Houses of Assembly as governors’ political umbilicus
• How setback for democracy roils the state level
What happened in some state Houses of Assembly in recent times underline why Nigeria’s democracy remains stunted after 20 years’ experience and five cycles of general elections.
State legislatures derive their powers and responsibilities from part 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Based on the constitutional provisions, the powers of the state assemblies are very enormous. They include the power to pull down the almighty executive governors from their high horses.
From the start of the Fourth Republic, six state governors have suffered impeachment. It all started in the second term of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2002, an attempt by some lawmakers from Enugu State House of Assembly to impeach the governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, could not sail through even after the legislators succeeded in coopting the sixteenth member to make up the required two thirds needed to topple him.
The lawmakers had to break into the legislative chambers to initiate the impeachment process. But their inability to get the state chief judge to set up an investigative panel to probe the allegations of gross misconduct stood in their way.
However, on December 9, 2005, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, became the first governor to be impeached for alleged corruption and abuse of office. The impeachment of Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja by 18 members of Oyo State House of Assembly followed on January 12, 2006. On October 16, 2006 Ayo Fayose was impeached followed by that of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State on November 2 of that same year.
But, of all the impeachments during that epoch, that of Joshua Dariye by eight legislators on November 13 riled the nation, because not only did the lawmakers fail to form a quorum, the processes leading to proper impeachment were bastardised and abridged.
Ever since, prospective state governors see the legislature as their first line for political attention. Where they do not influence the emergence of lawmakers, they use money and other overarching executive powers to emasculate the legislators. Therefore, the legislative organ has remained like puppets in virtually all the states of the federation.
The quality of lawmaking, especially oversight at the state level, has been abysmally poor owing to the overbearing influence of governors and political stakeholders. When godfathers or the Presidency target a particular governor, the members of his legislature are wooed with money and other juicy handouts to cause trouble for the state’s helmsman.
That was exactly what played out in Kogi, Ekiti and Benue States recently. When Governor Murtala Nyako was impeached exactly four years ago, on July 2014 after long lull of such truncation of gubernatorial mandates, Nigerians believed that impeachment had become outmoded.
But, less than seven months to another general election, the spectre of impeachments has returned to reshape the dynamics of politics and moderate the influence of state governors, who have been guarding the Assembly as their umbilicus.
Fayose’s second nightmare
Ekiti State House of Assembly is a twenty six-man legislature. For governor Fayose, the saying, ‘once beaten, twice shy,’ holds true. The governor was a victim of power play which terminated his first tenure in 2006.
The state assembly was used by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, to impeach him. However, the assembly has been used as a destabilizing agent in the state right from that period till date.
As posterity rewarded Fayose with a second shot at the exalted office, after about 10 years of his removal, his ugly experience seems to have informed his active involvement in supporting lawmakers he felt he could trust as members of the assembly.
He was already in office as governor for about one year before the current legislators were elected. So he had the opportunity to pick and choose those he felt would not pave his path with ‘banana peels’.
But, not done with its loss of the governorship election dispute at the apex court, the Dr. Kayode Fayemi-led opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), which incidentally controls the government at the centre, began subterranean moves to get at Fayose in May 2016.
And because of how they emerged as lawmakers, the 26 members of the assembly became extremely loyal to their mentor and boss. They were said to have rebuffed several overtures to shove Fayose aside.
The invasion of the assembly by the Department of State Services (DSS) in May 2016 was orchestrated as the last straw to break the resolve and the ranks of the lawmakers to at least get a minority to effect the impeachment of the governor.
The DSS operatives were said to have invaded the legislative chambers and abducted some lawmakers. The speaker, Kola Oluwawole, who broke the news to journalists then, said he and 12 others were not affected by the alleged DSS abduction.
Oluwawole disclosed that the DSS operatives, who stormed the assembly complex at about 3.00pm, started shooting sporadically, thereby causing staff and members to scamper for safety, after which four of the legislators around were taken to an unknown location.
Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Chief Olugboyega Aribisogan, said it was after about six hours that one of the affected lawmakers, Hon Akanni Afolabi, representing Efon constituency, was able to contact his colleagues, disclosing that he was whisked to Abuja by the securitymen, adding that the whereabouts of the remaining three legislators were yet to be known.
“We have called you here to intimate the public through your various media, the clandestine plot by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC Federal Government to destabilise the Ekiti State government, using the instrumentalities of the DSS,” he declared.
After spending 18 days in DSS custody, the lawmaker was left off the hook. Although a Federal High Court sitting in Ekiti had awarded N500, 000 as compensation for Akani’s unlawful arrest, it is doubtful if the DSS paid the fine till date.
But, as if travelling the same route, just when people thought that the dust created by the recently concluded gubernatorial election had settled, another siege was laid to the state assembly premises last week by armed policemen allegedly on the orders of the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Bello Ahmed, alongside some armed thugs.
The Speaker, Mr. Kola Oluwawole, told journalists in Ado Ekiti that the police commissioner claimed that he received a letter from the clerk of the House, Mr. Tola Esan, purportedly seeking security deployment to the premises of the assembly.
He added that intriguingly the clerk wrote to the commissioner of police, dissociating himself from any letter and describing any such letter as a forgery.
The speaker, flanked by 17 other legislators, fingered three members, including Gboyega Aribisogan, Sunday Akinniyi and Ebenezer Alagbada, who defected to APC prior to the July 14 gubernatorial election, as the brains behind the alleged illegal act.
The defected lawmakers were said to have been boasting publicly that nobody has right to stop them from performing their duties, threatening to reopen the state parliament for legislative activities.
Their threat, it was learnt, made the leadership of the assembly to hurriedly order the lawmakers to proceed on recess, two days after the election, which was won by the candidate of APC, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. But the lawmakers were expected to resume from their recess on October 16, 2018.
The speaker also alleged that the signature of the clerk was forged in a letter addressed to the police commissioner, calling for deployment, when such was unauthorized by him.
The speaker ordered the closure of the House until the security of lawmakers and staff of the hallowed chamber could be guaranteed.
The crises that have plagued the assembly to a large extent have affected the quality of legislations. Many bills that could impact positively on the lives of the people are left unattended to.
Section 104 of the constitution prescribes 180 legislative sitting days in a year for the lawmakers, but they have been observing that mandatory obligation in the breach as a result of political schemes.
Kogi: Three speakers in two years
Although the Kogi State House of Assembly has witnessed some measure of stability after the immediate past speaker, Umar Ahmed Imam, tried to boost the confidence of members and stabilised Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration, it did not fail to leave some setbacks for governance.
The current speaker, Matthew Kolawole, seems to be building on the peace efforts of his predecessor, by bringing further balancing acts to bear in their relationship with the executive, having emerged as their choice in the first instance.
The power play in the state after the death of Prince Abubakar Audu and the subsequent inauguration of Bello as the fourth executive governor of the state, shifted to the House of Assembly.
Bello, who was inaugurated without a deputy was desperate to get control of the House of Assembly by installing a speaker who would be loyal to his course especially over the vexed issue of not having a deputy.
It was alleged that in line with his own agenda Bello met with the then speaker, Hon. Momoh Jimoh-Lawal, over his replacement as well as the assembly’s seven (7) APC members.
A source alleged that the governor gave the former speaker N50million and N7.5million each, to other PDP members to support Ahmed Imam Umar of Lokoja 1 constituency from Kogi West, against another Kogi West PDP member, Prince Kolawole Olushola, from Kabba/Bunu constituency for the position of speaker ahead of the declaration of the deputy governorship seat, which was zoned to Kogi East.
The choice of a new speaker, Imam Alfa Ahmed, to replace the incumbent, Momoh Jimoh Lawal, at that time stoked further division among the members. This was after 17 members inconclusively attempted to impeach Lawal.
Other principal officers that were also removed inconclusively included his deputy, Ali Akuh and the Minority Leader, Hassan Bello, at their plenary held on the floor of the house.
However, that impeachment could not hold as Lawal pulled his act together to stage a counter-coup. Sources said that impeachment plot failed because it did not get the blessing of the governor.
However, events leading to the recent defection of the immediate past speaker from the ruling APC to the SDP paint the true picture of the dangerous overbearing influence of the governor on the Assembly.
The lawmaker said he was embracing the SDP as an alternative party to contest the Lokoja-Koto Federal constituency bye-election slated for August 11, 2019.
He, however, noted that he took the decision because the APC government vilified him because for refusing to support the botched recall of the senator representing Kogi west senatorial district, Dino Melaye, following which he was made to resign and completely shut out of the party.
Imam said: “I made my stand known that I was for reconciliation not the recall, I spoke for the people, I was attacked and removed for it.”
According to him, the APC imposed a candidate for that election hence he had to move to his new party to actualise his ambition.
In less than two years there were three changes in leadership of the Assembly under Governor Bello, which many observed was not healthy for democracy.
That the former speaker resigned under unusual circumstances last year was not a surprise to those familiar with the power play and the battle for the soul of the Assembly vis-a-vis the disjointed APC in the state then.
His removal was a matter of time as there was no love lost between the then number three citizen of the state and Governor Bello soon after their earlier romance.
However, the saying that what goes around also comes around can aptly be used to describe the manner in which the change in leadership of the assembly was achieved before and after his emergence as speaker.
Though there was a new dimension to the entire scenario with the use of thugs and other external persons who invaded the assembly to ensure the proceedings were disrupted and Imam had to escape from being attacked.
Recall that five out of the 20 members House Assembly claimed to have impeached another former speaker Momoh Jimoh Lawal, his predecessor on 20th February 2016.
However, that change in leadership was an in-house affair among the lawmakers as thugs were not involved.
Then came the defection by seven members, elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), in 2015, to the APC.
Though the defecting lawmakers hinged their action on the crises at the national leadership of their party then but it was obvious that the lawmakers were falling over themselves to curry the favor of the governor for personal gains.
Coming from a background of serious crises in the assembly that kept many of them idle for almost five months, it was not a surprise that some of the members of the opposition PDP had to jump the boat.
It all started when Bello emerged as the candidate of the APC after the demise of the party’s gubernatorial candidate Prince Abubakar Audu in the November 21st election.
Based on the principle of equity Bello being from Kogi Central settled for a deputy from the Eastern senatorial district after the running mate to the late Audu, James Faleke, turned down the offer.
Hence Momoh Jimoh Lawal, also from central senatorial district as the governor, was expected to relinquish the position for equity. The politics that ensued leading to the impeachment of Lawal divided the House into five members against 15 because some lost their seats due to litigations and were waiting for by-election.
It was alleged that the five members with the backing of the executive impeached the former speaker paving way for the emergence of the minority APC is Umar Ahmed Imam, representing Lokoja 1 constituency.
The assembly was having 14 PDP members against the APC’s 11.
There was crisis over who should be the speaker after the PDP lost the gubernatorial election to the APC. But the speaker like the proverbial cat with nine lives had survived each of the impeachment onslaughts.
The speaker was thrice ‘impeached’ but the moves were said to have been inconclusive.
Based on the rerun election ordered by the court of appeal in five constituencies the members were reduced to 20 with PDP having 13 while the APC is left with seven. At a stage the House of Representatives waded in to oversee the affairs of the state assembly but the governor had his way as the Imam-led faction continued to hold sway.
Most of the sessions were held at the Government House as the assembly was sealed off then. Even though the governor denied having anything to do with the crises then, it was clearly the voice of Jacob but the hand of Esau.
The crises lingered for five months until a truce was reached courtesy of a self-appointed youth group and at the end of their reconciliation Imam was retained as the speaker while Ali Aku representing Omala who was deputy speaker retained his position.
Just as the assembly seemed to be finding its rhythm seven lawmakers who were elected under the umbrella of the PDP in the 2015 legislative election cross-carpeted to the APC.
It was gathered that the cross carpeting members were lured to join the APC with mouth watering promises to give the party the edge as Majority for soft landing for the Governor in case of any eventuality.
In a swift reaction, state Publicity Secretary of PDP, Bode Ogunmola, drew the attention of the six members to the provision of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
The secretary said they have put every thing in place for the legal tussle to reclaim the mandates from the defecting members, as they must vacate their seats immediately.
However, it was gathered that the party never even approached the courts.
As fallout of the defection the deputy speaker then Rt Hon Aliyu Akuh, had no option than to resign.
In a letter read by the speaker, Rt. Hon Ahmed Imam, Akuh explained that he decided to throw in the towel after exhaustive discussions with his family, PDP leaders and critical stakeholders from his Omala constituency.
Honourable Hassan Abdullahi (APC) Okura was elected in his stead by the House resolutions signed by 19 of the 25 members of the house. Expectedly, other major shakeups in principal positions of the House saw Honorable Kolawole Mathew of Kabba/Bunu constituency retaining his position as Majority Leader, Hon. Ahmed Mohammed of Ankpa I constituency emerged as the new Deputy Majority Leader and so on.
However, the position of the minority leader in the house caused some upset following a letter sent to the chamber by the PDP Publicity Secretary, Honorable Bode Ogunmola, indicating that five PDP lawmakers unanimously endorsed Friday Sanni Makama as their minority leader.
But, when the Speaker read the letter before the members in the hallowed chamber, three out of the supposed five members whose signatures appeared in the letter withdrew.
Only the former speaker, Lawal, and the member representing Bassa constituency, Hon. Sunday Shigaba stood their grounds based on the resolution of Kogi State PDP.
Recall that Friday Sani Makama, a former majority leader was the arrowhead in the unpopular impeachment of a fellow PDP speaker, when he acted as speaker pro tempore.