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Resurgence of state assembly wars and executives’ fear of the unknown

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Abubakar Suleiman<br />

Why do state governors take active interest in the running of state legislatures, especially in the selection of Speakers? This is the question that agitates the minds of Nigerians following the confusion in some states’ Houses of Assembly.

In Edo State, history seems to have repeated itself because just as in 2014, when the then state governor, Adams Oshiomhole battled the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which was in the majority, the State House of Assembly ran into another messy show of shame over its leadership selection.

Although in 2014 Oshiomhole presented himself as the victim, in the current tussle, he is seen as the aggressor because his party, members of All Progressives Congress (APC), which he chairs, are in control at both the state and national levels.

Again the situation is compounded by the deteriorated relationship between the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki and Oshiomhole.

While Obaseki wants his allies in decisive positions in the Assembly, the latter who is supposedly a godfather, is said to have pocketed the minds and conscience of a majority of the members that are loyal to him and using them to stir instability and chaos. 

The battle line became drawn after 19 out of the 24 members-elect on June 17 called on Obaseki to immediately inaugurate the seventh Assembly following the expiration of the previous one on June 7.
  
Surprisingly on Tuesday, June 19, Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Strategy, issued a statement to inform the public that the Assembly was inaugurated on Monday, with nine members electing Frank Okiye as Speaker and Yekini Idiaye as Deputy. Sitting was also adjourned till July 17. Calls from all corners to avert the daylight breakdown of law and order received no attention as aggrieved members have been urged to seek redress in court. The war of words, blame games, unhealthy rivalry and unrests continue.
  
Similarly in Bauchi, 11 members in a parliament of 31 chose a Speaker as early as 7.00am on the day. By the time the majority arrived at 8.00am and discovered they had been served a fait accompli, they promptly elected their own Speaker, thus creating room for two captains in one ship. 

But, while the governor, Bala Mohammed is a member of PDP, APC has the majority at the legislative house with 22 members, with PDP’s eight and New Nigeria People’s Party has one. The two factions elected Abubakar Suleiman and Kawuwa Damina both of APC as speakers of the Assembly.

The dust in Imo Assembly may have temporarily settled with the election of Chiji Collins (PDP – Isiala Mbano) as the ninth speaker of the state. Recognised as the most controversial and crisis-ridden Assembly, it produced four speakers including Acho Ihim, Chinedu Offor and Lawman Duruji in less than two months. 

The new Speaker, a close confidant of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, was elected under All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) platform but defected to the PDP on Monday June 10. It was gathered that Governor Emeka Ihedioha and Ararume reached an understanding before the choice of Collins as Speaker who later emerged unopposed.
  
The question remains as to why state legislators, who though are of the same party, engage in politics of bitterness rather than make laws to better the lots of the people who voted them into office?

Why the crisis? POLITICAL analysts have blamed the trend of recurrent crises in State’s Assemblies on the executives’ fear of the unknown, including impeachment and oversight function of the legislature. There is constant fear of losing the Assembly to an outsider political godfather who may turn the legislators against the governor if he fails to do his bidding. It is said that most of the lawmakers get their tickets on the approval of godfathers through the instrumentality of the party. Also, observers identify the use of financial inducements to influence the removal of perceived opponents from office. Thus is the beginning of the unending tussles between governors and godfathers to decide house leadership.

  
Another reason why some governors go all out to ensure that certain people don’t emerge speakers is to keep them in check, ensuring they don’t become too powerful politically or financially to compete with them in the next polls.

This, specifically, is the case for governors who have a second term interest or already have people they have in mind to handover power. Though stringent, Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution gives the State Houses of Assembly powers through resolution of a two-third majority to remove a governor and his deputy over gross misconduct or incapacity to perform functions.  
  
Also through exercise of oversight, legislators ensure that activities of the executive arm of government and its agencies are kept under constant surveillance and scrutiny. This function is contained in Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution. Here the state House of Assembly is empowered to carry out investigations within its competence to prevent and expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws. It is empowered to procure evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial as it may deem necessary and also to examine any witness whose evidence may be material to the subject matter. The primary aim of this function is to promote efficiency, transparency and due process in the running of the affairs of the state.
  
The state Assembly also approves or disapproves the budget as presented by the executive, hence governors by all means struggle to produce leadership loyal to them and which would be in the affirmative of any of their plans and projects.

In most states where the governors have effective control, there is usually no rancour as most executive bills, including budgets are passed in atmosphere of celebration with little or no alterations, a development that has led to description of some assemblies as mere rubber stamps.

  
In a lecture recently by Dr. Shuaibu Danwanka of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS), themed “Constitutional Powers of State Houses of Assembly”, he itemised some powers of the legislature that gives room for governors’ interests in producing house leadership. They include powers to control public funds, determine remuneration of the governor and other certain officers, investigation, checkmate the executive, and confirm appointments by the governor.
  
According to Coordinator, Otooge Lagos, Comrade Mark Adebayo, the fear of impeachment threats by their godfathers and the fear of lack of freedom to govern their states freely without godfathers’ swords of Damocles dangling over their heads are substantially responsible for the constant chaos.
  
He decried the level of irresponsible and undue interference of the so-called godfathers in how the governors administer their states, adding that the insatiable godfathers pocket the state Assemblies and use them as levers to unduly threaten the governors with impeachment any time the governors don’t seem to play along with their gross indiscretions.
  
“However, that’s not a sufficient excuse for the governors to engage in unconstitutional means in state Assemblies’ compositions,” he said. “It’s a total compromise of legislative independence and effectiveness as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended.
  
“The state Assemblies have become the unwilling victims of the perpetual contentions between the governors and their godfathers. It’s quite worrisome. In most, if not in all the states in the country, the states’ Assemblies are mere rubber stamps and appendages of the state governors. It is either firmly controlled by the governors or godfathers as in the case of Lagos State especially.”
 
The human rights activist reiterated the need for state Assemblies to be more proactive in asserting their independence as guaranteed by the principle of separation of powers in the country’s constitution.
  
According to him, “The best way to ensure this is that the state Assemblies must no longer be financially dependent on state governors who use this to manipulate the legislators and render them ineffective as representatives of the people to stand against executive recklessness. This ugly development is not healthy for our democracy in any way material or particular”.

In retrospect
THE drama in Edo and Bauchi is reminiscent of the days under former President Olusegun Obasanjo when five persons out of the 24-member Plateau State House of Assembly approved the ‘impeachment’ of then governor Joshua Dariye who the president was bent on removing from office.
  
In 2005, the state legislators impeached the then deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chris Ekpenyong. It was believed that the former governor, Victor Attah, masterminded the impeachment because of their political differences, especially after Ekpenyong voted for Obasanjo at PDP’s presidential primary in January 2003.
  
Specifically, the presidency had in May 2018 accused Obasanjo, who had control in almost all states, as a two-term president of masterminding the illegal ouster of at least five governors in the 2000s.
  
According to presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, those impeached out of office included ex-governors Joshua Dariye, Rashidi Ladoja, Peter Obi, Chris Ngige and Ayo Fayose from office. They were governors of Plateau, Oyo, Anambra, Anambra and Ekiti States respectively.

  
Shehu said, “A five-man legislature met at 6:00am and “impeached” Governor Dariye in Plateau; 18 members out of 32 removed Governor Ladoja of Oyo from office; in Anambra, APGA’s Governor Obi was equally impeached at 5:00am by members who did not meet the two-thirds required by the constitution.”
  
Also in 2014, 18 out of the 25 members of the Adamawa State House of Assembly endorsed the impeachment of Governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako.
  
Recently in Imo, the immediate past deputy governor, Eze Madumere, was impeached on July 30 by the state House of Assembly. This was because he was believed to harbour ambition to be the next governor of the state against the wishes of his boss, Rochas Okorocha, who rather wanted his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, to succeed. Okorocha who had the support of the State Assembly succeeded in planning and executing the removal of his deputy.

Way forward
No democracy can exist or thrive without respect for the rule of law. While some observers say most governors are pushed to act illegally because of the sheer need to control power absolutely, there is the need for a working legal system that ensures justice irrespective of status. Most times, these governors advise lawmakers to seek redress in court knowing that the system is likely to favour them or justice would not be served promptly.

According to the Chief Executive Officer of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Debo Adeniran, the consequences of the frequent frictions between godfathers, governors and States Assembly have enormous negative effect on good governance and ultimately the people.

He noted that the ugly trend of unhealthy rivalry is responsible for the underdevelopment witnessed in states.

On the way out of the mess, the rights activist said, “The election of principal officers of the Assembly should not be left in the hands of the lawmakers, because they were all elected and should have equal opportunities to be elected, which is not as a result of inducement of a god father or interference of a governor. There should be a neutral body that would move from one state to another to conduct elections for the officers. That will give an ambience of neutrality to how they emerge, so that it becomes difficult to use brigandage to win election since they know they will be adequately punished.

“The impeachment of a governor, his deputy or any principal officer should go beyond the Assembly. It should be a general decision of the public who voted them all to power. This could be through a form of referendum. By this, they will want to take things easier. It will also get the governor to work for the people who should have the final say. It is easier to lobby the assembly to do the bidding of another but to get all the people against one person isn’t easy.

“Money politics should be down played if not abolished completely. The amount spent on electioneering should be drastically reduced to average earning. This is one reason that is responsible for the crisis as they tend to compete for positions to be able to recover all spent. The electoral body should ensure that spending is well monitored and anyone who violates it be persecuted. This will ensure that people will be deterred from unnecessary inducement of voters and electoral officers”.

Condemning the role played by godfathers, he added, “The issue of godfatherism should also be discouraged; we can have mentors but not godfathers who will induce the voters or those who handle the process so as to ensure that they have their way. This will reduce all the frictions that are responsible for the inadequate development recorded in governance in states”


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