Claims, Counter Claims as Leadership Crisis Rocks Ondo Assembly

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The disagreement between two factions of the Ondo State House of Assembly continued last week, with many fearing that the crisis may upend the impending political transition in the state. James Sowole, in Akure, writes

Following the November 26, 2016 governorship election in Ondo State, which was won by the candidate of All Progressives Congress, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, it was obvious that there would be a change in the leadership of the legislative arm of government in the Sunshine State. The change became imperative sequel to the established convention under which the first three political positions in the state –governor, deputy governor, and speaker of the House of Assembly – are shared among the three senatorial districts.

Geopolitics

The outgoing governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, is from Ondo Central, his deputy, Mr Lasisi Oluboyo, is from Ondo North, while the speaker, Hon Jumoke Akindele, is from Okitipupa in Ondo South.

For the incoming administration, the governor-elect, Akeredolu, is from Ondo North, his deputy, Hon Agboola Ajayi, is from Ondo South. Under the existing arrangement, the speaker of the House of Assembly is expected to come from Ondo Central senatorial district.

Many are, thus, baffled by the much ado about the leadership of the Assembly, less than one month to the swearing in of the new governor on February 24.

Change

The crisis broke out on January 27, when 13 members of the Assembly, comprising five APC and eight Peoples Democratic Party lawmakers, announced a change in the leadership of the 26-member Assembly.

The lawmakers announced the impeachment of Akindele as speaker, her deputy, Hon Fatai Olotu, and the Majority Leader, Hon Dayo Akinsoyinu, alleging that they conspired and illegally approved the withdrawal of N15 million from the Assembly’s account with the intention of embezzling it.

The legislators announced a new leadership with Hon Malachi Coker from Ilaje Constituency II as speaker, Hon Ayo Arowele of Owo Constituency as deputy speaker, and Hon Olamide George of Akure North Constituency as majority leader.

Since the crisis broke out, legislative activities have been disrupted, with each side claiming leadership of the legislature.

Addressing journalists at a news conference, a legislator on the side of the new leadership, Hon Ogundeji Iroju, representing Odigbo Constituency, said there was no going back on the impeachment of the affected officers. Though, 10 members were present at the news conference, Iroju said 14 out of 26 members in the Assembly were at the sitting where the three principal officers were removed while 20 members of the Assembly actually signed their impeachment.

Iroju said when the lawmakers learnt that the alleged N15 million was about to be withdrawn, they objected but Akindele denied.

“After the denial, we began to watch the situation until we caught them. We intercepted the money and the Clerk of the house, Mr Bode Adeyelu, who is the chief accounting officer, confirmed that the money was withdrawn with the approval of the speaker,” Iroju stated. He added, “The withdrawal of the money ought to be in line with the parliamentary approval, but this did not happen in case of this money. We have recovered the money and it is in the custody of the Clerk. We shall use the money to pay salaries of workers in the Assembly.”

Defence

However, a member loyal to Akindele told another news conference that her purported impeachment was the action of few ambitious minority members of the house. Addressing journalists in Akure, chairman of the House Committee on Information, Hon Siji Akindiose, representing Ondo East Constituency, described the action of the lawmakers as unlawful and contrary to the house rule.

“It is a plot hatched, nurtured and executed by some elements in the All Progressives Congress with the conspiracy of some ultra-ambitious and unscrupulous members of the Peoples Democratic Party who are desperate to become speaker and deputy speaker,” Akindiose stated.

He said the sitting of the aggrieved members, where the impeachment was done, was illegal, stressing that it is unusual for the parliamentary meeting to take place on Friday and if there are urgent matters to warrant Friday sitting, there would have been an announcement of such at the previous meeting. He said impeachment of the speaker could only be possible when at least two-third majority of members of the house had endorsed the move after necessary processes stipulated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the house rule

“Let them circulate the names and constituencies of lawmakers that signed the impeachment notice and if they have one, it must be the attendance of one of the earlier meetings held by members,” he added.

Akindiose denied the allegation of fraud against the leadership of the house, describing it as part of an attempt to effect an illegal leadership change in the Assembly.

He said, “We reiterate that the funds are meant for a project which was properly approved by the approving authority and contrary to their mischievous assertion.

“The purported suspension of the leadership of the house, we maintain that it is not known to the rules of the house and even if it were to be done, it will not be done by mere 10 members out of 26 members after the close of work.

Confrontation

An incident that attracted comments from various stakeholders was the assault on the paymaster of the Assembly, Mr Makanjuola Adesina, who had withdrawn N15 million from the bank on the instruction of his boss. Adesina was, reportedly, trailed from the bank to the Assembly premises, where he was molested and paraded on several social media platforms like somebody caught with stolen money.

Disturbed by the assault on the paymaster, the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Bosede Daramola, and chairman of Joint Negotiating Council, Comrade Sunday Adeleye, stormed the Assembly in protest.

The crisis got worsened on January 30, when the Commissioner of Police, Mrs Hilda Ibifuro-Harrison ordered the sealing off of the Assembly complex. This followed an open confrontation between members of the two factions, as the two factional speakers also confronted each other in the Assembly chamber, each claiming to be the rightful leader of the legislature.

Stalled Budget Presentation

Tempers rose again on Tuesday, when Mimiko notified the Assembly of his intention to present the 2017 Appropriation Bill to it for consideration. This notice by the governor attracted another round of questions. Which of the factions will the governor address? If the two factions agree to attend the session, who is going to preside, Akindele or Coker? Why did it take the governor so long to present the budget?

There was another round of confrontation between the two factions.

THISDAY, however, learnt that the major aim of the lawmakers was to prevent the sitting of the Assembly, which they said the governor wanted to use to pass some bills into law.

Like a well-rehearsed script, suspected thugs and protesters stormed the premises of the Ondo State House of Assembly on Wednesday and subsequently and stalled the move by Mimiko to present the Appropriation Bill. The thugs and protesters who arrived the Assembly premises as early as 7am carried placards of various inscriptions condemning the governor for trying to present a budget few days to his exit from office.

The Assembly, which had been sealed off by the state police command on Monday, was surprisingly opened for the governor to present the bill. But only the 13 lawmakers led by the factional speaker, Coker, were present. Coker sat on the speaker’s sit to preside over the session. But after waiting for hours and the governor did not show up, the factional lawmakers held their own plenary during which insecurity in the country was discussed. The sitting, held without the presence of the Clerk of the House, Mr. Bode Adeyelu, and the official mace, lasted for about seven minutes. The lawmakers used a flag as a mace.

There was a heavy presence of security agents, who included the men and officers of the state police command, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and Department of State Security, to forestall any breakdown of law and order at the Assembly complex.

The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, confirmed that the governor had shifted the date of the presentation of the appropriation bill for security reasons. He said, “The date for the presentation has to be shifted because the tension was so high, the APC supporters were at the gate of the Assembly to cause trouble. There is an internal wrangling among the lawmakers, so the governor cannot present any budget in that condition and we all know that Mr. Governor is a peace-loving person, he doesn’t want crisis.”

Akinmade said another date for the budget presentation would be announced later. He expressed optimism that the crisis in the House of Assembly would be resolved soon. How soon this would be, only time can tell.