Dissenting lawmakers raise suspension alarm
A few months to the governorship election in Ondo State, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is polarised against itself due to ongoing schemes to impeach the deputy governor, Mr. Agboola Ajayi. There have been mixed reactions trailing the in-house fighting among the 26 members of the 9th Assembly, with 23 APC, two Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) lawmakers.
Ajayi, whose rosy political relationship with Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu started plummeting after the last general elections, ditched APC for PDP to contest the October 10, 2020 governorship poll in the state.
Surprisingly, the House of Assembly, on Monday, resumed from a recess it embarked on sometime ago due to COVID-19 pandemic, for a plenary session the next day and sent notice of impeachment on the deputy governor.
Fourteen lawmakers, who the deputy governor allegedly accused of receiving N10 million for his impeachment, appended their signatures to the process while three others remained neutral. Ajayi was alleged to have committed seven-count charges bordering on gross misconduct, abuse of office, and attempt to plunge the state into a reenactment of 1983 ‘Wetie’ saga.
The APC State Executive Council (SEC) had petitioned the legislative arm to impeach the deputy governor for abandoning a joint ticket of the party with Governor Akeredolu for PDP. The notice read in parts that “Actions on Sunday, June 21, 2020 likely to cause breach of peace in reference to 1983 political crisis with the intent to incite the citizens against government of Ondo State in a video clip at Government House ground before the Commissioner of Police, Ondo State.
“Petition from All Progressives Congress (APC) Ondo Chapter on his alleged movement to Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) having sworn in as the deputy governor on the party’s ticket with Mr. Governor for a 4-year term.”
But nine members of the Assembly, in a letter received by the Clerk of the House, Mr. Bode Adeyelu, dissociated themselves from the impeachment process, claiming their action was based on personal conviction. The nine lawmakers are the Deputy Speaker, Ogundeji, the Majority Leader, Jamiu Maito, Rasheed Elegbeleye, Tomide Akinribido, Samuel Ademola, Favour Semilore, Festus Akingbaso, Williams Adekunle, and Tohr Success.
The lawmakers, in the letter, said they were bringing to the notice of Mr. Speaker, Rt, Hon Bamidele David Oleyelogun, the entire Honourable members of Ondo State House of Assembly and the general public that they do not support the impeachment process and would not want to be associated with it based on personal convictions.
Without mincing words, the Speaker, Oleyelogun, declared that the Constitution empowers the Assembly to investigate allegations and proceed on impeachment of Ajayi in accordance with constitutional requirements. Consequently, he directed the Assembly’s clerk to serve the embattled deputy governor notice of impeachment that signed by 14 members of the Assembly.
While resuming for the adjourned plenary on Wednesday, the House played a smart card against the lawmakers loyal to Ajayi, at a parliamentary meeting, by suspending the deputy speaker and two others. The House claimed that the trio: Ogundeji, Williams and Tomomewo violated the standard rule of the Assembly, while the Majority Leader, Maito, representing Akoko North West, resigned his office.
Ogundeji and Williams, representing Odigbo I and Ondo West 2 Constituencies, respectively, were suspended for unruly behaviour while Tomomewo, who is the only female from Ilaje Constituency, was sanctioned for absenteeism at Tuesday plenary session.
Opposing lawmakers also write CJ, raise alarm over imminent suspension.
Just yesterday, six out of the nine lawmakers who dissociated themselves from the impeachment sent an open letter to the Chief Judge, urging her to reject the request to constitute a seven-man panel for impeachment. In a letter jointly signed by the dissenting nine lawmakers, they raised alarm, saying that the other six lawmakers might soon be suspended by the House.
Similarly, they declared, “we maintain our stand by dissociating ourselves from the impeachment process. We are not in support of the impeachment based on our individual personal convictions.
“We are writing to call your attention to the fact that all or some of us who are signatories to this letter may be suspended in order to circumvent the provision of the Constitution of Nigeria, which we all swore to uphold and protect, including your Lordship, as this will be contrary to the laws of the land.”
Many political watchers have observed that the ruling APC may not well-guided in its fight, especially the APC lawmakers in a year when the party is preparing for a major election. They argued that the lawmakers are representatives of the people in their various constituencies, warning that instability in the House might have negative effect on the party in the forthcoming election.
According to them, the crisis within the party would drag on amidst bouts of interesting litigation drama due to the smart move by the deputy to seek refuge in the court. However, a close source to the governor stated that Governor Akeredolu tried to discourage his supporters from impeaching his estranged deputy.
Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo, said the governor had explained that any impeachment move was not good for the party, saying it would distract his government.
But a source close to the party’s leadership in the state stated that the impeachment was being pursued by the party’s leadership led by the state Chairman, Mr. Ade Adetimehin and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters, Victor Olabimtan, who were seen at the plenary session.
Less than 24 hours after Ajayi’s defection on Sunday, June 21, 2020, the state Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Alex Kalejaiye, who had described his defection to the opposition party as being received with “mixed feelings,” asked him to resign honourably.
“We wished Hon. Ajayi had not taken this decision, after a series of efforts and attempts by royal fathers and party leaders, from within and outside the state, to forestall this migration,” he said, confirming the simmering row between Akeredolu and Ajayi.
The APC had frowned at the defection by Ajayi while resigning his membership of the party at his hometown, Ward II, Ese-odo LGA, fearing that he would not resign his position as deputy governor.
According to Kalejaiye: “The State Working Committee is taken aback by a reported statement credited to Hon. Ajayi that he would remain the deputy governor as long as his people have not asked him to quit.
“It is imperative to remind Hon. Ajayi that he ran on an APC ticket given to Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, and both were sponsored by the party. Now that he chooses to defect, the party advises Agboola to tow the path of wisdom, and resign honourably as the deputy governor of Ondo State.”
Pulling a clever political string to defend himself, Ajayi had approached an Abuja Federal High Court to forestall the Assembly from carrying out the long-awaited impeachment plan against him. The suit filed by his lawyer, Mr. I. Olatoke sought to enforce his fundamental human right of association after he joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He also pleaded to halt the impeachment.
Leaving no stone unturned, he joined the Inspector General of Police, state commissioner of police, Department of State Services (DSS) and the Speaker of the Assembly as defendants in the suit. Moreover, in an open letter written to the state Chief Judge, Olarenwaju Akeredolu, the deputy governor urged her not to yield to the pressure from politicians to impeach him illegally. He alleged that Governor Akeredolu was desperate to remove him from office, accusing him of trampling on the sanctity of the constitution.
Ajayi, who described the action of the lawmakers as an illegality, said Ondo people still hold the belief that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man.
”Your Lordship, the point here is that the impeachment process initiated by fourteen (14) members of the 9th session of the Ondo State House of Assembly on 7th July, 2020, is dead on arrival. This is because simultaneously, nine members of the same Assembly jointly signed a resolution disassociating themselves from the whole process.
“The implication of the action of the nine parliamentarians is that the planned impeachment of the deputy governor cannot proceed beyond the signed notice of impeachment.”
While absolving himself from accusations of cross-carpeting politically, he said he sought refuge in Section 188(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He noted that the governor would impress on the Chief Judge “to appoint a panel of seven persons to do the hatchet job. Your Lordship, please do not compromise so that history will be kind to you. History, we say, will surely vindicate the just and the wicked will surely be punished.”
Political readers, however, blame Ajayi for being at loggerheads with Governor Akeredolu, whom he, at several occasions, had challenged for his strict control of the state Assembly. However, there is no gainsaying that Ajayi is popular politically among the lawmakers due to the key roles he played in the wake of 2017 when the 8th Assembly was sponsored by APC against the immediate past governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
Meanwhile, a former commissioner and supporter of the deputy governor, who pleaded anonymity, expressed shock at the turn of events at the state Assembly.
According to him, “We knew they were planning impeachment but all along, it was seen as a mere paper work that would not come to reality because the deputy governor gave us confidence. He did not just give us confidence, we knew, of course, some of the inner workings; we were discussing all these issues whether or not Akeredolu might move against him.
“But he kept on assuring us that all was well and that majority members of the Assembly were his loyalists. But what we have seen baffles all of us. It means that there is a price on every politician.”
“But our greatest surprise is how the Speaker allowed such an item on the Order Paper. From the look of things, some lawyers may have mixed up some aspects of the constitution by referring to two third for removal and one-third for service of notice.
“It is now clear and the best option is to see if we can advise our principal to resign and face his governorship campaign for the PDP primary.”