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Kogi Assembly and fresh challenges of representation

By John Akubo, Lokoja
08 May 2017   |   3:55 am
For the first time in recent times, the unity of purpose that eluded the lawmakers after the composition of a new leadership in the executive arm of government has made way for accord and unison.

Kogi Assembly Speaker, Umar Ahmed Imam

After five months of inactivity, a truce brokered by an 11 man committee made up of the two warring factions in the Kogi House of Assembly, peace has at last retuned to the legislative arm of the confluence state.

For the first time in recent times, the unity of purpose that eluded the lawmakers after the composition of a new leadership in the executive arm of government has made way for accord and unison.

For instance the House in a unanimous decision condemned the outcome of a staff screening and verification exercise for state civil servants in a move that seemed to have placed them on the same page with the people.

They urged Governor Yahaya Bello to commence payment of workers’ salary and suspend the screening report forthwith. Their tone was in tandem with that of the masses who have also staged protests making same demands.

The Kogi State Government embarked on the screening exercise to rid the state of over-bloated wage bill that has continued to relegate development to the background.

However the reports were laden with irregularities in spite of its successes in unraveling many anomalies, the lawmakers set up a committee and invited the screening committee chairman, Alhaji Yakubu Okala to defend his actions, which were already causing uproar among the workers. But for the umpteenth time, the chairman failed to appear before the committee to present its report as demanded.

In a letter he sent to the House through the Special Adviser to the Governor on Legislative Matters, which was read by the Majority Leader, Mathew Kolawole, Okala said the report had been submitted to the governor and that the committee had already been disbanded and that the lawmakers should direct their request to him for further actions.

His action has however been generating a lot of debate among stakeholders especially former speakers who perceived it as an affront on the constitution. Again not long after this popular approach to the workers’ welfare, there was a report of a purported vote of confidence passed on the governor by the lawmakers.

Most of the stakeholders in the state were taken aback because despite the position of the lawmakers, the governor still did not suspend the screening exercise and the legislature could not sanction Okala.

And when an Abuja Daily came out with an editorial titled; “As Kogi Buries The Ghost Worker,” the lawmakers were taken to the cleaners for condemning the exercise but the lawmakers threatened to sue the medium.

The offensive part of the editorial stated that, “lawmakers, especially of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and renegade All Progressives Congress (APC), who might have been part of the syndicate that perpetuated the graft, described it as a satanic process and insisted that it was an attempt to downsize the workforce under the guise of fishing out ghost workers.

“Political observers in the state see the reaction of the House to the exercise as corruption fighting to keep what it has been enjoying for a long time especially as startling revelations indicate that most of the politically exposed persons involved in the scam gained their popularity through the protection of corrupt practices and corrupt individuals such as when those who are due for retirement falsified their dates of birth to debar the youth from gaining employment.”

Reacting to the purported vote of confidence some of the lawmakers said there was no such vote on the floor but a commendation to the governor for renovating the Assembly Complex.

The member representing Igalamela/Odolu Constituency, Friday Makama distanced himself and his colleagues from what he described as mischief to denigrate the legislative institution. Also the member representing Lokoja II Constituency, Idris Ndako dissociated himself from the purported vote of confidence.

The duo spoke in reaction to a report that members of Kogi Assembly passed a vote of confidence on the governor. Makama said, “To the best of my knowledge, nothing of such happened. The so called vote passed on Governor Bello was concocted by certain paid individuals in connivance with paid newspapers in an effort to confuse and demean the image of the institution as hallowed as the Kogi State House of Assembly.”

He said his other colleagues were in no doubt appalled at the development in the state as it only shows the extent of desperation on the part of the executive arm to muscle the legislature.

Idakwo said what he knew was that the House commended the governor for renovating the hallowed chamber and the Newspaper that carried the reports of indulging in unprofessional acts.

He appealed to the general public to ignore the publication, which he described as an effort by some paid agents to incite the people against the lawmakers.
“I will continue to give and stand with the people of my immediate constituency in particular and Kogi State in general at all time. I was elected to protect the interest of my people, not to pass a vote of confidence or act as a stooge to executive.”

On the failure of Okala to honor the Assembly’s invitation, the member representing Mopa Muro Constituency, Oluwatoyin Lawal (PDP), expressed concern that the Yahaya Bello administration, in recent times, had failed to honor resolutions taken by members during plenary.

Two former Speakers of Kogi State House of Assembly, who were also Acting Governors at various times, Clarence Olafemi and Abdullahi Bello, condemned the action of the screening committee chairman for demeaning the power of the Assembly when he failed to honor its invitation.

The duo cautioned the governor against shielding any of his aides from appearing before the Assembly when invited, as it would amount to trampling on the constitution.

Olafemi said the power of the Assembly could even enforce a warrant of arrest of the officer adding, “Because the House of Assembly is made up of the representatives of all the component parts of the state, they have the full power to investigate matters affecting the state.

“That power is not ambiguous but they have the power to invite even a non-indigene and this is not the first time we are having controversies surrounding invitation. The power of the Assembly has been subjected to test and it has been confirmed that they have that power.”

Abdullahi Bello on his part said Okala might be pardoned because he might be acting on ignorance because he does not know the implication. According to him, “For the benefit of those who are ignorant of the constitution, I will state very clearly that all State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria with particular reference to Kogi State, derive their existence and powers from the 1999 constitution.

“Section 103 of the constitution is very clear as relating to the power of the Assembly to set up committees and when they set up committee, what do they do with? Section 128 of the constitution gave them the power of investigation.”

He said they investigate all actions of all officers of the state, adding that all their actions are subject to investigation by the Assembly stressing, “Section 129 if the same constitution equally gave them the power as to how they invite people to appear before them and in any situation where such invitee fails to appear, it is stipulated that the Assembly can go further by section 129 as to compel such officer to attend to the invitation.”

He indicated that Kogi State Assembly is a very historical institution which, some years back, set up a committee in line with section 103 of the constitution to investigate the then Chairman of Olamaboro Local Government and their findings indicted him of misconduct.

He said based on their recommendations the then governor removed the chairman from office but, not satisfied, the indicted man approached the State High court where he got judgment that the Assembly had no power to venture into such investigation.

Speaking further he said, “When the State House of Assembly appealed, the Court of Appeal under the Honorable Justice Abdul Aboki ruled that the Assembly has power to set up a committee for investigation based on section 103 of the constitution and that such a finding for which the Governor removed him was in order.

“That judgment is a famous judgment that has not been upturned by any superior court up till today. It is surprising that at this time of more enlightenment some low level officials would demean such an institution that had already established itself.”