TOPE FAYEHUN writes on the power play that surrounds the removal and subsequent reinstatement of the Deputy Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly Rt. Hon. Ogundeji Iroju.
The recent removal and reinstatement of the Ondo State Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ogundeji Iroju, aptly captures the political maxim that are no permanent friends but permanent interests.
The dramatic events that trailed Iroju’s sack and eventual return to office has created a crack within the political bloc which saw to sacking of the previous leadership of the state assembly and wooing over of opposition lawmakers into the majority party, All Progressives Congress (APC).
The political bloc within the chambers began immediately the former governor, Dr. OIusegun Mimiko failed to install his preferred successor in the last governorship election in the state.
When they were planning the removal of the previous speaker, Rt. Hon. Jumoke Akindele and her deputy, Fatai Olotu, they were bossom friends, until two weeks ago when Iroju, whom his friends in the political cycle popularly refer to as, “Akere koro” (meaning short in stature but mighty intellectually and politically) was dramatically removed by the Assembly. Eighteen out of 26 members, including some of his political allies, reportedly signed his impeachment notice.
He was removed over various offenses, ranging from alleged lack of respect for the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun, high handedness and alleged mismanagement of Assembly funds.
When the going was good, Iroju spearheaded the onslaught against the former leadership of the Assembly and the romance between his colleagues who later decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party,(PDP) to the APC.
He later manoeuvred himself to the position of deputy speaker and worked for the emergence of the current Speaker, Bamidele Oleyelogun of the House, when it was clear that the position of the speaker would be zoned to the Central Senatorial district of the state.
On the day he was removed, his friends turned the political table against Iroju who represents Odigbo local government Constituency 1 at the hallow chamber when he was impeached on the floor of the Assembly during the plenary sitting attended by 24 out of 26 members and presided over by the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun who was once his political ally.
The impeachment was sequel to a motion moved on the floor of the House by former Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Fatai Olotu and seconded by former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Malachi Coker.
The lawmakers hurriedly swore in another lawmaker representing Ile Oluji/Okeigbo State Constituency, Hon. Abimbola Fajolu to replace Iroju.
Olotu explained that 18 members of the Assembly signed the letter of impeachment which was handed over to the Speaker, asserting that the members have lost confidence in Iroju.
The legislators accused Iroju of working at variance with the Speaker, Rt Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun, noting that “such a frosty relationship between the office of Mr Speaker and his Deputy is not in the interest of members”.
Shortly after the impeachment, the speaker called for nomination of Iroju’s replacement. Hon. Sunday Olajide nominated Hon. Abimbola Fajolu. This was seconded by former Speaker, Rt. Hon. Princess Jumoke Akindele. No further nomination was made, making Fajolu to succeed Iroju.
The impeached deputy speaker, however, staged a walkout of the plenary. Hon. Fajolu was subsequently sworn in. The lawmakers also used the period to pass a vote of confidence on the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun at the plenary sitting.
Speaking further after the plenary, Rt. Hon. Fatai Olotu, who is also the chairman, House Committee on Information, added that, “the office of the Speaker is an exalted position that demands respect from all and sundry, especially from Honourable members.
“Rt. Hon. Iroju has shown high degree of disrespect to the office of the Speaker. He has always been at loggerheads with Mr. Speaker and this has always brought disrespect to the image of the House.
“Also, you know that the office of the deputy Speaker oversees the finances of the House; Iroju has shown gross incompetence in the management of the finances of the House. He has not been transparent in the management of the finances and the members have lost confidence in him.“He has not been giving accounts of how money comes to the House and how the money is being spent”, he stated.
He described the impeachment as a smooth and peaceful transition, saying that the House will now be stable. Olotu also assured that the House will continue to partner with Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu to move the state forward.
But in less than 24 hours after Iroju was removed, the game changed. He fought back. Members of the Assembly were asked by powers that be in the state, to restore Iroju back to his position.
However, initial efforts to reverse the impeachment of Iroju failed during a rowdy plenary session of the Assembly, as some of the lawmakers, particularly, Hon. Oluyede Feyide and Iroju exchanging physical punches. Consequently, lawmakers on the platform of APC, were moved to the party’s state secretariat in Akure for an emergency meeting with the state Chairman, Engr. Ade Adetimehin.
Adetimehin had visited the Assembly in an effort to persuade the lawmakers to reinstate Iroju but his efforts yielded no results as a simple majority of lawmakers insisted on the actions taken during plenary a day earlier, which led to the inauguration of Hon. Bimbo Fajolu as new Deputy Speaker. Adetimehim refused to speak on the matter when leaving the assembly complex, simply saying “nothing is happening in the Assembly.”
The lawmakers had queried why Iroju refused to step down from the position after he led similar battle against previous leadership of the Assembly last year.
The director of the Department of State Security and the state Commissioner of Police were present as security was beefed up at the Assembly complex. Few hours after, they returned from the meeting with the State Chairman of their party, the lawmakers reconvened, the House of Assembly reversed Iroju’s impeachment.
The House said their action came on the heels of the intervention by the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and other leaders of APC, particularly the governor of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosun.
The motion for his reinstatement was moved by the majority leader, Hon. Araoyinbo, the motion which was seconded by the former Deputy Speaker of the House, Rt.Hon. Fatai Olotu.
The lawmakers said after the intervention of the governor and other well meaning Nigerians, they resolved to allow peace to reign and reversed the impeachment of the deputy speaker. Addressing newsmen on the latest development, the chairman of the Assembly’s Information Committee, Fatai Olotu, said they acted in the interest of the state.
Olotu said, “you will agree with me that everybody in the house was elected on the platform of a particular party. Our political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) intervened immediately the impeachment was done yesterday.
“We had series of meetings with eminent and respectable people in the state that we should have rethink in the interest of peace. Having considered all those pleas, we resolved that the impeachment of the deputy speaker be suspended and he should be reinstated.
“We thank our party for prompt intervention. By respecting the party , we are respecting the Governor. Nothing in the law says we cannot reverse what we did yesterday.”
Although, the decision of the leadership of the party and that of the governor which compelled them to return Iroju back to his position was a bitter pill for some of the lawmakers to swallow, they had no choice other than to obey the governor because of their return tickets.
However, analysts believed that Iroju’s impeachment was sequel to the statement he made while receiving on behalf of the House, the NULGE and rights activists who stormed the Assembly on advocacy to appeal to the legislators to pass the bill on the Local Government autonomy which was stepped down in the ongoing constitutional amendment.
While speaking, the deputy speaker said the legislative arm in the state itself needed autonomy given the sufferings experienced by the lawmakers in the hand of the executive arm of government in the state.
His words “Look at the environment of this House of Assembly; look at this room where we are sitting. You can see that we are suffering. If you stay long in this room, you might suffocate. I can see that you are already sweating because of heat. So, we are hoping that we will be liberated with the autonomy bill in this constitutional amendment.
“Therefore, we are together on the issue of autonomy. It is a collective struggle. On behalf of the Speaker and the entire members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, we assure you we will revive the bill on the local government autonomy and do the needful.
“There is a lacuna in the constitution of Nigeria. We have three arms of government. If the principle of separation of power would be achieved, each arm of government must be independent particularly as far as funding is concerned. But, as it is now, the state houses of Assembly are not independent in terms of funding. We are under the bondage of the executive that control the funds.
“Therefore, autonomy is just like freedom and we all need freedom to perform our functions. When you don’t have the independence of fund and you have to go cap in hand begging for what is due to you to work, then there is a problem. So, the bill on the autonomy of local government would be passed and transmitted to the National Assembly.”
But this, according to the political observers, was not the case because, it was gathered that Iroju’s impeachment was done without the knowledge of the Governor. LEADERSHIP Sunday also gathered that when the governor heard about the development, he ordered immediate reinstatement of Iroju.
Another observer said, the impeachment was targeted at the Speaker, Rt.Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun, but the Assembly decided to remove Iroju whom they believed had been shielding the speaker from the venom of lawmakers, first, before they throw the last red card.
Some of them are of the opinion that the governor may not want to lose somebody like Iroju who is one of the prominent and political strategist from Odigbo local government area of the state ahead of the 2019 general elections.
They were also of the view that since he had done so much for the present administration in the state in term of ensuring that larger members of the Assembly crossed over to the ruling APC party in the state , the leadership of the party must queue behind him and pay him back at this critical time.
Other analysts described the drama in the House as the fallout of the recent congresses held in the state, where some of the stakeholders were shut out by the governor’s loyalists.
Whether they are right or wrong, the events that will unfold in the subsequent weeks will provide answers.
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