Peterclaver Egbochue writes on the brewing crisis in the Enugu State House of Assembly over moves to truncate the tenure of the Governor, Sullivan Chime
With 25 days to the end of the current political dispensation, peace and harmony have taken flight from Enugu State House of Assembly, leaving it broken into two unequal factions. A faction made up of 15 members wants Governor Sullivan Chime’s tenure abruptly terminated while the remaining eight members are allegedly on his side, waging the war against his tenure running its full course.
Determined to overrun and demolish any form of impediment on their way, the former has initiated a ferocious attack on the governor when on Monday morning, it served Chime an impeachment notice. The lawmakers accused the Governor of high handedness and corrupt enrichment.
According to reports from Enugu, the Governor had asked the state assembly to approve the sum of N11 billion for a secretariat project, which was turned down by the state assembly. The lawmakers refused on the premise that his tenure was less than a month to hand over to a new administration, wondering why the Governor would be asking for such huge sum.
The unapproved N11billion allegedly led to the power play between members of the House of Assembly and the state government. The Governor then allegedly induced some members of the assembly with some money to impeach the House Speaker, Hon. Odoh.
To ensure they have their way, the 15 lawmakers sat on Monday morning and suspended some members who they believe are loyal to the Governor, and then collected signatories of 15 members before serving the Governor impeachment notice.
The eight members, on their part reportedly impeached the speaker and elected Hon. Chinedu Nwamba, (PDP-Nsukka East) as the new speaker and a new leader, Mr. Donatus Uzogbado, (PDP-Oji-River), suspended Odoh and seven others.
Those suspended include Chief John Anichukwu (PP-Nkanu East); the Chief Whip, Mrs. Theresa Egbo (PDP-Enugu South Rural); the Leader, Mr. Sunday Ude-Okoye (PDP-Awgu North); and Mr. Okey Nwoke (PDP-Igboetiti West). Others are Mr. Paul Ogbe (PDP-Enugu Soth Urban), Mrs. Chika Ene (PDP-Udi South) and Nze Micheal Onyeze.
The members who carried out the impeachment accused the Speaker of being self-centred and uncooperative. The Governor’s Spokesman, Chukwudi Achife, in a chat with newsmen disclosed that Speaker Eugene Odoh, had been removed and a new Speaker elected. He dismissed the alleged plot to remove the Governor.
At the session in the same chambers, the Nwamba- led group recalled the member representing Udi North constituency, Mr. Johnbll Nwagu, who was unanimously suspended two weeks ago for making unguarded utterances.
The group reversed an earlier motion that froze the accounts of the state basic education board as well as the directive that the Universal Basic Education Commission should stop further transactions with its Chairman, Ms. Nneka Onuorah.
The group described their initial motion as `legislative recklessness’ as they are lawmakers and not lawbreakers.
“The house do hereby move that the freezing of the accounts of ESUBEB was erroneously done and of no consequence. This motion supersedes the earlier motion by the entire house,’’ the lawmakers said.
Seconding the motion, Dr. Emeka Ogbuabor (PDP-Isi Uzor) noted that he had warned against the initial decision of the assembly.
The group equally directed the clerk to communicate their decision accordingly and adjourned plenary indefinitely.
Addressing newsmen after the session, the new speaker, Nwamba, said that the change in guard was necessitated by what he termed `selfish interest of the other faction’.
“We will not allow few persons to ridicule this institution due to some personal interests. We are not a party to the impeachment of the governor.
“It will be unfair to allow a few people to ridicule the state due to interests. Gov. Sullivan Chime is the best governor in this country. We will work in cordial relationship with the incoming administration,’’ Nwamba said.
For some political watchers, this ‘war’ will be of no serious consequence given the fact that the tenure of both parties is already in the twilight. But for some others, the war is unexpected given the fact that both parties had enjoyed harmonious working relationship in the last almost eight years.
Even when governor Chime spent over four months in the United Kingdom where he went for medical pilgrimage, the house under the leadership of Hon. Odoh, did not contemplate invoking the doctrine of necessity. They stoutly supported his then deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi and even sent emissaries to encourage him.
In fact, the same harmonious working relationship was demonstrated in the speedy manner with which the deputy governor was impeached when he reportedly over stepped his bounds.
Many are still wondering what has happened to the executive- legislative harmonious working relationship. A source in Enugu however traced the crack to a disclosure made by the All Progressives Congress, (APC) governorship candidate in the state, Barr. Okey Ezea, in the build-up to the just concluded general elections.
Ezea had disclosed to the people of the state that a certain clandestine effort was being made by the governor to obtain a loan of N11 billion.
Ezea who addressed the speaker and some members said; “before now, if you go to the Debt Management Office, Enugu State as at January 31st, 2015 owes N12.061bn and somebody wants to take another loan of N11bn.
“When will Enugu people complete the payment of such loan? The lives of our children are at stake; hospitals are not working in Enugu State, the educational system is not work¬ing in Enugu State and all these children are paying N150, 000 in ESUT and IMT.
“Please, we want to tell you that our people in Enugu State say no to this loan, otherwise this is not how a legislature passes bills; you people cannot surrepti¬tiously sit down here and approve N11bn, a loan which Enugu people will continue to pay till we die”.
Speaker, Odoh who commend¬ed the peaceful nature of the demonstra¬tion noted that every indigene of Enugu State has the right to air his view or opinion just as he noted that the Assembly represents the 24 constituencies of Enugu State.
He accepted that there was such request before the House but had not been deliber¬ated upon. Days later, it was learnt that the assembly turned down the loan which they claimed was coming so late in the day when the government was already exiting.
It was a decision, which shocked most people because the assembly had never said no to the governor. However, it appears to have set the stage for the on-going battle between the executive and the legislature, which has seen the later take several positions contrary to that of the executive.
As if to punish the legislature for refusing the loan, the overhead due to the assembly was said to have been stopped leading to the issue of a warrant of arrest to force the Accountant-General to appear before the Assembly.
The Accountant-General, Mr. Paschal Okorie, when he appeared claimed that the inability to release the overhead of the House had to do with the fall in oil price which he said had made it difficult for the state to pay salaries, adding that such payment could only be made on the orders of the governor.
This explanation, no doubt, did not go down well with the assembly who insisted that he re-appears before the House with relevant records of revenues and expenditure of the state from January to March this year. The assembly had earlier suspended one of its members, John-Bull Nwagu alleg¬edly taunting the House that it would not get its overhead for refusing to approve the N11 billion loan requested by the governor.
Also acting on public outcry against the last minute allocation of government lands to individuals by outgoing Chime’s administration, the House condemned in strong terms the allocation of land within the Enugu International Conference Cen¬tre to private individuals. They warned beneficiaries of such questionable land allocation to stop further development of such land as such allocation would not stand.
The lawmakers accused Chime’s government of mortgag¬ing the life of Enugu people while condemning the idea of concessioning water supply in the state to private individuals. Speaking after an extensive debate on the motion before the House, Hon. Odo said the state government acted wrongly by allocating government land for private purposes.
He said the House condemned such action seriously, even as it described the concessioning of water to A.G Gold Trust as suspicious and illegal, stressing that there was no bidding process, neither was there any law backing the process.
His words, “We are dissociating ourselves from this unholy act and apparent balkanization of land in Enugu. We also warn the company to hands off because that action cannot stand by the grace of God.
“We are not part of it and the fraudulent activities surrounding it; we dissociate ourselves from it and indeed the entire Enugu State is angry with this develop¬ment; it fell short of sincerity, it fell short of real natural justice and good con¬science.”
The Assembly further condemned land adjacent the Assembly Complex for the building of a shopping mall as well as the allocation of lands in the old East¬ern Nigeria Industrial Layout along Zik Avenue, Enugu and warned the developer to discontinue their activities on the said lands.
Odo said the action of the Assembly was not to undermine the powers of the governor to allocate land but to show that the action is wrong and must be condemned.
Sensing that the heat was becoming too hot from the assembly, the executive through the press secretary to the gover¬nor, Achife in a paid adverto¬rial titled ‘Why Enugu Speaker wants to scuttle Govt’s projects’ described what is happening as campaign of calumny and arm-twisting tactics against the govern¬ment and engineered by the speaker.
The executive in the publication said there was no rift between the two arms “but the outcome of the speaker’s anger for failing to win the governorship primary of the PDP in the state and his un¬successful attempts to sabotage and cause the party to lose the recently concluded elections in his home local government area.
It dismissed issues of land allocation arguing that they were allotted during Chime’s first term while Odoh was still speaker. “If there were no sinister and ulterior motives intended, the question to ask is: how come the allocation made more than four years ago under the same speaker has now become issues of con¬troversy with less than two months to the governors’ exit.
It would be recalled that the assembly impeached the deputy governor of the state in August 2014, a development many alleged was masterminded by the governor.
The impeached deputy governor had insisted that the allegations against him were diversionary, claiming that his offence was his interest in the Enugu East senatorial position, which according to him, has been reserved for the Chief of Staff, Government House, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo.
According to him, “My problem started when I expressed interest to contest for the Senate seat of Enugu East Senatorial zone, coincidentally against the preferred candidate of the governor. Initially, they didn’t know I will make any impact, they felt they had everything, but when I started making consultations, people I never expected started giving me encouragement and support.
“He became uncomfortable. There was a time I received information from somebody that if I did not step down, this move will be made against me. So, I did not believe it and I made it clear before now that it was from the day I expressed interest that I started noticing some hostile attitude from the governor.
“So, it is not about chicken because when they said chicken, they removed the chicken, they did not give me the proceeds of the chicken or tell me where it is and I did not complain. They saw that I was in Onitsha and could not provide any evidence that the governor instructed me, what they did was to go and forge a manifest backdated and you know when the governor is on vacation you cannot have his manifest, but they mistakenly got a manifest, back- dated it and labeled it governor’s manifest when the governor was on vacation.
“For whoever would be taking over from me, I will advise him not to operate poultry, rather he should concentrate on rearing ostriches, monkeys, antelopes and if he must operate poultry, let him ensure that he does it with public fund so that he won’t have the same experience that I have had.
“If he operates it with a public fund, if he must operate a poultry, that’s okay otherwise let him concentrate on ostriches, monkeys, antelopes and other animals.
That’s the advice I will give and I am happy, I am relieved and life goes on; I am hopeful of getting justice from the judiciary but even if that fails, I am still confident that God in His own way and time will give me justice.”
With the assembly currently in disarray, it remains to be seen how the governor will weather the storm.