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Reps’ crisis: How plot against Progressives was hatched

By Tordue Salem
The House was thrown into commotion on Tuesday, June 22  with fisticuffs, blood and the most demeaning pandemonium ever witnessed in a legislative House in Nigeria , leading to the suspension of eleven key members of “The Progressives” seeking to unseat Speaker Dimeji Baankole and other principal officers.

The majority of the members of a rowdy House took a motion citing sections from the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, the House Rules and the 1999 Constitution to suspend the members.

According to section 24 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, any person who publishes any statement, whether in writing or otherwise, which falsely or scandalously defames a Legislative House or any Committee thereof; or publishes any writing reflecting on the character of the President or Speaker, as the case may be, of a Legislative House or the Chairman of a Committee of a Legislative House in the conduct of his duty as such President, Speaker or Chairman;

“Or publishes any writing containing a gross, wilful or scandalous misrepresentation of the proceedings of a Legislative House or of the speech of any member in the proceedings of a Legislative House, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of two hundred naira or imprisonment for twelve months, or to both such fine and imprisonment”, he stated.

Dino Melaye

Rule 5 (1) of the Standing Orders of the House, states in part that: “A Member raising a matter of privilege shall draw the attention of the House to the provision(s) of the Legislative house (Powers and Privileges) Act and other statuses breached in relation to him.

It also partly states that: “In cases where adequate provision is not made in these Standing Orders, the House shall by resolution regulate its procedure on privileges”.

While presenting his Motion, Mr. Chile Igbawua, said: “Any act or conduct inflicting or capable of bringing disrepute, disgrace and dishonour to the House, its Committee or any of its members or officials or which in any way impairs or may likely impair the dignity and power of the Legislative House would constitute punishable contempt.

“Honourable Members, because of my great respect for this House, I am compelled to respond to the various actions of the ‘Progressives’ under the leadership of Hon. Dino Melaye, that have embarrassed and cast aspersions on this Honourable House, as a House incapable of resolving itself. But you know we can.

“First and foremost, let me remind everyone that this Honourable House is an institution; it is a national heritage that will outlive all of us. Therefore, it behoves on us to cherish, respect and protect the image and integrity of the House and hold sacrosanct its Standing Orders and Rules, and above all the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which we all swore to uphold.

“While relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution guarantee the freedom of opinion and expression, it must be done within the context of procedure so as not to infringe on the rights and privileges of others, in case, members of the House. The recent attacks on the Speaker and Principal Officers of this Honourable House on Television and the pages of Newspapers, has cast serious dent on the image of this Honourable House.

“Therefore, for failing to adhere to the provisions of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Code of Conduct for Honourable members and Rules of the House in stating their grievances and for taking their matter to the public domain with the view to maliciously bringing the image of the House into disrepute, I hereby move the House in the following terms:

“To suspend the following members indefinitely, pending the outcome of investigation by the Ethics and Privileges Committee: Hon. Dino Melaye, Hon. West Idahosa, Hon. Independence Ogunewe, Hon. Solomon Awinawi, Hon. Austin Nwachukwu, Hon. Abba Anas , Hon. Gbenga Oduwaiye, Hon. Kayode Amusan, Hon. Gbenga Onigbogi and Hon. Bitrus Kaze”, he stated.

But Mr. Melaye on Wednesday told journalists that “The Motion of Suspension read and adopted by the House, was not referring to us (the suspended members). Because the Privileges Act talks about ‘false publications’ and the documents we presented to the press and the EFCC are not fake, until proven so, so the suspension cannot stand”, he argued.

Before their suspension, Messrs Melaye, Awinawhi, Nwachukwu, Kaze and Mrs.  Uboh, were manhandled by their colleagues and chamber staff who tore their clothes to the waist. Mr. Nwachukwu who broke the arm of his colleague with a fire extinguisher and was allegedly caught with a fire extinguisher, left the chambers in mere pants.

Before he settled for the fire extinguisher as a weapon, Nwachukwu, had nearly been pummeled to submission, by Rep. Muhammed Almakura(PDP/Lafia-Nassarawa State), who first reached for the top of his grey-coloured kaftan and shredded it

Nwachukwu’s colleagues and ‘comrades’, Melaye, Awinawhi, Kaze,

Another ignoble scene, saw Rep. Ishaku Bawa(PDP/Taraba), pounding Rep. Solomon Awinawhi who made for the official mace. The mover of the “Motion for Suspension”, Mr. Chile Igbawua(PDP/Ushongo/Kwande), had merely gone half way with his motion, when Mrs. Uboh and the group leader, Mr. Dino Melaye reached for the “Motion of Suspension”, and tore it to shreds.

The rampaging Bawa, who sported a navy blue French suit, had earlier manhandled Mrs. Uboh, who was demanding on top of her effeminate voice that the right procedure be followed in granting the floor to a member with a ‘motion’ or ‘point of order’.

The routine is that for every motion, a member ought to raise their hand for recognition, before the floor is granted, but in the case of Mr. Igbawua, that was not done, as he merely jumped to his feet after the House took prayers, petitions and a letter from the President.

The Speaker, House of Representatives, ‘Dimeji Bankole, who came to the chambers about one and a quarter hours, behind plenary schedule, (They sit at 10:00am on Tuesday), had treated the preliminaries on the Order Paper with dispatch, before he quickly said: “Hon. Chile Igbawua”, you have the floor”.

The Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Mr. Eseme Sunday Eyiboh, Reps C.I.D Maduabum, Mikhail Bmitosahi, Wole Oke and Faruk Lawan at a press briefing however raised a counter to Dino’s position, saying the suspension of members followed all due process. .

To make a stronger case for the resignation of the Speaker, the suspended lawmakers, had on Monday, June 21, 2010 submitted a petition against the their principal officers before the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri.

In the petition, the lawmakers alleged that over N9billion was lost due to the over-invoicing of the cost of television sets, photocopiers and miscellaneous items approved for purchase by the leadership of the lower chamber.

But the spokesman of the House of Representatives through a statement on Monday, said the House “appreciates the interest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri in requesting the House to explore available avenues to collaborate with it to thin down avenues of graft”.

He added that “It is on record that the present House is known for its vigour and commitment to legislative engagements premised on transparency and rule of law. These avenues are exercised in our rules’ book and through various committees. We therefore request all agencies of government to avail itself of this synergy with the House”

At a maiden press briefing, the Dino group had served a 7-day ultimatum to Bankole to “resign or be disgraced out of office”, but 7 days after the Speaker who was in far way Russia, seeking inter-parliamentary ties with the Kremlin, ignored the warning, prompting the dissenting lawmakers to issue a can of worms accusing the Speaker of official graft.

The spokesman of the suspended group, Rep. Dino Melaye, at a press briefing on Wednesday last week, accused the Speaker of expending over N9billion between 2009 to 2010, without a convincing breakdown on how the money was expended.

“The House received a total sum of N11billion for 2008 and 2009 and expended the total of 9billion. Majority of House members have no clue on the details of the expenditure purportedly made from this colossal sum. The Hon. Speaker authorized a spurious, vexatious and reckless expenditure profile at a time when there is so much economic hardship, massive unemployment and neglected infrastructure in the Country. Let us now illustrate the unacceptable expenditure profile authorized by the Hon. Speaker by given a few examples”, he stated.

The Group recalled that “On May 28, 2008, the Hon. Speaker and the Body of Principal Officers approved the purchase of 4 units of Range Rover(V8) Jeeps, 3 units of Mercedes Benz S -600 cars for the use of the Hon. Speaker and his Deputy in the sum N335,500,000.

The Group through its spokesman, accused the Speaker of approving the purchase of LCD 40” Samsung LNS 341 for the House of Representatives for the sum of N525,000 per unit (for members)”, but that the “market price for this product is about N180,000”

According to them, “If you mark-up this sum of money by 25% as allowed by the Bureau for Public Procurement and include 10% for tax and vat, the unit price for the said television set would be N243,000. The Hon. Speaker authorized the purchase of 400units for N210million.

“By this action the Hon. Speaker, has occasioned a loss of the value of N112.8million by the national treasury”, attaching copies of the award letter, memorandum of request and evidence of payment for the contract.

The contractors for the jobs, the lawmakers listed as Chiwarna Nigeria Limited(125 units), Joint Venture (125units), Forte Nigeria Ltd(50units), Point View Resources(50 units), Perfect Concept(50 units).

The lawmakers also took the Speaker up on the inflation in the purchase of “One unit of Sharp Copier 5316 for N270, 000, when the open market price is N160, 000”, stating that “if you add 35% being the allowed mark-up by BPP as well as tax and vat, the unit price would come to N216,000. Whereas 400 units of the said Copier was purchased for N108million on the approval of the Hon. Speaker instead of N86, 4Million. Again, the National Treasury suffered a loss of N21.6MILLION. As usual, there was no bidding done before the said purchase of Copiers”, and sundry others, they alleged.

The lawmakers said the purchases violate section 15(1) (a) of the public procurement Act, 2007, which provides that “The provisions of this Act shall apply to al procurement of goods, works and services carried out by the Federal Government of Nigeria and all procurement entities”             The Group regretted that the first Female Speaker of Federal Legislature in Africa , Mrs. Patricia Etteh was ridiculed for approving less than a quarter of what Bankole approved.    “It must be pointed out that former Speaker, Patricia Etteh only earmarked about the sum of N23 million to purchase cars and she was publicly appointed lampooned. We consider the amount of money expended on about six or seven cars as outrageous and should be condemned.

FACTS BEHIND THE FIGHT

The emergence of Rep. Dino Melaye as the leader of the Progressives, is expeditious. The group had transformed from the Nigeria First Forum, a group of lawmakers brought together for the purpose of ensuring the House worked with the Senate to declare then Acting President Goodluck Jonathan as President in the face of the mortal illness that grounded the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

The NFF was led by Rep. Abba Anas(PDP/Jigawa), but the group’s main financier was President Goodluck Jonathan, who enlisted his kinsman, Rep. Henry Dickson to make sure majority of the members of the House endorsed his ambition to be President.

Anas’ choice as Chairman, sought to create the impression that the clamour to enthrone Jonathan was also a Northern agenda, and therefore not sectional. But not any other Northerner could have been chosen. The choice had to be carefully done, hence the choice of Adamu, the boy of Jigawa Governor, Sule Lamido who is believed to be a staunch ally of Jonathan.

Though the clamour to elevate Jonathan became unnecessary after the death of the last president, the Group continued with its campaign for patriotic lawmaking, but had to change its leadership. Mr. Adamu was too lukewarm for the next line of action, hence the elevation of the populist lawmaker, Mr. Daniel ‘Dino’ Melaye.

The Group thought that the House needed to be heated up for effect, and the only man to do that would be the fire-brand Dino, who had thrown overboard his impulsive tendencies and gradually warmed himself into the hearts of the public through public-spirited motions.

It cannot be ruled out also that the group’s anger against Bankole is prompted by the way the Speaker has treated them. All the suspended members have been stripped of their positions as Committee Chairmen.

THE REASONS FOR SUSPENSION OF MEMBERS   As the trouble broke out, Bankole who was in Russia , had enlisted his more respected Deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada, to rally the support of caucus in preparation to the suspension date. Reps. Leo Okuweh Ogor(PDP/Isoko/Delta), Chile Igbawua, Emmanuel Jime(PDP/Makurdi/Guma), Patrick Ikhariale(PDP/Igueben/Edo) were on the shortlist to raise a powerful motion to ‘teach the legislative delinquents’ a lesson.

At the end, the Speaker after a meeting with members of the shortlist went for Igbawua, who was least expected to deliver the killer punch.

The reasons for suspension decision, Vanguard gathered, would allow for calm in the House, for members to round off key issues pending and do a final ‘mopping up’ for the fast-approaching National Assembly elections.

Though also concerned about the image of the House, the lawmakers were looking at sundry of issues that an impeachment project would affect.

The Deputy Speaker had since last week Thursday held marathon meetings with all Caucuses in the House, and even got the word of the Kogi Caucus to suspend Mr. Melaye for a start, a decision that could not be realised, after the caucus learnt that a suspension plot was already perfected by the Speaker himself.

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