By Tonnie Iredia
An ardent follower of activities of the legislature at State level in Nigeria would not find it difficult to establish the true character of its members. Events since the return of democracy in 1999 have shown that a typical member of a State House of Assembly operates essentially as a dubious person. In this article, we shall concentrate on three areas. The first is the legislator as a Tout.
Let us start from Ibadan where in what seems like a replay of the First Republic era when the Western Region was known as the ‘wild, wild west’, the capital of Oyo State, was at a point converted into a theatre of violence. This arose from a decision by a group of 18 legislators in the state house of assembly to impeach their Governor, Rashidi Ladoja.
It was more or less a gun battle which ended with two persons feared dead while six others, including two police officers, a State Security Service (SSS), official attached to the governor, a photo-journalist and two civil servants were wounded. Lucky Ladoja, he may have been traumatised but he was not physically harmed. His Anambra State counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige, was not that lucky. Ngige was abducted!
In Ekiti State, fracas broke out in the House of Assembly when lawmakers tried to prevent the presentation of the state’s 2009 budget by Governor Segun Oni. Their grudge was the conduct of council polls despite protests against the composition of the state’s Independent Electoral Commission. Before the Speaker of the house, Mr. Tunji Odeyemi, ushered the governor to the assembly hall, some lawmakers had seized the mace, the Assembly’s symbol of authority.
The action resulted in a fracas between the members. When Oni’s security aides eventually escorted him into the Assembly, some ‘Gestapo- lawmakers’ gathered around the mace forcing the governor to spend less than 10 minutes presenting the 66-page appropriation bill, named ‘Budget of Consolidation.”
In the heartbeat of the nation, Edo State, the legislators went berserk in their attempt to remove Speaker Zakawanu Garuba. Three members sustained severe injuries. According to reports, one member used an axe on some other legislators while another member used teargas. The two political parties involved accused each other of employing dangerous weapons in the show of strength. Outside the premises of the House, hundreds of thugs-apparently associates of legislators-condoned off the area. Interestingly, an ambulance and medical doctors came to the scene to administer first aid on the touts.
During the period under review, the legislators also operated as political adventurers-engaged more in law-breaking than law- making. Even to obey the Judiciary was for them, a matter of convenience. For example, they ignored the following three points which the courts ruled must precede the impeachment of a governor or his deputy under Section 188 of the constitution.
First, that the stipulated fraction of all the members of the House of Assembly must be met. Second, that in a situation of division, a part of a whole could not act on behalf of the whole even if that part was in the majority. Third, that no meeting of the Assembly could be held outside the legally prescribed place and without its principal officers.
In spite of these unambiguous pronouncements, legislators in several states carried on as if democratic practice was not premised on the rule of law. In Plateau State, only eight of 24 legislators forcibly impeached Governor Dariye. In Oyo State, where only 18 of the 32 legislators impeached Governor Ladoja. the Judiciary ruled that their sitting in an hotel rather than the Assembly to deliberate on the impeachment was illegal. Also declared unlawful was their sending of the notice of impeachment through newspapers.
For the impeachment of Governor D. S. P. Alamieyesigha, members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly virtually relocated from Yenagoa to Abuja. Even in later years when they tried to impeach Deputy Governor Ebebi, they had to be legally stopped from over-reaching themselves on the subject which was already in court. Another Deputy Governor, this time, Garba Gadi of Bauchi State was impeached while on annual leave; meaning that his hair was shaved in his absence.
Our final aspect today is on the legislator as a Clown. A good example here comes from Imo State where the House of Assembly became vibrant only five days to its expiration. The legislators did many things. They removed their speaker and his deputy and elected new ones; approved the suspension of nine other members; replaced the Chief Press Secretary to the former speaker; froze all the bank accounts of the House. The new Speaker announced that within the short period remaining, that is, five days, the ‘comedy-lawmakers’ would review the obnoxious laws already passed by the House, which were inimical to the progress of the state.
All the house committees were dissolved while the political parties in the house were requested to submit the names of their members to reconstitute the new committees supposedly to function for the next five days.
In Ogun State, it was beautiful drama to watch on television as the group of 15 lawmakers of the State Assembly, led by Tunji Egbetokun, resumed sitting, after their suspension by nine other members believed to be loyalists of the former governor of the state, Chief Gbenga Daniel. The lawmakers, at the sitting which lasted some four hours, declared the sittings and all resolutions earlier passed by the faction led by Soyemi Coker as null and void. Egbetokun and his group had one substantive event- they got hold of the fake mace, destroyed it there and then by cutting it into pieces in the presence of the members.
Humorously, they did all of this after the valedictory sitting of the House some few days back which brought the activities of the sixth legislature of the assembly to an end. In other words, the new comedians, Egbetokun and Co, scored all their goals after the referee’s final whistle. Where were they even during the extra time?
Many ‘legislator-clowns’ got into all of this because there are no standards for getting into politics in our clime. Others became ‘legislator-touts’ because they acted on the promptings of some big men forgetting the African adage that when a man is sent on an errand as a slave, he has a duty to deliver the message as a free-born.
Yes, those who ignore established rules and procedures to impeach others violently attract public sympathy to their otherwise guilty victims and at the same time confirm to society that they themselves are simply thugs. While congratulating my nephew on assuming the speakership of the new session of our State Assembly, our family must pray hard that no one breaks the mace on him.