Forces, factors driving Plateau Assembly crisis

The crisis rocking the Plateau State House of Assembly is not abating. In this report, Kolade Adeyemi explains how and why forces within and outside the hallowed chamber are battling for the control of the legislative arm of government in the state.

The current cold war between the executive and the legislative arms of government in Plateau state climaxed with the alleged impeachment of the Speaker of the state Assembly Nuhu Ayuba Abok, by eight lawmakers in the wee hours of October 27, 2021. The crisis is still raging among stakeholders in the state, with pundits now fearing that it could plunge the state into another round of lawlessness and chaos.

Checks by The Nation reveal that the ongoing crisis runs really deep, beyond what is seen on the surface as merely a power tussle among lawmakers. The state governor, Simon Lalong, Abok, political parties, religious leaders and top politicians in the state and many more behind the scene stakeholders, are all part of this cold war. Names calling, blames trading, grandstanding, claims and counter claims is now the order of the day across the state.

The positions of key opposition politicians, especially ex-governor Jonah David Jang, on the controversial impeachment of Abok as Speaker, are compounding the already knotty issues. According to an account of the issues, trouble started after Abok publicly chastised Lalong for not doing enough to protect citizens of the state from external invaders following the killings that engulfed some parts of the state recently. The Speaker even announced a two weeks ultimatum for the governor to return from Abuja and address citizens of the state at the time.

While many applauded the Speaker for exercising his power in calling the executive to action, it appears some politicians, especially within the ruling party, saw the Speaker’s act as a n affront. Consequently, a gulf appeared between the legislature and the executive arms in the state, preparing the ground for the current situation within the government and the ruling party which both Abok and Lalong are members.

Many sources within the party are of the opinions that both of them failed to manage their differences over the security situation amicably.  “This soon became an issue for public discuss as both parties took their misunderstanding to the media. With stakeholders declaring support for either the Speaker or the governor, it was not long before the entire socio-political sphere of the state became divided along the same line as the battle raged.

 

Trouble in the chamber

Expectedly, the 24 members of the State House of Assembly were also divided. While some of them backed the Speaker in his actions, others pitched their tents with Lalong and confronted Abok over his actions. Those supporting the Governor became opponents of the Speaker in spite of political affiliations. The state chapter of the APC stood behind the governor and condemned the Speaker as the battle raged. Surprisingly, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supported the Speaker.

This was the situation when, a couple of days ago, Plateau people woke up to the news of Abok’s impeachment. Citizens were told Hon Abok was impeached based on a petition to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). The news of the impeachment sparked protests in the state. Some condemned the impeachment, believing the impeachment did not follow due process while others supported the impeachment saying it was signed by 16 of the 24 members of the house.

Unsurprisingly, the ruling APC declared that the impeachment was a normal political development in a democracy, insisting it has nothing to do with the state executive. Lalong too has distanced himself from the impeachment saga while receiving the new Speaker in Government House a day after the impeachment. Lalong said, “as a House, you are the ones who know why you had to change your leadership at this moment. However, this kind of event is not new to the Plateau House of Assembly where leaderships have been changed in the past.

“Nobody comes to the House as a Speaker, but the members donate such privilege to one of them as first among equals. That is why those who have such privilege should do their best to carry their colleagues along and work for the benefit of the people and the legislature.”

In spite of the governor’s claim that he has no hand in the impeachment saga, the General Overseer of EBOMI Church International won’t believe the governor. The Jos-based cleric, Prophet Isah Elbuba, told the governor to do his possible best to restore the embattled Abok back to office. Like many people, Elbuba wants the world to see Lalong as the puppeteer pulling the strings of the crisis currently ravaging the hallowed chamber.

In his response, Lalong told the cleric, “I am not responsible for the impeachment of former Speaker of the House. The Assembly is an autonomous body that runs its affairs independently. You will recall that I was the first Governor in Nigeria to sign into law the Autonomy Bill when it was passed. I did that because of my passion for democratic growth and the strengthening of institutions. Having served as a Speaker who was also impeached, I have no hand in the running of the House, not to talk of the change of its leadership. They run their affairs and do as they wish, based on their rules and the law”.

In the heat of the crisis, Abok and ten of his loyalist were arrested for attempting to hold plenary in the assembly complex. As early as 4:00 am one morning after the controversial impeachment, some youths loyal to Abok, converged outside the Assembly complex to stage a protest against his purported impeachment. They accused the state governor of stoking the crisis in the House and encouraging the factional speaker, Yakubu Wanda, and his loyalists. They cited what they described as the hurried recognition of Wanda by Lalong upon his election as Speaker, as a sign that the governor knows more than he is willing to tell the world.

 

No respite

With the crisis escalating on a daily basis and more and more people being fingered in the imbroglio, the Inspector of General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, hurriedly redeployed Edward Egbuka, the then Commissioner of Police, out of the state and deployed CP Bartholomew Nnamdi Onyeka to the Plateau state Police command. Not satisfied, he drafted Assistant Inspector General in charge of Zone 4, Mustapha Dandaura, to the state with a task to assess the situation and avert further complication of the crisis. Now, nothing much has been achieved on the road to peace as the Assembly remained sealed, despite the peace meeting held with the two warring factions by AIG Dandaura, reason being that the two camps refused to shift ground at end of the stormy session.

Speaking shortly after the reconciliatory meeting, AIG Mustapha said, “As you can see, we have just concluded the reconciliation meeting with members of the State Assembly. I am here on the instructions of the IGP to broker peace among members of the Assembly. I have been in Jos since Monday. I have visited the State Assembly for almost three days. I had a meeting with the Governor. I felt it was necessary to have the same meeting with the members. I am happy to announce that the meeting is going to be a fruitful one because this is the first time they are meeting since that problem started.

“We have heard from all the warring factions, we have told them to go back to their various locations to convene another among them and let us know the outcome. The Assembly will continue to be sealed till when they are able to reconcile and let us know they have reached an agreeable solution. When we know that, we are even eager to reopen the House so that all of them can go back and deliberate on sensitive issues that are still pending in the Assembly. This is almost the end of the year, they need to sit down and deliberate on these issues that have been pending. The IGP has deployed a new CP, we told them we are not here for partisan politics, it is left for them to go and reconcile.”

Abok told journalists he is still the Speake though his security details have been withdrawn. “We appreciate him for calling the meeting, we wanted to make peace but from all indications, due process was not followed. All that we are saying is that the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria be respected. My security has been withdrawn; they have provided security to the illegal Speaker, so I don’t have security. I am going into hiding.”

Yakubu Sanda who also spoke after the meeting also insisted he remains the Speaker and is waiting to welcome Abok and others with him back home.” If they feel remorse, they will be forgiven,” he said while explaining that the impeachment of Abok followed all known processes of the state assembly. He enjoined all members of the House to join him in the task of moving the legislature forward in Plateau state.

PDP’s interest

In spite of several denials by the state government, the opposition PDP has been insisting that the governor is behind the whole political saga. In a statement issued by Senator Jang in Jos , the ex-governor said he will not fold his arm and watch helplessly and allow Gov Lalong destroy the democracy he labored with others to retrieve from the military.

Speaking further, the former governor added that “The executive has tried, albeit unconvincingly, to wash its hands off of the disgraceful events in the House of Assembly but the more the Governor and his handlers try to spin a story around the issue, the more glaring it becomes that the six members who staged an impeachment are only acting out a script for the Governor, the hasty nature with which the Governor hurriedly received a ‘new speaker’ knowing full well, being a lawyer, that what happened was an aberration, speak volumes .

“Evidence has shown that the numbers required to carry the impeachment is not available to those desperate to remove the speaker, hence they have resorted to using undue force in pushing forth their agenda which is indeed, not only unconstitutional but, shameful. The Governor must listen to the voice of reason and restore normalcy in the Plateau State House of Assembly, the crisis bedeviling the Assembly has a way of spiraling to affect the lackluster performance of the government which has already failed in discharging its responsibility to Plateau citizens. The interests of a few must not, therefore, be allowed to shatter the hopes of millions of Plateau people who deserve better.

“It is on this premise that I call on Plateau elders to rise up to the occasion by prevailing on the Governor, Barr. Simon Bako Lalong, to demonstrate leadership for once by allowing the Honourable Members of the Plateau State House of Assembly to decide who their leaders are and even if the speaker were to be impeached, the members of the House be allowed to so decide; arm twisting the Assembly with a few members will further derail the government of the day as it staggers toward a directionless route.”

He insisted that, “no amount of explanation will justify wrongdoing, it is unconstitutional for 8 out of 24 members to effect a change in leadership in the House, no matter how the government goads them on. The Governor should know better as a lawyer, he must not allow the trappings of power push him to dig deeper into infamy, the prize he has earned for himself, with Plateau people, in seeking personal ambition over the collective welfare of the citizens.

“Having fought for democracy, as member of NADECO and later the G38, I am willing to lead a protest of Plateau people against the illegality that has been perpetrated at the Plateau State House of Assembly. Plateau is bigger than any individual; the aspirations of the people must not be trampled upon owing to the selfishness of a few,” Jang vowed.

 

APC’s response

Expectedly, the stand of ex-governor Jang also drew a response from the state government. In a press statement by the state Commissioner for Information and Communication Hon. Dan Manjang, the government said: “The attention of the Plateau State Government has been drawn to a statement purportedly issued by a former Governor of the State, Senator David Jonah Jang, wherein he raised among other issues, the recent happenings at the Plateau State House of Assembly and offered to lead a public protest of his supporters to reverse the situation.

“The Government is shocked not only by the accusations and attacks by the former Governor on the person of his Excellency the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. (Dr) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, but by the boldness of the former governor to attempt to change the narrative and preach what he has never believed throughout his political life, all in a bid to fool the gullible members of the public. Alas, the face behind the mask has been unveiled by no other than the masquerade himself. For those who have been looking for the person behind the ugly stage-managed incidences in Plateau State which culminated into the recent impeachment saga at the House of Assembly, the answer has come out in the most unexpected and spectacular manner.

“First, within the span of 8 years when he held sway, he enthroned and dethroned 4 different Speakers for the Plateau State House of Assembly in his reign of terror, impunity and high handedness. This remains one of the highest Speakership turn-out in the history of Plateau State and Nigeria at large. Is this the same person that has the effrontery to speak about impeachment and without any shred of evidence, input that His Excellency, Governor Lalong is behind it? We are not surprised that he is intimidated by the democratic credentials of Governor Lalong which dwarfs all his claims of birthing democracy through NADECO (a record that no one acknowledges or associates him with it in Plateau State and elsewhere).”

The Commissioner recalled that, “His Excellency Governor Lalong has contested and won elections since 1999, and till date remains the longest serving Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly, as well as the only one so far to emerge as Governor after suffering unfair impeachment in the hands of tyrants with military hangover like the one exhibited by former Governor Jang during his term. He survived recall from the House and later emerged as the National Chairman of the Conference of former Speakers of State Legislatures, a position he holds to date.

“We again reiterate and make the point clear to him and his dwindling supporters that Governor Lalong has no hand in the impeachment of former Speaker Abok Nuhu Ayuba or the emergence of Rt. Hon. Yakubu Sanda as the new Speaker. If the former Governor has any evidence, then he can put it in the public domain and stop ranting and inciting the people against the Government. He is definitely being chased by his shadows and thinks every Governor will act with impunity and rascality like he did in his years of tyranny and misrule.

“His Excellency Governor Lalong has set the enviable record of being the first Governor in Plateau State and indeed Nigeria to grant full autonomy to the Legislature and the Judiciary. To turn around and accuse him of meddling in the affairs of the House is not only uncharitable, but shameful.”

Who’s the masquerade?

“Not done yet, the government attempted to pointedly accused Jang and the PDP of being the puppeteers urging the crisis in the state assembly with their unusual support for Abok to keep fighting his own party. According to the Information commissioner, PDP’s support for the embattled lawmaker explains the behind the scene moves that fester the ongoing crisis. “The person we should actually hold responsible for the disturbances in the House of Assembly is the unveiled masquerade or “hand of Esau” that has finally revealed himself after working behind the scenes to divide the House. If not, when did we have a situation where minority PDP opposition members turn out to be the only ones behind an APC Speaker? This is an aberration that Governor Jang should explain to the people of Plateau State and all lovers of democracy.

“Could he have ever tolerated such during his regime? But Governor Lalong doesn’t care to meddle like former Governor Jang because the legislature is an independent arm that determines its leadership and runs its affairs. Is he even insinuating that the members cannot change their leadership if they so wish? Why is he crying more than the bereaved? If anyone is aggrieved, is Governor Lalong the Court of Law? Why would he not advice them to seek legal address, but rather resort to incitement and blackmail of the Governor and the Government? Would he have tolerated this during his bruttish regime? All of a sudden he has become a custodian of the Constitution and quoting it copiously! We do not need to remind him of his mathematical wizardry that created the famous “16 is greater than 19” in his desperation to become the Chairman of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum, thereby bringing shame to Plateau State. This is the same person that is crying more than the bereaved and claiming to be holier than the Pope. The level of hypocrisy on display by former Governor Jang is his public statement is simply incredible and nauseating.”

But the PDP in Plateau State on Monday raised alarm over tension in the State House of Assembly, following the purported impeachment of the Speaker of the House.

Briefing journalists at the party secretariat in Jos, the PDP state chairman, Chris Hassan, said, “It is regrettable that, as a lawyer, Governor Lalong has embraced impunity and is conducting himself like a bull in a China Shop. Lalong is orchestrating this breach of the law and desperation in Langtang North barely over a week after he sponsored seven members of the State House of Assembly to commit illegality in the name of impeaching the Speaker. The PDP will continue to explore the instrumentality of the law against the brazen desperation and lack of direction of the APC led administration in our dear State”, he stressed.

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