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N310m saga: Failed rebellion in the House

By Luka Biniyat
After about two weeks of orchestrated media campaign, Hon. Dino Melaye (PDP/Kogi) finally convinced many Nigerians that Hon. Tunde Akogun and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (PDP/Imo) would be removed as principal officers of the House of Representatives last Tuesday. Akogun is the majority leader of the House while Ihedioha is chief whip Melaye had accused the two men of embezzling a good portion of N310 million voted for the “10 years of un-interrupted democracy in Nigeria” celebration  and the last  House retreat.

A black eye

Then Tuesday came. And all eyes were fixed at the Green Chamber excitedly. Akogun, in black bowler over cream dress and Ihedioha, forever in his green woolly cap over a black attire, sat in the front row with worried looks of men about to be docked.

Speaker Dimeji Bankole was high up in his traditional white caftan and black cap, facing the murmuring chamber, the way a judge looks on his court.

Melaye was at the back row, his big frame lit in a grin, as he adjusted his spectacle waiting for the kill. Up there at the press gallery, reporters could see a chamber clearly polarised, divided between what was named the Dino and the Ihedioha camps.

cartoonpol1When the speaker cleared his throat and called the House to order, there was an eerie silence.

Three hours later, Dino was on his kneel begging as he narrowly escaped suspension. But, he came out thoroughly bruised, losing his post as the chairman of Information and National Orientation Committee.

Akogun and Ihedioha, who had won the “war” with surprising ease, grinned from ear to ear like school lads happy with their results.

But, again, the incident has given the Green Chamber a black eye in the court of public opinion

The green cap

The plot had started like joke. On 11 June, the House Press Corp was briefed by Melaye on his return from the House retreat which took place in two venues – Kano and Uyo – between 7 and 10 June. The 10 years anniversary took place on 4 June.

At the press conference, Melaye, more known as “Dino” at the National Assembly, caricatured Ihedioha.

He said that Ihedioha was guilty of corruption in the handling of the N150 million given to the 10 year anniversary planning committee which Ihedioha chaired.

Dino said he had collected 213 signatures of members approving the removal of  the man he referred to as “the green cap wearing principal officer”, and that more were signing up.

This was how he put it: ”The signature is an indication that members are no longer enjoying the confidence of the chief whip.

“These signatures here is to show how unpopular the chief whip is among members.

“The signature was not a petition, but a concluded action geared towards passing a vote of no confidence on the chief whip as the House would not condone any act of corruption.”This is a cancerous mission that is capable of spreading to any obstacle on its way. So we are very clear in our demands, we are only waiting for the resumption date of June 23 to actualize it “Emeka Ihedioha is a political obituary. He has already been removed spiritually and we are only waiting for the physical manifestation”.

There were other press statements that followed.

Later, the House leader issued a press statement, saying he was not involved in any act of corruption in the way he handled the N160 million entrusted him for the House retreat, even when Dino had not yet accused him openly.

There was also denial of corruption from the Ihedioha camp

The appearance of West-Idahosa

However, indication that things may actually be bad for the two principal officers emerged when on the 22 June, Hon. West-Idahosa appeared with Dino and three others to address the press.

At that event, Dino announced that the number of Reps gunning for the removal of Ihedioha and, now, Akogun, had jumped to 254.

But it was the speech of West-Idahosa that must have given goose pimples to the two accused men, and even Bankole

West-Idahosa is regarded as very intelligent, urbane, charismatic and not given to pettiness in his ten years at the House.

His words: “I have served under six speakers since coming to the House of Representatives in 1999,  and we have had  image  problem with the public. But, today, our perception index is zero

“We wish to apologise to the Nigerian people on the style of leadership that the House of Representatives has today. We are now serious about giving back the House the integrity and respect it deserves. And we have resolved to do that by insisting tomorrow  that the leader of the House (Hon. Tunde Akogun ) and the chief whip (Hon. Emeka Ihedioha) must go.

“We are going to do everything to sanitise the House; we would work to ensure that public funds are accounted for, whether it be in the hands of the executive, the judiciary or the legislature. The wrong use of public funds can no longer be tolerated in this House. We are now going to build a new House, based on strong moral strength, not this kind of House that is the butt of unkind, cruel cartoons”.

The fall of Dino

But the next day, it became apparent that the Melaye and West-Idahosa threat was empty.

After Ihedioha raised a point-of-order citing newspaper publications that had maligned him, the House leader and the deputy minority whip, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal (PDP/Sokoto),  asked that those behind the publicity be punished according to the House Rules.

After a boisterous session that pitched the weak Dino side against that of the two principal officers, Dino was pummelled into submission.

But not after he had denied ever accusing the “Green cap wearing principal officer” of corruption in any form.

“You can check all newspapers and electronic media report and see if I ever accused the chief whip of corruption”, he said to the surprise of all.

“I merely accused him of ‘social sins’”.

He said the chief whip is arrogant and highhanded.

But, he was floored by the superior argument of Hon. C.I.D Maduagbum.

Though Hon. Independence Ogunewe tried to relax the tension in the chamber with another argument in favour of Dino, it was clear that the majority of members were moving for the suspension of Dino.

There was commotion in the Green Chamber.

But in that rowdiness there was some horse-trading going on.

Dino had to apologise and resign his committee post or risk three months suspension.

He apologised profusely and asked that his sins be forgiven.

He then agreed to relinquish his post as the chairman, House Committee on Information and National Orientation.

.Bankole accepted his resignation with grace.

“I salute the bravery and courage of Hon. Dino Melaye in accepting to apologise”, the speaker said. In accepting the  resignation, Bankole said it was subject to the outcome of the findings of the  Ethics  and Privileges Committee that would look into his conduct.

The minds of members

Though Dino was floored by the chief whip and the House leader, it is a generally agreed that Ihedioha has attitude problem. Members say that he is haughty, standoffish and treats them as if he is their superior. Even staff of the National Assembly share the same view.

But Akogun, a retired colonel,  is said be a level headed member who enjoys the respect of his colleagues. It is believed that some people wanted to use the grouse against Ihedioha to remove the House leader and replace him with West-Idahosa, who comes from the same state with Akogun.

Implication

Ogunewe was one the architects of the plot to remove Bankole over the alleged N2.3 billion car scam which the speaker scaled through. On 26 February, after displaying what members agreed was rudeness to the speaker at that day’s plenary session, he was suspended summarily with not even a single voice of dissent.

But, last Tuesday, when the motion to suspend Dino was moved by Hon. Emmanuel Jime  (PDP/Benue), the House erupted. Those in support and those against the motion took on each other until a compromise was reached which led to Dino’s apology.

The implication of that could be that the “enemies” of the leadership are regrouping.

It is now established by many that  there is a visible crack in the ranks of the Reps

Observers also  say that though it was decisive victory for the leadership of the House, the last incident is just another bullet in the arsenal of those waiting to unseat the leadership.

Is this a cover up?

The House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Hon, Eseme Eyiboh, while briefing the press on the issue, said that Dino was wrong to have gone to the press on a matter that should have been referred to the House with evidence. Besides, he said, the two principal officers have not submitted their report for anyone to verify and raise an alarm, if he sees reason.

“Until they table their reports, no one can say that they have committed any wrong”, he said.

He also confirmed that Dino would face the Ethics and Privilege Committee for his actions.

Public perception

The last incident is indeed another huge dent on the image of the House.

The public does not care about the procedure to be followed before concluding that a Reps member is guilty of corruption, based on the rules of the House.

The public is  weary of the legislature’s  romance with allegations of corruption. The cases are too fresh to be recalled here.

And why should the public not be vexed, when one takes a peep into the huge sums that have gone to the National Assembly since 1999. For example, the National Assembly alone had N373 billion between 2005 and 2009 appropriated to it

And yet, there is hardly a space of four months that one financial scandal or the other would not burst out. Unfortunately, the House, under this dispensation, has had almost all that negative development. But as statistics show, the Reps have passed more Bills, Resolutions and Motions than the Red Chamber. The Reps have also made bold and daring investigations into some “sacred” sectors than the Red Chamber. But the most famous of the investigations – the power probe – has turned out to be the most  infamous  as  the  Chairman of the committee is now docked for alleged involvement in fraud in the same sector.


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