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Plot to impeach Ajayi thickens as crisis hits Ondo Assembly

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After failed attempts to impeach Ondo State Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, the state Assembly, as a critical arm of government, has been a subject of intense public scrutiny due to its flagrant disobedience of court orders. Consequently, the Assembly leadership under Bamidele Oleyelogun has been served contempt of court notice, because he refused to respect the verdicts of the courts to reinstate four lawmakers, pay their salaries and compensation as directed by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The saga started during the build-up to the October 10, 2020 governorship election in the state after the Deputy Governor, Ajayi, ditched the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to contest the election against Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Sixteen days after Ajayi joined the major opposition party, PDP, precisely on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 14 out of 26 Assembly members signed an impeachment notice against him, but nine of the lawmakers refused to append their signatures.

The anti-impeachment lawmakers are the Deputy Speaker, Ogundeji Iroju, the Majority Leader, Jamiu Maito, Rasheed Elegbeleye, Tomide Akinribido, Samuel Ademola, Favour Semilore, Festus Akingbaso, Williams Adekunle, and Success Tuhurkerijor.

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In a letter to the Speaker, Oleyelogun, on that same day, they affirmed that “we do not support the impeachment process and would not want to be associated with it based on personal convictions.”

The Assembly leadership, in a bid to remove Ajayi, who had procured a court order against his impeachment, suspended the deputy speaker and three others. But the lawmakers got reprieve in a High

Court judgment that ordered their reinstatement, payment of salaries and allowances. While delivering judgment in August, Justice Ademola Bola, ruled that the Assembly had no power to suspend any member of the Assembly, adding that the action contravenes Section 90, 91, 106 and 117 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. The judgment directed that the four anti-impeachment lawmakers should be reinstated into their various positions with immediate effect and ordered the payment of N5m each to them as damages.

But the immediate past Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice,
Kolawole Olawoye, who was the leading counsel to the Assembly leadership, described the judgment as “No victor, no vanquished,” but proceeded to the Court of Appeal against Iroju and the three others:
Tomomewo, Williams, and Akinribido.

Meanwhile, the Chief Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, had earlier faulted the impeachment process and declined to set up a probe panel, as requested by the Assembly. In a letter dated July 9, 2020 with Ref. CROD/1123/V.3/54, the judge had declared that the request for the constitution of a 7-man probe panel didn’t meet constitutional requirement. The Chief Judge said the request violated Section 188 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.

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Akeredolu drew the attention of the speaker to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), explaining that the constitutional requirements as stipulated in Section 188 (1), (2) (a), (b).

“Furthermore, I wish to bring to your notice the copy of letter which I received earlier today from Kayode Olatoke, which letter tells me clearly that the matter of impeachment of Hon. Alfred Agboola Ajayi, Deputy Governor of Ondo State, is subjudice.”

More so, the litigation by the Assembly leadership to upturn the High Court judgment at the Court of Appeal, as delivered by Justice Oyebisi Omoleye, also ordered the appellants to reinstate the four lawmakers, pay their salaries and the sum of N250,000 jointly and severally to the lawmakers, as damages.

Whereas, the election process caused some hiatus in the bid to remove the deputy governor, it led to the sudden removal of the Attorney-General, Olawoye, an age-long friend and kinsman of Governor Akeredolu last month, after the governorship election.

In circumstances that suggested speedy resumption of the impeachment process, the suspended lawmakers were barred from entering the Assembly premises to perform their legislative duties despite the court orders reinstating them. Barely 24 hours after Governor Akeredolu sacked Olawoye, at the plenary session on Tuesday, November 24, 2020, the Deputy Speaker,Iroju, was impeached. A new attorney-general was appointed and the Assembly changed most of its principal officers.

Iroju, who represents Odigbo Constituency I, was replaced by Samuel Aderoboye from Odigbo Constituency II. Olawoye was said to have fallen out with Governor Akeredolu, because he advised him to respect court orders to reinstate the suspended lawmakers. The Assembly, with 20 appending their signatures for the removal of Iroju, hinged his impeachment on gross misconduct that brought disrepute to the House. The Assembly also reshuffled some principal officers.

The House removed the Minority Leader, Tomide Akinribido and replaced him with a PDP lawmaker, Festus Akingbaso, while Emmanuel Ogunmolasuyi and Taofeek Oladele emerged as the new Majority Leader and Chief Whip respectively.

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Without wasting time, the Media Adviser to Ajayi, Allen Sowore, said the impeachment process against Iroju and the sack of the attorney-general were Governor Akeredolu’s desperate move to remove his deputy illegally.

Sowore, who raised alarm that Ajayi’s impeachment was “underway,” alleged that the governor and his allies had planned to forge Ajayi’s resignation letter, accusing them of complicity and interference in the Assembly crisis.

“To this end, the governor, on Monday, November 23, 2020, sacked the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Kola Olawoye for his stance against illegality and iniquity.

“All these are premeditated efforts to circumvent the institutions of state and usurp the powers of both the legislative and judiciary arms of government to pave way for the illegal removal of the deputy governor.”

The nine anti-impeachment lawmakers argued that Section 92 sub 2C of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, requires two-third majority cum provisions of the rules and standing order of the House for the impeachment of the speaker or his deputy.

According to them, “The same provision for the removal of speaker and deputy is provided for in section 9 (sub 1-IX) of the standing order of the house. It requires two-third majority for their removal.

“It must be known that there was no sitting of the Assembly, either at the plenary or parliamentary where the decision to remove Hon. Ogundeji Iroju took place. It must be noted that impunity reigns supreme in the Assembly where Bamidele Oleyeloogun presides.”

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While reacting to the development, the immediate past lawmaker representing Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency, Mike Omogbehin, condemned the impeachment process, saying it was a rape of democracy.

According to him, “It is a shame that such a stain on democracy would be hatched in the ‘Sunshine State.’ We are far too educated and civilized to encourage this type of abuse of the rule of law, all stipulated and clearly defined democratic norms and procedures.”

Omogbehin lamented that the state Assembly has brought the institution to ridicule for not obeying court orders and laws they made by the same institution but interpreted by the judiciary, adding that stopping lawmakers’ salaries and allowances is illegal.

A social critic in the state, Gbenga Ajongbolo, argued that the Assembly erred in the impeachment process and accused them of forgery to meet the constitutionally required number to impeach Iroju.

The President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged, Dappa Maharajah, noted that the lawmakers grossly abused the dictates of the rule of law and set bad precedence in the state, stating that it is a monumental stain on the image of the governor, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

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According to him, the Assembly leadership has no locus standi to stop the salaries of the lawmakers, let alone prevent them from performing their duties, as elected representatives of the people. He argued that though the Assembly had gone to the Supreme Court, there was no stay of execution to prevent the lawmakers. He appealled to the governor to caution the Assembly members not to desecrate the temple of justice.

But the House Committee Chairman on Information, Gbenga Omole, stated that a parliamentary resolution indicted Iroju of gross misconduct that is inimical to the progress of the House. He argued that the resolution was signed by 20 members in line with the house’s standing order.

Speaking on the court order to reinstate the suspended lawmakers, Omole said; “In the meantime, the House is yet to receive a copy of the court judgment on the suspended lawmakers.”

Meanwhile, a PDP lawmaker, Akingbaso, who was picked as the new Minority Leader, rejected the new portfolio given to him by the leadership of the House and distanced himself from the attempts to impeach the deputy speaker.

Contrary to the decision of the Assembly, Akingbaso stated that he was out of the country, when the impeachment occurred, adding, “before I travelled out of the country, there was no time that the impeachment of the deputy speaker was discussed.”

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The speaker and three other members of the Assembly were summoned by the state’s High Court, which asked them to show cause why they should not be jailed for disobedience to court orders in a notice of contempt of court filed against them by the nine lawmakers.

The three other Assembly members, who risk jail term for the disobedience are the Clerk, Bode Adeyelu, the Parliamentary Secretary, Abayomi Akinruntan, and the Deputy Majority Leader, Oladiji Adesanmi.

The four lawmakers, dissatisfied with the action of the House leadership, filed contempt charges against the Assembly leadership through their counsel, Mr. Olabanjo Ayenakin. He said the respondents, if found be guilty of contempt of court, could be liable to be committed to prison.

According to Adesanmi; “A declaration that by the provision of section 36(1) and 2(a) and b of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and rules and standing orders of the Ondo State House of Assembly and the Code of Conduct of the House, the indefinite suspension of the claimants from the House of Assembly was unlawful, null and void.” The contempt of court notice read: “Restoring entitlements to them and the payment of N5m, as damages for the wrongful and unconstitutional indefinite suspension.”

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