The Monday Discourse
The crisis currently rocking the Kogi State House of Assembly, and by extension, the entire state is one challenge too many, write Shola Oyeyipo and Yekini Jimoh
Kogi State seems to have a thing for crisis and sometimes, politically orchestrated violence. But the violent slant to its crisis is not as pronounced. Since the rebirth of civil rule in 1999, Kogi had chosen the crisis brand, perhaps inadvertently. There is hardly any administration that was not baptised in the crisis river of the confluence state.
Even where the successive governments had the genuine intentions to deliver on their promises and in some cases, outperform one another in a healthy competition engendered by democracy, the inherent crisis of interests, complicated by the many fault lines of Kogi’s peculiarity had always stood in the ways of such intentions, thus leaving the ordinary people of the state to bear the huge and needless brunt.
In less than four months that the Governor Yahaya Bello government assumed office, Kogi has returned to the trenches and in full swing. Although the crisis preceded Bello’s ascension to office, it however assumed full circle immediately he was sworn in, starting typically from the state House of Assembly, the usual take-off point for nearly every crisis that had bedeviled the state. First, it appeared like a child’s play, but the turn of events in the last few weeks had however shown clearly that it is not only a crisis that will tarry for a while, it also promises to claim casualties, albeit with time.
In Kogi, politics, tribalism and sectionalism go hand-in-hand. The people have never been able to distinguish their differences and what is currently happening in the State House of Assembly is not without precedence. The reason is because every election held in the state since it was created had produced an Igala governor (Kogi East senatorial district) but this has never gone down well with people from the Central (Ebira speaking part where the incumbent governor hails from) and West (Yoruba speaking zone where James Faleke, who is contending the governorship with Bello comes from) but the people were usually pacified with other top offices like the deputy governor, Speaker and ministers amongst others.
This condition has created mutual distrust and made visible, the many fault lines that are peculiar to the diversity of the state. As a result, there has always been a subtle power tussle which struck heavily in the state House of Assembly in November 2012. Just as in the current situation, the National Assembly was compelled to shut down the Kogi Assembly following a protracted leadership crisis that engulfed the legislative arm of government.
The crisis culminated in a controversial impeachment of the Speaker, Hon Abdullahi Bello and other principal officers of the House by 12 of its 25 members in a secret meeting on Tuesday, November 12, 2012. The minority lawmakers, who carried out the impeachment, allegedly did so with the backing of the erstwhile governor, Idris Wada, but the impeachment was condemned by civil society groups, the National Assembly and lawyers; and it was described as an illegality.
The House of Representatives six-man ad hoc committee led by Hon. Mohammed Mourktar Ahmed, which eventually shut the assembly, said they had to seal off the complex to prevent any of the factions from sitting or performing any legislative duties since they were unable to ensure quick resolution of the crisis.
It was a combative situation back then. Some persons went as far as attempting to disrupt proceedings of members of the House of Representatives, who were in the state on fact-finding mission over the illegal impeachment of the former Speaker. It took the proactive action of the police and other security agents in the state to enforce peace and order. In fact 13, persons were arrested in connection with the alleged plot to disrupt the activities of the National Assembly delegates.
What was basic here was that everybody understood what happened as not without the surreptitious support of the former governor and top Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members in the state.
There were allegations of secret meeting held at the Kogi State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, between Wada and Hon. Yakubu Yunusa, Majority Leader of the Kogi Assembly, then representing Ofu constituency and a strong member of the 13-pro Speaker lawmakers on November 5, where Wada allegedly implored Yunusa to influence his colleagues from East senatorial district, who are with the Speaker, to dump him, with financial inducement.
There had also been similar meeting to allegedly coerce four legislators from the West, to support the new Speaker. The meeting was held at about 10.30pm at the residence of Chief Jide Omokore in Maitama, Abuja.
In fact, some of the lawmakers like the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Saliwu Akawu and Hon. Henry Ojuola, openly accused Wada of being the perpetrator of the discord in the house. They also accused him of investing hugely in actualising his ambition to control the leadership of the assembly.
But the ousted Speaker, Hon. Bello, had on Channels Television on Thursday, October 18, 2012, traced the root cause of his travails to the executive. Bello, who spoke in a telephone interview, accused the executive of sponsoring his removal. He alleged, among other things, that he had a running battle with the governor over some irreconcilable differences. And to settle scores with him, the governor induced members with large sums of money to facilitate his removal.
In the heat of the tussle, Bello, resigned from his job. It was his resignation that brought some calm after a long period of tension in the house. A new speaker, Momoh Jimoh-Lawal, who is now the embattled Speaker, was subsequently elected as the replacement in a unanimous vote by all the 22 members in attendance at a plenary presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Emmanuel Omebije.
It was a political solution. A vote of confidence was passed on all the former principal officers of the House as they retained their seats. However, Saidu Salihu relinquished his position as Chief Whip to Suleiman Babadoko, an in-law to former governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris.
But what was Bello’s crime? He was considered as too overambitious because when the Supreme Court handed down its judgment following the appeal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the verdict of the Court of Appeal on tenure elongation, it ended the tenures of the five governors of Adamawa, Cross River, Bayelsa and Sokoto and Kogi States and people expected that he (Bello) should be sworn-in as acting governor.
Recall that Wada and Bello were sworn in as governor and acting governors of Kogi State on January 27, 2012 in Lokoja, the state capital, making the state have two governors in one day. Wada and his deputy-elect, Mr. Yomi Awoniyi, were sworn in at the Government House as governor and deputy governor respectively by the President, Customary Court of Appeal, Mr. Shaibu Atadoga, while Bello was later sworn in as the acting governor by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Nasiru Ajanah.
The real problem was that Wada and his associates needed a Speaker that would stand by his administration should any of the series of legal battles instituted against his government pull it down. Bello was not considered loyal and therefore, had to go.
The Current Impasse
Returning to the 2012 path, the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, at their plenary session, announced that they had taken over of the functions of the Kogi State House of Assembly as empowered by the provision of Section 11 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, which says the National Assembly could take over the functions of any state assembly that is enmeshed in crisis.
Though slightly different this time around, due to the circumstances, the recent sealing off of the Kogi Assembly was as a result of leadership tussle that has been on since December 2015, and which has paralysed the activities of the state assembly.
The leadership face-off started precisely on December 5, last year, shortly after the victory of the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the election, Alhaji Bello. Hon. Godwin Osuyi of PDP representing Ogori-Magongo constituency had led some other members of the House to impeach the speaker, which later failed following the intervention of the national leadership of PDP.
Commentators on the present leadership tussle in the assembly have been alleging that the state government was behind the crisis. The embattled Speaker, Jimoh-Lawal, who himself got to the exalted position – ousting his predecessor in questionable manner and circumstances, is also alleging that the governor was behind the whole crisis.
Sometime in February this year, immediately after the swearing-in, it was alleged that the governor held a closed door meeting with Jimoh-Lawal and other members of the House over the possibility of being replaced with one of the seven (7) members of the APC in the assembly.
The reason purportedly cited by Bello for this was because the Speaker and the governor come from the same senatorial district and as a result, the governor viewed it as unfair to the remaining two senatorial districts, particularly the West, and as such insisted that for the sake of equity and fairness, the position should go to Kogi West senatorial district.
Though unconfirmed sources alleged that after the meeting, the governor gave the Speaker N50 million and another N7.5 million each to the 14 PDP members in the House to give their support for his anointed candidate, Hon. Ahmed Imam Umar of Lokoja I constituency of APC .
Governor Bello has however denied ever interference in the affairs of the Kogi Assembly or seducing them with money. In the same light, Jimoh-Lawal too has vehemently denied that money exchanged hands between him and the governor and the other PDP members of the house.
When the national leadership of the PDP got wind of the development, it immediately summoned its members to Abuja for a meeting, where it was decided that the status quo must be maintained. With this, Jimoh-Lawal retained his position as the Speaker while all other principal officers of the house were also retained.
At the meeting, the PDP members were instructed to prevent a situation where APC with seven members will take over the leadership of the house. But the situation took a more dramatic turn on February 16, when Hon. Friday Sani, a PDP member representing Igala-Mela Odolu state constituency led four other APC members of the house to impeach Jimoh-Lawal. This was barely one week after the meeting between the national leaders of the PDP and the 14 PDP members of the party in the house.
It was alleged that before the purported impeachment of the Speaker, four lawmakers of the APC including the arrowhead, Sani had allegedly held a meeting with the deputy governor, Hon. Simon Achuba in his office where the plan was hatched.
Sani, while addressing newsmen after the impeachment justified the action by accusing the Speaker of incompetence and lack of capacity to lead the assembly. According to him, the assembly cannot be led by anyone as a sole enterprise in which all house rules are ignored and the house remained closed perpetually.
He insisted that he and his colleagues followed the due process in removing the Speaker, saying that fifteen members signed the impeachment notice as against seven members required to form quorum to remove the principal officers.
“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 house has for a long time remained inactive following the ineptitude of the house leadership, saying the replacement was necessary for improved productivity, unity and togetherness.
Allegations and Counter-allegations
The embattled Speaker has maintained that he remained the Speaker, declaring his impeachment as null and void. He has continued to allege that Governor Bello wanted him out as Speaker at all cost and to replace him with APC member, who is a minority in the house.
According to him, rather than Sani’s claim, fifteen out of the 20 members of the house passed a vote of confidence on him, stressing that the purported impeachment did not hold water.
But the state government, reacting to allegations of meddling in the assembly affairs, has repeatedly denied any such interference.
The governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Strategy, Alhaji Abdulkarim Abdulmalik, said: “The attention of the Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello has been drawn to the spurious allegations by some group of legislators in the legislative arm of Kogi State to the effect that the governor was the person stoking crisis in the assembly.
“The governor wishes to inform the general public that he has never interfered in the affairs of the state legislature in line with his determination to promote the rule of law and strict adherence to separations of power. To drag the name of the Governor to the crisis in the Kogi State House of Assembly is in the least, uncharitable. The crisis in the House of Assembly predates the present administration in the state,” he said.
Governor Bello also noted that before the advent of the present administration, the assembly crisis assumed a violent dimension when vehicles belonging to the different caucuses in the House were vandalised. He therefore urged all aggrieved parties in the Kogi State House of Assembly to close ranks and work in unity for the progress of the state.
While exonerating himself, Governor Bello accused his rival to the seat of governor and member of the APC, Faleke, who was the running mate to the late Alhaji Abubakar Audu in the November 21, 2015 governorship election, of playing politics with the crisis in the Kogi Assembly.
His words: “We are aware some people have threatened to make Kogi State ungovernable if they are not allowed to take over the state. What all Kogi people should be concerned about now is how to ensure unity and save the state from its battered state.
“Faleke should stop painting a gory image of Kogi State in order to score cheap political points. Governor Yahaya Bello does not know about the crisis and would not meddle in the affairs of the legislature. Members of the Kogi State House of Assembly are great men with capacity to resolve their differences in order to move the state forward.
“It is clear that some disgruntled elements are scared of the immense achievements of the governor since assuming office. Those collaborating to run this state down will soon discover the futility of their ignominy”.
He therefore pledged continued collaboration with the legislative arm to actualise his dream of a better Kogi State.
But disagreeing with Governor Bello, former Commissioner for Information and a stalwart of the APC in the state, Dr. Tom Ohikere Kogi said the state House of Assembly problem is as a result of some “remote and immediate causes.”
According to him, “The remote causes are traceable to the interference of past governments in the affairs of the assembly. For example, ex-governor Wada was very involved in the conducts of the assembly throughout his tenure. So, it has become the practice for governors to control the assembly in Kogi State.
“Remember the case of Abdullahi Bello, who had 17 members to Jimoh-Lawal, who had just eight members in the last imbroglio during ex-governor Wada’s era when eight was stronger than 17?”
He stressed that “The present case of Yahaya Bello and the Kogi Assembly is the worst scenario. It is full of absurdities and aberrations. The governor does not seem to believe in the law, process and constitutionality as he wants to conduct the office of the governor his own ways.
“The case is getting messier day-in-day-out as the governor is seemingly demonstrating his lack of capacity to manage the situation. Kogi State is presently sitting on a keg of gun powder as things are upside down and there is no clue as to how the case will be normalised. The assembly is totally in disarray while the governor is hanging on a string,” Ohikere said, painting a sorry state of affairs in the crisis-ridden ‘Confluence State.’
…The Crisis Lingers
Though the fact finding committee of the House of Representative led by Hon. Pally Iriase has visited Lokoja with the bid to resolve the crisis, the situation remains unabated.
Agreeing with Ohikere, Iriase, who is the Deputy Chief Whip, explained that the Kogi Assembly has been enmeshed in leadership crisis for quite sometimes.
On whether or not the committee was aware of an interlocutory injunction granted to the other faction, Iriase stated that the committee has yet to receive any injunction, stressing that the committee members would not take injunction from Television flashing news bar and there is difference between filing papers seeking injunction and granting injunction.
He argued that if the Federal High Court, Lokoja had granted such interlocutory injunction, the committee would have been properly served. Iriase however assured the stakeholders that the committee would get to the root of the matter and reunite the factions in the House for the benefit of the people of Kogi State.
Governor Bello too promised to cooperate with the delegation from the National Assembly that is currently on a fact-finding mission towards the resolution of the crisis.
Bello contended that the intervention of the National Assembly in the crisis is a welcome development that would help the state to move forward, stressing that “The amicable resolution of the warring factions of the state assembly will go a long way in restoring confidence, hope and unity that is required for the rapid growth of the state.”
He promised to meet with the embattled lawmakers so as to rob minds with them on the need for the executive and the legislative arms of government to work together in the interest of peace and fulfillment of the mandate given them to serve the people of the state.
While all these entreaties are on, the State House of Assembly has remained under lock and key and is being guarded by fully armed policemen on the order of the National Assembly.
Security agents also barred the factional members of the state House of Assembly who were billed to conduct ministerial budget defence from accessing the complex, as the road leading to the complex was also barricaded by armed policemen, who subjected staff of the assembly to rigorous search and only allowed them in upon confirmation of their employment status through their identity cards.
A superior police officer, who led the team of armed policemen to the assembly complex, ASP A. Adeniran told newsmen that the directive came from the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase.
“We were directed not to allow any assembly member into this complex, only the staff of the complex are allowed in to perform their official duties,” Adeniran volunteered to say.
Two weeks ago, the Nigerian Senate had directed Arase to seal off the Assembly complex until the crisis in the assembly is resolved. The problem is largely unresolved. Egos have crept in, tempers are still running high and not a few people are waiting to see how the drama would eventually end.
Jimoh-Lawal’s deputy, Hon. Aliyu Akuh said the crisis remained unresolved. The earlier directive to return to status quo ante by the House of Representatives was ignored by the five members. According to Akuh, it was an aberration for five out of the then 20 members of the assembly to impeach the Speaker in whom the 15 other members had passed a vote of confidence on his leadership.
Akuh said the 15 members considered the action of the minority five members as an infringement on the constitution of the country, adding that in a good democratic setting, such infringements must be challenged.
“What happened with five members seeking to impeach a Speaker in a house of 20 members is an aberration, unheard of and more so that some members’ names and signatures were forged and included as being part of them.
“We had to go to the higher authority which is the National Assembly vested with the constitutional powers to intervene in such situations. The House of Representatives ordered the seal-off and it was concurred by the Senate,” he said.
On the position of the law as regards the suit filed by the five members at the Federal High Court, Lokoja, challenging the intervention of the National Assembly on the impasse, Akuh said there was no injunction or court order restraining the National Assembly from performing its duties in the Kogi assembly crisis.
But the factional Speaker, Imam said the seal-off was illegal, adding that for the National Assembly to have gone ahead to seal-off the assembly in spite of the fact that the matter was pending in court smacked of illegality.
Imam, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Umar Ali argued that the action of the National Assembly was aimed at stunting the growth of the state as all legislative businesses especially the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill would be affected.
In instructing the IGP to seal the Kogi State House of Assembly, the upper legislative chamber also declared null and void, the impeachment proceedings embarked upon by five members of the Kogi State House of Assembly. The Senate further condemned the role played by the Police in providing cover for five members out of 20 members of the Assembly to commit what it described as “illegalities.”
These resolutions by the Senate were in concurrence with the House of Representatives, which had ordered the takeover of the Assembly over illegal removal of its Speaker. The Senate noted that it was “invoking the powers conferred on it by section 11(4) of Nigeria’s constitution to take over the legislative functions of the state House of Assembly pending the resolution of normalcy in the Assembly.”
It added that the action was in view of the fact that the Kogi State House of Assembly could not perform its legislative functions due to intractable.
Special Adviser to the governor on Legislative Matters, Hon. Haruna Yusuf said the assembly was not sealed off as reported in some quarters. He said it would be wrong to say the assembly complex was sealed off without the presence of heavy security and free flow of human and vehicular movements.
His words, “We have been asking from any of those that have been saying there is an order to seal off the premises for the order but no one has been able to come up with one. People should not sit down in their bedrooms and conjure things because they are not happy with the system”.
Umar too reiterated that he was at the complex to ascertain the status of security in the assembly and discovered that there was no restriction whatsoever.
“It is not true that the assembly has been sealed off. The essence of being here is to confirm whether or not the complex was sealed. We have done a tour of the assembly and we found out that the assembly is open and members of staff are working. The members have adjourned sitting till April 12 but the oversight functions are going on.”
He however said the members had moved to the Government House for the budget defence because there was a security report that made the assembly premises unsafe for legislative duties. So, the committees that were sitting on the budget had also moved elsewhere following a security report that some people were planning to foment trouble in the complex.
Taken together, it is the position of many that leaders and elders in the state intervene in this needless crisis of interests by calling the two sides to a table and finding a lasting solution, perhaps political and without sentiments. This is because the state is fast becoming notorious for negative news and losing its allure – away from what it used to be.