The Kogi State House of Assembly member representing Yagba West Constituency and chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Mr Oluwatoyin Lawal, in this interview by YINKA OLADOYINBO, speaks on the lingering crisis in the assembly and the way out.
What is the basis of the crisis in the state House of Assembly?
The problem is about the leadership of the house and it started with the governor wanting to impose a particular person as the Speaker of the House, which cannot augur well for the members. At the inception of the present administration, the governor held a meeting with members of the House and told them about his intention to make Honourable Umar Imam the speaker, maybe because he is from the central senatorial district. The state is divided in three senatorial zones – east, west and central districts. The governor, coming from the central senatorial district, apparently felt that the present speaker, Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal, who is from the same district, should not be the Speaker. He felt Lawal should resign and allow another person to take over but the members said that constitutionally, they had the responsibility of electing their Speaker and that is the crux of the matter.
But it was alleged that at the meeting you just mentioned, some of you agreed to the proposal that Lawal should resign for Imam be the Speaker…
I don’t know those who agreed with the governor but definitely, I am not one of those who agreed with the governor that Lawal should resign. I was never a party to any meeting where it was decided that the Speaker would resign for the governor to impose another person.
It was alleged that it was after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members in the House met with the National Working Committee (NWC) of their party in Abuja that you changed tune.
If there was any agreement that Lawal should resign, it must have been at an informal meeting, because no part of the constitution says that the governor and the Speaker cannot come from the same place. It is just an arrangement to make sure that things are balanced in the state. If we want to change the leadership of the House, it should be the responsibility of those of us in the House to elect a new Speaker, not for the governor to dictate who is going to be the Speaker. At that particular meeting, he said he had zoned the speakership to the west and at the same time he had zeroed in on Imam, which did not go down with some of us who are from the west.
How do you see the situation where the G5 is sitting and your group, the G15, which is the majority, cannot sit?
We are unable to sit because the governor does not want us to sit. We are all aware of what happened when soldiers were used to barricade the assembly complex and the same soldiers led the G5 to go and sit in spite of a valid court order which declared the purported impeachment of Lawal as illegal.
The G5 claimed to have appealed against the judgement and, therefore, you cannot implement it.
What we know is that an appeal does not operate as a stay of execution. What they filed in the court is a notice of appeal. They have not filed the appeal yet. They have filed a motion seeking court’s declaration that the judgment be set aside and its execution stayed. The motion has not been heard. They have not even served our lawyer so, where did they get the stay of execution they are brandishing? If they have it, let them produce a valid ruling of the court staying the execution of the judgment of 19 May, then we will comply but they don’t have it. A motion for stay of execution is not something that is heard behind the other party, it is a motion on notice, not an exparte. The court has not sat to hear it.
What are the details of the judgement that you got at the Federal High Court?
There are so many issues in the court order. Principally, it reinstated Lawal as the Speaker and other principal officers. It also ordered Imam and his group to vacate immediately, the positions they are claiming to hold now. The order also asked the police to restore the security details of Lawal and make sure that they are not preventing the sitting of the House.
Now that the order of the court is not respected, what is going to be the next line of action of your group?
The law is always our recourse. We are law-abiding people and we are going to avail ourselves of the machinery of the court to make sure that they comply with the order. Definitely, what they have committed is pure contempt and we intend to begin a contempt proceeding against Imam and those who sat after the judgement.
What now happens to the actions taken by the House since the purported removal of Lawal as Speaker?
The court did not grant the order to set aside all those things but it does not mean that all the bad actions that they have taken will stay. They are just interpreting the order of the court mischievously by saying that the suspension of the 10 members will hold. They are on appeal so, why are they in a hurry to interpret the judgement on their own? If they have appealed the judgment, they should wait for the court to determine their case. We are even cross-appealing that particular issue.
What do you think the crisis in assembly portends for the state?
The onus is on the governor who is supposed to be the father of the state to make sure that he respects a valid court order by restoring the leadership of Lawal. The way forward is for the assembly to come together and chart a new course. All members will have to sit under the same roof and take a decision. We are members of the same family and I don’t see a reason we cannot come together and chart a way forward without the interference of the executive.
But the governor has denied any involvement in the crisis.
We all know that, that is not true. We all know that the governor is an interested party and if he decides that the leadership crisis ends tomorrow, it will definitely end. He knows what to do.
If the governor decides that the crisis should end, are G15 members ready to toe his line of argument by ensuring that Lawal leaves the seat to ensure balance among the senatorial zones of the state?
That is left to the entire members of the House. When we begin to sit, we will take a decision that will be in the best interest of the state.
What about the allegation that the G15 is being influenced by external forces to remain adamant on this crisis?
I don’t know of any external forces that are behind us. All we are doing is for the institution of legislative arm of government, the need for the independence of the legislative arm, the need for us to be able to work according to the dictate of the constitution, to make sure that there is separation of power. I don’t believe that any external force has to be behind us before we can do that. If the executive have to have their way in everything, that will lead to dictatorship and will not be in the interest of Kogi State. We are not unaware that there should be collaboration between the executive and the legislative arms but a situation where the executive wants to dictate everything to the legislative arm will not augur well for democracy.
It is alleged that your group has got the backing of the House of Representatives courtesy of Honourable Abiodun Faleke.
We have 360 members in the House of Representatives. Can Hon. Faleke as a person influence the decision of the House of Representatives? We presented our case, and on the day the House sat to take a decision, Hon Faleke was not around, so, the allegation is absurd.
With the kind of enmity between the G15 and the G5, do you think it is still possible for the two groups to sit under one roof and work together again?
I don’t see any enmity between us. Most members meet regularly at different fora and they interact. I don’t believe we are sworn enemies to the extent that we can’t sit together and take decision. It is just that the executive does not want the legislative arm to work.
Has there been any move by elders of the state to resolve this crisis?
I don’t know of any attempt by any elder of Kogi State but I know there have been several attempts on the part of the House members to make sure that we sit down together and iron out our differences in order to be able to move on. Several times, members of our group have approached the G5 to let us come together and discuss but these attempts were frustrated. Before the court delivered its judgment, a meeting was supposed to be take place and all of us in the G15 waited, only for us to learn that the G5 had gone to the Government House to sit and that was the end of the reconciliation meeting. A second attempt was made after the judgement for us to be able to sit. We waited but the G5 won’t show up.
Don’t you think the lingering crisis is having negative effect on the people you are supposed to be representing?
There is no doubt that the crisis is affecting governance in Kogi State. It is affecting our various constituencies because they are yearning for dividends of democracy. They are eager for us to support them in various forms. For instance, we in G15 have not been collecting our salary, so, there is no way we can help our constituents. These are some of the problems but it is a pain that they have to bear for democracy to foster. The solution to the crisis is for the G5 to accept Lawal as the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly.
Credit: Yinka Oladoyinbo / Tribune