The drumbeat of impeachment reverberated through the nation’s political landscape, yesterday, heightening anxiety in the already tensed and fragile polity.
While eight of the 30-member lawmakers of the Benue State House of Assembly served Governor Samuel Ortom, who recently defected from the the All Progressives Congress (APC), a Notice of Impeachment, Imo and Kano states lawmakers gave deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere and speakers, respectively, the boot.
In the early hours of yesterday, there was a full deployment of security operatives allegedly carrying out orders from above who stormed the premises of the Benue State House of Assembly firing tear gas canisters. They prevented the 22 members from accessing the House chambers but were said to have allowed the Ikyange-led group of eight entry.
Meanwhile, anger and condemnation has trailed the action of the eight lawmakers, who purportedly egged on by security operatives, invaded the House of Assembly. According to investigations, two factions of the House, locked in supremacy battle, sat at different locations to impeach Governor Ortom and suspend themselves.
Last Tuesday, 22 members of the Assembly who had earlier on Friday impeached Speaker Terkimbi Ikyange and installed Titus Uba as Speaker, also moved a motion for his (Ikyange) suspension for six months.
However, Ikyange who had continued to insist that he is still the speaker, was said to have mobilised seven other APC lawmakers, amid tight security, to commence an impeachment process on Governor Ortom.
The armed security had barricaded the area leading to the chamber to pave the way for the Ikyange-led faction to hold their plenary.
The faction was also said to have suspended 15 members from the Uba-led faction for “gross illegality.”
However, members of the Uba-led faction, who wondered how a group of only eight would claim they sat without the clerk of the House, his deputy and the Mace to take any decision, at an emergency seating at the old Banquet Hall of the Government House, fought back by suspending the seven lawmakers.
But Ikyange told newsmen shortly after leaving the premises of the Assembly that about 12 members sat to commence impeachment process against the governor over alleged embezzlement of local funds to the tune of N33 billion, non-performance and other sundry issues.
But Governor Ortom did not only dismiss the move as laughable, illegal and impunity of the highest order, he vowed to employ all legal means to tackle the anomaly.
He also condemned the heavy deployment of policemen and DSS acting on the directives of the Inspector General of Police and Director General of DSS with the active connivance of Senator George Akume, to forcibly gain entry into the chambers of the Assembly to carry out illegality.
Ikyange, Okefe, Adanyi risk contempt of court
IIkyange, his Deputy, James Okefe and former Majority Leader, Benjamin Adanyi are to appear in court to explain why an order for their committal to prison should not be made against them for disobeying the injunction earlier issued by the court presided over by the state Chief Judge, Justice Adam Onum.
The state High Court also served an order on the affected lawmakers restraining them from parading themselves in the capacities of principal officers which they previously operated.
This is even as 22 members of the Benue State House of Assembly have filed contempt proceedings against Ikyange, Okefe and Adanyi.
The Commissioner of Police, Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 4 Makurdi, Inspector General of Police, the Nigerian Police Force as well as the Director, Department of State Services (DSS), Makurdi were also joined in the suit.
It’s plot to declare emergency rule – PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said the notice of impeachment served on Ortom is a ploy by the APC-led Federal Government to precipitate crisis so as to declare an emergency rule in the state.
The PDP stated this in a communique issued at the end of an emergency meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC) in Abuja yesterday.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, who read the communique to journalists said the opposition party’s NWC condemned in strong terms the plot by eight out of the 30 lawmakers to impeach Ortom.
This is coming as indications emerged that the National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus has directed governors elected on the party’s platform to proceed to Benue State immediately in solidarity with Ortom.
A highly placed party source said Secondus told the governors not to fly into Makurdi, the Benue State capital, but to either assemble in Abuja or Enugu, from where they will drive in a convoy into the state, to show the people that the opposition party identified with them.
The PDP said the plot to impeach the governor by the eight lawmakers demonstrated the desperation of the APC ahead of the 2019 general elections. It urged its members, particularly in Benue State, to rise up in defence of their rights and the nation’s democracy.
Similarly, the Benue chapter of the PDP flayed the attempt by eight lawmakers as an assault on democracy and the entire people of the state.
In a statement issued in Abuja yesterday, the publicity secretary, Bemgba Iortyom said: “This ugly development is utterly reprehensible, totally unacceptable and must be condemned by all men of good conscience who are desirous of the continued survival of democracy as the preferred mode for self-determination, not only in Benue State, but Nigeria as a whole.
“We demand that the APC show immediate respect for the rule of law by withdrawing all forms of support being given to the impeached former Speaker, Mr. Ikyange, including the heavy security presence deployed at the Benue State House of Assembly Complex.”
Democracy under attack, says R-APC
The Reformed APC has raised the alarm over what it termed attempt by the Federal Government to derail democracy in the country.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, prince Kassim Afegbua, titled “Save our democracy: Benue must not die,” the group accused President Muhammadu Buhari of masterminding the plot to oust Ortom.
“It is shocking to note that despite all the illegalities being perpetrated in Benue State over the laughable impeachment notice by eight members of the State Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari has not deemed it fit and proper to respond and condemn the outright illegalities. That goes to suggest that he has been the chief promoter of undemocratic illegalities that have consistently undermined our democratic engagements in the last three years.
“It is astounding to note that despite all the infractions in the political process; the polity is consciously charged to ridicule us and make us a laughing stock in the comity of nations before the very eyes of a president who preaches anti-corruption. The Benue scenario has again brought out our penchant for the bizarre making us look so stupid in the eyes of the world.”
The R-APC also alerted the international community and Nigerians that democracy is seriously under threat by agents of darkness who are desperately trying to arm twist the Benue people against their will to illegally undermine the legitimacy of the properly constituted democratically elected government in Benue state.
This conspiracy to undermine the legitimacy of the properly constituted authority in Benue with the full manipulation of the Nigeria Police is not only condemnable, but smacks of political barbarism and hooliganism under a government that preaches anti-corruption as its selling point. It is ridiculous, laughable, ribaldrous and utterly reprehensible to observe that the presidency has maintained less than noble silence as Benue fragile peace is being threatened by acts of ommision and commission by the Police and other security agencies. This desperation is getting too much and it must be arrested forthwith without equivocation before this democracy is reduced to a mindless rubble,” Afegbua said.
Makarfi, Sani furious
Former national caretaker chairman of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi said the attempt by eight members to impeach Ortom was another tragic-comical drama by some forces bent on truncating Nigeria’s democracy and ridiculing the citizenry.
In a statement signed by his media aide, Mukhtar Zubairu Sirajo, Makarfi said he was disturbed that contrary to democratic norms and the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended), a mere eight out of a 30-member sat and attempted to impeach a validly elected governor.
The statement said in part: “Despite numerous judicial pronouncements, some by even the highest court of the land, more than two-third of a 30-member House of Assembly were denied access to, and in fact, chased away from the House by the police, while giving state cover to seven or so other members to sit and even attempt to impeach a democratically elected governor for the simple reason that some quarters have been slighted by the governor’s decision to move from one party to another. Senator Makarfi considers this as unlawful, disgraceful and undemocratic act, which portends a danger of monumental proportions to the country and its institutions.
He wondered why the APC, after benefiting from the right to freedom of association in 2014, now deny people the right to defect from it for whatever reason.
Writing on Twitter Senator Shehu Sani, called for caution.
“Benue; the court order should be obeyed. Security men deployed to the House of Assembly should be withdrawn. The right of the governor and every Nigerian to belong to any political party should be respected. Respect my right to my choice even if you don’t believe in it,” he tweeted.
Reacting, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, said he was greatly embarrassed by the unfolding political drama.
According to him, any attempt to disregard the rule of law and constitution in the impeachment of a governor is a recipe for anarchy and officially sanctioned lawlessness.
He warned that if unchecked, the political situation in Benue State could lead to a domino effect across the country, thereby jeopardising our democracy and endangering innocent lives and property of lawful citizens.
Atiku regreted that, for a state facing security challenges like Benue, the introduction of lawlessness in the impeachment process could only complicate an already bad situation.