Imo Assembly in search of sustainable peace, stability
The manner and frequency of changing leadership in Imo House of Assembly in the last two and half years has been worrisome to residents of the state. Within this period, three Speakers have been elected and removed in circumstances that put the House in perpetual crisis.
Apart from the first Speaker, Dr. Chiji Collins, All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain representing Onuimo Constituency, who went through normal legislative processes to emerge as Speaker in June 2019, other two members who occupied the seat were elected and impeached without observing rules of the House.
Collins came to office during the short-lived Emeka Ihedioha’s administration of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who was removed from office by the Supreme Court. It was widely believed that Ihedioha, contributed significantly to the enthronement of Collins as speaker. So with the exit of Ihedioha, Collins’s fate was decided.
Prime elective positions in the state, such as governor, deputy governor and speaker are shared by the three senatorial districts – Imo East (Owerri), Imo North (Okigwe) and Imo West (Orlu). Where the governor comes from determines who occupies other seats. By that arrangement, the Governor and Speaker cannot come from the same zone.
Currently, Governor Hope Uzodimma hails from Orlu (Imo West) while his deputy Amara Iwuanyanwu is from Owerri zone. The expectation is that Imo North (Okigwe) should produce the Speaker.
When the apex court pronounced Uzodimma as the rightful elected governor of the state in January 14, Collins was impeached because he came from the same senatorial district with the new helmsman.
With the development, the immediate past Speaker, Paul Emeziem (APC, Onuimo Constituency), was re-elected to preside over the House. His tenure witnessed high-handedness that almost caused the Assembly go up in flames. His colleagues rose against him and pulled the rug off his feat.
Impeachment of Emeziem was like a palace coup, executed very early in the morning. The lawmakers arrived early at the temporary Chamber at Ojukwu Centre without Emeziem to begin business of the day. When he heard of the sitting going on in the Assembly, he rushed to join his colleagues but to his utmost surprise, stern looking security men at the gate prevented him from entering the Assembly.
While Emeziem was still making calls to know who instructed security men to shut him out of the Assembly, news filtered in that Kennedy Ibeh (APC, Obowo Constituency), a lawyer and second term ranking member had been installed as Speaker with support from 19 lawmakers who signed the document.
One different thing lawmakers did was shunning of the temporary plenary venue, which they had of recent, used for legislative proceedings due to ongoing repairs at both the permanent site and temporary legislative house at Ojukwu Centre, Owerri.
Dr. Uju Onwudiwe, member representing Njaba Constituency and other sources disclosed that on the Sunday preceding the impeachment of Emeziem, Clerk of the House was instructed to issue invitations to all members to attend the sitting. But those who attended had executive meeting after which Onwudiwe was asked to act as Speaker temporal while other members present queued behind as they filed into the venue. Journalists were barred from covering the proceeding.
It was said that a motion was raised that the Deputy Speaker, Amara Iwuanyanwu was not impeached following confirmation from the Clerk that there was no record of his impeachment. The recalled members also denied signing any document to remove Iwuanyanwu, as mentioned on the list presented by Emeziem. Iwuanyanwu was then asked to occupy the seat to preside. It was after he reclaimed his seat as deputy Speaker that proper motion for Emeziem’s impeachment was executed by 19 out of 27 members that signed his impeach document. Throughout the period the impeachment process lasted, Emezieme was outside the gate allegedly having altercation with security men when rug was pulled off from his feat.
It was gathered that those who endorsed Emeziem’s impeachment included Kanayo Onyemaehi (Owerri West), Arthur Egwin (Ideato North), Duru I. Johnson (Ideato South), Kennedy Ibeh (Obowo), Micheal Crown Njoku (Ihitte-Uboma), Emeka Nduka (Ehime Mbano) and Prince Obinna Okwara (Nkwere).
Others are, Chigozie Nwaneri (Oru East), Dominic Ezerioha (Oru West), Okoro Cyracious (Ohaji/Egbema), Frank Ugbomma (Oguta), Uju Onwudiwe (Njaba), Uche Ogbuagu (Ikeduru), Chiji Collins (Isiala Mbano) and Eddy Obinna (Aboh Mbaise).
Others include, Anyadike Nwosu (Ezinihitte Mbaise), Ngozi Obiefule (Ịsụ), Otuibe Samuel (Ahiazu Mbaise) and the reinstated deputy speaker, Amara Chyna Iwuanyanwu (Nwangele).
Immediately after the change of leadership in the Assembly, Ibeh-led group drove in convoy to Uzodimma at the Government House, Owerri, where the governor urged them to perform their functions according to provisions of the Constitution and rules of the House.
Before Emeziem was removed, he seemed not to have realised that he ought to have resigned when most of his colleagues were already working against him. He was accused of taking some actions against the interest of his colleagues. Part of his sins was the suspension of six members who were said to be active in the House and impeachment of his deputy. Signs of what was to happen to him was ominous for any politician to decipher but Emezien seemed not to have premonition of his sack just as it happened to his former deputy, Iwuanyanwu on November 2, when he was removed without due process. Iwuanyanwu was said to be a political ally of Uzodimma whose allies had boasted that his impeachment from the House would be reversed.
Some members are still expressing shock over the brazen disregard for rules of the House by Emeziem in the manner he removed his deputy. On November 2, member representing Orsu Constituency Ekene Nnodumele, handed a document to Emeziem during plenary. The document was later found to contain a list of 18 members, including the hitherto six suspended members of the Assembly purportedly to have endorsed removal of Iwuanyanwu as deputy speaker. They list included, Dominic Ezerioha (APC Oru West), Uche Ogbuagu (APC Ikeduru), Philip Ejiogu (PDP Owerri North), Anyadike Nwosu (PDP Ezinihitte), Kennedy Ibeh (APC Obowo) and Michael Njoku (APC Ihitte Uboma).
Emeziem received the list from Nnodumele and without presenting it for deliberation; he hit the gavel, signifying impeachment of Iwuanyanwu.
Besides he did not also state the offence of six members that were suspended in July 8, because Emeziem only accused them of “un-parliamentary conduct”. One of the suspended members included the immediate past Majority Leader of the House, Ogbuagu who defected from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to APC. He was removed early in the year and Kanayo Amaechi (APC, Owerri West) replaced him.
Some of the suspended lawmakers in their reactions to the development in a statement said: “We the four members of Imo State House of Assembly of APC extraction who were suspended on July 8, 2021 by Speaker Paul Emeziem wish to clearly disassociate ourselves and our signatures from any action including but not limited to the purported impeachment of Rt. Hon. Amarachi Chyna Iwuanyanwu, the Deputy Speaker.
“This very fundamental statement comes from the information we have that our names and signatures appear in documents Mr. Speaker Paul Emeziem is parading as evidence of 18 signatories.
“We state without equivocation that we were suspended unjustly, lucky to be reinstated after about four months but we are yet to resume office talk less of engaging in any form of parliamentary activities.”
Also, Iwuanyanwu’s kinsmen jettisoned the impeachment and vowed that it would not hold.
A statement issued by F. M. Dikeukwu reads: “We the good people of Nkwerre, Isu, Njaba & Nwangele Federal Constituency have received with rude shock the attempt by a group of anti-democratic group in Imo State to remove the Deputy Speaker. Unfortunately the action failed as the planners could not put a replacement because they were acting on a wrong footing.
“We wish to tell our people that this action, which is dead on arrival, is targeted at Imo State Governor and therefore will not stand. We ask our people to remain calm as efforts are being put in place to return the situation to normalcy.”
Another two groups, Imo Democratic Assembly and Save Imo, represented by Georgina Ibezim, and Ebubeagu Ekenulo, respectively accused the Speaker of not following legislative processes in impeaching Iwuanyanwu.
But the former commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state and social commentator Elvis Agukwe, said the change of baton was normal in a democratic process, insisting that, “all over the world, legislative houses both at state and national are chaotic. Imo is never alone in this. Supporters and sympathisers must allow our democracy to develop. It is the best option for us.
“Other governors have conducted legislative business in government house or private residence. But Governor Uzodimma, being a former lawmaker has refused to dabble into the internal affairs of Imo House of Assembly. Sentiments or political considerations must not guide our legislature. They must be allowed to settle their internal affairs by themselves, people should desist from interfering”.
After his impeachment, Emeziem, member representing Mbaitolu Constituency, Okey Onyekanma (PDP) and Nnodumele were suspended indefinitely. Emeziem was suspended for alleged forgery, abuse of office, highhandedness and “un-parliamentary” conduct.
Onyekanma, who hails from Imo East, the Deputy Speaker of the House resigned immediately Ihedioha was removed last year.
A five -member committee was appointed by the Speaker to investigate the suspended Speaker and others. Members of the committee include Kanayo Onyemaehi (Owerri West), (Chairman); Frank Ugboma (Oguta), Vice Chairman; Duru Johnson (Ideato South), Emeka Nduka (Ehime Mbano) and Chigozie Nwaneri (Oru East) as members.
All the standing committees that were dissolved by the Speaker are yet to be reconstituted.
While Ibeh has pledged to bring back the lost glory, honour and dignity of the House, his predecessor, Emeziem who is under suspension has promised to be loyal to the new leadership of the House.
The impeached Speaker said: “Despite what must have happened, the overall interest of Imo State is paramount to me. Hence, the most important thing on my mind now is to remain an agent and advocate of a better Imo. I sincerely thank our governor, Uzodimma, for his love, support and the confidence reposed in me, which contributed immensely to my emergence as Imo Assembly Speaker in the first place. I owe him my continued total and unalloyed loyalty and support
“I also want to apologise to anyone I might have stepped on their toes in the course of discharge of my duties as the Speaker and strongly believe that together, leaving the past behind us, we shall achieve a better and prosperous Imo of our collective dream”.
Uzodimma also held a closed-door meeting with the duo two days after the change of baton. The trio also took photograph together to express their resolve for peace in the House.
From the recent development in the House, Imo indigenes and residents hope to see an end to instability in the House, trusting the new leadership and other members of the Assembly to settle down and carry out their legislative works.