Kogi Assembly: Torn Apart By Strife

 Kogi Assembly: Torn Apart By Strife

Ikeja-High-Court-sitting-in-LagosThe Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has ruled that Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal is the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly. Following the verdict, members of the G-15 appear to have gained an upper hand in the unending crisis rocking the legislature. But, the G-5 group, led by Hon. Umar Imam, has resolved to fight to finish. JAMES AZANIA examines the rift between the two groups and its implication for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
THE two factions in the Kogi State House of Assembly crisis are not ready to bury the hatchet. This indication emerged less than 48 hours after the lawmakers loyal to Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal, otherwise known as the G-15, secured a victory via a court judgment that duly recognized his authority as the Speaker.
Spurred by the judgment, the lawmakers headed back to the court, two days later, to upturn some of the decisions of the Umar Imam-led G-5 faction, particularly the suspension of 10 of their members. The lawmakers also dragged Governor Yahaya Bello and the G-5 members before the court over the 2016 Appropriation Bill, which was signed into law in their absence.
Observers of recent political events in the Confluence State said this is a pointer to the fact that there is no respite in sight for the governor. Thirteen members of the assembly has dragged him and members of the G-5 group before the Federal High Court, Lokoja, over the passage and assent to the Kogi 2016 budget.
The suit filed by the reinstated Speaker and 12 others against Imam and 15 other respondents, also asked the court to declare that the governor’s assent to the appropriation bill is illegal, null and void.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, S. I. Ibrahim Esq. who filed the suit on May 17, 2016 on their behalf, sought to determine whether, “having regard to the exercise of the power of the National Assembly taking over the functions of the state House of Assembly pursuant to Section 11 (4) of the Constitution, the Kogi State House of Assembly could carry on any legislative bill and granting approval for accessing bailout fund or exercise any legislative powers however described during the pendency of the said National Assembly resolution”.
The lawmakers further sought the relief of the court to declare that only the National Assembly can legitimately legislate for the Kogi State House of Assembly pursuant to the takeover order on March 16, 2016. Among other reliefs, is a declaration by the court that the Kogi State House of Assembly Appropriation Law 2016 is illegal, null and void having been passed in violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Joined in the suit are the Attorney-General of the Federation, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Accountant General of Kogi State and Clerk of the Kogi State House of Assembly.
The National Assembly had ordered all pending legislative activities, including the 2016 budget, to be forwarded before it for deliberation. Hearing has been fixed for June 21, 2016.
Last week, however, the G-15 members, including Speaker Lawal, convened sitting after months of being shutout and relocation from the state. Members of the group, it was learnt, took their time to serve the court judgment at the state and national levels, before making their move, as they came fully prepared, together with the mace-bearing Sergeant-at-arms.
The judgment followed a suit, which the removed the Speaker, his deputy, seven other lawmakers and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), filed before the court through their lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN).
The five G-5 lawmakers, which effected the purported impeachment, were cited as the first to fifth defendants in the matter. Some security agencies and the Kogi State House of Assembly were also cited as defendants.
They asked the court to determine whether in view of provisions of the 1999 Constitution and Rules 3(1) & (2) of the Standing Rules of Kogi State House of Assembly, dated February 15, 2016, their removal was not unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, in a judgment delivered by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, reinstated the impeached Speaker. It equally restored the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Aliyu Akuh, and seven other principal officers of the assembly, saying the process that led to their purported impeachment on February 16, 2016, was unconstitutional and illegal.
In a two-hour judgment, it said that their removal was not in line with provisions of Sections 90, 91, 92 (2) (c), 95 (1) & (2) and 96 (1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Consequently, the court voided the purported election of Imam as Speaker, as well as the emergence of four others — FridaySani; Lawal A.T. Ahmed; Bello Abdullahi; and John Abah — as principal officers of the House.
Aside the Speaker and his deputy, others reinstated by the court include Hon. Kolawole Mathew, Osuyi Godwin, SundayShigaba, Ndako Idris, Oluwatoyin Lawal, Musa Jimoh and Victor Omofaye.
Specifically, the court held that “the continued sitting and conduct of the affairs of the Kogi State House of Assembly by the first to fifth defendants after the purported removal of the first plaintiff and other principal officers of the House and purported installation of themselves as principal officers of the Kogi State House of Assembly on February 16, 2016, is illegal having regard to Section 96 (1) of the Constitution and Rule 5 (1)”.
Besides, it restrained the Inspector General of Police, Director General of the State Security Service, the Commandant of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps, who were the seventh and eighth defendants in the suit, “from further barricading the complex of the House of Assembly and preventing the plaintiffs from accessing the hallowed chambers if the Kogi State House of Assembly to conduct their legal and legitimate duties as legislators validly elected to represent their various constituencies”.
The court, however, declined to declare that the security agencies, by their actions, aided and abetted the five lawmakers to carry out the purported impeachment, as well as the subsequent withdrawal of the Speaker’s vehicles (official and personal) and the withdrawal of security operatives attached to the embattled Speaker. It also refused to award general damages in the sum of N500 million.
Following the judgment, individuals, groups, organisations and concerned stakeholders took positions on the path they considered best to thread, to restore order to the Kogi legislative arm.
The Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) on the one hand tasked Governor Bello to make moves for the resolution of the crisis rocking the House of Assembly and ensure unity among the members. It charged the governor to mend fences with the political class in the state, particularly the All Progressives Congress (APC), so that the state would be properly positioned for the APC’s change mantra.
Speaking in Lokoja, the state capital, IPAC Chairman Ibrahim Itodo said the court judgment that nullified Lawal’s impeachment had given room for the governor to bring the two factions together.
Itodo condemned the activities of the G-5 that carried out the purported impeachment, saying it was obvious that five could not be more than 15 and that the judgment had rendered the decisions taken by the G-5 null and void.
The IPAC Chairman added: “We are using this channel to demand that all the bills passed from the inception of this administration by the minority members of the House of Assembly should be declared null and void, until the House of Assembly is one house for the unity and progress of the state. Emphatically to redress the ugly trend, we are urging Governor Yahaya Bello to make all efforts to unite the House and resolve the impasse for accelerated development, because this is a test of his leadership quality and capacity to be tracked”.
Itodo said after carefully observing the leadership style of the governor, that there was more to be done by him to achieve unity. He added: “If Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration wants to unite Kogi people, the questions are; how many supporters of Audu/Faleke faction were given appointment in this administration? How many political parties are carried along? Many groups such as civil society organisations, such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), have been sidelined by this administration”.
On his part, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR), Lokoja, Idris Miliki Abdul, called on members of the fractious assembly to respect the ruling of the Federal High Court upholding Lawal as Speaker. He admonished all concerned to allow peace reign in Kogi.
Abdul said that the decision of the court has vindicated their position that what went on since then at the assembly, including the passage of the state’s 2016 appropriation bill, were illegal and unconstitutional. He said: “We wondered where the group of five derived its authority to conduct that illegal action on February 16, 2016. And more disturbing, was the shadow activities by the state executive led by the governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, in identifying with the illegal activities of the five honourable members and claim to the whole world that there was no crisis in the assembly.”
The CHRCR director called on all affected persons and organs of the state to respect the rule of law and obey the court pronouncement on the matter. He added: “Now that an Abuja Federal High Court of competent jurisdiction has ruled that the purported impeachment of February 16, 2016, is null and void and of no effect, and that the principal officers purported to have been impeached, including the Speaker, Hon. Momohjimoh Lawal, is illegal, we therefore call on the Kogi State Assembly to respect the court ruling and return to the pre February 16, 2016 status quo and continue with the legitimate business of the assembly in the interest of rule of law, good governance and democracy.
“We call on the state executive led by Alhaji Yahaya Bello, to respect and abide this court ruling and let peace reign in the interest of justice, fairness, democratic principles and separation of power, and to restore all privileges and entitlements that were denied to the Kogi State House of Assembly members without further delay.”
On the day of their convening, there was heavy presence of security operatives, right from the main entrance to the assembly complex. When they arrived the complex, to commence plenary, the G-15 members found the gate locked.
After verbal altercations between them and the security agents, the main gate and chamber door were forced open to enable them begin the business of the day. The security agents tried to prevent the lawmakers, but they stood their ground, with some of them started shouting, “kill us now, kill us now, kill us now”, as they moved towards the hallowed chamber where they sat briefly and conducted legislative duty.
It was gathered that the assembly staff who had earlier reported for the day’s work were instructed to leave. They were said to have hurriedly locked their offices when information filtered in that the G-15 members were on their way to resume.
At the plenary, Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Sunday Shigaba, moved the motion for the lifting of the purported suspension of 10 members by the G-5 and called for the extension of hands of fellowship to those member on the other side of the divide. It was seconded by Hon. Ade Omofaye, who represents Ijumu Constituency.
Lawal commended the gallantry and selfless sacrifice of every member “who in the face of all the challenges stood against injustices and anti democratic tendencies at was at play”. He said: “Our struggle for the entrenchment of democracy in Kogi State has paid off with the judicial pronouncement made on Thursday May 19, 2016 . Permit me to commend the judiciary for standing by the truth.”
A motion for adjournment, was moved by the Majority Leader, Hon. Mathew Kolawole, and seconded by Hon. Linus Eneche. While the plenary session was in progress, a detachment of policemen led by the State Commissioner of Police (CP), Yakubu Usman, arrived the assembly complex.
With the arrival of Usman, another round of argument ensued between him and the legislators, who maintained they were doing their legitimate duty as members of the Kogi State House of Assembly. The scene later became rowdy, as policemen began the arrest of those they described as thugs.
The CP said later that he was informed that thugs had taken over the assembly complex, hence he reinforced the detachment of police to arrest the situation. The Directorate of State Security (DSS) boss who was also on the ground, said he was there to assess the situation in the complex.
The Police Command said it arrested four suspected thugs at the assembly complex. Parading them at Command headquarters Lokoja, Usman said he got a distress call that thugs have invaded the Kogi House of Assembly.
The suspect’s however protested vehemently, with one of them, Abdullahi Yakubu, insisting that he is the personal assistant to Hon. Idris Ndakwo, a member of the assembly who represents Lokoja II Constituency, saying they were picked at Crusher Village where his principal parked his car.
The factional Majority Leader, Hon. Friday Sani, however holds a contrary view. The lawmaker, in a radio programme monitored in Lokoja, described the actions of the G-15 members as illegal.
Observers say there is no end is no in sight yet in the Kogi assembly crisis. One of such observers who pleaded for anonymity, said experience has shown that political issues like the one in Kogi do not disappear easily or resolved through adjudication.
He said: “Kogi is not the first place this is happening and it will not be last. We witnessed this kind of scenario in Ekiti, and Governor Ayodele Fayose’s tenure outlived the lawmakers’. They also tried it with former Governor Gbenga Daniel. How then do you think ours will be different, when in time past, even those in your so-called G-15 benefited from the type of impunity that is now haunting them.”


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