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Opinions of Sunday, 7 November 2021

Columnist: punchng.com

Assembly Crisis: Lawmakers stoking fire on the Plateau

The photo used to illustrate the story The photo used to illustrate the story

The recent alleged impeachment of the Plateau House of Assembly Speaker, Abok Ayuba, has ignited a crisis that appears difficult to handle by stakeholders in the state as two lawmakers lay claim to the leadership of the legislative arm of government, writes JAMES ABRAHAM.

Rather than abate, the leadership crisis in the Plateau State House of Assembly between Abok Ayuba and Yakubu Sanda over who should be recognised as the authentic Speaker has, like a sore tomb, continued to fester.

Since last week, the Assembly complex located along John Samci Road in Jos, the state capital, has been under siege by supporters of both factions.

Security operatives as well as thugs are not left out as the crowd continues to build up outside the premises of the state Assembly. During the week, there were gunshots at the Assembly as supporters of Ayuba, who represents Jos East Constituency, and Sanda, representing Pengana Constituency, clashed.

It was gathered that the fight resulted in the breaking of some doors and windows of the Assembly complex while some people also sustained injuries in the process.Across Plateau State, there is discontent among the various groups over the lingering dispute with many expressing the fear that the situation might turn into a serious violence, capable of engulfing the state if nothing urgent is done to address the problem.

Investigation by Saturday PUNCH revealed that although there were crises in the past in the state House of Assembly which resulted in the change of the Speakers and other principal officers, the current crisis appeared to be unique as none of the past crises had ever produced two factions laying claim to the position of the Speaker.Observers say the situation at the Assembly is a case of bosom friends turned against each other in their bid to navigate the ship of the state to a particular direction which in turn will shape the destiny of its people.

However, their choices of direction are diametrically opposed to each other.  Between June 11, 2019 and October 28, 2021, Ayuba, who was elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, was in charge of the 9th state Assembly as Speaker.

He is a first time lawmaker. Under his leadership, the relationship between the state legislature and the executive arm of the government was so cordial to the extent that at a point, he was accused of being lily-livered and a rubber stamp to the executive arm. But signs that the good relationship between the two arms of government has hit the rock became glaring when rumours of the possible impeachment of Ayuba as Speaker became rife.

Ayuba was alleged to have incurred the wrath of the state Governor, Simon Lalong, a man he had maintained a cordial relationship with since he assumed office as Speaker. The source of the rumour was not unconnected with the handling of the security challenges in the state by the governor. The feud between them eventually blew to the open when Ayuba openly accused the state governor of shutting the state Assembly over the lawmakers’ stance on insecurity in the state.

No fewer than 100 persons were killed in different communities by gunmen within a month at the time, with the latest being the attack in Yelwa Zangam village of Jos North Local Government Area which left over 30 people killed and houses burnt. Ayuba had reportedly felt Lalong had not done enough to address the security challenges. Ayuba, who expressed concern over the killings when he appeared on Sunrise Daily, a Channels Television programme, noted that the House had passed several resolutions on how to address the security problem, but that none of them had been implemented by the executive arm of the government led by Lalong.

Ayuba said, “To us as members of the state House of Assembly, we feel that he (governor) turned a deaf ear. As I am speaking to you, the House of Assembly is under siege of the security agents because we are standing for the people. We feel that the executive does not respect the law. We have every right as members of the state House of Assembly to say what we said because we have immunity on the floor of the House; that is why we said the people should protect themselves and not just go to sleep as if nothing is happening.”

Dismissing the Speaker’s position that the state was behind the assembly crisis as false, the state Commissioner for Information, Dan Manjang, said, “We wish to make it abundantly clear that the executive arm of government and the governor are not aware or behind the purported sealing of the House as it does not dabble into the affairs of another independent arm of government.“To the best of our knowledge, the House of Assembly remains open for legislative business.

The good people of Plateau State and members of the public are advised to ignore the allegation.”Since the exchange of words between the governor and the former speaker over the security situation started, they have hardly been seen attending functions together while the rumours of plot to impeach the speaker had also persisted. But such rumours were eventually laid to rest last week when some lawmakers impeached Abok in controversial circumstances.

The lawmakers from the ruling APC had gathered as early as 5.30 am on Thursday in the chamber of the House of Assembly. The tight security around the State Assembly complex that morning indicated that something was about to happen.

When the impeachment process began, the PDP members in the house, who were loyal to Ayuba, seized the mace in a futile attempt to stop his (Ayuba) ouster, but the lawmakers immediately elected Sanda from Bassa Local Government Area, as their new Speaker despite the opposition from members of the minority PDP, who accused the plotters of breaching the House rules and not having the two-third majority required by law to carry out the impeachment.However, the embattled Ayuba, later same Thursday, held separate plenary with about 12 lawmakers. Ayuba reportedly led other lawmakers to another location with the mace, where they suspended six of the lawmakers that participated in his impeachment for gross misconduct.

The lawmakers also passed a vote of confidence in Ayuba as Speaker of the Assembly and insisted that only eight lawmakers participated in the removal of the embattled speaker and therefore, his removal would not standOne of the lawmakers loyal to Ayuba and member representing Rukuba Irigwe constituency, Musa Agah, said, “The Assembly is made up of 24 members and the constitutional requirement for the removal of the Speaker is 16 members. How can eight members carry out an impeachment and expect it to stand?

As far as we are concerned, Abok Ayuba remains the Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly.”But lawmakers loyal to Sanda, the new Speaker believed to have the backing of the state governor, vowed that Ayuba’s impeachment had come to stay. One of the lawmakers representing Mikang State Constituency, Naalong Daniel said, “We followed due process in removing Ayuba as Speaker and we have elected a new Speaker who is the member representing Pengana Constituency, Yakubu Sanda. Sixteen of the lawmakers carried out the impeachment of the former Speaker.

So, there is no going back as his removal is a forgone issue.”However, the controversy raised by the impeachment has refused to die down as both Ayuba and Sanda have continued to lay claim to the position of the Speaker, causing tension in the state to the point that there is almost a state-wide demand by stakeholders for dialogue and negotiation.Ayuba and his supporters had regrouped at the Assembly complex with 11 lawmakers loyal to him and others said to have sent in their apologies. But many stakeholders have voiced their concern over the lingering Assembly crisis.

Police bar Plateau Assembly warring factions, seal complex Former governor of the state, Senator Jonah Jang, warned that the stalemate in the Assembly, if not properly handled, could lead to more serious problems. Jang, who accused Lalong of being responsible for the crisis in the Assembly, urged the governor to toe the line of peace and allow the lawmakers chose their leader.

The former governor, who spoke in a statement by his Media Consultant, Clinton Garuba, said, “Ordinarily, one would have thought that the governor, himself, a former Speaker of the House of Assembly, who was impeached, would have learned from the mistakes of the past and etch his name in gold. But here we are, retrogressively marching beyond the dark days of our past.”On the other hand, Lalong has also come out to wash his hands off the crisis in the Assembly. In a statement by his Commissioner for Information, Dan Manjang, the Governor maintained that he had granted autonomy to the state legislature and wondered why anyone would accuse him of meddling in its affairs.

Lalong, who also berated the former governor for associating him with crisis, said, “We again reiterate and make the point clear to him (Jang) and his dwindling supporters that Governor Lalong has no hand in the impeachment of former Speaker, Abok Nuhu Ayuba, or the emergence of Rt. Hon. Yakubu Sanda as the new Speaker. If the former Governor has any evidence, then he can put it in the public domain and stop ranting and inciting the people against the government.”But despite Lalong’s denial of any involvement, not a few stakeholders are insisting that the solution to the crisis lies in his hands.A former Speaker of the state Assembly, George Daika, said the crisis had persisted because the right thing was not done in removing the Speaker.“The crisis at the Assembly has continued because the purported impeachment was not done rightly. You can impeach the Speaker, but there are requirements and laid down procedures.

From what I have seen, we are talking about between six and eight lawmakers who impeached the Speaker and that number obviously did not form a quorum. If that is true, it means that we are going back to a dark era in the history of the state where six persons sat and impeached a sitting Speaker. We all know that the Supreme Court eventually reversed that impeachment and everything they did and that is why the beneficiary Speaker was not known as Speaker till today in the history of Plateau State legislature. The same situation is almost playing out now, and I think Governor Simon Lalong needs to do something because he is saying he does not know anything about it of which I’m not in a position to confirm that. But what we need in Plateau is peace.

The executive and the legislative need to move the state forward,” Daika said.Also, a coalition of 22 Civil Society Organisations in Plateau State urged the lawmakers not to take the people who elected them into office for granted by condoning acts of impunity and lawlessness at the Assembly. Leaders of the groups, including the Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Steve Aluko, and the Director of Equally Access, Gad Peter, who condemned the leadership crisis, lamented that the ugly development had impacted negatively on the economy of the state.

Gad said, “We are saddened by the current unnecessary leadership tussle in the Plateau State House Assembly which daily heat up the political atmosphere, threatening the peace and corporate existence of the state, making life unbearable for citizens and inculcating the culture of violence and use of force instead of debate, diplomacy and dialogue. It is therefore critical at this point to call on all parties, especially those trying to forcefully change the rules to follow the rules of engagement and constitutional provisions (Sec 92, Sub-sec 2c) so that lawmakers do not become law breakers as we see in this saga.

“While we commend all gallant officers of all security agencies in the state that have sacrificed their time and life for the maintenance of peace and support for democracy and civic space, we, however, wish to urge the various security agencies in the state that they should maintain an impartial posture in handling the ongoing attempt at ‘leadership change’ in the state House of Assembly. This call became imperative because there is a general perception that the State Security Service and the Nigeria Police Force have not been strategic arbiters in handling the impasse thus far. We are worried that the security agencies in the state saddled with the responsibility of providing security, restoring peace and maintaining law and order seems to have become a party in the impasse.“

We want to use this platform to call on the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the State Security Service to caution their personnel, so that they will not compromise the security architecture of the state which is still fragile. They should stand on the side of justice, fairness and peace. They should not avail and allow themselves to be used by politicians as toys or tools of instability. We are also worried by the militarisation of the civic space where military personnel on bikes are always deployed to harass, scuffle, and intimidate harmless civilians, firing indiscriminately under the guise of maintaining peace and order, when in the real sense, there is absolutely no threat to peace and order.

Similarly, Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria appealed to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to intervene in the leadership crisis rocking the Plateau State House of Assembly.Chairman of the Conference and Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Abubakar Suleiman, who led other Speakers from Ogun, Ebonyi and Ekiti states, made the plea during a crucial meeting between the leadership of the Speakers’ Conference and the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, which took place at the Governors Forum’s Secretariat in Abuja.

The Speakers expressed deep concern over the Plateau State House of Assembly fracas in which two factions emerged with two different Speakers that led to the siege on the Assembly by security operatives. According to them, Section 92(2c) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended has unambiguously stated the process of election and impeachment of Speakers, and based on the available reports at their disposal, the impeachment wasn’t in accordance with the laid down rules of the Assembly.

The Speakers, therefore, called for the quick intervention of the governors so that all parties involved in the crisis would sheathe their sword and respect the constitution. They reiterated the sanctity of the legislative arm and the setback the crisis would bring to governance in Plateau State, expressing their confidence that the NGF and Lalong would intervene as a matter of urgency on the matter for normalcy to return to the Assembly.Whether the lawmakers in Plateau State and other interested parties will heed the advice of these stakeholders and allow the constitution and laid down rules of the state Assembly to prevail in resolving the dispute remains to be seen.