disrespect of the rule of law should not only be frowned upon but condemned as an illegality capable of setting a bad precedent and if not reversed could cause chaos and anarchy.
Kamba stated, “The conference acknowledges the constitution makes provisions for the impeachment of public officers as a check against tyrannical tendencies, but the constitution equally provides for procedure to be followed if the impeachment of such public officer becomes imperative.”
Regarding Lawal’s impeachment, Kamba said, “We condemn it in its entirety because the way and manner the purported impeachment was carried out was short of the due process. We call on the relevant authorities to act in order to save our democracy by calling those behind such unconstitutional removal of the Speaker to order.”
In another development, Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West senatorial district of the state, has promised to help bring the crisis to an end. He said this on Tuesday when Lawal and the 14 other members of his group visited him at the National Assembly and formally informed him of the happenings at the state assembly.
Melaye, while addressing the 15 state lawmakers, said they should maintain peace, promising to bring together the relevant stakeholders with a view to ending the conflict. He said what the state needed presently was how to move forward and not crisis.