Travail of a Benue Lawmaker

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George Okoh, in Makurdi, writes on how a five –month suspension was imposed on a Peoples Democratic member of the Benue State House of Assembly, Kester Kyenge, for daring to ask questions about the finances of the Assembly

For Hon. Kester Kyenge, member representing Logo Constituency of Benue State in the state House of Assembly, it has been a difficult experience following his suspension from the Assembly over his call for an inquest into some opaque dealings by some members of the All Progressive Congress- controlled leadership of the Assembly.

Kyenge, who is a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member, was suspended for raising issues over alleged financial impropriety in the House. Trouble started for the lawmaker July this year at a session g of the Assembly, where Kyenge had raised dust over a contract awarded by the state government for the supply of 30 official vehicles for members at N13.9m each to MIA3, a company some members of the Assembly were alleged to have interest.

Rather than procure the said cars for members, some members of the leadership were alleged to have opted to shortchange members by compelling them to collect N10m each, N3.9m less than the contract amount for each vehicle, while they allegedly pocketed the remaining money.

Four members of the Assembly, including Kyange, refused to collect the money, insisting on the vehicles.

However, failure of the leadership to address the issue forced the four members to report the matter to the state governor, Samuel Ortom. The governor, according to Kyange, “intervened only to discover they had on our refusal to collect the said N10m squandered our entire entitlement. “

In a bid to ensure calm in the Assembly, the governor was said to have offered to pay N10m each to the four affected lawmakers to procure pre-owned vehicles like their colleagues.

The cause of Kyange suspension wasn’t just entirely because of his call for a probe of the finances of the Assembly, also raised issues over the collapse of security in the state as at then. During the period, armed robberies and Kidnapping for ransom were taking place on a daily basis.

Outside the two issues he also sought clarification on how the state’s share of the N15.5 billion bailout funds were expended. His call for inquisition obviously did not go down too well with some members of the ruling party for obvious reasons.

Meanwhile, as the crisis was going on in the House, an unknown member of the public had wrote a petition against the leadership of the Assembly to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC)whose investigation led to the detention of the House leadership and suspension of House activities.

Investigations by the anti-graft agency was said to have discovered transfer of N10m each from the contractor, MIA3’s accounts to members of the Assembly, except the four members that kicked against the move.

This soon became public knowledge, with the reputation of the Assembly put to question. Then a group of 14 concerned members under the aegis of Consensus for Change in a televised broadcast challenged the speaker of the House to speak up on the true state of affairs concerning the vehicle purchase scandal and sundry issues including the disappointing level of maladministration in Benue.

The APC-led House leadership, rather than explaining the discovery by the EFCC, slammed a five-monthsuspension on Kyenge without allowances and privileges.

Kyenge stated that his suspension came as a result of speaking truth to power on behalf of the masses, and his constituency.

“This is in crass violation of the House Standing Rules which provides for necessary investigation by the House Committee on Judicial, Ethics and Privileges and a suspension for two legislative weeks where culpability is established. This was not the case, rather the Assembly deliberated in my absence without a right of fair hearing and arbitrarily suspended me.”

He revealed that the leadership of the Assembly had since accepted culpability in the car scam and were making huge refunds to the EFCC and wondered why he had not be recalled.

“Thus, most members of the Assembly except myself, Dominic Ucha and Terseer Adzuu who were initially denied our entitlement and hence did not receive any money from MIA3 averred that since we did not benefit from the said disbursemen,t we cannot make refunds. In addition, a fourth colleague Ngunan Addingi, whom though was reimbursed by MIA3 also did not make refunds to EFCC but pleaded that, since the money was received in lieu of official vehicle she had already procured same and can only make refunds to the EFCC after disposal of the vehicle, subsequently, the four of us on failure to refund money to the EFCC were unjustly remanded in EFCC cell for a week and later given bail on self recognition, only after collecting our International Passports, held to-date as we are still requested to make refunds.”

Despite, the fact that the vehicle contracts were fraudulently executed and refund are now being made by members, the Assembly leadership still stood its ground on Kyenge and his three other colleagues’ suspension which led him to institute a case at the Benue State High Court against the Assembly, seeking his recall over what he termed an unlawful suspension.

“My prayers for redress in court over the five months suspension which is illegal and un-procedural has dragged to date while I serve out the said suspension which terminates by 21st of December. Myself and the other three colleagues earlier detained at the EFCC have sought redress from court as well for unlawful detention and seizure of our international passports’

The Assembly while reacting to Kyenge said it followed due process in his suspension.

According to the Majority Leader, Benjamin Adanyi, the suspension was slammed on Kyenge because he brought the name of the House to odium through a press interview he granted Channels Television, where he was quoted to have accused some House leadership of corruption, among other allegations. He also tried to impeach the speaker by mobilizing for his removal.

The House also accused Kyenge of attempting to disrupt legislative proceedings by defying the order of the speaker by speaking when he was asked to sit down.

Adanyi, stated that the issue that led to their invitation by the EFCC was not an issue of corruption but procedure, stressing that the amount meant for the purchase of the vehicles for the 30 members in the House was N375m and not N750m as published in the media.

He said, “The issue that involved the EFCC was the issue of procedure. Somebody had petitioned the supplier of the car about certain transactions that were being conducted, it was when investigations were going on that the EFCC discovered that certain monies were given to 22 members.

“The EFCC advised us to refund the money, thus I can categorically inform you that we have agreed to refund the money and we have started paying so that the money will be retired to the state government and it will be added to the initial sum and process the vehicles for members.”

He said the contract was awarded to a corporate entity and not the leadership of the House, stressing that there was no correlation between the N750m bandied in the media and the record at the Ministry of Finance.

Adanyi further stated that the decision by the members to collect the money to buy the vehicle of their choice was because they felt the contract could not be executed since the contract sum per vehicle was N12.5m against the market value of N14.5m.

Adanyi said, “Members did not want an upward review as that would take a longer time, more so considering the prevailing economic crisis, they chose to opt for smaller vehicles.”

The majority leader however said the refund option by the EFCC would favour the members as the state government would have no option but to procure the vehicle.

Pundits have criticized Kyenge’s suspension as his Logo constituency have been without a representative for the past five months for no just cause.

His ordeal has been viewed as vendetta because of his perceived closeness to the past regime in the state.