By Peter Duru, Makurdi
The show of shame that played out, last Tuesday, at Benue State House of Assembly has continued to generate negative reactions.
Though many factors may have been responsible for the brawl between the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, lawmakers, the situation is certainly be a major test case for the judiciary in the state.
Few days to the proclamation of the House by Governor Samuel Ortom, it was gathered that the 15 PDP lawmakers of the 30 members of the Assembly had converged in Otukpo to perfect a plan to enthrone one of their own as Speaker.
The lawmakers were short of taking oaths in order to ensure that none of them deviated from the plot.
According to one of the lawmakers, who spoke anonymously, “while in Otukpo, we all agreed that Hon. Domnic Ucha was to be elected as Speaker because we had the numerical strength to execute the plan, considering that the only Labour Party, LP, member of the House is more or less considered as one of us in view of the manner he emerged”.
He went on: “Perhaps, one of our greatest undoing was the fact that we underrated or maybe took the APC for granted.
“We never imagined that they could infiltrate our ranks given the manner we all went about our plans before the inauguration.
“Honestly, we thought we had formed a fort that was impregnable but three of us sold out and we were left bewildered.”
The PDP lawmaker recounted what happened on the floor of the House on the day of the inauguration which gave them a clue as to what may play out in the days ahead.
“Before we got into the chamber, we had agreed that we will all sit together but to our greatest surprise three of our members chose to sit away from the rest of us, and, from that moment, we knew something had gone wrong.
“Though I must state clearly that the issue of deep rooted suspicion and distrust among our members also contributed in no small measure to our undoing.
“At a point, no one was sure of anyone any more and the rumour was that some of us might have been influenced to sell out to the APC, though we still went ahead with our plans.
“When the process of election began, Hon. Inyana Jato of the PDP, representing Katdina/Ala West, nominated Hon. Domnic Ucha for the position of Speaker while Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange, of the APC, representing Ushongo state constituency, was nominated by Hon. Daniel Abagu also of APC, from Ukum state constituency.
“Shortly after the nominations, members went into voting proper, which was done through secret balloting.
“At the end of the processing, which was presided over by the Clerk of the House, Hon. Terkimbir Ikyange polled 17 votes to emerge the Speaker while Dominic Ucha garnered 13 votes.
“The position of Deputy Speaker went to Hon. James Ejembi of the PDP representing Okpokwu state constituency and from that point we foresaw crisis.”
True to the words of the beleaguered lawmaker, the House has since then been bedeviled by crisis.
It all started after a week break, the House resumed sitting and was confronted by a letter from Hon. Nick Eworo, representing Obi state constituency, which was read on the floor by the Speaker, Ikyange.
Before then, the APC-led government in the state had made a deft move by appointing Mr. Iwanta Adaikwu as the new Head of Service of the state.
His appointment was the tonic the minority Igede tribe in Benue South zone needed to strengthen their faith in the APC and the Ortom administration and, by so doing, further inspired their representatives in the House to dance to the tune of the APC which was determined to undo the PDP politically in order to take full charge of the mechanics of control.
Eworo had allleged in the letter that he was defecting from the PDP to the APC because the leadership of the party at the local government level had expelled him, maintaining that he decided to defect to the ruling APC in order to secure a platform in the House.
Though his claim had been debunked by the PDP which accused him of forging the expulsion letter to suit the whims of the APC.
Following the claims, counter claims and accusations, the Speaker adjourned the sitting of the House to June 23 to enable the House enough time to elect other principal officers of the Assembly.
On that basis, the PDP also headed for the court to seek an interpretation of the development in accordance with the provisions of Section 109 of the Constitution.
However, at the resumed sitting last Tuesday, the Hosue went into plenary and the issue of the defection of Eworo from the PDP to the APC took centre stage.
At the sitting, Iaana Jato of the PDP, representing Katsina-Ala East, raised a motion questioning the constitutionality of the defection of Eworo which he premised on Section 109 of the Constitution, but which, according to him, stated clearly that once a legislator defects to another party, he automatically loses his seat.
He insisted that Eworo was still a member of the PDP, noting that the PDP had challenged his defection in court, adding that his party had written the House accordingly.
His observation was overruled by the Speaker, who also went ahead to read a letter from the APC wherein Mr. Benjamin Adanyi, member representing Makurdi North, was selected as the Majority Leader.
In the said letter, the party also selected Eworo as the Deputy Majority Leader while Mr. Titus Uba was selected as the Majority Whip.
The announcement of the principal officers by the APC sparked off a shouting match between the APC and PDP lawmakers which degenerated into a physical combat between Adanyi and Martin Aza of PDP, both Makurdi representatives.
It was learned that the free-for-all erupted because the PDP lawmakers insisted that, being 15 members in the House, including Eworo who claimed that he joined APC last week, they were in majority.
In his ruling later, the Speaker said that the explanation of the PDP did not convince him to act in the contrary.
He, therefore, said that the selection of the principal officers would be sustained and he asked the PDP to go to court to seek an interpretation of the Constitution on the matter.
In his reaction to the ugly development, Eworo, who accepted that he was in the eye of the storm, insisted that he had defected to the APC and urged his former party to seek a judicial interpretation of the matter.
Also reacting, Hon. Bem Ngutyo, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Benue State Council, and APC member, representing Tarka constituency, said, “What is happening is democracy at play.
“I believe that at the end of the day, the issues would be resolved amicably and members would work together as one united House in the interest of the generality of our people.”