By Marie-Therese Nanlong
The once convivial relationship between the administration and legislature on the Plateau has turned sour. How it will end is what no one can guess.
It was a sign of the once warmth relationship between the seventh assembly of the Plateau House of Assembly and the executive that Governor Jonah Jang was at the inauguration of the legislature alleged to have personally chosen the brand of official vehicles allocated to the lawmakers.
It was thus not surprising that the House regularly passed the annual budget on time and did every bidding of the governor to the point that the citizens dubbed it as a “rubber stamp Assembly”.
Somehow, the relationship got frosty along the way and some members masterminded the removal of the speaker at that time, John Clark Dabwan, PDP, Mangu South and replaced him with Hon. Titus Alams, PDP, Bokkos.
More than a year after the change, many are now wondering whether the House under the former speaker was not after all a more assertive chamber?
One issue that has brought this to fore is the recent petition from the Plateau Patriotic Front sent to the House alleging financial misappropriation of funds amounting to about N50 billion against Governor Jang. The petition also accused the House of being in the know of the financial misconduct.
Members bothered by the allegation and who recently sought to bring the issue for debate were stopped by the speaker leading to a rowdy session that forced the Speaker to abruptly end the session.
Member representing Dengi constituency, Wokdung Abbas, who was a member of the Labour Party but now said to have pitched his tent with the APC had on that day informed the House that “the contents are too weighty to be ignored. In all, the petition the House is more hit because the petitioner called us names and also alleged that we have been bribed by the governor not to check the government.”
Speaker Alams overruled Abbas on the premise that the petition was not circulated to members but other members insisted that the petition be mentioned even if the discussion could not commence but the Speaker objected.
Abdullahi Garkuwa, Mangu South constituency, elected on the platform of Labour Party, objecting to Speaker Alam’s ruling said:
“The contents of this petition are factual, there is no way to pretend that we don’t know most of these allegations, the petitioners have stated the obvious facts, the governor is only buying time to kill the petition and my annoyance is that the Speaker had forced the House to adjourn without mentioning the petition but this kind of scandal is not the type we can sweep under the carpet. we must discuss it or we are not worth our value as legislature”.
Another Member, Ibrahim Baba-Hassan, Labour Party, Jos North-North constituency but now one foot in the APC said, “the missing N10 billion SURE-P fund mentioned in the petition is real, I am a member of the SURE-P committee of the House and I am not aware of the where about of the funds. This is the fact the Speaker is running away from.
Speaker Alams eventually succumbed to pressure from members and constituted a nine man committee on the issue. His action was said to have been flayed by the leg men of the governor who reportedly berated him for allowing the issue to be even mentioned on the floor of the House.
Before the nine-member committee could settle down for business, Yakubu Jang a son and Special Adviser on Special Duties to the governor instituted a legal action at the State High court to restrain the House from probing him and his father, Jang on the grounds that the House cannot hear a petition brought by a person not elected to the House.
The court has meanwhile granted an interim injunction that the House put the probe on hold pending the determination of the suit filed by Mr. Jang.
When contacted, the Speaker told Vanguard “I only heard about the issue but I am yet to get to the office where I will see the document”.
The Chairman House Committee on Information, Hon. Diket Plang, PDP, Pankshin North, and Chairman of the Committee on Public Account and Petitions, Hon. Gondina Sambo separately confirmed that the investigation has not been aborted.
Sambo was particularly firm that Mr. Jang. Jnr. lacks the locus standi to institute a suit against the House of Assembly on any issue concerning utilisation of public funds.
The Majority Leader, Mr Dem Daniels, PDP, Riyom, on his part, however, said the House could not be said to be probing the governor simply because it received a petition against him.
He added the House was only acting in accordance with its constitutional duties by receiving the petition which had been committed to the Account and Petitions Committees for proper investigation.
Governor Jang, meanwhile is taking no chances. A circular was last week issued by the administration directing ministries, departments and agencies to obtain clearance from the governor’s office before appearing before any committee of the House.
“No civil servant working under the State government or political appointees is allowed to honor invitation from the State House of Assembly without seeking clearance from the governor”, according to the memo issued by the Office of the Secretary to the State Government.
The memo was copied to all government ministries, department and agencies of the State as well as commissioners and special advisers and they were urged to strictly comply with the directive.
Indeed, the State Ministry of Transport upon the memo was quick to rebuff a move by the House Committee on Transport to carry out an oversight visit.
Alhaji Abubakar Dashe, the state commissioner for transport in a response to the lawmakers told them to shift the visit until the governor gave the go ahead.
In the memo titled: “Re: Working Visit” which reads in parts, “Referring to your letter dated 17th June 2014, I am under instruction to write and inform you that the Honourable Commissioner has written to Government House for clearance but has not been cleared.
“We appeal to you to shift the proposed visit pending when we get the clearance from Government House”.
Meanwhile, Governor Jang has reiterated he did not tamper with State funds as insinuated in some quarters stressing that if he had such amount of money, many more projects which will impact on the lives of the citizens would have been executed.
The governor has, however, assured citizens he will do his best within available resources to ensure he leaves the State better than he met it.
“If I see such an amount, the State will not remain this way, and they said that I embezzled N50 billion,” the governor said recently in his first public response to the fuse.
With the governor yet to give his go ahead for the probe matters for now remain at a standstill.