Omonu Yakubu Nelson writes on the unwinding political intrigues in Kogi State.
Kogi, the confluence state has been in the news for a while, regrettably for wrong reasons. The state has been embroiled in political quagmire, since the death of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress candidate (APC), Prince Abubakar Audu in the midst of the November 21st 2015, governorship election. A situation never envisaged by the Constitution of Nigeria. This development ignited a barrage of legal opinions by legal luminaries.
Because of the legal lacuna, the stakeholders were at dagger drawn on what becomes of their fate in the inconclusive election, occasioned by the death of Prince Audu.
While the APC, whose candidate was coasting home to victory before the cold hands of death snatched its candidate, insisted that it must be given the opportunity to substitute its candidate, the running mate to Audu in the botched election, Hon. James Faleke, believe that it is needless for a substitution. He should be allowed to step in and sail the boat in which he was co-traveling with late Audu to the sea shore. But in the discretion of the party, they decided to replace late Audu with Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the runner-up, in the APC governorship primaries that produced late Abubakar.
On the other hand, the People Democratic Party (PDP), whose candidate came close, second place argued that, the late Audu sank with his votes and that his votes cannot be inherited by any other. As such, its candidate, then incumbent governor Idris Wada, haven’t scored highest ‘living votes’ should be declared winner of the election. All the claimants are currently swimming in legal waters in a bid to have a fair judgement at the election petition tribunal, seating in the FCT, Abuja. The rest is left to the men steeped in legal wisdom and interpretation to decide.
However, the emergence of Alhaji Bello created the current dilemma of delicate ethnic political balance that is manifesting as crisis at the State House Assembly. The Kogi State Assembly, inaugurated on the 3rd of June, 2015, has been engulfed by all manner of absurd political controversies. The unwholesome legislative antics led to the purported impeachment of the Hon. Momoh JimoH Lawal led House on the 19th November, 2015, by 17 members of the 20 member State House Assembly. In his stead, Hon Godwin Osiji of Ogori-Magongo constituency was elected speaker. However, the impeachment couldn’t stand as a result of inter-play of political forces. In the end, the Hon Godwin Osiji led faction sheath their sword and joined forces with Hon Momoh Jimoh Lawal. Recall that the 25 member Kogi State House Assembly was depleted to 20 by Kogi state election petition tribunal. Before re-run elections were recently conducted to fill the five vacant seats.
In an unending political drama, hardly had the dust from the November 19th impeachment settled that, a group of five legislators led by Alhaji Imam Umar of Lokoja State constituency 1, against all known laws, announced the impeachment of the speaker, Hon. Lawal on February 16, 2016. In his place, the group said, they have elected Alhaji Imam Umar as speaker. With the active connivance of security forces, the Alhaji Umar led faction had unfettered access to the House of Assembly Complex. This further lend credence to the insinuation that the state executive was behind the crisis rocking the State House of Assembly.
On February 18, 2016, the scheduled date for the resumption of plenary by the substantive speaker, Hon Lawal, the police barricaded the legislative arena, located at Zone 8 area of the ancient city, Lokoja. Analysts and political watchers described the excuses of the state police command that they have uncovered a threat to peace and order of the State, especially, arson on the State Assembly complex, as clumsy and untenable.
Following worrisome trend and acting on the strength of the petition written to the National Assembly by the embattled speaker of the state Assembly, Hon. Lawal, the House of Representatives relied on section 10 of the 1999 constitution, which empowers it to intervene, in case of intractable crises in any State Assembly, to set-up a 10 man House committee headed by the Deputy Chief Whip, Hon. Paddy Oriase, to unravel the remote causes of the crises and work-out an amicable solution.
Owing to concatenation of events; during the committee’s assignments, especially, the lukewarm disposition of Gov. Yahaya Bello to the committee’s assignment and the refusal of the leader of the renegade five legislators, Alhaji Umar, to appear before the committee, the committee went ahead to submit its findings to the plenary. Acting on the facts of the report, the House of Representatives promptly announced the takeover of the functions of Kogi State House of Assembly.
Since the declaration by the House of Reps, the police has been seemingly soft on enforcing the order for the closure of the State Assembly. And the Kogi dilemma has become the subject of media bazaar. From one political brinkmanship or the other. Brazen illegality has taken the place of serious government businesses that would have transform the life of the people.
Pointing accusing finger, a highly placed sources close to Lugard house, who pleaded anonymity because of the security of his job, described the happening in the State as a ‘mockery of democracy.’ He cited the shameful way the 2016 State appropriation bill, presented to the Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal led House by the former governor, Capt. Idris Wada, on the 10th of December, 2015, was passed into law by the Alhaji Umar led five man faction.
In Kogi State today, the governor’s concern for power balance in the state, is commendable. However, grapevine is rife in the state that the governor over-stepped his bounds. And that the attempts seems to have assumed a macabre dimension. They suspect that the current desperation to shove aside the PDP speaker of the House is more than meet the eye.
On why the governor seems to be taking the political quarrel, personal, a top official of the State APC, who declined been mentioned said, when Alhaji Bello was declared governor-elect, he sent a high power delegation to appeal to the speaker, Hon. Momoh Jimoh Lawal, to step-down from his position when he is sworn-in. The governor feared that that may violate the prevailing political understanding in the state and might as well undermined the people’s support for his administration. The speaker was said to have given his word to the delegation despite their party differences.
But shortly after Alhaji Bello was sworn-in on January 27th, 2016, the speaker, Hon. Lawal reneged on the ‘gentleman’ agreement. Vowing to stay-on despite tremendous pressure from the Lugard House, as Kogi government House is fondly called. The governor was said to have been enraged by the alleged betrayal of the speakers. Since then, there have never been no love-lost between the duo.
The most intriguing aspect of the whole political drama is that; why did Hon Lawal, reneged? Sources close the embattled speaker said that the speakers’ decision to backpedal was premised on the political calculation that, he stands to reap bountifully, in case the governor suffers casualty at the election petition tribunal. Because a speaker by law is expected to occupy the governor’s office until fresh election is conducted. Another issue that came was the party difference. The speaker is said to be under immense pressure from party men not to sacrifice their party on the altar of ethnicity.
Other school of thought are of the opinion that, the governor is wetting ground for a re-run, in case the election petition tribunal calls for one. He want his party man, Hon. Umar, to be the speaker of the House, at all cost, so that, if the unexpected happens at the tribunal, his stooge will become the acting governor. The governor is said to be more at home with an acting governor from an insignificant tribe than trusting an opposition acting governor. A situation that may work in favour or against his re-election, depending which option prevailed.
The governor is said to be working assiduously to curry favour from the Igalas, the largest ethnic group in the state by proving to them that, politics in multi-ethnic state like Kogi, can be done with equity, justice and fairness in focus. The popular political insinuations in the state is that the Igalas has cash-in, on their overwhelming population to play politics of ‘Tyranny of the majority.’
However, Momoh Jimoh Lawal seems to be bagging some victories in the raging war as Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday ordered his reinstatement as the Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly.
Lawal and 9 other principal members of the Assembly had challenged their impeachment by a faction of the house led by Umar Imam on February 16, insisting that due process of the law was not followed.
Other plaintiffs were Aliyu Akuh (deputy speaker), Kolawole Matthew, Osiyi Godwin, Sunday Shigaba, Ndako Idris, Oluwatoyin Lawal, Musa Jimoh, Victor Omofaye and the Peoples Democratic Party.
Imam, Friday Sani, Lawal Ahmed, Bello Abdullahi and John Abah, were listed as the 1st to 5th defendants.
Also listed as defendants were the IGP, DG-DSS, Commandant Civil Defence Corps and Kogi State House of Assembly.
Judge Dimgba ordered the 1st to 5th defendants to “Immediately vacate the different offices they now purportedly occupy by reason of the purported impeachment and removal of the Speaker and other Principal Officers.
The judge directed the Speaker (Lawal) and the other Principal Officers (2nd to 9th plaintiffs) to immediately resume their duties in their different offices as they were never impeached and/or removed.
Justice Dimgba also ordered the DSS, Civil Defence Corps and KSHA “to immediately restore the security details of the 1st plaintiff (Lawal) and other Principal Officers purportedly impeached or removed by the illegal acts of the 1st to 5th defendants”.
He restrained the 7th to 9th defendants from further barricading the complex of the House of Assembly and preventing the plaintiffs from accessing the hallowed chambers of the KSHA to conduct their legal and legitimate duties as legislators validly elected to represent their various constituencies.
While it is expected that an appeal to this judgement will emerge soon, the political upheaval in the state is far from over.