Ondo assembly crisis and the shape of politics to come

Rotimi Akeredolu

Although it was expected that members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled Ondo State House of Assembly, majority of who got their seats through the influence of the governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, would abandon their benefactor and align with the All Progressives Congress (APC), many did not envisage that it would come so soon.

The expectation is a reflection of Nigeria’s politics where instead of abiding by the tenets of a functional democracy, selfish agenda and personal aggrandizement dictate the pace of the game to the detriment of the polity.

It is also a reflection of the country’s flawed process of selecting the peoples’ representatives where godfathers compromise the system to have their lackeys, who would later deny them, elected into legislatures.

During the Presidential and National Assembly elections of March 2015, the opposition APC garnered majority of the votes for its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, won two of the three senatorial seats and 5 out of the 9 slots in the House of Representatives.

The exuberant leadership of the APC, too sure of winning the majority in the House of Assembly elections scheduled to hold two weeks later, was all over town boasting of their plans to have Mimiko impeached when they took over control of the House of Assembly.

But in what came out to be a battle to remain politically relevant and retain the top seat, Mimiko, whose political strength had obviously waned at the time, deployed all the attributes that earned him the sobriquet Iroko, to win 21 seats for his party.

Mrs. Jumoke Akindele

By securing a comfortable majority in the House, Mimiko not only succeeded in protecting his seat, he also brought many unknown politicians, who practically rode on his back, to the limelight as legislators.

With the loss of the PDP in the last November 26 governorship election, many observers were expecting that like bees drawn to nectars as characteristics of politicians’ penchant for remaining within the corridors of power, many members of the party in the House would find their way to the new man of power at the Alagbaka Government House.

In jumping ships, the lawmakers would be repeating the scenario of 2009 when Mimiko of the then Labour Party (LP) inherited a PDP-controlled legislature from former governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu who was sent packing by the Judiciary.

It took the dexterity of the new governor, using the carrot and stick approach that led to the removal of the then Speaker, Taofik Abdusalaam and his Deputy, Mayowa Akinfolarin, to change the colour of the House from PDP’s yellow to LP’s orange.

With the late Samuel Adesina as the new Speaker that enjoyed the support of the governor, many of the PDP members in the Assembly, in one big harvest of decampment, crossed over to the LP to give Mimiko the needed control of parliament.

While it took that Assembly more than a year to succumb to Mimiko and LP’s entreaties and threats, the current legislature seems to be too quick in aligning with the new power base even before the inauguration of Akeredolu as the new occupant of the top seat.

Three weeks ago, the House of Assembly was thrown into turmoil over allegations of corruption against the Speaker, Jumoke Akindele, leading to her purported impeachment by half of the 26-member Assembly.

In defiance of the Constitution, which stipulates that a two-third majority can only impeach the Speaker, 13 members of the Assembly, in what can be likened to a “legislative coup,” announced that the Speaker and her Deputy, Fatai Olotu have been relieved of their posts.

In their stead, the members, 8 of them from the PDP and 5 from the APC, purportedly elected Malachi Coker and Ayodele Arowele, as acting Speaker and acting Deputy-Speaker respectively.

They specifically accused the Speaker of corruption, hinging their arguments on their “arrest” of the Assembly Paymaster, Adesina Makanjuola, with the sum of N15 million which they alleged were proceeds of graft.

The development led to a fracas on the floor of the Assembly resulting in the deployment of armed policemen to maintain law and order and eventual sealing of the complex allegedly on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police.

In the ensuing breakdown of security and paralysis of legislative functions, Mimiko was violently prevented from accessing the Assembly to present the 2017 budgetary proposals and his attempts to have the legislature approve a list of 38 bills was equally rebuffed.

The crisis has not only raised the political temperature of the state, it has provided a glimpse into what to expect as the new administration prepares to take over the reins of government on February 24.

Of course with the kind of politics of porridge that is already manifesting in the executive/legislative relationship, Ondo State electorate should not expect a truly functional democracy where the two arms of government will play their constitutional roles as envisaged by the system.

While the procedure of Akindele’s removal is obviously flawed because not only did it not conform with the two-third majority stipulated by the Constitution in Section 92 (2) (c) for impeachment of principal officers and the House Rules that stated that a simple majority is needed to suspend them, accusing fingers are being pointed in the direction of the APC as the instigator of the crisis.

The embattled Speaker was reported to have alleged that the APC, in its quest to have majority control of the Assembly for Akeredolu’s administration, is bent in having members of the PDP decamp to the APC even before the new government is sworn in.

She accused PDP members who were part of the plot against her of only looking for relevance in the new dispensation under which they hoped to retain their seats.

Some analysts have however picked a hole in Akindele’s allegation saying that with the coming of Akeredolu, a new power equation that will not support retaining the position of Speaker in her Southern Senatorial District has emerged.

In the state’s power equation, the three top positions of Governor, Deputy-Governor and Speaker, are always evenly distributed among the three Senatorial Districts. With Akeredolu from the North and his Deputy, Agboola Ajayi from the South, the position of Speaker should automatically be shifted to the Central Senatorial District.

This accepted position is contrary to the new move by the rebel lawmakers whose new leader, Coker, is from the South as Akindele leading to insinuations that the aim of the rebellion was only to cause confusion and prevent Mimiko from presenting his bills and the budget.

The APC, through its Publicity Secretary, Abayomi Adesanya, had accused the governor of attempting to tie the hands of the incoming administration with “obnoxious bills”, some of which he alleged are aimed at insulating the governor from corruption investigations.

The party also alleged that some of the bills are to put “a cover of legality” over some alleged illegal acts of the governor that had caused the state billions of naira in “contract racketeering.”

Some leaders of the party in particular, queried Mimiko’s attempt to present a budget, “only twenty days” to his exit from office and accused him of trying to arm-twist the Assembly into picking a legislator from his Ondo West State Constituency as the new Speaker of the House.

But Abayomi Akinruntan, one of the lawmakers, said the allegation are not true and that his colleagues may have been driven by their quest to “belong” in the new dispensation. According to him, “there is no basis for the crisis at all because the House Rule and the Constitution are very clear on the process to remove a Speaker.

“Besides, when you remove a Speaker, of course through a legal process, the position is filled by the Deputy Speaker. So what we are seeing are illegalities. We can only appeal to our members to let our responsibility to our constituents override all issues.”

One of the rebel lawmakers, Ogundeji Iroju, however justified their action stressing that they were actually 14 in number.

He insisted that the impeachment is irreversible “because the clerk of the House, Bode Adeyelu actually swore-in Coker and the new team. In the records of the legislature, the deal is sealed.”

The PDP, which has been meeting with its lawmakers to end the impasse, has however come out in stout defence of the governor, saying he still has the constitutional powers to carry out his duties before handing over to the new helmsman.

With the crisis effectively grounding the state’s legislative functions and creating an unpalatable impression that intra-government tussle may hinder Akeredolu’s administration, the leaderships of both the PDP and APC have begun moves to resolve the issue.

Last weekend, Akeredolu visited Mimiko at the Government House to apologise for the rebellion of the APC members in the Assembly and to exonerate himself from the attack on the governor, which he described as “uncalled for.”

He was however said to have told the governor that Akindele, by virtue of the new political order, would have to leave her office for somebody from the central, a position that Mimiko also supported.

During a visit to acting President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja on Monday, Mimiko also reiterated the position saying, “The governor now is from the Northern District and the Deputy-Governor is from the Southern District and then, the Speaker is from the South.

“There are those who feel that she should step aside so that they can get someone from the central senatorial district. I think that has been sorted out.

“But the group that purportedly impeached her, not even a simple majority can impeach the speaker, it has to be two-thirds. That is to tell you about the fact that 13 out of 26 members of the house don’t have constitutional or legal empowerment to impeach the Speaker. But as I speak with you now, she is ready to step aside any time once the house is properly constituted.’’

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