Nasarawa Assembly’s Descent to Violence

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Last week’s free-for-all in the Nasarawa State House of Assembly undermines the legislative institution, writes Adams Abonu

While it is expected of legislatures at any level of government to show decorum in the conduct of their statutory responsibilities, the fracas at the floor of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly in Lafia last Monday afternoon ran contrary to this expectation with the tendency to make a huge joke of the legislative process.
Various sections of the civil society profiled by THISDAY in the state are of the consensus that the action of the State Assembly was dishonourable with many calling on all sides to demonstrate a sense of maturity in their line of duty.

Though it could be argued that Nasarawa State House of Assembly did not set the ugly precedence of turning the hallowed chambers to a boxing ring, several Houses of Assembly like Rivers, Taraba and Kogi have had their own share of bouts akin to the free-for-all that was the distasteful hallmark of the 5th and 6th House of Representatives in Nigeria’s present dispensation. But the circumstances that surrounded the recent resort to violence in Lafia make the issue more peculiar.

At the heart of the of the debacle is Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Al-Makura’s appointment of 11 Sole Administrators to administer the 11 Local Government Councils, whose tenures expired Thursday, 31st March after two years in office. The state has 13 Local Government Areas (LGAs) with two councils’ tenures yet to elapse.

In a speech during the inauguration of the newly constituted local councils, Governor Al-Makura invoked a “Doctrine of Necessity” needed to avoid a vacuum” at the LGs. However, Al-Makura’s executive fiat did not go down well with a section of the State Assembly, which accused the governor of illegality and demanded that elections into local council positions be conducted without “any deliberate delay.”

Pandemonium broke out at the hallowed chambers of the Assembly when the Majority Leader, Mr. Tanko Tunga, moved a motion for the suspension of six members of the assembly for daring to challenge the action of the governor.

But in a swift reaction, the six members expressed reservations over their colleague’s motion alleging that other members had been induced by the governor to support the “illegality.”

What ensued was a charged atmosphere, where the lawmakers threw caution to the wind with some members attempting to take custody of the maze while others engaged in physical combats with the use of furniture as shields or attack weapons.

Many of the lawmakers involved in the fracas had their clothing torn to shreds with a handful sustaining physical injuries.

THISDAY reported that the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Godiya Akwashiki, who presided over the plenary, and four members of the PDP abstained from the free-for-all.

It however took a motion by Mr. Daniel Ogazi, representing Kokona East State Constituency for the indefinite adjournment of the House to bring the ensuing commotion to an inglorious end.

At a press briefing late Monday addressed by the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Mr. Makpa Malla, who incidentally is a member of the six dissidents, the assembly members alleged “executive recklessness” by Governor Al-Makura, saying the appointment of the 11 Sole Administrators ran afoul of democratic tenets as the governor did not even bother to consult with the Assembly before taking the action.

“As you can see, this is the executive room of the State Assembly, where we sit down every morning (of plenary) to discuss issues that will bring development to the state and the country at large. Categorically, I want to state here that the division which caused this chaos was as a result of the appointment of sole administrators by the governor, and as a responsible House, where some of us are lawyers – we insisted that the right things must be done.
“The constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 7 sub section 1, as amended, guarantees a democratically elected system of local governments and the constitution defined how the local government system, structure should be run. That is why we are kicking against the appointment of the sole administrators which only existed in military era and as respecter of the rule of law, we must ensure that the executives must also respect the rule of law.”

The lawmaker called on the people of the state to remain calm and be law abiding as he assured that the law will take its course on the matter.

While all the confusion ensued, Deputy Speaker Akwashiki, who is a member of the minority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), stood with the lawmakers, who supported the governor’s action. He even announced the suspension of the six dissident members and made it clear that the governor had the prerogative to have so acted.

Akwashiki, who spoke to reporters on the issue on Wednesday in Lafia revealed that the crisis was beyond the governor appointing SAs for the LGs but also a fallout of the misconduct and disrespect to House Rules by the suspended six.

Akwashiki revealed that the suspended six were seeking to takeover leadership of the Assembly by trying to impeach the Speaker and himself. He denied that he was bribed by Governor Al-Makura.

Reactions have continued to generate from the fallout of the crisis from a cross-section of the state. The major opposition in the state led by former Minister of Information, Labaran Maku came out blazing in support of the suspended six lawmakers.

In a press statement signed by Emmnuel Yaro, State Secretary of APGA in Nasarawa, the party decried the action of Governor Al-Makura and blamed him for being at the root of the crises.

“APGA as a true party of progressives condemns in its entirety, the unconstitutional behaviour of the Governor of Nasarawa State in respect to the appointment of Sole Administrators to the LGs.

“In this regard, we stand with those members of the Nasarawa Assembly opposed to this illegality. Sole Administration of LGs is not only illegal and unconstitutional but also an aberration in a democracy.

“Tanko Al-Makura should therefore be held responsible for the fracas in the Assembly. It is a shame for the Governor to say that his decision was to avoid a vacuum is created by his APC administration for the fear of suffering from defeat if democratic elections are to be held.

“President Buhari, who is commonly referred to as a man of integrity should call Al-Makura’s maladministration to order to save our democracy,” the strongly-worded statement read in parts.

When THISDAY asked for a legal perspective to the show of shame, a Professor of Constitutional Law and Dean, Faculty of Law of the Nasarawa State University in Keffi, Abu Kana said the constitution was clear on the issue in Section 7 Sub section 1 which made provision for only a democratically elected leadership at the local government level.
The erudite scholar disclosed that an earlier precedence was set on the issue as in the case between Abimuku and the Nasarawa State Government in 2007, where a court of competent jurisdiction delivered judgment on the issue, which gives weight to the position of the aggrieved lawmakers.

The PDP leader in Nasarawa State, Alhaji Yusuf Agabi charged the lawmakers to put the interest of the state above all other considerations and work together for the good of the people. He called on them to resolve their differences amicably and give peace a chance.

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Pandemonium broke out at the hallowed chambers of the Assembly when the Majority Leader, Mr. Tanko Tunga, moved a motion for the suspension of six members of the assembly for daring to challenge the action of the governor…But in a swift reaction, the six members expressed reservations over their colleague’s motion alleging that other members had been induced by the governor to support the “illegality.”