Why Bayelsa Assembly Enthroned New Speaker

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Stanley Nkwazema

It may not be easy understanding the politics that played out on Monday September 30, when the members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly decided to throw out the Speaker of the 6th Assembly, Tonye Isenah Isenah, three months after they elected him.

Before the impeachment of Isenah, the leadership of the party in the state had implored the former Speaker to resign so as to realign forces with the PDP gubernatorial candidate for the November 16 polls, Senator Douye Diri, who interestingly hails from the same Senatorial zone with him.

Isenah allegedly agreed with his party to quit on Thursday September 26. However, he gave some conditions. First, that he be paid all his entitlements up to February 20, 2020 when a new governor would have emerged in the state.  Secondly, that all the vouchers for the supply of various items by several vendors to the State Assembly also be sorted. And most importantly, that he be given position of Leader in the House. It was also gathered that Isenah also requested that the members allow him preside on September 27 to pass a Bill in his name as the Speaker, while also attending a thanksgiving church service on Sunday the 29, before tendering his resignation on September 30. All these did not work out.

Interestingly, some members who had in June 2019 kicked against his selection by the party for the position of Speaker were not comfortable with the extension requested by Isenah and were quick to ask for his impeachment. The fear was heightened when he went to his constituency for a chat with the electorates. During the meeting in Kaima, he was said to have been highly critical of the government which caused fears amongst the party’s loyalists who were in attendance that he may renege on the gentleman’s agreement to resign and opt for the position of the House Leader.  Many alleged that Isenah was a mole of the All Progressives Congress occupying a strategic position in the PDP to sabotage the efforts of the party in the forthcoming elections.

Isenah and other principal officers of the House were elected on June 6, 2019 when the sixth Bayelsa State House of Assembly was formally inaugurated. Prior to his removal on Monday, there was a mild drama when the former speaker re-convened a 10-minute plenary and hurriedly adjourned indefinitely.

THISDAY confirms that the political arrangement to make him speaker was struck during a meeting in June, 2019 by the Restoration Caucus of the PDP.

The impeachment proceeding was presided by the Deputy Speaker, Abraham Ingobere, of the Brass Constituency. The motion for his impeachment was moved by the Deputy Leader of the House, Bernard Kenebai, representing Sagbama Constituency. Following the motion moved by Kenebai, Ingobere conducted a voice-vote during which the participating lawmakers chorused in the affirmative, leading to Isenah’s removal as speaker.

The Secretary General of the PDP Youth Network in Bayelsa, James Oputin had after the removal of Isenah explained that the “PDP leadership, particularly the Assembly, acted well to identify Isenah and to take him out  to avert the plan of the opposition in the state to use him against the election of Diri, who happens to come from his Senatorial zone.”

Oputin said Isenah, who was elected for a third term from Kolokuma/Opokuma state constituency, could not hide his displeasure and pain with the emergence of his Kinsman, Diri, as the PDP Candidate and the realisation that the development would deprive him of the leadership of the Assembly.

Oputin added that Isenah’s activities against the PDP were confirmed by the walkout staged by the two members of the APC who attended the Monday sitting where Isenah was removed as speaker.

He hailed the new Speaker, Rt. Hon. Bubou Obolo from Southern Ijaw, on his emergence as the new leader of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly and urged him to be firm in providing leadership for the House, especially at this critical period.

For the coordinator of PDP Youths Front, Mr. Willy McDonald, Isenah might have been a mole who betrayed the trust of his party.  

MacDonald disclosed that Isenah defied all meetings with the PDP leadership because of the desperation to do the biddings of his new found political paymasters. “The events immediately preceding the removal of Isenah revealed the underhand dealings that culminated in the removal of Isenah as the Speaker. The two APC members, who were present in the House during the moves to impeach Isenah, Hon. Wilson Oyakpo, Timi Agala, left the House in solidarity with him.”

Also, 17 out of the 22-member House of Assembly present during the sitting decided to throw Isenah out of office and elect Obolo. Two members of the APC in the House decided not to be part of the impeachment

The State Secretary of PDP, Chief Godspower Keku, insisted that the change of leadership was peaceful while commending the members for their loyalty and adherence to the unifying ideals of the party in their dealings. Keku who described the new Speaker as a man of integrity with the capacity to lead the House especially at this critical period, urged the new members to give him the necessary support, advising that Obolo should provide effective leadership to Assembly members.

The impeached speaker held the view that his resignation was premature and could only happen after the polls. The party believed that giving the position to Southern Ijaw, the zone where the candidate of the rival APC hails from, might sway voters. Isenah insisted that he remains the Speaker as he had earlier adjourned the sitting sine die and only he could re-convene the house.

Isenah said: “I did not resign, neither was I impeached, I presided over the House and I did not preside as an impeached Speaker. So, as we speak, the house is on recess and anything done by anyone is a nullity. The speculation that there was an understanding that I will resign is false; I challenge anyone canvassing that position to come up with a proof.

“The Bayelsa House of Assembly is an independent arm of government and I want the people of Bayelsa and every stakeholder to know that what happened after we went on recess is illegal and therefore a nullity.”

Chairman of the PDP in Bayelsa State, Cleopas Moses, who spoke to THISDAY on the controversy surrounding the former Speaker’s actions, said nobody knew he was playing anti party politics. “We met, we spoke and told him the need to realign so that we can face the November 16, gubernatorial elections. To be candid, he asked for certain concessions to cushion his resignation. The plan was to make him the Majority Leader of the House and sort out his entitlements and equally keep the House in peace, but he started playing pranks. Nobody knew that all the while, he was romancing the opposition in the state but the information got leaked when his colleagues in the House were approached and he was in the know. But again, he did not help matters when he wanted to turn them to puppets by not doing what was right during the sitting.

“I have already congratulated the new Speaker. He is composed and mature enough to lead the House as first among equals, in the sense that all the members were elected but only few will be chosen as leaders or to occupy leadership positions in the House. I think he will do a good job. For now, the next chapter in the party is the flag-off for the elections and how to win and consolidate on retaining the state as a PDP state. We have moved beyond that level.”

Dr. Francis Attah Agbo, spokesman for Minority Caucus and member representing Ado, Okpokwu, Ogbadibo Federal Constituency, felt shocked by the action of Isenah to adjourn sitting without following the rules. He said:  “As a lawmaker, I am shocked at what happened last Monday at the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. I have never seen or heard where or when a Speaker or any presiding officer would in the course of sitting in plenary hit the Gavel and adjourn sitting of the legislature, parliament sine-die! The practice and convention as captured in the rule is that a member would rise to sponsor a motion for adjournment, another member would second. The Speaker, President of the Senate or the Presiding Officer as the case may be, then puts it to vote and then rules accordingly. For Isenah to unilaterally adjourn the House indefinitely is anti-parliamentary. What the Speaker did, who ordinarily should be a bastion of legislative compliance is a mockery of democracy, and smacks of legislative terrorism. This act could throw the now peaceful state into chaos. It should be condemned by all.”

The Chairman, House Committee on Narcotic Drugs further explained that it cannot hold that a leader could unilaterally turn the rules upside down to suit his whims and caprices. “See what transpired in the UK recently. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson unilaterally suspended Parliament for five weeks in the run up to the Brexit deadline – October 31. But the Supreme Court in a landmark judgement declared his decision unlawful, because Mr. Johnson is not vested with the power to so adjourn the Parliament suo motu. Just like the Western world condemned Johnson and urged him to resign, I expect Nigerians and particularly Bayelsans to rise in unison to say no to the desecration of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly by Isenah.

“Bayelsa is the centre of the struggle, restiveness and agitations in the Niger Delta. Now that both the Federal and State governments have managed to stabilise the state, I don’t expect any person or group of persons to foment trouble or attempt to destabilise the littoral state! The country is currently struggling to combat insurgency, crimes and criminalities of different forms. Nigeria cannot survive additional violence from the only homogenous Ijaw state! There is urgent need for all stakeholders, irrespective of party or interest affiliations to come together and call Isenah to order. Like former President Goodluck Jonathan once said, nobody’s ambition should spill blood.”

The Governor of the  State, Henry Seriake Dickson, has  already congratulated the newly elected Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, the Rt. Honorable Bubou Obolo who represents Southern Ijaw Constituency 2, following the impeachment of the former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Tonye Isenah, on Monday, September 30.

The Governor, who though did not want to be involved in the impeachment said the House did what was right to safeguard democracy. Dickson described the new Speaker as a promising, young and vibrant political leader with the capacity to carry out the sensitive responsibility of presiding over the affair of the Legislative arm of government.

However, the governor called on the members of the Assembly to give the requisite support to the new speaker to enable him succeed in his new position as the Head of the Legislature in the state, while  the Speaker and the members of the Assembly would ensure that the Assembly legacy of stability was sustained.