Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, has barely weeks to vacate office, yet, the hitherto peaceful state legislature, is currently locked in an intense leadership tussle, TOPE FAYEHUN writes
For the past one week, the Ondo State House of Assembly has been in crisis following the emergence of two factions claiming the leadership of the house.
While a faction backed by the governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, led by Rt. Hon. Jumoke Akindele, lays claim to the speakership, the other faction, backed by the All Progressives Congress, (APC) and led by Hon. Malachi Coker, aver that they have leadership the 26 member legislature.
Interestingly while PDP has 21 members, the APC has five lawmakers.
But the crisis took a turn for the worse on Friday, January 27, when some aggrieved members of the House, controversially impeached the Speaker, Rt Hon. Jumoke Akindele, Deputy Speaker; Hon. Fatai Olutu and Majority Leader; Hon. Dayo Akinsoyinu, over allegations of financial mismanagement.
They hurriedly appointed Hon. Malachi Coker representing Ilaje Constituency 1, Hon. Ayodele Arowele from Owo Constituency 1 and Hon. Olamide George, representing Akure North Constituency as the speaker, deputy speaker and majority leader respectively in acting capacity.
Addressing a press conference after the impeachment, Mr Iroju Ogundeji, who spoke on behalf of nine others, namely, Felemu Olusegun, Olamide George, Malachi Coker, Olugbenga Araoyinbo, Suleiman Maito, Musa Mukaila, Sunday Olajide and Ayo Arowele, said their decision to remove the leadership was irreversible.
Ogundeji said the members had last year impeached the leadership but rescinded the decision due to the intervention of the Governor Olusegun Mimiko and other leaders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Ogundeji however the latest impeachment action resulted from the discovery of N15m in the hands of the Pay Master of the Assembly, which was indicative of an alleged looting of funds in the Assembly.
He said it was when they arrested the Pay Master that an emergency plenary session was conveyed and the leadership was impeached, while the Clerk of Assembly, Mr Bode Adeyelu, who took part in the session, swore in the new leadership.
He however asked the governor and security agencies to recognize the new leadership and withdraw the recognition given to the erstwhile leaders of the Assembly.
But the faction led by the embattled speaker, Princess Jumoke Akindele, insists that Coker’s faction did not have the required number to carry out a legitimate impeachment process.
Speaking on behalf of the faction, the Chairman House Committee on Information, Hon. Siji Akindiose, dismissed the impeachment as exercise in futility as they need not less than 18 members to carry out any lawful change in the leadership.
While accusing the incoming APC as the sponsor of the crisis in the Assembly, Akindiose berated some members of the PDP for allowing themselves to be used to destabilize the peace in the Assembly, noting that the fund being paraded by the aggrieved lawmakers as proceed of fraud was meant for project and that it was properly appropriated for and approved by the leadership of the House.
Also, the embattled speaker, Jumoke Akindele, while reacting to the allegation of financial mismanagement, said that she was innocent of all the allegation levelled against her by other faction.
Akindele blamed some elements in the PDP caucus who are interested in proving their loyalty to the incoming administration in the state for the crisis rocking the Assembly.
She said, the people are desirous of becoming speaker and deputy speaker at all cost and are therefore playing to the gallery to show the incoming government that they are “disenchanted” with the outgoing governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
According to her, “I was in Lagos on Friday the 27th January, 2017 when I got a call that some members, about 13 of them had allegedly removed the leadership of the House comprising myself as Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Majority Leader on the puerile and baseless claim of fraud or financial impropriety.
“ I wish to place it on record that though I am the signatory to the Schedule, I am not a signatory to the cheques of the House. I did sign the Schedule in line with the budget passed by the House so that I do not hold up the business of the House in the likely event that I do not return from my journey early enough. I did not speak with the Clerk and I most certainly did not speak with the Director of Finance and Administration on the issue of cheques or any other matter at all. I did not ask the Pay Master, Mr. Makanjuola Adeshina, who was unfortunately brutalized by some of my colleagues to bring any funds to my House. The Pay Master is the lawful custodian of all unspent funds of the House and he was only acting in his official capacity as such.
“The funds in question are meant for some projects in the House as passed in the Budget and approved by the Approving Authority. Only the unfair ones who are hell bent on superintending the House funds have problems with where the funds are kept.
“However, I wish to state that the primary reason for the entire problem is because certain elements of the PDP caucus seem more interested in proving their loyalty to the incoming administration in Ondo State instead of their own party and are actively working hand in hand with their APC counterparts to destabilize what would have been one of the most peaceful transitions ever.
“Permit me to state at this juncture that I am not desperate to continue to sit as speaker in the Assembly. I wish to place it on record and I have said to all that cares to listen that I was actually set to resign because the geopolitical configuration of the state had changed since the emergence of the Governor from the North and the Deputy Governor from the South. An age long tradition that demands that the Speaker must of necessity emerge from the Central district of Ondo State.
“On my part I have prepared myself for resignation since the emergence of Hon John Mafo as the deputy governorship candidate of the PDP who is from the South where I hail from. I have chosen to sustain this position, in spite of my willingness to resign because I owe it to all Speakers and all law abiding people in Nigeria who are naturally worried of the dangerous precedent that may be created if fraud, forgery and forceful takeover of this nature is allowed to prevail.”
Akindele also added that, “It is disheartening that some of my honorable colleagues forged the signatures of five members to make up their list. The members whose signatures were forged have strenuously asserted that their signatures were forged and have stood with the leadership of the House since the unfolding of this sad chapter in the annals of the history of our State.
“Section 92(2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) is clear on the procedure for the removal of a Speaker or Deputy Speaker. The Standing Orders of the House is also explicit on the same subject. It is unconstitutional, illegal and therefore null and void for anyone to contrive to do so in any other manner.
However, a new twist was added to the crisis on Monday when the two warring factions met at the floor of the House. The faction loyal to Coker had gained access to the gained entrance to the Assembly premises as early as 6:00 a.m and decided to hold plenary with their speaker sitting on the speaker’s seat in readiness for the business of the day.
Few minutes later, Akindele’s faction stormed the Assembly and the embattled speaker personally challenged Coker that he has no right to sit on the speaker’s seat and Coker told her she is no longer the Assembly speaker because she had been impeached. This resulted in altercation between the two factions.
The timely intervention of the police, led by the state Commissioner of Police, Mrs. Hilda Ibifuro-Harrison, saved the day, preventing a break down of law and order. The security operatives who were already at the Assembly premises immediately ordered the lawmakers including the workers to vacate the Assembly complex and consequently sealed off the Assembly complex.
Addressing journalists few minutes after at the residence of the embattled deputy Speaker, chairman of Information Committee, Hon. Oluwasiji Akindiose, expressed regrets over the Assembly’s closure and accused fifth columnists of fueling the crisis.
Akindiose, who insisted the other faction did not have the required number to carry out the impeachment said, “Impeachment is a long process. You must give the other side a fair hearing before going ahead with the impeachment. We are not comfortable with the closure of the Assembly.
“Some people are hell bet on stopping the seamless transition going on in the state. Those who did it will soon regret their actions because with the closure of the Assembly, we cannot serve our various constituency now. “
Akindiose, however expressed optimism that the crisis will soon be resolved, insisting that it was just a family affair.
But the other faction are hell bent on having their way. They have called on the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to urgently withdraw the policemen attached to the former leadership of the Assembly.
Speaking on behalf of other members, Hon. Iroju Ogundeji Iroju said their decision to remove Akindele and others remain unchanged.
Ogundeji said, “On Monday, we got a wind that the minority group led by the former speaker wanted to sit and we swung into action by carrying the mace which is the symbol of authority and we told them that they are on suspension and they started begging.
“The impeachment carried out on Friday evening last week remain unchanged and the business of the house continues despite the closure. All the banks must desist from transacting business with the former leadership of the house because they are already on suspension.
While showing the copy of the impeachment notice signed by 20 out of the 26 members, he debunked the allegation that members of the faction molested and dehumanised the House Pay Master.
He said the Pay Master was caught by the members and he (The Pay Master) said he was acting on the order of the former leadership.
Consequently, the state governor, who was billed to present the 2017 appropriation bill to the House was unable to do so. The security situation had become dicey. As such, he stayed away from the Assembly complex in order to prevent another clash.
The 13 aggrieved members who were ready to receive the governor, waited endlessly, got tired and slept off. By 4pm, and when it was clear that the governor will show up, they held a session without the Clerk of the House, Bode Adeyelu and the mace, and adjourned “sitting”.
As it stands, the factions have 13 members each and it is difficult to predict where the pendulum will swing. However, it is gathered that the governor, who has few days left to the end of his tenure, insists on having Akindele as the speaker, while the other faction maintain that their impeachment of Akindele and others stands.
Interestingly, Mimiko had, following the outcome of last year’s governorship election, planned to replace Akindele with another of his ally. But this move to impeach her now seems to be altering his script.
Mimiko’s inability to produce his successor in the November 26, governorship election in the state created an uncertainty over his political future when he leaves office.
That uncertainly had informed his forage into state legislature, it was gathered.
The governor had last year held a meeting with some stakeholders to effect a leadership change in the Ondo State House of Assembly. But leaders of his party in the state, who got wind of the plot, kicked against.
LEADERSHIP, learnt that those who reportedly expressed misgivings about the plan changes included former presidential adviser, Hon Kingsley Kuku, Professor Olu Agbi, Dr Bode Olajumoke, Mr Eddy Olafeso and the state secretary of the PDP, Ola Ibini among others.
Nevertheless, the planned exit of Akindele, whom Mimiko made speaker even as a first timer in the house, was hatched at that meeting.
According to Mimiko’s alleged script, the planned leadership changes billed to take place shortly after the New Year celebration will see to the replacement of Akindele, with Hon. Ifedayo Akinsoyinu, a long standing ally of the governor and lawmaker representing Ondo West, constituency 11.
The current deputy speaker, Hon Fatai Owoseni from Akoko North East(Ikare) will retain his position. Also, Hon Iroju Ogundeji from Odigbo 1, is slated to emerge as majority leader, while Hon Abayomi Akinruntan (Ilaje1) will be chief whip. The current speaker (Akindele), Ogundeji as well as Akinruntan are from the South Senatorial district as the incoming deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi while Akinsoyinu, a three time legislator, is from the Central Senatorial district. Olotu is from the North.
Giving light to the move last year, a member of the pro-Mimiko/Clement Faboyede-led state executive committee of the PDP had told our correspondent in confidence said “The fact that the current governor could not produce his successor should be an emotional burden that people should feel for him.
‘’If he could not produce his successor, why can’t he at least try and produce the speaker when the opportunity for such is available. The current speaker is from the south, like the incoming deputy. The deputy speaker and the incoming governor are from the north. But what about the central?”
He disclosed that as much as the governor would have loved the Akure zone to produce the speaker in the impending changes, “the only PDP lawmaker from the zone is a lady and the governor has reservations about her capacity.”
The governor appears to be racing against time as his tenure is almost over. Whether or not the governor will have his way in this episode, time shall provide the answer.