By Oluseyi Folarin
Prior to the caution by Legislative Probity and Accountability Project, LPAJ, a Civil Society Organization, few days ago, the freewheeling brouhaha in the Lagos State House of Assembly has been a worrisome trend to observers of the state politics. The pronouncement on January 28, 2019, by the Mudashiru Obasa leadership to commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, according to the lawmakers was premised on alleged misconduct and infraction on the state budget by the outgoing chief executive. But for impartial observers of the development, the turn of events has a colouration of a scheme hatched to settle personal grudges and to persecute and humiliate the governor.
Overwhelmingly, 28 of 34 lawmakers spoke against the governor in their plenary calling for his impeachment while the remaining six called for his resignation. In the end, they gave him one week to present his defence before a committee of the House. I believe this is morally wrong and extremely ridiculous for a governor to come before a committee to answer questions that have no bearing on the governance of the state other than in pursuit of selfish interests. Coming barely two weeks to an election that is critical to the survival of the political powerbrokers and juggernauts in the state, the hounding of Governor Ambode by the hawks is a melodrama of Byzantine politics.
As the LPAJ noted, citizens, while they may not want to dabble in the politics of the state which has become dark and devious in the past few months, they will not, however, continue to watch in silence while the polity descends into chaos and an arena of unbridled parochial interests. Hence, the protests by various groups across the state in the last few days.
There is no gainsaying the obvious fact that citizens are not against the lawmakers performing their duty if truly the governor is guilty of the infraction articulated in the House. But an organization has equally raised big questions about the leadership of the Lagos State House of Assembly. He who must come to equity must come with clean hands. In its press release that has gone viral, LPAJ accused the leadership of the Assembly of misappropriation of N28.8 billion as the running cost of the legislative House, alleging that the entire members were paid only N2.4 billion out of this huge sum in three years, leaving a big question mark over what happened to the remaining N26.4billion. The CSO had further alleged that out of the N800million collected monthly as running cost by the Obasa led Assembly, each of the 40 members was only given N2million a month for doing nothing. Who pockets a whooping balance of N720million every month? This is a question the Lagos House of Assembly leadership has been running away from since the allegation was raised in a statement issued on Tuesday by LPAJ.
Information from other quarters has also shown that the lawmakers have been collecting hundreds of millions of naira under the guise of foreign courses and conferences, which they never attended. These are grave infractions and criminal in nature, which must not be swept under the carpet.
Unfortunately, the lawmakers have been evasive. They have avoided to provide answers to these pertinent questions even at the press conference they held on Wednesday which they ended abruptly to preempt reporters’ inquisitions. This evasiveness further fuelled public suspicion and distrust. With a growing climate of cynicism, why would Lagosians take them seriously and not doubt their motives?
The principle of casting the first stone applies even in the most Machiavellian of politics. If the lawmakers are bent on unraveling the sins of Ambode, they should also in fairness, first answer the financial probity questions raised against them. They should offer an explanation for the transparency question hanging over their integrity. Should they fail to address the allegations against them, how would they expect the public to react when they go ahead with their planned impeachment? Here, the Golden Rule is germane: Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Lagos politics in the last six months has degenerated into cloak-and-dagger affairs that have desecrated some democratic ideals and warped some of the principles that characterized the politics of the state.
What I believe is of more importance to Lagosians and indeed Nigerians at this point is the State Assembly’s cooperation with the governor to complete some of his signature projects so that governance can be served to the downtrodden for whom the projects are meant. In all their deliberations and deeds, it is pertinent that the lawmakers remember a sacrosanct order: The people first.
If they were sensitive to the feelings of the people whom they claim to represent, they would take a cue from the rumblings that attended their latest move. So far, public opinion strongly indicated the impeachment notice is unpopular. While there were grumblings when the party withdrew the reelection ticket from the governor, there was hardly any serious unrest among the public. But in the last few days, following the announcement of the assembly’s impeachment intention, people and various organized groups have been vehement in their protests.
As the country moves into the final weeks before the general election, there is already tension across the length and breadth of Nigeria and the Lagos lawmakers should not unnecessarily provoke the masses into a mass action of any sort that could trigger a bigger upheaval. Commonsense calls for caution and impeaching Governor Ambode at this juncture is a decision bereft of common sense.
More importantly, lawmakers ought to know that responsibility to their Maker is far more important than fealty to a godfather who would not be there the day they render account to their maker. I believe this piece of counsel is enough for the wise.
–––Oluseyi Folarin sent in this piece from Gbagada, Lagos