By Boluwaji Obahopo
LAST Friday, the Kogi State House of Assembly impeached the Deputy Governor, Elder Simon Achuba, over gross misconduct.
He was relieved of his post less than three hours after the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Kogi State Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajanah, to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct against him, submitted its report.
Chairman of the panel, Barrister John Baiyeshea, and six other members of the panel submitted the report to the Speaker, Kolawole Matthew, at the State House of Assembly in Lokoja at about 1 pm. At 4 pm, the House announced the deputy governor’s impeachment.
Majority Leader of the House, Bello Balogun (Ajaokuta, APC) who briefed journalists, said the “House met, sat, and deliberated on the recommendations of the panel to arrive at this conclusion. Henceforth, the former deputy governor of the state, Simon Achuba, stand impeached.”
While submitting the report, Baiyeshea said the committee members had “done the best we know how to do according to the law and evidence presented to us. Our committee report is only to the State House of Assembly through the Speaker, in accordance to the constitution.”
The report was in three volumes. Volume 1 contained all documents forwarded to the committee by the Chief Judge that he received from the assembly, and additional reports made available to the committee. Volume 2 contained the pieces of evidence given during the proceeding and volume 3 contained reviews of the committee and recommendations.
The chairman had urged any interested persons to approach the right channel to obtain a copy if they desired. He declined to reveal the position of the committee because doing so is against the law.
Receiving the document, Speaker Matthew promised that the lawmakers would “go through the reports thoroughly, look into the recommendations and do justice to it.”
However, the assembly acted on the recommendations barely three hours after receiving the report, thereby raising questions on the speaker’s promise of thoroughness.
History of the crisis
Elder Simon Achuba is a man with uncommon political fortunes and travails. Achuba came into political limelight in 2003 when he was the first person to secure a second term in the state House of Assembly. He was elected deputy speaker. During the four years term, he had a raging battle in the assembly leading to his suspension. Achuba’s term at the assembly witnessed three speakers. His name was mentioned among those who played roles in the changes.
In 2012, he was appointed the chairman of the Kogi State Environmental Protection Agency, KOSEPA, by former governor Idris Wada, and before long a cold war ensued between the duo.
A month to the November 3, 2015 governorship election, Achuba left the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, for the All Progressive Congress, APC, to support late Abubakar Audu, who was on the verge of winning the election before he died and was replaced by Yahaya Bello, who went on to win after a supplementary election. James Faleke who was the running mate to Audu refused to be Bello’s deputy. Bello, in February 2016, appointed Achuba as his deputy based on the recommendation of former Chief of Staff to the governor, Edward David Onoja.
Interestingly, Achuba has lost the post to Onoja, who nominated him in 2016. Onoja was sworn-in as deputy governor on Monday.
Battle with Bello
The feud between Achuba and Bello started early 2017 when speculations were rife about a raging battle between them. Then, the governor refutes the claims but Achuba kept mute.
A pointer to the raging fire surfaced last November when the governor while travelling out of the state handed power over to the Speaker, sparking outrage on why the deputy governor was sidelined.
Suddenly, there was a letter at the Assembly purportedly signed by the Deputy Governor Chief of Staff requesting for two months leave. However, the leave which ought to terminate on January 26, 2019, amounted to nothing as Achuba was neither seen in a public and political scene again nor enter his office.
Before the cold war, Achuba had some ministries he oversaw but suddenly, his political appearances were curtailed to only burial and naming ceremonies on behalf of the government. Billboards, posters and programmes of the state government were adorned with the governor’s and his former Chief of Staff photos. Achuba described the Chief of Staff as a man who made him a king but removed the crown, beads and staff of office.
Rumour again surfaced in January 2019 when the PDP Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar was to visit the state. Achuba was rumoured to have used the occasion to announce his resignation. Achuba was said to have been sighted in Abuja in the company of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki (then Atiku’s Presidential Campaign DG) where the deal for decamping was hatched. But that failed to happen. The duo henceforth continued their political mouse and cat game.
However, their silent war could no longer be kept a secret when a week to the general election, Achuba’s security details were withdrawn, prompting him to cry out for help. Two days later, the security details were restored by the IG.
Achuba’s ultimatum to Bello
Their battle reached the pinnacle on July 19 when the Deputy Governor through his counsel, Femi Falana (SAN), issued a seven-day ultimatum to the governor to pay him N800m withheld allowances since 2017. This was followed by Achuba’s alarm, 10 days later that the governor had sent gunmen after him, his family and aides. The government denied and described Achuba’s outburst as false.
Acbuba thereafter called on the Inspector General of Police, DSS, Army and other security personnel to safeguard his life, family members and aides.
Origin of rift
The deputy governor hinted that his rift with the governor started when he began to raise concerns over the lacklustre performance of the administration, stressing his situation was made worse with the governor’s former chief of staff’s interest in replacing him. Achuba likewise called on the president to beam his searchlight on the state over perceived political intolerance and insecurity.
He said he visited the Presidency 10 times last year calling their attention to the situation and intervention but all his efforts were not fruitful.
Those behind Achuba’s travails
Achuba described his travails as the internal handiwork of people who want his position. “My persecution is the handiwork of David Onoja (former Chief of Staff) who is looking for an office that will give him immunity from prosecution because of his many bad deeds.”
Not done, Achuba within a spate of two days, visited Channels Television and Africa Independent Television, AIT, where he accused Governor Bello of inability to account for N58.3 billion allocations and gave a vivid enumeration of allocations received so far and how much was expended.
The state government replied through the Director-General, Media and Publicity, Kingsley Fanwo that Achuba was doing opposition’s hatchet job.
A new twist was introduced into the political imbroglio when Achuba’s kinsmen in Aluaja community in Iyano, Ibaji local government area called on the state government to release the white paper of the panel of inquiry on the 2016/2017 Iyano crisis led by the Secretary to the State government, Dr Ayoade Folashade with a view to permanently resolve it.
The Iyano crisis between Alauja community and Abujaga, Iru generated much heat in the warring communities leading to loss of lives and properties worth millions of naira. Vanguard gathered from those privies to the report that the report indicted Achuba but Bello did not act on it. Two years after, the report was not released until the table turned and the same report was added to the list of the deputy governor’s sins.
Achuba’s travails were compounded when an impeachment notice, a sequel to the petition by 21 of the 25 lawmakers was raised against him. Majority Leader of the House, Hassan Bello (Ajaokuta APC) who read the petition hinged it on three grounds: criminal indulgence, financial misappropriation and non-performance.
The Assembly took all the constitutional processes into consideration. First, Achuba was served the petition, he was given 21 days to respond. The assembly, after 21 days, asked the chief judge to set up the judicial panel of enquiry.
Achuba initiated a court order to stop the panel but it was lifted a week later. The CJ adhered to the assembly’s request and set up the panel. The committee was inaugurated on August 26, 2019, and given a maximum of 90 days to submit its report but it did so in 49 days.
The allegations against Achuba by the Assembly were:
1: “Financial Misappropriation and Non-compliance with extant Financial Regulations and Fiscal Responsibility Rules applicable in Kogi State.
2: Deliberate Disdain for Decisions of the Kogi State Executive Council on Mode of Execution of Contracts.
3: Abscondment from Office and Abandonment of Official Duties and Functions.
4: Scandalisation of Kogi State and her people with gratuitous, wild and unsubstantiated allegations of crimes, and allegation of Non-Performance, brigandage and financial impropriety against the Governor, the Government of Kogi State and officials of Government.
5: On 19th July, 2019 the Deputy Governor caused his lawyers to write a letter of demand to the State Government demanding amongst other things, unpaid salaries when he had been paid.
6: The Indictment in Sponsorship of Communal Unrest, the murder of Constituents and Displacement of Communities in lyano, Ibaji LGA, Kogi State.
Dust over impeachment
The House anchored its impeachment of Achuba on being guilty of these allegations, a decision that is raising dust in the polity. A report surfaced online indicating that the committee did not find Achuba guilty on any of the allegations but the House insists that Achuba’s impeachment stands and there is no going back on its verdict.
Chairman, House Committee on Information, Moses Akande (Ogorimangogo, APC) who spoke on behalf of the house also accused the judicial panel of inquiry of compromise on the assignment. “The panel submitted a report to us and based on the report, we gave our verdict. The rule of procedure says that the Panel is a fact-finding panel; they are not to give judgement and it was in the rule of procedure which they accepted. They are not supposed give any verdict in this circumstance.
“The decision of whether the deputy governor is guilty or not is that of the House. If you look at Section 188(11), it says the House of Assembly is the only authority which determines what is gross misconduct. It is not for the panel to say proved or not proved.”
On the issue of the Panel’s report flying everywhere, he said: “I don’t know where that is coming from, even the report in public is not signed. For us, we know that the panel has compromised the process. In the rule of procedure, it was written boldly that the Panel shall not give the report of their investigation to anybody except to the House of Assembly. We questioned the rationale of the panel Chairman, Barr. John Baiyeshea who is credited to have spoken on the issue. What is his interest? So, if the panel has gone ahead to release the report to anybody, that means they compromised.
“It is a known fact that the impeached deputy governor was on some national television stations discussing issues that should be classified information about the state government and going against the oath of secrecy he swore. You mean that does not amount to gross misconduct? Even at the panel, Elder Simon Achuba confirmed that he did appear on those stations, how come the panel said it was not proved?
“Achuba also lied that he was not paid his salary when the schedules of payment showed clearly that he was paid. These and many more show that he negates his function as a deputy governor. Basically, our action was based on the report of the panel and there is no going back on what we have done. If he is not comfortable with our decision, he can go to court.”