Tobi Soniyi in Lagos and George Okoh in Makurdi
Respite came for Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State Wednesday after the Makurdi High Court presided by Justice Theresa Igoche restrained the eight suspended members of the state House of Assembly from proceeding with the impeachment process they initiated against him.
Also Wednesday, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the purported impeachment plot mooted by eight out of 30 members of the state assembly, describing it as evil and illegal.
But Governor Ortom had very harsh words for President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) for waging a witch-hunt against him following the allegations levelled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that he was involved in a N22 billion security vote diversion, urging the anti-graft agency to rather beam its searchlight on the presidency over its security vote spending.
Eight of 30 members of the Benue State House of Assembly who are currently on suspension, had last Monday attempted to commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Ortom.
But Justice Igoche has restrained them from proceeding with the impeachment process they initiated against him.
The judge also restrained them from sitting and upheld their suspension, pending the determination of the motion on notice.
“I agree with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria that the applicants have made out a case for the grant of orders sought therein,” she stressed.
“The order also restrains the Chief Judge of Benue State from receiving or acting on any process or request, issued pursuant to the purported sitting, proceedings and resolutions of July 30, 2018, aimed at or commenced for the purpose of removing the governor of the state pending the determination of the motion on notice.”
Justice Igoche upheld the subsisting order that was earlier given by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Adam Onum, restraining the former Speaker, Terkimbi Ikyange, and other former principal officers from parading as same and ordered the security agencies to vacate the premises of the state House of Assembly.
Responding, the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Michael Gusa, applauded the ruling, saying as a law abiding government, they will always seek redress in the law courts.
Also speaking, Sebastian Hon (SAN), who appeared on behalf of the plaintiffs alongside 30 lawyers, described the ruling as sound and promised to abide by the orders of the court to ensure service and continue with the case.
The Speaker of the assembly, Hon. Titus Uba, said with the order, they expect the police and other security agencies to vacate the premises and stop interfering in their legislative business, maintaining that even the president of the country has denied link to the continued occupation of the assembly complex.
The applicants had on July 31, approached the court, seeking eight reliefs amongst which were an interim order restraining the eight members from sitting, proceeding and or acting in furtherance to the impeachment and the chief judge from acting on their request.
PDP: Impeachment Move against Ortom Illegal
However, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Wednesday rejected the purported impeachment plot mooted by eight out of 30 members of the state assembly, describing it as evil and illegal.
The National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, stated this when he led a high-powered delegation of members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and three governors from the party on a solidarity visit to Governor Ortom over the crisis rocking the state.
The three governors are Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), his Taraba State counterpart Darius Ishaku and Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe State, as well as Senator Ben Bruce.
Secondus, who commended Ortom for his courage and determination to defect to the PDP, said it was indeed uncalled for, for the minority in the assembly to serve the governor or any other state governor in the country an impeachment notice.
He pointedly accused the federal government of being instrumental to the problem confronting Benue State.
He said: “We members of the NWC of the PDP have rejected the impeachment plot against Governor Ortom; it is evil and illegal for minorities to serve the governor of any state of the federation with an impeachment notice.
“We are aware that the powers-that-be in Abuja are behind what is happening in Benue State. The same powers-that-be claimed ignorance of the killings in Benue when herdsmen invaded, attacked and killed many people including two Catholic priests and 17 parishioners inside the church.”
Secondus reiterated the full support of his party to the Ortom administration and commended the new Speaker of the assembly for his mature conduct of activities.
The PDP national chairman who called on people of the state and Nigerians at large to reject the ruling party during the 2019 general election, tasked the Buhari administration to stop the ongoing killings across the country, and further appealed to the people to remain resolute and supportive of the present administration to enable him attract dividends of democracy to them.
The Bayelsa State Governor Dickson, who also spoke during the visit, stressed the need for democracy and the legislative arm of government to be accorded adequate respect and allowed to freely function optimally in accordance with the laws of the land.
Dickson enjoined the teeming supporters of the PDP in the state to continue to stand by the governor despite the persecution he is passing through and lauded the Speaker of the assembly for steering the affairs of the house peacefully.
In a response, Governor Ortom commended the NWC of the PDP for the visit and assured them that Benue would remain a PDP state, saying he only made a journey to the ruling APC but that he was now back.
He described Benue as a no-go area for the APC.
Ortom promised to work closely with his predecessor, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, Senator David Mark and Dr. Iyorchia Ayu to ensure the victory of the party at both ward, state and national levels.
The governor noted that he was being persecuted by the APC in the state for enacting the grazing law and for defecting from the APC to PDP.
He maintained that he would never be deterred despite the intimidation.
Governor Chides Buhari over Security Vote
Earlier Wednesday, Governor Ortom had chided President Buhari and the APC for waging a witch-hunt against him following the allegations levelled against him by the EFCC that he was involved in a N22 billion security vote diversion.
The governor, who denied the allegation, said the agency should rather beam its searchlight on the presidency over its security vote spending.
The governor while briefing journalists shortly after a state broadcast in Makurdi, the state capital, wondered why he should be singled out among all the governors in the country for such probe.
He advised the anti-graft agency to begin the probe from the presidency.
“So far, I am the only governor in Nigeria whose security vote is being investigated by the EFCC. Why should Benue case be different if not persecution?
“If the EFCC wanted a genuine investigation of security vote spending, they should have started from the presidency right across the 36 states.
“If their focus was on Benue State, they should have started from 1999 when Senator George Akume was governor. But this is not the case. I want the whole world to know that all this is about persecution and a clear case of witch-hunting,” Ortom said.
He referred to the comments made by the presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, during an interview on Channels Television where he was quoted as saying: “I doubt the world over if any government would come to say this is how much we have spent on security, because can you quantify the amount of one life? It is not something that any government will begin to disclose.
“Why should Benue case be different if not persecution? If the EFCC wanted a genuine investigation of security vote spending, they should have started from the presidency right across the 36 states. If their focus was on Benue State, they should have started from 1999. But this is not the case. With the enormous security challenges in the state since my assumption of office, it is surprising that any one would expect me to do nothing but keep the security vote in the safe.
“The security vote spending being investigated spans from 2015 to 2018, a period of grave security challenges in the state. I reiterate that the investigation is a clear case of persecution. I have not misappropriated, diverted or stolen any money. I have nothing to hide. I assure that the investigators can find nothing incriminating against me,” he added.
Ortom acknowledged that the biggest challenge facing his administration is the payment of salaries, noting that it was caused because of the N69 billion inherited as arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities as well as another N70 billion commitment on contracts and other obligations.