Rivers assembly speaker refuses to swear in female APC lawmaker
Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The refusal of the leadership of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly to formally induct three opposition members-elect four months after they were declared winners of their various elections, may have drawn the ire of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
This came as the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Dabotorudima Adam, yesterday refused to swear in an All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker-elect, Victoria Nyeche, as member of the eighth assembly of the state.
THISDAY learnt yesterday that the federal government through the office of the Attorney-General, has intervened to avoid the looming constitutional crisis in the state and avert the violence that might follow.
The lawmakers-elect who felt short-changed by the action of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-dominated state House of Assembly, had written a letter to the AGF alerting him of the oncoming crisis and attaching copies of the judgements and certificates of return issued them by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Already, it was learnt yesterday that Malami had met with the aggrieved persons, and expressed anger over the premeditated breach of the Nigerian Constitution.
He was said to have frowned on the development, describing it as a breach of the constitution and an affront to the rule of law, which he said the federal government stands for.
A reliable source who preferred anonymity because he was not in a position to speak to journalists, said the AGF had already directed that a letter should be drafted to the leadership of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, particularly the Speaker, Mr. Kombowei Benson, intimating him of the legal implications of not swearing in the lawmakers-elect.
The source noted that a 48-hour ultimatum would also be handed down to Benson to formally induct the affected lawmakers into the house.
The aggrieved lawmakers-elect are Watson Belemote of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), representing Brass Constituency 2; Gibson Munalayefa of the Labour Party (LP) for Ogbia constituency 2 and Gabriel Ogbara of African Democratic Congress (ADC) representing Ogbia constituency 3.
“What is happening in Bayelsa State is a flagrant abuse of the Constitution and the rule of law. It is also a matter of national security and the office of the attorney-general under the dispensation of President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC), acting within its powers, will not tolerate it.
“The attorney-general is taking the matter seriously and has directed that a 48-hour ultimatum should be issued to the assembly to immediately inaugurate the elected legislators or face the consequences,’’ the source who works in the AGF’s office said.
The Police in Bayelsa State had also written the state Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, warning of the security consequences of the refusal of the State House of Assembly to swear in the three opposition members-elect.
The command noted that the refusal of Benson to inaugurate the three members even after they were given Certificates of Return by INEC could lead to a possible breach of state security. But the Commissioner for Information, Mr Jonathan Obuebite denied receiving the memo.
Also yesterday, the umbrella body of the Ijaw youths, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Worldwide, described as unfair and unconstitutional the refusal of the Bayelsa House leadership to swear-in the three opposition lawmakers.
President of IYC, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, said Benson, by his action, was violating his oath of office, adding that his refusal to swear in the lawmakers was an act of cowardice which had brought him to public ridicule and outrage.
In a similar vein, political elders in the state under the auspices of Bayelsa First Initiative (BFI), have criticised the lawmakers for dancing to the tune of the executive.
Chief Nathan Egba, who heads the group, blamed the problem of the lawmakers-elect on the governor of the state, Dickson, accused the governor of ruling the state without recourse to the constitution.
However, Obueibite noted that Dickson has no hand in the ordeal of the three lawmakers, adding that it was a purely legislative affair.
“The Bayelsa Governor has never interfered with the affairs of the state House of Assembly. The state assembly is not subject to the unilateral control of the state executive.
“The matter is purely a legislative one and I am saying it authoritatively that Dickson as a former lawmaker will never interfere in the affairs of the legislature,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly, Adam, equally refused to swear in an All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmaker-elect, Victoria Nyeche, as member of the eighth assembly of the state.
While swearing in 12 new members of the assembly, Adam announced that he received a court order restraining the assembly from administering an oath-of-office on Nyeche, pending the decision of a state high court on a matter of impersonation levelled against her.
THISDAY gathered that a state High Court presided over by Justice Adolphus Enebeli on April 20 granted an interlocutory order stopping the swearing in of Nyeche of Port Harcourt Constituency 1.
The court order was based on a motion ex-parte filed on behalf of the claimant in Suit No. PHC/893/2016, Livingstone Wechie, by his counsel, Kingsley Chuku.
Wechie had accused Nyeche of impersonating when she wrote a petition to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) against the confirmation of the chief judge of Rivers State by the assembly, using the letter head of the assembly and addressing herself as member of the assembly even when she had not been administered oath of office or sworn in.
The trial judge adjourned the case till April 28 for hearing of substantive motion.
The election petition tribunal and the Court of Appeal declared Nyeche of the APC winner of the April 11, 2015 House of Assembly election against Jones Ogbonda of the PDP.
Reacting to the incident, Nyeche, who was among the 25 pro- Chibuike Amaechi supporters in the seventh assembly, expressed surprise at the order, saying what played out was a clear indication of a lawless state as she had not received any order to that effect.
She said: “I feel very saddened for what has happened today. It is an indication that Rivers State is not governed by law. I am surprised that the Speaker said he had a court order. I have not been served the court order.
“This is to show you that the State is not governed by law. It is a calculated plan to stop me from serving my people. I have my Certificate-of-Return issued by INEC and it is surprising that the decision of a lower court could overrule the decision of Court of Appeal that upheld my victory.”
She said she would approach her party, APC, for the next step to take.
Nyeche’s victory at the April 11, 2015, House of Assembly election, was upheld by the Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal, which threw out Jones Ogbonda of PDP
Ten PDP members were among the 12 lawmakers that took oath of office. They were Manna Martins (Ahoada East Constituency 1), Inye Edison (Ahoada East Constituency 2), Major Jack (Akuku-Toru Constituency 1), Samuel Ogeh (Emohua Constituency), Martins Amaewhule (Obio/Akpor Constituency 1), Michael Chinda (Obio/Akpor Constituency 2), Christian Ahiakwor (ONELGA Constituency), Kelechi Nworgu (Omuma Constituency) and Tonye Smart (PHALGA Constituency 2).
The other two were members of APC: Benibo Anabraba representing Akuku-Toru Constituency 2 and Andrew Miller, Opobo/Nkoro Constituency.