Snake in assembly complex rekindles cheerless relations between Akeredolu and his legislators
The widely reported invasion of Ondo State House of Assembly complex by a snake, which prevented members from holding plenary session, penultimate week, has brought forth fresh issues in the cheerless relations between the legislative and executive arms of government.
The Assembly complex was built by the state’s first Executive Governor, the late Pa. Michael Adekunle Ajasin (1979-1983). However, due to utter neglect and lack of maintenance over the years, the structure has become dilapidated to such an extent that it is now an eyesore.
Although there are 26 members representing each of the constituencies across the 18 Local Governments, observers who decried the squalid state of the Assembly complex remarked that snakes and termites have become the undocumented 27th members.
It is not as if efforts had not been previously made to call attention to the structure’s condition. The poor state of the complex was part of the agitations by the Eighth Assembly members, who demanded prompt renovation of the building and financial autonomy for the law-making arm of government.
For the first time since Bamidele Oleyelogun emerged Speaker of the House in 2017, many thought it was time he proved wrong those who dubbed him a ‘rubberstamp’ to the executive by openly defending the position of the House regarding its deplorable state.
The snake incident, as revealed by the Chairman House Committee on Information, Olugbenga Omole, had stopped the Yoruba sitting on Wednesday, while the termite-infested ceiling caved in the following day, Thursday, during a plenary, which led to an adjournment by the leadership.
But a conflicting video had gone viral after Akeredolu visited the Assembly complex to assess the level of damage. In it, a visibly shaken Oleyelogun had denied the report, saying the media blew the incident out of proportion.
Responding to Akeredolu, who accused the lawmakers of trying to blackmail his government, the Speaker sheepishly agreed to the allegation.
Akeredolu also queried the House leadership on what it used the money allotted to the Assembly for since he assumed office two years ago, indicting most of the principal officers who are three timers in the House.
Oloyelogun, however, declined to comment on the incident and distanced himself from the interview his colleagues granted journalists. He later blamed the media for misrepresentation of facts before the Governor.
During a session last year, lawmakers were seen fanning themselves because the air-conditioners were not working. The Deputy Speaker, Ogundeji Iroju, said then: “We decry the deplorable condition of the entire House of Assembly complex, and we appeal to the executive governor, who is also the financial custodian of the state resources to assist us.”
A source within the House, who pleaded anonymity, revealed that the House leadership got money from the Governor, but diverted it to less capital-intensive renovations.
He said: “It used to be money for share. They only did some cosmetic renovations and pocketed the remaining. This has been the major grouse of lawmakers, who plotted to remove the Speaker and some principal officers of the Eighth Assembly.
“Other lawmakers grumbled against the principal officers and accused them of not fighting for the collective interest of their colleagues. As soon as the principal officers find their ways with the governor, they ditch other members.”
The Guardian learnt that the lawmakers’ offices are also affected, as there are no stationery, furniture and other paraphernalia befitting of their status. Even the Speaker’s office does not have a functional air-conditioner.
It was also gathered that many of the new lawmakers refused to resume, due to the poor condition of their offices, which parade threadbare furniture.
More often than not, the microphones on the lawmakers’ seats don’t work. They are nothing but mere decorations, as the members have resorted to a mini mobile public address system, using the microphone in turns.
Speaking on the decayed infrastructure and amenities, Omole added: “That chamber is no longer suitable for legislative business and because of that, we decided to adjourn indefinitely. The House will be going on an indefinite recess.
“We need to intimate the Governor about this development and we have decided to meet him on this. Mr. Governor is aware of part of the infrastructural decay here.
“Currently, the House has not been given the autonomy we are agitating for. If this had happened, we wouldn’t have needed to consult the Governor. The way things are run presently, every arm of government has to look up to the executive to get things done. But we hinge our hope on Governor Akeredolu’s prompt intervention.”
He refuted reports that the snake escaped, as he disclosed that though the snake was eventually killed, there are “a lot of reptiles hibernating in the roof of the chamber, and whenever it rains, the whole chamber is flooded.”
Following the Speaker’s denial in the Governor’s presence, criticisms have trailed his lack of confidence and inability to defend his colleagues.
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Mr. Rotimi Ogunleye, said: “Immediately I listened to the Speaker in the news bulletin of Channels Television, I spotted the stupidity in their story. It was ill-packaged. I learnt the Speaker, who was interviewed on Channels TV, has also gone on air to deny the snake story. That is no leadership.”
Speaking on attempts made by the state government to save the Speaker from the wrath of his colleagues, who tried to impeach him, Ogunleye said: “The Governor should be blamed. He chose the leadership and foisted him on the House. If a leader is truly a democrat, who has no intention of helping himself/herself to undue financial benefit, he/she has no reason to force a leader on the legislative arm.
“In that interview, I was challenged by the inferiority displayed by the Speaker. It appears no mutual respect exists between the executive and the legislature. This episode, if well handled, will build mutual respect between the two arms of government. The House leadership must brace up.”
Also speaking on the denial, a lawyer, Femi Emodamori, flayed the Speaker for blaming the incident on the media and called for his immediate impeachment.
Accusing the Speaker of distorting the truth, Emodamori said: “I watched the video reports and clearly heard the Speaker and the other principal members making these assertions.
“It was, therefore, shocking to watch the subsequent viral video, where the same Speaker categorically denied the mysterious snake story, and even blamed the press for not just inventing the story, but also photo shopping the picture of the snake earlier shown in the press reports.
“The Speaker’s denial only came during an inspection visit by the Governor to verify the authenticity of the claim, three days after the scandalous story had travelled round the world and brought Ondo State and the entire country into needless ridicule.
“To every discerning mind, the Speaker’s denial and his attempt to make the press the scapegoat, was a mere afterthought and an act of cowardice. The videos speak for themselves.
“If anybody lied or invented the snake-invasion story, it was clearly not the press but the House leadership, obviously for either political reasons or to access more funds from state coffers in the name of maintaining the House of Assembly complex.
“The direct and greatest beneficiaries of such falsehood can only be the leadership and members of the House, not the press, which would not superintend the disbursement of any maintenance fund, which such fabricated story might be meant to elicit or solicit.”
Consequently, he urged the Speaker “to immediately tender an unreserved apology to the people of Ondo State, all Nigerians in general, and the press in particular, for his mischievously concocted snake invasion saga, leading to the closure of the Ondo State House of Assembly…
“Should the Speaker fail to apologise and resign over this scandal, I call on the other conscientious House members to impeach him for his act of gross misconduct, which has brought serious global opprobrium to the House itself.
“Should the Speaker and the entire members of the State House of Assembly equally fail to do the needful in this regard, I, like other like-minded Nigerians, would be prepared to demand public accountability, through the law court.”
However, the state’s immediate past and first female Speaker, Jumoke Akindele, in an open letter, accused Governor Akeredolu of highhandedness against the lawmakers, and that he had abused the mutual relationship between the executive and legislature.
Referring to the video that went viral when the governor visited the Assembly complex, she said: “You attempted to make sure that the whole world sees the members as your cowardly, ineffectual and mindless errand boys.
“Mr. Governor, you were way out of line. You were completely out of order. You carried your authority too far and abused what should be the members’ natural inclination to respect you as a leader. You abused your authority.
“Perhaps, you do not realise it: You and these 26 members are the only ones who truly carry the people’s mandate. The people, it was, who trooped out to elect them as they also did you too.
In an attempt to save himself from the embarrassment the snake incident had caused the Assembly, Oloyelogun convoked a parliamentary meeting in his official residence last Tuesday.
The visibly angry House of Assembly members, who issued a communiqué at the end of the meeting to assert the legislature’s independence, iterated that they would not relent in their constitutional responsibility as the people’s representatives.
They insisted the Assembly complex has the worst infrastructure in the country. and blamed Akeredolu’s administration and the previous ones for the utter neglect.
Disclaiming the video, which captured the Speaker denying the snake invasion report, the legislators said it was manipulated, when the Governor inspected the Assembly complex.
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