Defection politics sets Kwara Assembly on warpath
And under a consensus arrangement within the Saraki political dynasty, there was nobody to query his emergence, nor that of Razaq Atunwa, a former commissioner and former gubernatorial aspirant, as Speaker of the House.
It was a family arrangement with no one expected to upset the political apple cart. But that arrangement was to be put to test when in May 2012, the then Chief Whip came up with a 18-point petition against the Speaker, alleging that Atunwa had defrauded the House and was not fit to be in the saddle. The five-page petition claimed that Atunwa’s conducts since assuming office in June 2011 were capable of bringing the entire legislative House into disrepute.
Part of the allegations include the claim that there had been no principal officers’ meeting almost one year after inauguration and that the Clerk/Secretary to the statutory Body of Principal Officers was not invited to cover the meetings (if any), as was always the case in the 5th and 6th legislature.
He also alleged that the Speaker had awarded a contract to the tune of N18 million to his own legal firm to handle the clearing of the Assembly Complex and the award of a N33 million contract for the development of a website for the Assembly while the House purportedly has a functioning website.
Iliasu also made reference to several other instances where he claimed that the Speaker had not been straight forward about financial deals in the assembly.
Petition against Speaker
Part of the petition reads: “As legislators, we are expected to be extraordinarily honest, transparent and prudent in the day-to-day running of the affairs of the Assembly.
As lawmakers and custodians of the law and order, we should shun any acts that are detrimental to the welfare of members as well as the well-being of the generality of the people of our constituencies. Indeed, ours must be leadership by example.
“Unfortunately your attitude and general conduct in the management of the affairs of the Assembly have been one of disappointment and regret because you have been so power intoxicated and arrogant that you have no regret for the views and feelings of anybody on important matters of the House.
By arrogating all power to yourself and conducting the affairs of the Assembly in absolute secrecy, you have given enough room for suspicion as many of us are of the view that large-scale fraud and financial mismanagement are the order of the day as far as the Assembly matters are concerned.
“Mr. Speaker, without furnishing us adequate information on the above subject matters as a matter of urgency, we cannot in good conscience dispel or deny the insinuation that the transactions are characterised with sharp practices which require proper investigation as he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
As a foremost lawmaker and a lawyer by profession, you cannot claim to be unaware of the deleterious effects of financial mismanagement and other abuses on the integrity and reputation of the Assembly. “Other than for you to succeed as Speaker, there is nothing else to my insistence that things must be conducted in accordance with the civilised standards.
Unfortunately, each time I offered well-meaning advice and suggestions on various House issues, your responses have always been one of rude and arrogant attacks, much like somebody who is scared of public scrutiny.
The legislative arm of government, as I once pointed out to you, should set enviable standard in democratic practices in terms of openness and accountability because we are supposed to assist the other arms of government to properly carry out their functions and responsibilities.
“I have decided to follow this path of truth and justice because sooner than later these issues will become a matter of public interest and there will be no hiding place for somebody like well-known for fairness, justice and equity. It must be recognised that as members we are all equal and therefore entitled to be respected and our views and grievances taken into consideration as you lead responsibly.”
Atunwa in his initial response defended his honour when he spoke with newsmen soon after news of the crack in the Assembly’s leadership broke.
He said he had ordered the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate the allegations and make a full report to the whole House, which will thereafter determine the authenticity or otherwise of the claims and promised that the committee’s report will not be swept under the carpet.
He said: “I received the petition and in line with the relevant House Rules, I have directed the committee to investigate the claims. In line with Rule 67(p) of the House, the committee is empowered to investigate any petition against a member.
The committee has called for my position on the matter and I have responded accordingly. In my response, I denied all the allegations; I deem it as fictitious and malicious.
The committee is looking into the matter and I crave your indulgence to allow them finish the work because when they finish they are going to submit their report for the consideration of the whole house which will then look into it. It is not going to be that the committee will determine the outcome, I want the whole House to do and make appropriate recommendations.”
And truly, the committee’s initial report was ready in a week. It was a 120-page document and took the chairman of the committee, Kamal Fagbemi, about seven hours to read out on the floor of the House.
And not only did the report clear Atunwa of allegations of financial impropriety, the committee also noted that contrary to insinuations in the allegations by Ibrahim, the activities of the House had so far been undertaken with transparency by Atunwa and described the entire 18-point allegations as unfounded.
In the report, the committee claimed that, “the only document tendered by Hon. Iliasu Ibrahim was a draft of a purported memo which is an unsigned document,” adding that the complainant had failed to substantiate other allegations with proof beyond doubt.
The committee decided to delay making its recommendations known till another week. Reacting to the development, Atunwa said: “I am delighted that the thorough investigations by the Ethics and Privileges Committee has cleared me of all the spurious and fabricated allegations against me.
On the other hand, I am saddened by the fact that a fellow human being, let alone a member of the House leadership, has sought to maliciously damage my good reputation.” When the committee would make its recommendations, it asked for Ibrahim to step down as Chief Whip and also proceed on a three-month suspension. The majority of members agreed to this.
Second battle against Deputy Majority Leader
Ibrahim’s second trip to exile was not as grand as the initial one. It began on December 18, 2013 and was facilitated by allegations that he made false claims against another member of the Assembly, Alhaji Yusuf Tanke, the Deputy Majority Leader.
He was said to have alleged that Tanke representing IIorin South Constituency planned to send thugs against him. As usual, the matter was reported to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Judiciary which soon submitted its findings. During this period, 20 of the 24-member House had defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) to swell the number of APC seats in the Assembly to 22 from the initial two.
Ibrahim was not among the defectors as he decided to stay in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with another member. Atunwa announced Ibrahim’s suspension after the House had adopted the committee’s report and the House members unanimously agreed with the suspension order which is billed to last for three months without pay.
The legislators also directed the suspended lawmaker to write a letter of apology to Tanke seven days to the expiration of his three-month suspension or be referred to the House Committee on Judiciary for further action. In his reaction, Ibrahim condemned the suspension order by the House, stating that the House is incompetent to suspend him.
He said that the allegation of intimidation of a colleague is false and described the House action as a response to his refusal to defect to the APC. He went ahead to declare that notwithstanding what his political enemies might do, he still has the support of 98 per cent of the electorate from his constituency, condemning an insinuation that he would be recalled from the House.
“No intimidation from any quarter can make me change my decision to be PDP member because I have benefitted a lot from PDP and I will not bite the fingers that fed me,” he said.
Politics of suspension
Ibrahim resumed in late March from his second suspension. There was tight security within the Assembly complex the day he came back to office as he came with some of his supporters. But there was nothing unusual in the complex.
Few weeks after however, the Assembly decided to wield the big stick on Ibrahim and send him to what amounts to a permanent exile from legislative activities till the end of the seventh session.
This is because the embattled lawmaker is not likely to yield to the demand of his colleagues to tender the expected apology to Tanke and so long as he refused, the latest agreement of the House is that so long he would be on suspension without pay.
Atunwa, who read the House resolution, directed Ibrahim to commence another three-month suspension from Wednesday April 9, 2014 without pay and directed him to tender a written apology to Tanke before the expiration of the suspension as directed by the resolution of the House of December 18, 2013. The Speaker explained that by the resolution of the members, the failure of the suspended member to comply with an apology letter would mean his continued suspension.
The matter has become a political battle between the PDP and APC. If he writes the letter of apology, it will deal another blow to the PDP. If he refuses, as he has continued to do, he will remain a favourite of the PDP hawks who want to deal with the APC dominance in the state. Indeed, he is today a favourite in the PDP.
No rally is complete without him saying something. He was among those selected to meet President Goodluck Jonathan during a recent meeting of PDP leaders from the state and the President had commented on his travails in the House.
Another controversy But it appears the suspended lawmaker likes to swim in controversy. His name was also mentioned among those said to have been arrested last week by the police in the state for illegal possession of firearms.
The men, suspected to be members of the PDP, were nabbed after the chairman of the party’s Caretaker Committee, Mr. Solomon Edojah called the attention of policemen to the presence of some people around his residence in Sango area.
The arrest came less than 24 hours after seven members of the party were also nabbed over the crisis that trailed the party’s ward congress during which about three persons were feared to have lost their lives. Edojah himself confirmed that the lawmaker was arrested but that “it is typical of hoodlums to mention names of prominent person when arrested.”
House as an interloper
The embattled lawmaker is however not taking things lying low. Apart from promising to take legal actions to quash the suspension, he has said his ‘crime’ was the failure to bow to Saraki’s political leadership.
He also insisted that the issue of his second suspension, which led to the third episode, was purely a personal affair between himself and the lawmaker concerned.
To him, the House is merely an interloper. His words: “On August 31, 2013 during our national convention, Senator Bukola Saraki, the governor and other delegates from Kwara along with other six states walked out of the convention ground.
In the case of Kwara, by the time Bukola and his people walked away, I was the only person that remained in the Kwara pavilion. I didn’t move out of the venue. I remained until the election was concluded. “It was when I got to my hotel room in the night that I discovered that Kwara and some other states have gone to form the New PDP.
There was no consultation, no discussion of any kind, they just took that decision on their own. That was the beginning of my problem because they knew I was the only person that stayed behind. After the convention, I came out openly that I’m not a member of New PDP. “From there, they started planning to see how I could be silenced.
On September 10, 2013, the Speaker invited all the lawmakers to his residence and when we got there, all the members started pledging their loyalty to the leadership of Senator Saraki in Kwara, saying wherever he goes that is where we will all go. So, I was the only person who came out clearly that I am not loyal to Bukola in any form; that I am a member of PDP. “So, the issue of my suspension is not an Assembly matter; it is personal.
Do they even have the right to suspend me? I will definitely seek redress in the court of law. So, the issue of my suspension was purely a conspiracy against me just because I have refused to go with them to APC.”
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