Confusion stirred in Benue State, yesterday, after eight of the 30 members of the House of Assembly protected by heavily armed security operatives barricaded other members, sat in session and raised an impeachment notice against Governor Samuel Ortom.
The eight legislators, all belonging to the All Progressives Congress, APC, who took over the chambers of the House without the mace and the clerk, were protected by heavily armed policemen and operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, who prevented the 22 other members all belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from entering the chambers. The majority of 22 members immediately relocated to the Banquet Hall of the Government House where they sat with the mace, the clerk of the House in place and suspended seven of the eight members involved. The former speaker of the House, Terkimbi Ikyange, who led the group of eight, had earlier been suspended for six months. The developments in the North Central state immediately raised a storm across the country with sweeping condemnation of the breach on the country’s democratic culture. Governor Ortom, who defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, immediately pointed accusing finger at his erstwhile political patron, Senator George Akume, who he accused of working in cahoots with the Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Idris and Director General of the DSS, Lawal Daura, to destabilise the state. There was also swift condemnation from the National Assembly where Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara in a rare joint statement, described the development as “a desecration of the legislative sanctity.” The PDP caucus in the House of Representatives also denounced the move as a re-enactment of dictatorship, vowing to take action against what it called the excesses of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. The crisis The crisis evolved early yesterday when the eight APC members arrived at about 7.00 a.m. under the protection of heavily armed policemen and DSS operatives to take possession of the House. They were led by Ikyange, the former speaker who had earlier been removed and suspended for six months. Some youths, who apparently had been tipped off of the move and had taken position as early as 5.00 a.m. to prevent the eight legislators from gaining access, were chased away by the policemen, a far cry from the situation last week when some youths stopped Governor Ortom’s entourage from proceeding to Abuja for a peace meeting with the APC hierarchy. The security operatives also barred the 22 other legislators from gaining access into the chambers. The security operatives also successfully chased away members of the Benue State Vigilante group who had mounted guard at the Assembly complex to support security at the vicinity. The eight members had in the motion, among other things, accused the governor of financial impropriety and non-performance. “I will serve him the notice within seven days as required by law,” Ikyange, who sat in the presiding officer’s chair said. He claimed that 11 members of the House were with him, though he did not give out the names of the other four members. Ikyange had earlier been restrained by an order by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Adam Onum, on July 27, 2018, from parading himself as speaker. The order was upon an ex parte order filed by 22 members of the House. Efforts to get the reaction of the Police failed as the Command’s Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Deputy Superintendent, DSP, Moses Yamu, promised to get back to Vanguard but never did at press time. Other lawmakers react The 22 members of the House, who were barred, subsequently relocated to the Old Banquet Hall of Government House where they sat with officials of the House of Assembly, including the clerk of the assembly in session. In their sitting, the House accused the Nigerian Police Force, and the DSS of taking sides with the impeached former speaker, Ikyange, and the seven other APC legislators to perpetrate impunity in the state. The House also slammed six months suspension on the seven members. Raising a motion of urgent importance, Majority Leader, Mr. Avine Agbom, who relied on Order 9(16)(8) at the sitting, reminded members that only last week, the House had after suspending the impeached speaker, also obtained a Makurdi High Court injunction, restraining him from parading himself as speaker of the House. Benue Senators, Reps Addressing the media on the development in the state, Senator Barnabas Gemade, on behalf of the Benue National Assembly caucus, berated security agencies for delving into politics and being partisan, a development he said was a threat to the nation’s democracy. “Seeing us here during our recess is as a result of the event that took place here this morning. “We are on vacation, we heard this, and so we rushed here to see for ourselves what has happened. ‘’We have learnt with great shock and disbelief with what had taken place here today, where in a commando style, the Nigerian security forces made up of Police and DSS would storm the state and cause the minority group of the legislators loyal to one political party to meet and allow them to make pronouncement on issues which are supposed to be deliberated by every member of the 8th Assembly. “This is an illegal action, and we are extremely surprised that under democracy, a minority group can be given this kind of unimpeded access with security to cause illegality. “We members of the National Assembly frown on this extremely, and we came here to pay our solidarity visit to the governor and the people of Benue State. Ortom reacts In his reaction, Governor Samuel Ortom flayed the IGP and DG, DSS, for allowing the kind of impunity that was raised by the APC lawmakers. “For me, I’ll continue to do my lawful duties at all times. But it is provoking, the actions of eight members of the State House of Assembly were actively supported by the Police and the DSS. The action of eight members of the House against 22 who were legitimately doing their job. “Today, they demonstrated the highest level of illegality and impunity. Today, the Police invited from Abuja and in Benue State, acting on the directives of Senator George Akume, the IGP and the DG DSS forcibly occupied the Benue State House of Assembly in flagrant disobedience of a Makurdi High Court order for them to vacate the premises. “They tear-gassed many and took them away. The same Police provided a heavy security escort to the eight members when they were coming into the House and provided a heavy security escort to the same members who came to perpetuate their impunity and led them away to their destination. “They aided a clear minority in the Assembly chamber for an illegal sitting contrary to the standing rules of the House and Nigerian 1999 constitution as amended. “It is only in a shithole country that you can do this kind of thing, and the law enforcement agency will aid it. This is not the Nigeria we are yearning for. This is not the kind of democracy we are talking about. “The same members without forming a quorum also claimed to have illegally moved a motion to serve an impeachment notice on me. It does not make any sense. “As a law abiding citizen, I want to believe in the rule of law, and we will deploy all legal process to tackle this challenge. We are not going into any form of illegality. We believe in the rule of law, which is what democracy is. “We will continue to protect the democracy we have in this country, and I call on all patriotic Nigerians and Benue citizens to rise and resist this impunity and rape of our democracy. “What is my offence, have I not got the right to decide and choose the political association of my choice? Is this the first time that we are doing it? Even in America, defection is not a crime. “I want to call on Mr. President to protect this democracy that made him President. This kind of impunity will only derail the democratic process that we have in the country. Continuing Governor Ortom said: “Mr. President should not allow this. The IGP and the DG DSS are his appointees; they should not be allowed to be used by Senator Akume to create evil simply because we enacted a law on grazing. “That law is not my making; it is the making of Benue people, you can ask them. So, if Akume is recruited to bring people to destabilize this government, he should be called to order. At least, let the President call the IGP and the DG DSS to order because democracy thrives on the rule of law.” Saraki, Dogara react Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara in a rare joint statement issued by their media aides, Yusuph Olaniyonu and Turaki Hassan respectively, bemoaned what they described as the desecration of the legislative sanctity of the House. “We have monitored closely the development in Benue State in which the impeached Speaker, Terkimbir Ikyange, led seven other members to serve impeachment notice on the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, while the 22 other members who constitute more than the two-thirds majority have been prevented from having access to the chamber. We believe this is illegality and does not conform to the parliamentary procedure on impeachment. “We also note with surprise the role of the Police in this undemocratic event in which the minority is seeking to impeach a Governor against the position of the majority. We believe it is the sacred institution of the legislature that is being desecrated and rubbished in all these negative developments. “The situation in Benue State House of Assembly has grave implication for the nation’s democracy, and it represents a throw-back to the period of dictatorship in our country. It also represents how the Nigeria Police are being misused to achieve a political end. In a statement recently, the Presidency derisively referred to an era in the past where a minority number of legislators was used to impeach Governors who were unfriendly with the Federal Government. What we are seeing in Benue now is a return to that inglorious era. “We believe this unlawful and unconstitutional move to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom by a minority should be condemned by all lovers of democracy, at home and abroad. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to call the police to order and prevent a break-down of law and order. We also call on friends of Nigeria in the international community to lend their voice in condemning the perpetration of illegalities and actions that can subvert our democracy. “There is already a tense atmosphere in Benue State following the recent killings. Nobody should encourage any action or move which may exacerbate the security situation in the North Central state. As leaders of the Federal legislature, we are ready to work with our colleagues in both chambers of the National Assembly to prevent any attempt to destroy any state legislature or use it to derail democracy”, Saraki and Dogara stated. PDP Reps The PDP caucus in the House of Representatives also spoke in the same vein, noting that it was a return to the kind of dictatorship as practised under the late Gen. Sani Abacha. Speaking through Chukwuma Onyema, Deputy Minority Leader in the House of Representatives at a press briefing in the National Assembly complex in Abuja, the caucus warned that any attempt to intimidate PDP members “will be fire for fire.” They said: “Indications are emerging that this administration is walking in the same grim path of the forbidden regime of Late Sani Abacha and the outright dictatorship that overthrew the democratic Shehu Shagari administration. “This is a government that came into office with the slogan of progressivism and change! But in reaction to Governor Ortom’s defection from the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), policemen took over the state House of Assembly complex and an impeached Speaker of the 30-member House, who had been suspended for six months for “unparliamentary behaviour”, presided over a mockery of the rule of law and democracy.” PDP The national leadership of the PDP also condemned the move as it, yesterday, accused President Buhari, Akume, the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, of meddling in the affairs of Benue in a bid to illegally oust the governor. A communiqué raised by the National Working Committee, NWC of the party following a meeting yesterday read in part: “The NWC condemns in its entirely, the purported sitting of eight APC members including the impeached and suspended Speaker, Terkimbi Ikyange (in a 30 member House) wherein they illegally claimed to have served an impeachment notice on the governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom. “We note the roles played by the chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, President Buhari-led federal government and Senator George Akume in encouraging lawless acts and anarchy in Benue State. “PDP also condemns the use of the EFCC and DSS to harass and intimidate officials of the Benue State Government.” It’s threat to democracy— Atiku Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar condemned the move against Governor Ortom yesterday saying the move could threaten the nation’s democracy. Reacting to the development in a statement in Abuja, the 2019 Presidential hopeful on the platform of the PDP said he was greatly embarrassed by the unfolding political drama in Benue State. He flayed the “aberration and arbitrariness in the plot to oust Governor Ortom contrary to the provisions of the country’s constitution.” According to him, “any attempt to disregard the rule of law and constitution in the impeachment of a governor is a recipe for anarchy and officially sanctioned lawlessness.” He urged the police to remain politically neutral and avoid aiding lawlessness, stressing that partisanship could professionally destroy the image of the force. He warned that if left unchecked, the political situation in Benue State could lead to a domino effect across the country, thereby jeopardizing the nation’s democracy and endangering innocent lives and property of lawful citizens. Democracy held at gunpoint— Turaki PDP Presidential Aspirant, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, SAN, has expressed apprehension about the survival of democracy in Nigeria considering the manner in which it is being held at gunpoint by the Buhari Administration without remorse. In a statement entitled: “Are we In A Democracy?,” The presidential aspirant noted that to describe recent attacks on democracy as condemnable was an understatement. He recalled the alleged hijacking of the Ekiti State governorship seat by the APC-led government using 30,000 policemen besides other security forces deployed for just one election. He also recalled the deployment of policemen on July 27 ostensibly to block the Benue State House of Assembly from performing its democratic duty of sitting in the legislative chamber. Turaki recalled further the siege laid to the official residences of the Senate President and his deputy, with the probability of blocking them from going to the Senate chambers and having them impeached as being alleged. He referred to another incident where policemen were suspiciously deployed to the Ekiti State House of Assembly for what they referred to as ‘security reasons’ with the Speaker denying ever making such a request. Turaki said those in possession of the instrument of coercion have done it again with the storming of the Benue State House of Assembly, yesterday. These members in the minority, he alleged were planning to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom in spite of the decided cases at the Supreme Court in the matters of former Oyo State governor, Rasheed Ladonna and ex-Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye where the apex court had declared such moves as illegal, null and void. This strong-arm tactics in a democracy that had also been used to humiliate the judiciary, he said, have seriously dented the image of our democracy. Ortom’s purported impeachment, a nullity —Senator Mark Immediate past President of the Senate, Senator David Mark has described the purported impeachment moves against Governor Ortom as null and void. Reacting to the development, Senator Mark said the alleged impeachment move against governor Ortom by eight out of the 30 members House of Assembly is at best an exercise in futility. According to Mark: “It is unconstitutional and devoid of any known legislative practices and procedures. “I will advise members of the Benue State House of Assembly to be guided by the constitution and legislative rules and procedures. They should not engage in any act that could undermine the established tenet of democracy. “The action of some members of Benue State House of Assembly violates section 188(2) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which requires that a Notice of Impeachment has to be supported by at least one-third of the members of the House to be valid. This is obviously not the case here. “What is expected of the lawmakers is a collaborative effort with the executive arm of state government to provide the needed dividend of democracy to the people of Benue State.” “They should remember that the interest and welfare of the people of Benue State are paramount. Anything less would be a disservice to the people they swore to serve.” Senator Mark, however, advised the governor not to be distracted by the development but remain focused and steadfast in the discharge of his duties. The former Senate President implored the people of Benue State to remain calm and law-abiding just as he urged security operatives to maintain law and order objectively. Buhari’s silence worrisome – R-APC The Reformed All Progressives Congress, R-APC, yesterday, described President Buhari’s silence on the issue as an indication of his collaboration and promotion of the illegalities in the country. The R-APC in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Prince Kassim Afegbua said: “It is shocking to note that despite all the illegalities being perpetrated in Benue State over the laughable impeachment notice by eight members of the State Assembly, President Buhari has not deemed it fit and proper to respond and condemn the outright illegality. “That goes to suggest that he has been the Chief promoter of undemocratic illegalities that have consistently undermined our democratic engagements in the last three years. “It is astounding to note that despite all the infractions in the political process; the polity is consciously charged to ridicule us and make us a laughing stock in the comity of nations before the very eyes of a president who preaches anti-corruption. The Benue scenario has again brought out our penchant for the bizarre making us look so stupid in the eyes of the world. “This is to alert the international community and Nigerians that this democracy is seriously under threat by agents of darkness who are desperately trying to arm-twist the Benue people against their will to illegally undermine the legitimacy of the properly constituted democratically elected government in Benue State.” I’m appalled — Makarfi Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential aspirant, Senator Ahmed Makarfi has expressed his utmost disgust at the developments in Benue, saying it was untenable for the ruling APC to upturn the democratic culture it inherited. Makarfi in a statement issued by his media aide, Mukhtar Sirajo said: “The Senator is appalled that despite numerous judicial pronouncements, some by even the highest court of the land, more than 2/3 of a 30-member House of Assembly will be denied access to, and in fact chased away from the House by the Police, while giving state cover to seven or so other members to sit and even attempt to impeach a democratically elected governor for the simple reason that some quarters have been slighted by the governor’s decision to move from one party to another. “Senator Makarfi considers this as unlawful, disgraceful and undemocratic act, which portends a danger of monumental proportions to the country and its institutions. “The Senator reminds Nigerians, particularly the APC and its leadership that the PDP, when it held sway, respected the rights of the people to freely decide what political platform(s) to identify with, a stance that the APC more than any other party, reaped bountifully from and the fruits of which included Governor Ortom himself, at that point. It therefore smacks of hypocrisy and a brazen disrespect for fundamental human rights for the same party to now deny people the right to defect from it for whatever reason(s). “The Senator appeals to the people of Benue State to, even as they resist this callous assault on their freedom, remain peaceful and law abiding and be assured that Nigerians are with them in this trying moment. “Senator Makarfi once again calls on all Nigerians to, within lawful means, stand up to this brazen attempt to stifle the democratic space by a party that was the biggest beneficiary of defections, which is now jittery and clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of getting a dose of its own medicine.”