In House of Reps, Minority Leadership Crisis Festers

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The crisis rocking the opposition Peoples Democratic Party caucus over Minority Leadership in the House of Representatives appears not to be over yet, reports Adedayo Akinwale

End may not be in sight yet over Minority Leadership of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the House of Representatives. Right from the inauguration of the Ninth National Assembly on June 11, 2019, there had been two factions laying claim to the minority leadership of the green chamber.

The national leadership of the PDP in a formal letter dated June 21, 2019 and addressed to the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, had endorsed Kingsley Chinda, Chukwuka Onyema, Yakubu Barde and Muriano Ajibola, as Caucus Leader, Deputy Caucus Leader, Caucus Whip, and Caucus Deputy Whip respectively.

In another letter dated July 2, 2019, over 100 out of the 147 opposition members in the House informed the House leadership that they had elected Ndudi Elumelu, Toby Okechukwu, Gideon Gwani and Adesegun Adekoya, also for the same positions, pursuant to Order 7 Rule 8 of the House Standing Rules.

Thus, the House leadership had since recognised the Ndudi Elumelu-led group as the authentic minority leadership caucus in the House while the PDP leadership continued to relate with Chinda and others in that regard.

At a point, last year, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP met and suspended Elumelu and five others for failing to appear before the NWC with Chinda and others parading themselves as PDP Caucus leaders

The action of the Elumelu group earned them a probe by the House, when Hon. Ben Ibakpa, at plenary accused them of impersonating House Minority leadership by issuing statements, and “misleading the general public and causing confusion and disaffection in the House of Representatives”.

According to him, “This is a gross abuse of our collective and individual privileges. This violates Section 24, Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap L.12, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004 as well extant provisions of the Standing Orders of this House.”

Reacting to the probe, PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbodiyan insisted that the suspension placed on Elumelu and some PDP members, who connived with others to supplant the party’s decision was subsisting and had not been lifted.

He stressed that the suspended members of the party could not, therefore, conduct any business of the party at whatever level until disciplinary measures had been concluded.

“The suspension placed on some PDP members, who connived with others to supplant the Party decision with regards to the party’s position in the House is subsisting and has not been lifted. The suspended members of the party cannot therefore conduct any business of the party at whatever level until disciplinary measures have been concluded.

“The National Working Committee (NWC) in its wisdom, and consistent with its position on the matter, which has not changed, directed that the affairs of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives be organised and managed by Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Yakubu Barde, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema and Hon. Muraina Ajibola.

“The members mentioned in paragraph 3 above have the express mandate and authority of the PDP to lead its Caucus at the House of Representatives.

“The PDP under our leadership will not reward disloyalty and will not allow anyone other than the party to impose their choices on us with the sole aim of annihilating or stifling the voice of the opposition,” Ologbodiyan said.

But in a swift reaction, Elumelu, through his Special Adviser (Legal), Oyorima Idahosa, described their continued suspension and alleged disloyalty as “completely against the principle of democracy, rule of law and fairness upon which the PDP is founded.

“Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously provides that Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House”.

“By parliamentary rules, persons so elected become the leaders of the party caucuses in the legislature. While the party can guide their elected Members through the zoning of various Minority leadership offices, it is not in the place of the party, by the provisions of the Constitution, House Standing Rule, and parliamentary traditions, to appoint or foist Minority or Majority Caucus leadership on its Members.”

The House minority leadership issue has, however, taken another dimension as Chinda has dragged the leadership of the House to a Federal High Court in Abuja over reported plan by the leadership of the Green Chamber to suspend him and three other members. They are Chukwuma Onyeama, Ajibola Muraino and Yakubu Barde.

The High Court has since issued an order of interim injunction restraining the House from further investigating or taking any disciplinary action including suspension against the leader of the PDP caucus leader in the House. Chinda had approached Federal High Court in Abuja, where he sought among others, an order restraining the House from taking any action against him and three others.

A copy of the court order obtained by THISDAY showed that the plaintiffs in the case included Chinda, Chukwuma, Muraina and Barde, while the defendants were the Speaker Gbajabamila, Clerk of the National Assembly, Clerk of the House, Hon. Kolawole Lawal and Hon. Ibrahim Misau, among others.

The presiding judge, Justice I.E Ekwo granted leave to the Plaintiffs to serve the originating summons and all other accompanying processes in this suit on the 1st to 20th defendants by substituted means, through the Office of the Clerk to the National Assembly (2nd Defendant) or by leaving copies of the originating summons and other accompanying processes with any staff of the 2nd and defendant at his office at National Assembly Complex, P.M.B. 141, Garki, Three Arms Zone, Abuja.

The Court also granted accelerated hearing and abridgment of time to seven days within which the defendants were to enter appearance and file their respective responses in defence of this Suit.

“An order of interim injunction restraining the 4th to 20th Defendants, any other Committee of the House of Representatives or the House itself from investigating or further investigating the Plaintiffs and/or taking any disciplinary decision/action against them including suspension or interfering/tampering with their legislative duties, responsibilities and entitlements as members of the House.

“Parties are hereby ordered to maintain the status quo existing before the proceedings of the House of Representatives of Wednesday, 6th November, 2019, pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice filed before this Honourable Court.”

Contacted on the issue, Chinda confirmed that the matter was in court but declined to comment further on it.

THISDAY has, however, gathered that some members of House leadership were allegedly mounting pressures on the Committee Chairman to receive the report and lay same, despite a court order preserving the status quo, which restrains the House from taking any further step.

A member of the Committee, who pleaded anonymity, alleged that the pressure from some members of House leadership was so strong that the Chairman had caved in.

According to him, “We don’t have to fight the cause of a group of members against another group. It will be a sad commentary in all spheres as the coffin of representative democracy and voice of opposition must have been sent to the morgue and this is not good for a vibrant House. If this pressure continues and the report is laid and the four lawmakers suspended, then it’s goodbye to democracy in Nigeria.”

Another member of the House, who also did not want his name in print said, since the Chairman and members of the Ethics and Privileges committee were personally sued as 4th to 20th defendants respectively in the suit and a court order was made, they should maintain the status quo as at 6th November 2019.

He also contended that, having been duly served with the order, attending meetings without reflecting same on the order paper, illegally signing the report or the chairman, using signatures for past attendances of meetings not meant for the report and eventually laying the purported report, would just expose them to contempt of court and possible future imprisonment.

Chinda may have outsmarted the leadership of the House by obtaining a court injunction.

Whether the House would obey the court order is another thing. What is, however, clear is that all is not well with the camp of the opposition. If the PDP did not tread with caution and the House leadership succumbs to pressure, the crisis may further tear the PDP apart.