THE KOGI STATE ASSEMBLY CRISIS

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The government is failing to keep faith with the law

The crisis rocking the Kogi State House of Assembly (KSHA) leading to its takeover by the National Assembly is a sad reminder of the desperate nature of our politics of personal aggrandisement, rather than of service to the people. The current impasse can be traced to February 16 when five lawmakers, out of 20 (another five already had their elections nullified by the courts), impeached the Speaker, Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal, allegedly with the connivance of the Governor, Alhaji Yahya Bello.

According to reports, Bello’s interest in having Lawal removed stemmed from the desire to balance the distribution of political offices among the major ethnic groups in the state, as he and the embattled speaker are both from Ebiraland. That perhaps explains why one of the five members that carried out the legislative coup, Hon. Imam Umar, was sworn in as Speaker at the office of the Deputy Governor, instead of the assembly chambers. Assisting the illegality in clear disregard for the tenets of separation of powers, the government provided security for the group of five, and prevented the remaining 15 lawmakers from assessing the assembly complex.

With the crisis that followed, the House of Representatives sent a 10-man team to the state on a fact finding mission. The delegation headed by the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Pally Iriase, recommended a takeover of the Kogi State House of Assembly to preserve the sanctity of the legislature until the lawmakers could resolve their crisis. The recommendation was adopted by the House and concurred to by the Senate.

The takeover by the National Assembly is in line with Section 11 (4) of the 1999 constitution which allows such intervention in a state House of Assembly if it is enmeshed in crises. It happened in Rivers State in 2014. But the current take over in Kogi implies that the N74.9 billion 2016 appropriation bill would now be passed by the House of Representatives. The House would also take over all legislative duties of the state assembly, except for impeachment proceedings.

“There is palpable tension and apprehension of possible security breach which could be highly volatile if not handled with care because of ethnic district nature of the state as confirmed by security reports. This is further exacerbated by the unsettled matters arising from the governorship election. The division in the assembly cuts across party lines and is prone to violence and insecurity,” the report of the House delegation noted.

Unfortunately, it does not look like the state lawmakers are ready to iron out their differences anytime soon. One group has already gone to court challenging the takeover by the National Assembly. This same faction that seems to have the backing of the executive arm in Kogi State, on March 10, also held a valedictory service for the late Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr. James Ocholi. Meanwhile, the governor, whose action fuelled the crisis, has also been quoted as saying “My House of Assembly is sitting and we have absolute peace in Kogi State. I am not aware that the National Assembly is supposed to have taken over the State Assembly…legislative activities are ongoing. I have a Speaker that is sitting right now.”

Well, the governor should be told in clear terms that the Kogi State House of Assembly, as an independent arm of government, does not belong to him and as far as the law of the land goes, the National Assembly is now the only legislative body that can make laws for the state until the crisis is resolved. While we understand his peculiar challenge, given the way he came to power, it does not in any way advance his cause to be creating unnecessary problems that can lead to a breakdown of law and order in Kogi State.