June 23, 2010

Reps in free-for-all

Bankole’s Supporters fighting Progressive members during their session at National Assembly Abuja

By Tordue Salem
ABUJA—The House of Representatives yesterday literally became a house of commotion when age-long acrimony between a group of 11 lawmakers known as “Progressive-Minded Legislators” and those loyal to Speaker Dimeji Bankole, boiled over.

Hell was let loose when the 11 members led by Hon. Dino Melaye,  were suspended indefinitely for alleged breach of the Legislative House (Powers and Privileges) Act.

The suspension of the members climaxed weeks of scheming and counter-scheming to force Bankole to resign over alleged corrupt practices.

The suspended legislators were mostly those who accused Bankole of misappropriating N9 billion capital vote of the House.

Leader of the progressives, Dino Melaye in his torn cloth after he was suspended during the rowdy plenary session at National Assembly Abuja on Tuesday. Photo:Â Gbemiga Olamikan.

They are Melaye, Hon. Ehiogie West-Idahosa, Hon. Independence Ogunewe, Solomon Awhinawi,  Austin Nwachukwu,  Abbas Anas,   Gbenga Oduwaiye, Kayode Amusan, Gbenga Onigbogi, Bitrus Kaze and  Doris Uboh Uboh’s  name was appended in the list with a biro.

After making the  allegation, the anti-Bankole legislators took the fight to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and urged the anti-graft agency to investigate the Speaker and the House leadership.

That was the situation before the resumption from a two-week recess yesterday.

How it all started

The proceedings started on a cautious but apprehensive note. There were palpable fears that pent-up anger that had been building in the last three weeks would explode.

After a couple of announcements, Bankole asked  Chile Igbawua, who represents Kwande/Ushongo Federal Constituency, Benue State, to move the controversial suspension motion.

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Promptly, Igbawua rose and started reading the motion entitled: “Motion for suspension” and invoked Order 5(1) Sub-rule 2 and 3 and Rule 3 of the House that dwells on privilege of members.

He was still invoking the order when Melaye sprang to his feet and started shouting repeatedly: “Point of Order, No way, we cannot be suspended.”

Amid Melaye’s shouts, pandemonium set in. Other members of the progressives including Uboh,  Nwachukwu, Awhinawi and Kaze frantically attempted to snatch the motion paper from Igbawua.

A flurry of pushing and shoving ensued and after a while, Melaye and his group succeeded in snatching the motion paper from Igbawua, which Melaye shredded immediately.

Attempt to seize mace

Awhinawi dashed to seize the House mace but was stopped by about 12 sergeants-at-Arm, who cordoned off the mace.

With the planned suspension aborted, a platform for a free-for-all  had was set and the hallowed chambers of the House became a theatre of physical combat between anti-Bankole lawmakers and other members of the House.

Hon. Mohammed Bawa landed a series of blows on Awhinawi and in no time fell the Delta State-born lawmaker. He thereafter went for Melaye and the exchange of blows continued.

Amid the commotion, Bankole attempted to adjourn sitting. He was about to move out of the chamber, when his loyalists insisted that the suspension business must be concluded. The Speaker made a U-turn and returned to his seat.

Whistle blowing

But Melaye and his group were determined to frustrate the move. Melaye brought out a whistle and started blowing it loudly.

Undaunted by the charged atmosphere, Bankole read the list of suspended members to the applause of most of the members.

He asked the sergeants-at-arm to march those affected out of the Chamber.
But Melaye and his group resisted the order and another melee ensued during which Nwachukwu broke  Chinyere Igwe’s arm with a fire extinguisher.

Other members descended on him and tore his clothes to shreds in the process.

Reps tear-gassed

To escape further beating, the Imo State-born lawmaker brought out a canister of tear gas from his pocket and sprayed it in the chamber.

Nevertheless, irate legislators bundled him out of the chamber. They descended on Melaye, tore his clothes and dragged him out of the House.

The order to throw all the anti-Bankole lawmakers out of the chamber was implemented to the letter.

Furious lawmakers carried Uboh like a baby and deposited her outside the chamber. Independence Ogunewe escaped through the back door. It became unbearable for his group. Awhinawi and Kaze were also beaten and matched out of the chamber.
West-Idahosa was not in the House but he was nonetheless suspended.

Order was restored when the ‘rebelling’ lawmakers were thrown out. The Speaker apologised to Nigerians for the rowdiness of the session and  asked Igbawua “to go through the motion for clarity.”

Responding, Igbawua took the floor, and said: “I wish to draw the attention of this August House to a matter of privilege and accordingly, to invoke Order 5 (1) Sub rules 2 and 3 and rules 2 read together with Section 60 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 which allows the House to regulate its procedure and Order XVII Rule 7 Sub rules 3B, C and D which prescribe the procedure for internal dispute resolution through the Committee on Ethic and Privileges.”

He cited the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act Cap L12 Laws of the federation 2004 that regulates the conducts of the members of the legislative houses established under the Constitution.

He stated that by the provisions of 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 the 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, is guilty of an offence.

“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 of the Legislative House would constitute punishable contempt.”

Igbawua prayed the House to suspend members of the “Progressives” indefinitely pending the outcome of investigations by the Ethics and Privileges Committee.

Reps justify action

Later at a briefing, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Eseme Eyiboh,  said those suspended breached the rules of the House.

He added that Nwachukwu brought into the Chamber a weapon which is prohibited under the Legislative Houses Act.

He added that Melaye breached the rule of the House by bringing in a whistle.
On the allegation of mismanagement of funds made by the “Progressives,” Eseme said Melaye and his group had all allowances in the rules of the House to present the allegations.

Instead of taking the available route, he said the group undermined the integrity of the House by taking the allegations outside the confines of the House.

On why Melaye and others were forcibly taken out of the House, he said that the Sergeants-at-Arm were empowered to employ reasonable force when the occasion demands, especially when those affected resist the suspension order.

Also, at the briefing, Hon. Farouk Lawan said Melaye and his group “have become constant irritants and distraction to the House.” Lawan recalled that one of them, Ogunewe, assaulted the Speaker a fortnight ago. He insisted that the legislators erred because “as I speak, there is no petition before the Ethics and Privileges Committee by this group.”