By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
What are the common streaks between Niger Delta militants, kidnappers in Abia State and members of the House of Representatives?
It could be correct to say that all three groups exact a heavy burden on the Nigerian tax-payer. It is equally correct to say that all three groups are also involved in one amnesty programme or the other.
The amnesty programme first introduced to nudge Niger Delta militants into good behaviour and subsequently conceived by the Abia State government to melt the heart of the heartless kidnappers in the State has now been introduced by Speaker Dimeji Bankole to entice repentant opponents of his leadership.
Speaker Bankole, who presided over the suspension of 11 of his die-hard critics from continued membership of the House has now introduced his own amnesty programme under which the repentant critics are re-admitted to the house.
As at last count, four of the 11 members of the House of Representatives suspended for their criticism of his leadership style and alleged financial misdeeds have been recalled.
The 11 members of the House in the group, Progressive-Minded Legislators were suspended indefinitely from the House on June 22, 2010 after they lost out in the free-for-all that happened on that day.
The PML, led by Dino Melaye and Ehogie West-Idahosa had before then articulated allegations of sharp financial malfeasances by the Bankole leadership and demanded a probe.
At the centre of their allegations was that the Bankole House had mismanaged an estimated N9 billion in the House budget. Their demand for a probe was, however, successfully countered by the majority of House members who perhaps in lieu of favours from the leadership kowtowed with the plan to axe the recalcitrant members.
The 11 suspended were Dino Melaye, Ehiogie West-Idahosa, Independence Ogunewe, Solomon Awhinawi, Austin Nwachukwu, Abbas Anas, Gbenga Oduwaiye, Kayode Amusan, Gbenga Onigbogi, Bitrus Kaze and Doris Uboh, who was the only female member involved.
West-Idahosa (PDP-Edo) and Onigbogi (PDP-Osun) were recalled from suspension on November 22 after they dissociated themselves from the court action embarked upon by their some of their colleagues.
West-Idahosa, who has been in the House since 1999, has been particularly prominent in some of the major crises in the House. He was a prominent member of the group around Speaker Ghali Na‘Abba who articulated the impeachment proceedings against President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002 but subsequently backed away from the impeachment process bringing himself out of favour with the then leadership of the House.
The events leading to the suspension of the 11 was particularly embarrassing for the House. It happened on a day that school pupils from City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya, came visiting.
Following the brawl that led to the brutalisation and near-stripping of some of the members, the 11 were suspended indefinitely and denied of their privileges including the famed N30 million quarterly allocation.
During a visit to City Royal School where he went to make an unusual public apology, Speaker Bankole had promised to reconsider the suspension of the 11 .
“I came to apologise to the students who were in the House of Representatives on the particular day that we are talking about.
“On this particular day, I believed a few of our colleagues flouted the rules of the house and actions were taken based on the rules of the house,” he said.
While some of the suspended members sought quick ways to re-enter the House through denouncing their earlier claims of impropriety against Bankole, others like Melaye sustained their court actions.
West-Idahosa and Onigbogi, who reportedly disclaimed their earlier positions on the allegations against the House leadership became the first to accept the amnesty programme of the House.
Following them were Austin Nwachukwu (PDP-Imo) and Gbenga Oduwaiye (PDP-Ogun) who also rehabilitated under the amnesty programme on Thursday, December 9.
Between the first amnesty and last Thursday’s amnesty, Melaye won a court judgment on December 2 nullifying the suspension.
Judge Adamu Bello in his judgment on the suit brought by Melaye and some of his colleagues ruled that the House has no powers to suspend any member beyond 14 legislative sitting as provided in sections 24 of the Legislative Act and privileges Order 5 (1) Sub-rule 2 and 3 and Rule 3 of the House.
While Melaye successfully beat the National Assembly security to enter the House on Wednesday, the House has signified its intention to appeal the judgment.
Uboh, the only female member involved, has pledged not to partake in the amnesty programme, affirming that she did not commit any crime to appease the leadership.
While the amnesty programme for repentant Niger Delta militants and kidnappers in Abia remains a tricky matter, the amnesty plan for repentant critics of Speaker Bankole remains like many things in the House an opinionated issue.