•PDP, rAPC warn against derailment of democracy
•Saraki, Dogara, Atiku, Olanipekun, others condemn action
Davidson Iriekpen, Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Senator Iroegbu in Abuja and George Okoh in Makurdi
The crisis rocking the Benue State House of Assembly Monday took a new dimension as the impeached Speaker, Terkimbi Ikyange, and seven other members regained control of the assembly with the aid of the police and commenced impeachment proceedings against Governor Samuel Ortom.
The governor, however, dismissed the exercise as an unconstitutional act, saying the 1999 Constitution as amended did not contemplate a situation where eight of 30 members of the state legislature would initiate the impeachment of the governor.
Ortom received support from a legion of politicians Monday who warned the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) not to derail democracy in the country and asked the party to rein in its members who are behind the ongoing drama in Benue State.
Politicians who rose to the occasion Monday included Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who issued a joint statement; former vice-president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his fellow presidential aspirants on the platform of the PDP, Mr. Taminu Turaki and Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
The PDP and its ally, the reformed All Progressives Congress (rAPC), also took turns to upbraid the APC even as the ruling party was mum on the development as its National Publicity Secretary, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, pleaded with THISDAY to give him time to study the situation.
“We are still studying the situation and as soon as we get the full report of what transpired, we will make the position of the party known,” he said.
The leadership of the APC seemed to have avoided any discussion about the incident in Benue State.
At the meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party held Monday, THISDAY gathered that the matter was not discussed.
Efforts to get the national chairman to speak on the issue failed as journalists were told that the meeting had issued a statement on resolutions reached, which was on the dissolution of the Kwara State executive of the party.
The police that were variously accused by Ortom and 22 members of the state House of Assembly loyal to him, of complicity in the proceedings that lead to the passage of the notice of impeachment, also kept quiet Monday, dodging THISDAY’s enquiry about their alleged role in the drama.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Benue State Command, Moses Yamu, told THISDAY Monday that he could not speak as he was still making inquiries and would get back to the newspaper.
He responded after several calls and text messages, saying: “In a meeting now, will get back to you soon.” He had not at press time.
Ortom had defected from the APC to PDP last week, setting off a chain of hostile verbal exchanges between him and the National Chairman of the APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole.
Ikyange, who led Monday’s move in the House, had been impeached as the speaker weeks back, but was reportedly helped to convene the meeting with seven of the other lawmakers by a battery of policemen.
THISDAY gathered that as early as 5a.m., over 300 youths, nine vehicles belonging to the state livestock guards and state vigilante service with their officials blocked the entrance to the House of Assembly Complex in Makurdi, the state capital.
Subsequently, police personnel from the state command and Abuja reportedly arrived and dispersed the crowd with teargas.
It was gathered that this enabled the eight lawmakers to gain full control of the assembly complex to commence the impeachment proceedings against the governor.
While briefing journalists after their sitting, Ikyange said 12 members of the assembly reconvened for legislative duty.
He said a motion was moved for the impeachment of the governor for corruption and gross misconduct.
He added that a letter had been transmitted to the state Chief Judge and the governor to give reasons for their action.
Ikyange insisted that he remained the speaker of the assembly together with other members of his leadership, pointing out that anybody parading himself or herself as the speaker or member of the leadership was only impersonating and should not be taken seriously.
The former speaker and the other seven members also suspended the 15 others who had earlier impeached and suspended him.
According to Ikyange, the governor has a question to answer over the fraudulent deduction of N50 million each month for over three years from the 23 local government areas of the state, amounting to N33 billion.
He also accused the governor of embezzling N22 billion security votes in three years, among others.
Ikyange disclosed that 15 members who participated in the impeachment proceedings against him were suspended for six months.
However, in yet another twist, the other 22 members of the assembly who were earlier denied access to the chamber, swiftly moved over to the Government House, Makurdi where they held their own sitting.
The new Speaker, Hon. Titus Uba, drew the attention of Nigerians to what transpired at the assembly.
He said the police and other security operatives refused 22 of them access to the assembly while the eight others were protected into the chamber.
The assembly’s spokesman, Hon. Paul Biam, said a state High Court judge had barred Ikyange from parading himself as speaker and was also suspended for six months.
He said the former speaker had no business at the assembly, adding that he was an illegal speaker.
According to Biam, the police were ordered by the court last Friday to vacate the assembly complex but he said they refused and were acting Ikyange’s script.
He added that the assembly had further suspended the seven members that went to the chamber with Ikyange for six months.
In his reaction to the planned impeachment against him, Ortom said the APC and the presidency were bent on truncating democratic process in the state.
He condemned the role of security agencies in the state assembly dispute.
He added that the police and security agencies took side by allowing the impeached speaker to gain access to the assembly while the new speaker and other members were prevented.
He said the attempts being made to impeach him was as a result of his stand for the people of the state over herdsmen activities.
He accused Senator George Akume, the Director General of Department of Security Service (DSS) and the Inspector General of Police of being behind the plot.
Ortom also denied the charges against him.
PDP, rAPC Warn against Derailment of Democracy
Reacting to the impeachment move, the PDP deplored the alleged role of the APC, saying the removal bid was a misadventure that was dead on arrival.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the PDP’s National Working Committee (NWC) strongly condemned the alleged promotion of illegality by the APC using the security apparatus.
He also said the party deplored the action of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) whose intention it said was to harass and destabilise the Benue State administration and to trigger crisis that would be used as an excuse to declare state of emergency in the state.
“The NWC condemns in its entirety the purported sitting of eight APC members including the impeached and suspended Speaker; (in a 30-member House) wherein they illegally claimed to have served an impeachment notice on Ortom.
“PDP also condemns the use of the EFCC and DSS to harass and intimidate officials of the Benue State government,” the party said.
On its part, rAPC said it was shocking to note that despite all the illegalities being perpetrated in Benue State, Buhari had not deemed it fit and proper to respond and condemn the outright illegalities.
A statement by the group’s National Publicity Secretary, Prince Kassim Afegbua, said the action of the president suggested that he had been the “Chief promoter” of undemocratic illegalities that had consistently undermined the nation’s democratic engagements in the last three years.
“It is astounding to note that despite all the infractions in the political process; the polity is consciously charged to ridicule us and make us a laughing stock in the comity of nations before the very eyes of a president who preaches anti-corruption,” it said.
Saraki, Dogara, Atiku, Others Condemn Action
Similarly, the Senate President Saraki and Speaker Dogara described the impeachment move as “a desecration of the legislative sanctity”.
In a statement jointly signed by their aides in charge of media, Saraki and Dogara also called on President Buhari to call the police to order and stop them being used to achieve political purposes.
They said: “We have monitored closely the development in Benue State in which the impeached Speaker, Terkimbi Ikyange, led seven other members to serve impeachment notice on Ortom, while the 22 other members who constitute more than two-third majority have been prevented from having access to the chamber.
“We believe this is illegality and does not conform to parliamentary procedure on impeachment.
“We also note with surprise the role of the police in this undemocratic event in which the minority is seeking to impeach a governor against the position of the majority. We believe it is the sacred institution of the legislature that is being desecrated and rubbished in all these negative developments.”
Former Vice-President Atiku, Turaki and Makarfi condemned the impeachment move.
Atiku said the proceedings were unconstitutional and must be aborted.
According to him, any attempt to disregard the rule of law and constitution in the impeachment of a governor is a recipe for anarchy and officially sanctioned lawlessness.
Atiku regretted that for a state facing security challenges like Benue, the introduction of lawlessness in the impeachment process could only complicate an already bad situation.
He urged the police to remain politically neutral and avoid aiding lawlessness, adding that partisanship could professionally destroy the image of police.
Turaki expressed apprehension about the survival of democracy in Nigeria, considering the manner in which it was being held at gunpoint by the Buhari administration without remorse.
Makarfi called on Nigerians to, within lawful means, stand up to the brazen attempt to stifle the democratic space by APC, a party, he said, was the biggest beneficiary of defections that had become jittery and clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of getting a dose of its own medicine.
Olanipekun: It’s an Aberration
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said it was an aberration for eight lawmakers to attempt to impeach a state governor in an assembly that has 30 members.
He advised the lawmakers to immediately withdraw the notice of impeachment purportedly served on Ortom in the interest of the country’s democracy.
The senior lawyer appealed to lawmakers to carefully read the judgments of the Supreme Court on the impeachment of Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State, Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Peter Obi of Anambra State, after which, they would know that their exercise is in futility.
He said: “The action portends grave danger to democracy. They want to unnecessarily heat up the polity. I will advice them to withdraw it.
“My advice to them is that they should carefully read the respected decisions of the Supreme Court on the impeachment of Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State, Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Peter Obi of Anambra State, which is very detailed and outlines how to remove a governor. These decisions are all unanimous.”
Another senior lawyer, Mr. Godwin Obla (SAN), said the eight lawmakers were embarking on a shameful expedition.
He contended that apart from the fact that their number did not meet the constitutional quorum required to remove a governor, their action and conduct fell short of the conditions required by the constitution.