By Josiah Oluwole
The Ondo state legislature is now on exile. Impunity is walking on all fours with brazen illegality at its hallowed chambers where nine lawmakers have ‘constitutional powers’ to sack 17 other house members, take decisions, sack committees and reconstitute them and even pass a reordered 2018 appropriation law.
This is happening apparently with the full backing of the legal luminary and governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu,( Senior Advocate of Nigeria) who appears to be the eventual beneficiary of the hoopla that greeted the house of assembly of the state on Friday, November 9.
Political watchers have linked the current turmoil within the legislature to the frustrations emanating from the misfortunes of the All Progressives Congress’ primaries whereby many of the lawmakers and other aspirants lost their bids to contest the coming elections. Also wounded in the race for tickets, is the governor himself, whose powers to determine the candidates were cut short by the leadership of the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole.
The hitherto quiet house, which seldom opened its doors for legislative business, suddenly erupted in a rowdy session which featured a fight between a former speaker of the house, Jumoke Akindele, and the “impeached” speaker, Bamidele Oleyelogun. The female lawmaker had been appointed as interim speaker to preside over the impeachment process, but Mr Oleyelogun would not watch his own funeral. He pounced on her and made efforts to thwart the process. He failed to do so and he was eventually impeached.
Reasons adduced for the action include corruption, incompetence and highhandedness. Olamide George was elected speaker, while Abimbola Fajolu was elected deputy speaker.
The publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Alex Kalejaye, hinted that the state chairman of the party, Ade Adetimehin, made efforts to pacify the lawmakers not to carry out the impeachment, but his advice was rejected, as he was told that the chambers was not an extension of the party’s secretariat.
PREMIUM TIMES also gathered that Mr Akeredolu had received information that the lawmakers were plotting to change their leadership and had made efforts to prevail on them to shelve the plan, but did so without success. The lawmakers, led by Mr George, were bent on the change.
Shortly after the process of impeachment was concluded, thugs poured in from different directions with dangerous weapons and the rest of the lawmakers saw hell. They received bruises and had to run for their lives as the hoodlums chased them out of the complex and damaged their vehicles. Journalists and some operatives of the State Security Services at the complex also got a piece of the dished mayhem.
The manner in which the police stood around watching the fiends do the damage and desecrated the legislature had the trappings of a state managed attack and an assured immunity for the perpetrators.
Although calm appeared to have returned to the scene of conflict, the lawmakers who dared to carry out the impeachment were completely displaced, and had no courage to draw near the assembly complex. They fled to Ibadan where they addressed the media on threats to their lives.
Meanwhile, Mr Oleyelogun retook the assembly with eight other members of the house, claiming the attempt to impeach him was inconclusive as his traducers lacked the required two-thirds majority to remove him. “I remain the authentic speaker of the house,” he asserted as he resumed his place on November 12.
Two of the members whose names had appeared on the signed impeachment notice published in the media the day before, Sunday Olajide and Olusola Oluyede, claimed that their signatures were forged by the impeachment movers saying they were neither informed nor briefed on the impeachment.
The implication by these confessions suggested that the number required to form the needed two thirds, which is 18 out of the 26 members, was not in effect, attained by the change proponents. They had also asked the police to investigate and establish a case of forgery against the Olamide George faction, who forged their signatures in order to push their objectives through.
The resumed sitting had a sizable number of policemen present to give the needed security and protection to the loyal members of the house while the session lasted.
Mr Kalehaye had submitted that information which reached him was that the thugs who were doubtless supporters of Mr Akeredolu, stormed the assembly complex having been informed that the lawmakers were trying to impeach the governor. The impression was that the lawmakers would not be allowed to carry out any impeachment against the governor, regardless of whether he had committed any impeachable offence or not, without facing the wrath of the hoodlums.
Mr George, who led 16 other lawmakers to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, claimed before journalists that their lives were no longer safe after they were attacked by thugs masterminded by the leadership of the All Progressives Congress in the state under the supervision of the Commissioner of Police, Gbenga Adeyanju.
They also claimed to have received death threats, as well as their families and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene and save them from being killed.
Besides accusing the police commissioner of complicity in the attack, the lawmakers also called on the Inspector General of Police to redeploy him from the state.
In a petition to the Inspector General of Police, signed by the “on the run Speaker,” Mr George, his deputy, Abimbola Fajolu, and the Majority Leader of the House, Olugbenga Araoyinbo, the lawmakers alleged threat to their lives, assault, abuse of authority by the Commissioner of Police, Gbenga Adeyanju, the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu as well as the state chairman of APC, Ade Adetimehin.
They also alleged that while thugs suspected to be members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers invaded the house and attacked lawmakers, workers of the assembly and journalists alike, the commissioner of police only stood aloof without ordering his armed men to repel the attack.
“We sat in the House of Assembly of Ondo State on Friday, 9th November, 2018 for the purposes of conducting House businesses among which was the removal of Rt. Hon. Oleyeloogun Bamidele and Iroju Ogundeji, erstwhile Speaker and Deputy Speaker respectively,” the petition, which was also copied to the presidency, read.
“After Speaker and Deputy Speaker had emerged, the former Speaker stormed the Chamber along with thugs and proceeded to disrupt the proceedings by physically assaulting Hon. Mrs Jumoke Akindele whom he had apparently learnt was the Protem Speaker as well as some other members.
“We suddenly saw the Chairman of APC in the state, Ade Adetimehin who came threatening that he has the authority of the Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to deal with anyone who would not heed his plea to return the erstwhile Speaker, Hon. Oleyeloogun to office.
“Following closely after this was the Commissioner of Police, Ondo State Command, Mr Gbenga Adeyanju who stated clearly that he had express instructions of Governor Akeredolu to ‘evacuate and flush’ out every member from the House by all means possible.
“Mr. Adeyanju came in with not less than fifty battle ready, fatigue wearing men of the police to physically assault honourable members by slapping, pushing and hitting them. This to us is embarrassing as men of the police force are meant to enforcers of the law and not lawbreakers.”
“The Chairman of the APC, the former Speaker and the CP had a 60seconds discussion at the Speaker’s Conference room, as subsequent event would show they have invited and summoned via telephone calls the chairman of the Ondo State Chapter of the NURTW, Mr Jacob Adebo, A.K.A Idajo who came into the House of Assembly with not less than two hundred thugs who came with different sizes of gun, axes, machetes, charms, cudgels, broken bottles and other dangerous weapons and immediately started shooting uncontrollably, sporadically inside the assembly complex attacking everybody violently.
“They destroyed several vehicles and even structures worth millions of Naira, beat up mercilessly hundreds of people, as we speak honourable members, staff and visitors to the assembly complex are hospitalized in different locations across the state receiving treatment as they battle for survival.
“It is instructive that in spite of heavy presence of the police officers, the CP who had showed his disaffection and unsatisfactory conduct stood arms akimbo supervising the thugs as the violent acts were playing out without lifting a finger to stop or even attempt to control them.
“All the police men and officers simply looked on. Those we turned to informed us that they had instructions from the CP who in turn had instructions from the Governor not to intervene as the NURTW thugs had a field day.”
In the petition, the estranged lawmakers are calling on the IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to protect them from further assault and guarantee their safety. They have also called for the arrest of Idajo for illegally assessing the hallowed chambers and along with his union members assaulted the lawmakers.
The police had denied any wrongdoing saying it actually went to calm frayed nerves and bring warring lawmakers to the path of peace. This was the submission of the spokesman of the Ondo State Police Command, Femi Joseph. He said the police could not have watched the hoodlums assaulting the lawmakers without intervening, arguing that the hoodlums actually took to their heels on sighting the men of the police force.
“You know when politicians begin their game, and when they can no longer handle their situation, they take police as the scapegoat,” Mr Joseph said.
“Our reaction to the incident that day was spontaneous. The Commissioner of Police was in his office when information reached him that the the House of Assembly was literally on fire because the members were fighting one another, exchanging fisticuff and destroying everything in sight, so much so that the tension was a threat to peace.
“The commissioner of police rushed down there with some of his men and there was already a fracas ongoing, it was immediately we got there that the commissioner and his men were able to douse the tension.
“If not for the intervention of the commissioner and his men, it is not what we are saying now, we will be saying. Because I am shock at the way people will come and instead of appreciating the commissioner of police and his men, they will come round and put all the blame on us.
“It is very unfortunate, I am disappointed and I want to tell you that nothing of such happened. The fracas was already on, and immediately moved in with his men, we saw the thugs scampering for safety.
“How can the police commissioner see thugs or people fighting and he would look away? It is unthinkable. I want to tell you that that allegation is a lie from the pit of hell.”
Similarly, the Commission for Information in the state, Yemi Olowolabi, said the governor was not in any way involved in the crisis, but admitted that efforts were made to pacify the aggrieved lawmakers against making the impeachment move.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the government believes that the impeachment was unconstitutional since it did not fulfil the requirement of two thirds majority required by law to oust the speaker and his deputy.
“What the governor does is to invite the warring parties and try to find amicable solutions to the crisis,” he said. “And that is what the governor has been doing and will do.”
This is not the first time the assembly will be making attempts to remove its leadership. Shortly after the assumption of office of the governor in 2017, loyal members, who also did not have the required majority, made violent efforts to change the leadership of Mrs Akindele, who was the presiding house’ speaker. The action partitioned the house and created no mean animosity until she voluntarily resigned her position to give way for peace.
The latest move sure had the flavour of anti-Akeredolu, and its success, is believed by party loyalists, as a spell of doom for the Akeredolu administration. To them, the decision to quash and crush the “uprising” was expedient and timely, especially as the battle between the Abuja APC led by Robert Ajayi Boroffice and the Ondo home-based APC has further been embittered by the outcome of the primaries. There are also uncertainties as to how this will affect the outcome of the elections proper.
Whatever the current position of each side of the divide, the assembly is for now, maimed and unable to function properly. Mr Akeredolu and the Adetimehin led APC state working committee have made their first move of survival. Unfortunately, they had sought the help of thuggery which is now a salient facet in the country’s politics.
The November 9 episode sowed a seed of violence in the Ondo political environment, albeit, now in the hollow chambers of the state legislature, which ominously foretells expected scenarios of the 2019 elections.