Some lawmakers of the Plateau State House of Assembly have kicked at the contravention of due process in the impeachment of former Speaker of the House, Abok Ayuba. Why? How many members of the House assented to the impeachment of Abok?
Plateau State House of Assembly was in disarray on October 29, 2021 as seven of the 24 members impeached the Speaker, Abok Ayuba, and installed Yakubu Sanda as the Speaker. It was gathered that only nine out of the 24 members were at the Chamber when the impeachment was done but two of the nine members declined to participate in what they termed as a coup and an illegality. To this end, 17 out of the 24 members of the House initially rejected the impeachment which was based on allegations of misappropriation and mismanagement of resources.
Reports established that the members converged on the Assembly complex to carry out the task which was eventually executed at about 6:00a.m and the ousted speaker was immediately replaced by Yakubu Sanda who is also of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). As early as 4:00a.m, security agents were drafted to the premises of the Assembly and adjourning roads to take over and seal the vicinity. This is after the regular security details attached to the Assembly were suddenly replaced with new faces. Reports also had it that only APC members of the House were given access to the Assembly complex while the opposition members were blocked, and so had to struggle to gained access into the premises. It was also suggested that the few members that carried out the nocturnal exercise were allegedly loyal to Governor Simon Lalong. They were reportedly at the assembly complex by 5:00a.m and finished the hasty impeachment by 6:00 a.m.
At the gate, only members who were against Abok Ayuba were allowed by the security personnel to enter the chamber, while those loyal to him were not allowed in until the exercise was about to be rounded off. Then, one of the members loyal to Ayuba Timothy Dantong (Riyom Constituency) immediately went and seized the mace, but Baka Hassan (Jos North-North) went and snatched it from him and replaced it. Ordinarily, the two-third majority (16 members) which was needed in the House of 24 members to impeach the speaker on constitutional grounds were not got which has rendered the process null and void in the eyes of the law.
Unfazed by the development, Abok Ayuba immediately moved to another venue with 14 members loyal to him. The 14 passed a vote of confidence in him and then hurriedly suspended the eight impeachers.
Meanwhile, at the Government House, Sanda and his supporters in the Assembly were received by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Professor Danladi Atu, on behalf of the governor.
The impeached Speaker, Abok Ayuba, expressed disappointment at the events and expressed concern over how the state governor, Simon Lalong, allegedly supervised his impeachment by the seven lawmakers. Abok Ayuba alleged that the governor camped six of the pro-impeachment plot lawmakers in his house a day before the impeachment exercise.
Citing an example of the swiftness shown by Governor Lalong in hosting the new Speaker, who led a delegation to formally inform him about the change of leadership in the House, Ayuba decried foul play in the process. The impeached speaker said as early as 5:00a.m the next day, Lalong led six of the lawmakers into the floor of the state House of Assembly where they were joined by another lawmaker and superintended his “impeachment” on the floor of the House. To perfect the process, Abok alleged that the Clerk of the House was arrested around 1:00a.m to pave way for the illegal impeachment process.
The impeached speaker who spoke to newsmen in Abuja at a briefing organised by the Not Too Young to Run Movement, said: “What happened in Plateau State is very unfortunate that someone who has headed that institution, a former Speaker, lawyer and leader of the 19 Northern Governors Forum doesn’t respect the constitution. He maintained that the governor allegedly camped six members in his house and took them to the floor of the House of Assembly by 5:a.m, and thereafter brought another one to join them to become seven.
Earlier, the Convener of Not Too Young to Run Movement, Samson Itodo, condemned the removal of the speaker by the seven lawmakers. In a statement, Itodo demanded as follows: “That the President issues a directive to security agents to restore order in the House and ensure Ayuba Nuhu Abok is accorded full legal and security protection to preside over the legislative business of the House without intimidation and interference; that the National Assembly should take legislative action to uphold the constitution and defend the legislature as a cardinal institution of democracy; that the National Assembly should invite the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS) for questioning over the involvement of these institutions in the constitutional breach and that the state government respects the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the constitution and ensure it refrains from interfering with the business of the House or undermining its legitimate leadership; that the eight legislators and their benefactors be held to account for subverting a constituted authority and undermining the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
However, the State Governor Simon Lalong has washed his hands of the removal of Abok Ayuba and denied complicity in the process. Lalong stated this while reacting to some insinuations which alleged that he was responsible for the removal of the former Speaker. Governor Lalong responded to a Jos-based cleric, Prophet Isa El-Buba who, at the Annual Thanksgiving Service of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) held in Jos urged the Governor to restore stability in the House after the recent removal of the former Speaker and the emergence of Yakubu Sanda. Lalong averred that he was not involved and that the House of Assembly is an autonomous body that runs its affairs independently.
Governor Lalong also received the new speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly, who leda delegation to formally inform him about the change of leadership in the House, promising to collaborate with the executive. The Majority leader of the House, Hon. Daniel Naanlong told the Governor that the House decided to change its leadership in order to save the institution and democracy from further damage on account of the misconduct and violation of due process and high handedness of former speaker Abok. He said after following due process and complying with the laid down procedures, 16 members signed for the removal of Abok Ayuba who was subsequently impeached by the required two-third majority of the members, including some PDP members who do not want to be mentioned for now. However, he could not provide proof or evidence of the 16 signatories to the impeachment.
In his remarks, the new speaker said he was humbled by the confidence that 16 of his colleagues, including some PDP members, reposed in him to lead them at this point in time, promising to be fair, just and patriotic. He assured the governor that the House would collaborate with the executive and the legislature to serve the people of Plateau State, by ensuring good governance, security, peace and infrastructural development, among others. Sanda also said that all pending bills which had suffered undue delays in the House under the former Speaker would receive proper legislative action as the state needs to make progress and deliver the dividends of democracy to the electorate. Receiving the new Speaker, Lalong reiterated that the House is totally autonomous and capable of determining its leadership at any time without any external interference. He expressed confidence that their decision is the best for the state because they had clearly shown that they were on the side of the people and would not sacrifice legislative duties which they had taken an oath to perform on the altar of political ambitions. The governor further 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 the 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.”
The governor advised the new Speaker to be focused and humble in discharging his duties with utmost diligence and respect for all members as well as a commitment to work for the success of the government. He assured the new House leadership that he would support them and continue to work for their success, being a former Speaker and also one who has championed the autonomy of the legislature by being the first to implement it in the country.
Meanwhile, the Plateau State House of Assembly complex has been besieged by heavy presence of stern-looking security operatives as the two parties laying claim to the speakership slot of the assembly continue negotiations toward reaching a truce. The aftermath of the development has been a string of protests by the youths of the state, and chaos within and around the assembly complex which has led to the arrest of some individuals.
Reacting, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described the impeachment of Abok by one-third of the House as illegal, unconstitutional and undemocratic. The National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, and the National Media Affairs Officer, Miss Zainab Yusuf, in a statement described the impeachment as mere display of political witch-hunt against the Speaker, who had been checkmating the failures of the Lalong administration in the state. HURIWA said the early morning show of shame in Jos could be equated to a sham marriage, which, in law is null and void.
Similarly, a member representing Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency of Plateau State in the House of Representatives, Hon. Dachung Musa Bagos, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently intervene in the crisis currently rocking the state House of Assembly to save democracy. The member also appealed to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, to all rise in defence of the Constitution. Reacting to the impeachment, Bagos in a press conference at the National Assembly, declared that the exercise was illegal, submitting that seven members do not constitute the two-third majority of the 24 members, a number required to impeach the Speaker. He described the impeachment as a kangaroo coup and added that the law cannot be turned upside down to serve selfish interests. He maintained that until a recourse was given to the law, Plateau people would continue to recognise Abok Ayuba as the Speaker of the state assembly.
Members representing Jos South Constituency, Gwattson Fom and that of Riyom, Timothy Dantong also kicked against the deed, saying it is a ploy to cause chaos in the assembly. According to Fom, “I got to the assembly this morning, Policemen refused me access to the chambers. They asked me to identity myself and I did but I was still denied access. As far as I am concerned, you can’t build something on nothing, the Speaker has not been removed, we are not in a jungle. There are procedures to follow in this kind of a thing. Seven out of 24 people cannot remove a sitting Speaker, the law says 2/3. Dantong added, “17 members are against the illegality, they used the military, they used the police, this is attempted coup. I was denied access to the chambers but I forced myself in, the first thing I did was to take the maze and asked what was happening. If it was a sitting, I am a member, I should have been informed, it was not time for our sitting. This is illegality, we have passed this level. The leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), opposition party in the state has also condemned the development, saying Governor Simon Lalong has been using executive powers to disrupt democracy in the state.
Yakubu Sanda the new Speaker of the Plateau State Assembly, unruffled by the controversy trailing his emergence, has suspended six members loyal to the former speaker based on an allegation of partaking in an illegal sitting while also declaring the former Speaker wanted for conducts inimical to the interest of the House, calling on the security agents to arrest him for parading a fake mace. He further took a swipe at the impeached Speaker of the House for what he termed as an attempt at impersonation; saying after congratulating him as the new Speaker, Abok Ayuba has continued to parade himself as the Speaker. Sanda who spoke on the premises of the State Assembly after security agents had earlier in the afternoon escorted Ayuba Abok and his group out of the House, stressed he would have had Abok arrested, but he had to toe the path of caution because they are brothers. Appearing with 11 other members, Sanda said: “I remain the authentic Speaker, the number he claims he has, he doesn’t have. We are about 13 in number, the number that signed the impeachment is 16. This is somebody that congratulated me, I have.” reported him to the security. I would have had him arrested but because he is my brother. Furthermore, the House set up two committees to investigate the former Speaker on allegations of financial embezzlement and misappropriation. Similarly, the security agents have been directed to take charge of the House and ensure that the suspended members are not allowed access to the assembly while their suspension persists.
At a time when state legislatures are enjoying relative stability and independence in Nigeria, it is crucial that acts that are redolent of executive-backed brigandage witnessed in some states since the return of civil rule are not allowed to find their way back into our democratic space. The clamour for complete independence of the judiciary and the legislature is gaining a foothold in the country, especially at the state government levels where they are vulnerable to the whims and caprices of executive imperiousness. The imbroglio in Plateau where only seven or eight members were said to have constituted the initial impeachment proceedings against a speaker in the wee hours of the day is a glaring indicator of an inappropriate process that could send the wrong signals to other states of the nation if allowed to stand as it is. The ability of the legislature to effectively discharge its functions of checks and balances will be significantly hampered or handicapped if ensnared by a domineering executive.
Impeaching Ayuba Abok or any other person is not an issue but the flagrant flouting of due process is a cause for concern. If plenary is conducted normally in the usual hours, and two-third members of the House impeach the speaker constitutionally based on misconduct, then there would be no furor or worries about the situation. But when seven or eight people come together in unholy hours to execute a disorderly and illegitimate impeachment; and the state governor was quick to host the new leadership that emerged from such faulty process, then those are indeed alarming signs.
Sanda, the new speaker has claimed that two-third of the assembly, which is a total of 16 members have assented to the impeachment but he is yet to provide evidences, proof and names of the members that are signatories to the impeachment. What was reported and factual is the convergence of seven members that carried out the initial act which is outright condemnable and reprehensible to the norms of democracy. Perhaps those in Sanda caucus have been able to subsequently secure the buy-in of more House members to take side with the development and give it a sense of legality by numbers.
Regardless, the state assembly should not be governed by mere speculations and blank statements such as the picture being painted here. It behoves on the new speaker to ensure the process that resulted in his emergence can stand the test of legal scrutiny. From all indications, the new leadership of Sanda will likely weather the storm and assume undisputed authority in the House, but the end does not always justify the means, and there is a growing need for those in positions of authorities to do the right thing at all times towards the consolidation and strengthening of our democratic experience.