Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Bayelsa State House of Assembly Speaker, Kombowei Benson, has traded blames with a rep-elect and current lawmaker representing Brass Constituency 1, Israel Sunny-Goli over his(Speaker’s) impending arraignment by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja on Wednesday.
The CCT had said Benson and four other serving and former staff of the Assembly would be arraigned in the court on May 22.
Ibraheem Al-Hassan, the tribunal’s Head, Press and Public Relations, listed those to be charged alongside the Speaker as a former clerk of the Assembly, Aaron Timiye, a former Accountant, Thomas Tamaraodubo, Owudogu Edward, the serving clerk of the assembly and Koroye Stephen, serving accountant of the Assembly.
But speaking in Yenagoa on his proposed arraignment for abuse of office, Benson said the move originated from the lawmaker’s claims that the leadership of the House was yet to pay his allowances.
He said though the matter had become a subject of litigation, all salaries owed to Sunny-Goli had been paid despite the lawmaker’s alleged absence from his official duties for nearly a session.
He said Sunny-Goli was expected like other lawmakers to sign and collect other allowances but that he failed to do so because of his long absence.
“Hence consistent with a state policy, all unpaid salaries and allowances are paid back to state coffers at the end of every financial year.
“If there’s any display of misconduct and abuse of office, it’s Israel Sunny-Goli that is culpable not me. For a whole legislative session, he has only attended about two sittings. Such action has denied his constituents inputs in legislative processes and bills passed in the House.
“It’s common knowledge that salaries and wages including allowances are paid only to those, who have performed their duties. I wonder why he is desperately going this far to drag innocent people to issues created by his failure to do his work.
“Besides, it is the practice of the House that individual members sign their financial entitlements. Hence, the Speaker is constrained to accessing money meant for others. If Sunny-Goli is not able to access his benefits, it is his own fault” he said.
But in a reaction, Sunny-Goli argued that the Speaker and others did not only ‘steal’ his statutory entitlements, but also, in some cases paid some of the entitlements to his bank account before retrieving it almost immediately for reasons they are yet to explain.
“Mr. Speaker claims that the reason for withholding my statutory entitlements is because of my alleged absence from official duties for nearly a session. How come I have been paid my monthly salary up to date? Perhaps the entitlements, which are relatively huge, are too tempting for him and his company of looters to divert into their private pockets.
“Without mincing words, the claim that the said monies were paid back into the so-called State Treasury is a shameless lie concocted to cover up their nefarious act.
“It is laughable for the Speaker to claim that I was not paid my statutory allowances because I have purportedly not been attending plenary sessions. How I wish the speaker can provide evidence for this. And I hate to ask: how many times has the speaker presided over plenary sessions in my absence?
“ I wish to categorically inform the Speaker and his ilk that the CCT action is purely intended to stop subsequent Speakers and Executives in the state from using “financial deprivation to force minority members in the state assembly to defect.”
“I have no particular interest in getting back the monies they have stolen from me and my Constituency. Justice, equity and fairness for future non-ruling political party lawmakers are what I seek” he said.
Meanwhile, professionals in Bayelsa State have faulted the decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to arraign the Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Kombowei Benson, describing it as political intimidation.
General Secretary of the Association of Bayelsa Professionals (ABP) Dr. Jasper Timiebi, in a statement called on the tribunal to resist the political pressure of being used as a tool to witch-hunt persecution perceived enemies by some elements in the corridors of power.
Timiebi appealed to the leadership of the CCT to protect its image and resist pressure from politicians to use the tribunal to fight their personal battles.
He said that while the body of Bayelsa professionals would not delve into political disputes, the ABP was opposed to acts that were deliberately designed to undermine the peace and stability of the state.
He called on the CCT leadership to investigate allegations made against the Speaker and the three others in order to arrive at the truth which should guide the decisions of the tribunal.
The ABP Scribe urged the leadership of the CCT to halt the impending arraignment of the Speaker and others to avoid sending out wrong signals that members of the opposition PDP were being persecuted because of a lawmaker from the APC.
The body said that the CCT is a federal agency which should be of service to Nigerians irrespective of political affiliations .