Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tension as Plot to Impeach Benue Speaker Thickens

There is palpable tension in Benue State over an alleged plot by a cross section of the state’s lawmakers, led by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) legislators, to impeach the Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange.

The lawmakers are determined to shove the Speaker aside, following his recent arrest and detention by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and a possible trial at the court for fraud. Also, a recent Makurdi High Court ruling had okayed the delimitation of his Ushongo State Constituency into two by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

As the Speaker was grappling with the issues surrounding the INEC action, and the court ruling following it, he was jolted by a fresh storm, the recent allegation of corruption against him, his deputy and other principal officers, of the House, which led to their arrest and questioning by the EFCC. This seemed to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back.

According to reports, the Speaker, Hon Ikyange, his Deputy, James Okefe, and Majority Leader, Benjamin Adanyi, and others were detained by the EFCC following an invitation to answer questions in relation to an alleged fraud of N750million said to be car loan.

According to reports, the Deputy Speaker, James Okefe, was said to have purchased vehicles for some select members, especially those of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), ignoring those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Following this, an anonymous petitioner wrote to the EFCC over the car purchase deal that went sour. Thus, the anti-graft agency clamped down on the Assembly members, detaining the Speaker and his deputy, along with 14 other members of the House.

As a result of the unfolding development, a pressure group in the state, known as Concerned Benue Youth for Good Governance, had mounted pressure on the lawmakers to remove the Principal Officers, including the Speaker. This was after their call for their resignation fell on deaf ears.

That the lawmakers could commit such alleged crime was viewed more serious, especially as the state has been finding it difficult to pay its workers since February this year.

According to the group led by John Ashaver, “It is unfortunate that in just one year, the House is enmeshed in monumental corruption. All the principal officers should resign. The House sinks.”

Meanwhile the state governor, Samuel Ortom has lauded the EFCC for arresting and investigating the Speaker and his Principal Officers. Ortom said: “Yes, it (the arrest of the lawmakers) is a good thing, it is part of the process. They are under investigation by the EFCC.

“From day one, I brought up a slogan that ‘if you chop money, money will chop you.’ We have to be careful and I have sent signals to all that nobody is above the law.

“As far as I am concerned, my government will not shield anybody who is corrupt and who is found wanting. Myself, as governor, and every other lieutenant are open to scrutiny. There is Freedom of Information Bill and people are allowed to get information from these sources.

“We have to be careful and I have sent signals to all that nobody is above the law. If you do wrong, you will go your own way. As far as I am concerned, they are under investigation.

“Let us see the outcome we would have. As far as I am concerned, my government will not shield anybody who is corrupt and who is found wanting.

“EFCC is an agency that is charged to investigate and where somebody is found culpable you prosecute. So they are free to do their job in Benue State.”

However, the crisis rocking the Assembly deepened when a member of the PDP, Kester Kyenge, was suspended for five months.

The House witnessed a rowdy session following the Speaker’s refusal to allow the purportedly suspended member, representing Logo State Constituency, to move a motion of urgent public importance.

The PDP member and his supporters in the House, who are also of PDP, had intended to move a motion for the Speaker’s impeachment on his resumption after the EFCC arrest and detention.

Kyenge and 14 other PDP members had insisted that the Speaker and other principal officers who were arrested by the anti-graft agency, should resign from their position for “desecrating and bringing shame” upon the Assembly, following their investigation by the EFCC for alleged fraud.

But, instead of allowing Kyenge move his motion, the House, during a plenary session, slammed suspension on Kyenge, citing his “unruly behaviour and dishing out falsehood against the leadership of the Assembly with the intention to tarnish the image of the entire Assembly.”

The suspension followed a motion moved by Benjamin Adanyi, the House Majority Leader, which drew the attention of the House to media reports, credited to Kyenge, alleging that the leadership of the House misappropriated huge sums of money meant for the purchase of lawmakers’ vehicles.

Reacting to the suspension, Audu Sule, the Minority Leader and PDP member, said that Kyenge was not given a fair hearing and that the Standing Rule of the House, which provides for only 14-day suspension for members, was breached. He said: “The suspension is null and void. That action would not be respected by anybody.”

The Speaker, it would be recalled, has not been having it easy. Before the fraud scandal, a Federal High Court sitting in Makurdi had recently ordered the enforcement of its judgement delimiting the Speaker’s constituency, Ushongo Constituency, into two by INEC to become the Ushongo and Mbagwa state constituencies.

Consequently, it ordered INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return it previously issued to Hon. Terkimbi Ikyange, who is the member representing Ushongo in the State House of Assembly and to conduct elections for the two constituencies within 90 days.

This has continued to generate controversy in the House. But whether the embattled Speaker would overcome the allegations and retain his position in the State Assembly remains a matter of conjecture.

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