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KOGI: An assembly without rules

By Leo Sobechi
12 June 2016   |   1:30 am
There is a military feeling blowing in Kogi State and it has much to do with the House of Assembly. When the House of Representatives summoned the governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello..

Kogi-house-of-Assembly

There is a military feeling blowing in Kogi State and it has much to do with the House of Assembly. When the House of Representatives summoned the governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, in connection with the lingering leadership squabbles in the state legislature, all claims that he was not at the centre of the crisis petered out.

Making much effort not to be seen as taking sides, the Green Chamber accused the governor of encouraging the unconstitutional pre-eminence of five of the lawmakers against the rest 15 in a House that enrolls 25 constitutional members.

What at first began like a hollow joke took the shape of a serious matter when the same five favoured lawmakers led by Umar Imam passed the state’s 2016 budget estimate, as well as, cleared Governor Bello’s commissioner nominees and special advisers, despite not meeting the constitutional requirements to undertake such assignment.

It would be recalled that Pally Iriase (APC, Edo North) had led a House of Representatives committee on fact finding visit to the state in a bid to mediate in the confusion over the configuration of the House of Assembly leadership.

But while the House of Representatives saw the likelihood of a possible break down of law and order and took over the affairs of the state Assembly, the five lawmakers, with the backing of Governor Bello, kicked challenged that decision. And while the matter was taken to court, the police unsealed the premises of the Assembly and allowed the five lawmakers free access. This infuriated the House of Representatives into inviting the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of the Federation.

The IGP duly apologised to the federal lawmakers, pointing out that he sought the AGF’s advice not to undermine the powers of the legislators, but to ensure the security of the facility. In obedience to the directives of the Green Chamber of the National Assembly, the state Assembly complex was barricaded.

The intriguing aspect of the drama was that instead of the police, soldiers were said to have accompanied the handful of legislators to perform the legislative function of passing the appropriation bill. Consequently the House of Representatives set up a committee headed by Femi Gbajabiamila, (APC, Surulere) to interact with the governor and Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai.

There are serious indications that attempts to thrash the present democratic governance appear to be taking root in Kogi. Drafting in the military for otherwise wholly civilian engagement smacks of excessive recourse to force.

Speaking during debate on the motion of urgent national importance, sponsored by Chukwuemeka Ujam, Malam Isa Ali, noted that the House of Representatives could be compelled by prevailing circumstances to start impeachment proceedings against the governor.

“We can begin a process to impeach the governor. Before law as it stands today, the National Assembly is the legislative House of Kogi State,” Isa declared, noting that before the law, the House is in charge of legislating for the state.

The sponsor of the motion recalled how on May 31, some masked armed men, believed to be soldiers allegedly raided the legislative quarters in Lokoja, pointing out that by shooting sporadically, the attack suggested a planned assassination attempt on the group of 15 lawmakers or cow them from normal performance of their constitutional duties.

He disclosed that information available to the House of Reps indicated that the armed military men were alleged to be “officers of the Nigerian Army led by one Captain Usman from Nigerian Army Records, Lokoja”, alongside the Chief Security Detail and escorts of the governor.

Though the member representing Afikpo North/South federal constituency, Iduma Igariwey, noted that the involvement of the military in civil matters was capable of destabilising the country, the House Leader, Gbajabiamila, said the time was ripe to seek judicial interpretation of the logjam in Kogi House of Assembly.

The swiftness of the military to act in favour of the governor and his band of five lawmakers contrasted with what obtained in Enugu on April 4, 2016, when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi said the military command failed to heed his call for assistance to quell the massacre of innocent civilians in Uzouwani local council of the state.

Military Arrangement
But the Nigerian Army Command Records, Lokoja, while denying the alleged invasion, stated that it acted in response to information that hoodlums were taking advantage of the wrangling to cause mayhem with dangerous weapons.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Dan Baba-Ochankpa, who spoke with journalists in Lokoja, the troops went to assist “the civil authority in the state where they discovered that some political thugs had gained entry into the complex.”

When the tiny minority of five lawmakers impeached the Speaker, Momoh Jimoh Lawal and selected Umar Imam as the new speaker, Governor Bello denied involvement, contending that as a respecter of rule of law and separation of powers, he was too busy with executive assignments to interfere with the business of the House of Assembly.

Now that the confusion has boiled over, such that military personnel are being used to thwart the legislative process begun by the House of Representatives, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), can no longer keep aloof, especially in the light of previous controversial pronouncement by the Attorney General Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami SAN, which mandated the police to unseal the Assembly against the order of the House of Representatives.

In a recent interaction with a Kaduna based television, the AGF contended that his position on the unsealing of the Assembly complex was in response to request for legal opinion by the Inspector General of Police, adding that the IGP’s request was based on section 11 subsection 4 of the Constitution.

“It’s obvious the Inspector General of Police, requested a legal position as to whether the State House of Assembly and coalition were accorded security cover to  workers in the State House of Assembly against the background of the context of securing,” Malami said.

After quoting copiously section 11 and subsection 4, the chief law officer argued thus: “Arising from the provision, my appreciation of the law is that the inability of the State House of Assembly to perform its functions must be by the reason of a situation prevailing in that state.  I want to emphasise that the situation that’s envisaged by the provision of the Constitution is a situation prevailing in that state.

From all indications, it appears only a court of law could clear the cobwebs in Kogi State, particularly regarding the propriety of five being superior to 15 and the sophisticated postulations of the nation’s chief law officer.

As the ding-dong continues, the AGF should also research further into the constitution to see whether five out of a 25-member legislature could pass a bill as crucial as appropriation for the whole state.