Speaker under fire
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Features Editor
The threat by the Lagos State House of Assembly to impeach Governor Akinwumi Ambode for allegedly spending unbudgeted funds has not only put the governor on the spotlight but beamed searchlight on the activities of the House.
The turn of events seems like an anti-climax for the impeachment moves since the threat was aimed at making the governor respond to the allegations.
More surprising is that rather than attract sympathisers, the threat to democratically remove Akinwumi appeared only admired by those behind it.
For a governor, whose inability to get the re-election ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), notwithstanding what could pass as general approval, the outpouring of sympathy over the latest development provoked this fundamental question: What has changed?
Whether the grounds upon which he lost the second term ticket are still valid or not does not matter here. The issue is that Ambode is being accused of spending unappropriated state funds, an action described as an aberration.
Citing the 1999 Constitution, the Assembly said the alleged offences demanded the resignation or impeachment of the governor.
While the lawmakers’ action are within the ambit of the law, Sunday Vanguard has since discovered that the issue is one of the strands of the high wire politics involving Ambode and some vested interests in Lagos.
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It is purely politics of survival and relevance at play. And the lawmakers as principal actors are using their area of influence to achieve a preconceived result.
Such result, it was learned, may not be the outright impeachment of the governor but an end that could totally render him worthless in the coming days.
Sources close to both camps told Sunday Vanguard last Wednesday that the impasse was mainly informed by the resolve of superior forces to render Ambode irrelevant, and not so much about the issue of the spending of unbudgeted funds.
The issue, impeccable sources said, is not unconnected with sustained efforts at making Ambode inconsequential since last October when he was denied re-election ticket.
At the heart of the matter are several conditions allegedly given to the governor, which he considered unrealistic in the interest of the state. Prominent among the alleged conditions was the order to stop all projects he was working on before the governorship election primary.
In addition is what was described as the lawmakers’ infidelity to a pre-budget passage tradition between them and an incumbent governor.
It was alleged that Ambode had provided N500 million to the lawmakers in accordance with the annual practice of doing so before the defence and passage of a budget.
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However, the lawmakers were said to have deviated from the familiar path with the allegations they made against the governor.
One of the sources familiar with what is going on said it was obvious the lawmakers were acting a script, given the manner they were going about what he termed as baseless allegations.
The source said: “The governor’s rising profile despite what they expected is something that ruffled them. I can tell you for free that they thought Ambode will become irreverent having denied him the return ticket. But Ambode saw the conspiracy against him as an opportunity to offer more services to the state”.
“He was given difficult conditions which are against the interest of the people of Lagos State. The governor, who is committed to his social contract with Lagosians, was even asked to stop all projects. Does that not sound ridiculous? The legislators are being unreasonable because there is no basis for what they are doing. They had passed all the budgets in this administration without any issue, why are there issues now? They are even doing all these after the governor had given them the money which precedes the passage of the budget in the state,” the source added.
Meanwhile, a five-day ultimatum has been given to the lawmakers by a Civil Society Organisation, Legislative Probity and Accountability, PLA, demanding that they account for the N28.8 billion running cost allegedly collected under the leadership of Speaker Mudashiru Obasa.
Should the House fail to respond to the allegations, PLA said it would use all legal instruments to compel it to do so.
Notwithstanding the perception that the lawmakers’ move was aimed at ensuring probity in public expenditure, some stakeholders insisted that it is politically motivated.
One of such persons is a human rights activist, Mr. Richard Akinnola, who warned that the matter could undermine the APC in the state. Hence his call on the lawmakers to exercise restraint.
He said:”This move by the Lagos State House of Assembly is purely political. You denied the Lagos State governor a second term bid and he accepted it in good fate. Now with two weeks to the election and four months to the completion of his tenure you want to impeach him.
“Let me tell you something, eventually if this whole process continues, everyone of them will be consumed in the House. I was listening to a radio programme and 95 percent of those who called-in were very angry at the development. Many of them are in support of the governor. Perhaps, many of the House members are not in tune with what people’s opinions on this issue are; otherwise there will be a serious damage.
“Back in December, it was reported that the 2019 Budget was already in the House and was sent in by the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. Perhaps, they wanted him to come physically to present the budget and not through the Commissioner.
“That is why I am saying that this is more than just budget because the budget is already in the House and I read in the papers that the House didn’t deny that it has been presented. Why this issue of ultimatum to defend himself or else he would be served impeachment notice? It doesn’t make any sense.
“It is certain that the Lagos State House of Assembly has the right to take the governor up on the issue. But the whole thing is that even during Governor Fashola’s period similar things happened where the House had to call the Commissioner for Finance and Budget to come and explain things about the budget. These are mere administrative thing that can be resolved between the House and the Government House.
“I believe everything can still be resolved. It’s a thing between the Speaker and the governor without much noise.
“Perhaps, when you talk of impeachment, maybe the governor does not have the demeanor that is aggressive just like what happened in Port Harcourt years ago where then-Governor Amaechi walked up to the House and locked it up for one year for such move against him and that of Akwa Ibom which happened recently and is still under lock and key. However, we don’t want this to happen in Lagos because this is a state that is supposed to set the pace for others to follow.”