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The Constitution must prevail in Benue

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AS there appears some lull in recent weeks in the massacres in Benue State by suspected armed herdsmen, the peace of the state continues to be threatened, this time by political upheaval. All hell  broke loose following the decision of Governor Samuel Ortom, some members of the State House of Assembly and other prominent political actors to defect from the All Progressives Congress, APC, to the rival Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.

On Monday, July 30, 2018, eight members of the Benue House of Assembly led by the impeached ex-Speaker, Terkimbi Ikyange and fully supported by a horde of mobile policemen, stormed the Assembly complex. Without the legitimate Speaker, the Clerk and the Mace, they suspended 22 of their colleagues loyal to Governor Ortom, apparently to make way for his impeachment. Efforts by the 22 members to get into the Assembly Chamber were thwarted by the police.

The eight assemblymen were purportedly aggrieved over an alleged misappropriation of N54 billion by the Ortom government. According to them, of this amount, N22 billion was embezzled as security vote, while N32 billion was taken from funds belonging to the local governments while months of workers’ salaries remain unpaid. They served a seven-day impeachment notice on the Governor.

Having been prevented from getting into the Assembly Chamber, the 22 members assembled in the Banquet Hall of the Government House and suspended the eight members for six months. Police later chased away workers at the Assembly complex and put it under lock and key.

These sad events in Benue State which have been condemned across the country, reminds us of the dark early days of our democracy under President Olusegun Obasanjo, when no less than five governors (Anambra, Oyo, Bayelsa, Ekiti and Plateau) were impeached with the police seen to be implementing orders from the Presidency.

However, in the unfolding Benue crisis, President Muhammadu Buhari has quickly dissociated himself from “any unconstitutional act,” saying that those insinuating presidential nexus in the matter are suffering from “paranoia at its worst”. Having exonerated himself, we call on the President to rein in the excesses of the police and get them to be neutral and professional in handling the situation. The Federal Government should never again be involved in any impeachment plot at the state level. It is none of their business under our Constitution.

If the Benue Assembly members are convinced that Governor Ortom has a genuine case to answer, they must strictly follow the steps prescribed by Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Eight members of a 30-man House of Assembly certainly do not constitute a quorum required to serve a governor impeachment notice. That’s impunity.

The Benue Assembly complex should be reopened immediately.


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