There was public outcry and condemnation yesterday over the attempt by eight members of the 30-member Benue State House of Assembly to impeach the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
The lawmakers elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who were led by impeached Speaker of the state Assembly, Terkimbi Ikyange, said they will serve the governor with the impeachment notice within seven days.
Ikyange who was impeached on July 24 by 19 members of the state legislature over alleged highhandedness and abuse of office rejected the impeachment, saying it was an act of illegality and did not follow due process because the lawmakers met at a time the House was on recess.
To prove that he was still in charge, the impeached Speaker yesterday convened a plenary comprising about eight APC legislators to review developments and impeach the governor.
Claiming that they were 12 in number, Ikyange told journalists that the APC lawmakers at the plenary resolved to commence impeachment process against the governor for gross financial misconduct.
Noting that the lawmakers are not happy with the governor over alleged misappropriation of N54 billion from the state’s coffers, he gave a breakdown of the funds allegedly misappropriated to include N22 billion embezzled from the security vote and N32 billion from local government funds, even as he said the lawmakers are not happy over the non-payment of salaries in the state.
But the other 22 lawmakers on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who impeached Ikyange last week condemned the impeachment move, describing the notice served the governor as illegal.
According to them, the members did not form the required quorum to sit and deliberate on the said impeachment.
The PDP lawmakers addressed the press at the Old Banquet Hall, Makurdi, after being denied access to the state assembly complex.
Majority Leader of the House, Mr Avine Agbum, who raised a motion dismissing the impeachment motion, noted that the presiding officer of the session, Ikyange, was the same Speaker who was impeached and suspended for six months.
He also moved for the suspension of all members who attended the session where the said impeachment notice was initiated.
In his reaction, Governor Ortom described the impeachment notice issued him by the eight APC members of the Benue Assembly as laughable.
The governor wondered how possible it could be that eight members out of 30 would sit and take decisions on state matters when in the first instance they do not even form a quorum.
‘’The quorum of the house is 10 and I wonder if they have knowledge of this fact,’’ he said, adding that he is anxiously waiting for the purported impeachment notice.
He lamented that the Police and the DSS gave maximum support to the eight members to commit illegality and impunity through the instrumentality of Senator George Akume.
He alleged that with the active support of security operatives, the other 22 members were barred from having access to the assembly complex, including the staff of the assembly.
‘’They even manhandled innocent citizens who were going to the assembly to watch the proceedings of the assembly and some of them were whisked away by the security men,’’ he said.
He however said as a law-abiding citizen, he was going to follow the rule of law with a view to tackling the ugly menace because he would not want to do anything that will endanger democracy.
He alleged that Akume is trying to demonise him because he had defected from APC to PDP and nothing more.
‘’Defection is a normal thing in politics. Even in USA, politicians defect and even in the state here, politicians have been defecting. Don’t I have the right of association as enshrined in the 1999 constitution as amended?” He queried.
He expressed believe that President Muhammadu Buhari might not be aware that Akume was using the Police and DSS because the president is a respecter of the law.
He appealed to the president to wade into the matter in order to restore sanity to the state, particularly the House of Assembly.
‘’If impunity continues it will lead the state to anarchy, which will do it no good but a lot of harm,’’ he stated.
The governor further said he never believed the president of the United States of America (USA), Donald Trump, when he called Nigeria a shithole until the recent happenings in the state and the country.
He admonished the national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, to settle down and do the job of the chairman of a political party and stop acting as if he is the one in charge of the EFCC and the Police.
He lamented that a lot of members of the party had defected massively during the few weeks Oshiomhole has served as chairman of the party.
Also speaking, the Senator representing Benue Northeast, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who led other members of the National Assembly to pay the governor a solidarity visit, condemned the impeachment move against the governor, describing it as illegality.
According to Gemade, defecting from one political party to another is not a crime, adding that democracy is about freedom of expression and choice.
He said, “We have heard this with great shock. A situation where the Nigeria security forces will storm a state to cause a minority group belonging to one party access into the Assembly to sit and make pronouncement on issues that are supposed to be addressed by all members of the Assembly is an illegal action”, he stated.
“When we get back we are going to inform the leadership of the National Assembly so that they will think of where possible they can come in, following the provisions of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999”.
It’s Desecration Of Legislative Sanctity- Saraki, Dogara
On their part, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, yesterday described as “a desecration of the legislative sanctity” the attempt by APC lawmakers in the Benue State House of Assembly to impeach the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
They decried what they as also termed the ongoing situation in Benue State in which eight out of the 30 members of the State House of Assembly commenced impeachment process against the state governor and with the support of the police, the 22 other members who constitute more than two-third majority are kept away from the assembly complex.
In a statement jointly signed by their aides in charge of media, Saraki and Dogara also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to call the Police to order and stop them from being used to achieve political purposes.
The two presiding officers said,”We have monitored closely the development in Benue State in which the impeached Speaker, Terkimbir Ikyange, led seven other members to serve impeachment notice on the state Governor, Samuel Ortom, while the 22 other members who constitute more than two-third majority have been prevented from having access to the chamber. We believe this is illegality and does not conform to parliamentary procedure on impeachment.
“We also note with surprise the role of the Police in this undemocratic event in which the minority is seeking to impeach a Governor against the position of the majority. We believe it is the sacred institution of the legislature that is being desecrated and rubbished in all these negative developments.
“The situation in Benue State House of Assembly has grave implication for the nation’s democracy and it represents a throwback to the period of dictatorship in our country. It also represents how the Nigeria Police are being misused to achieve political end.
They recalled that the presidency had in a statement sarcastically referred to a past administration in which minority number of legislators was used to impeach governors who were unfriendly with the Federal Government.
Noting that what is playing out in Benue now is a return to that inglorious era, Saraki and Dogara continued: ““We believe this unlawful and unconstitutional move to impeach Governor Samuel Ortom by a minority should be condemned by all lovers of democracy, at home and abroad. We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to call the police to order and prevent a breakdown of law and order.
“We also call on friends of Nigeria in the international community to lend their voice in condemning the perpetration of illegalities and actions that can subvert our democracy”.
“There is already a tense atmosphere in Benue State following recent killings. Nobody should encourage any action or move which may exacerbate the security situation in the North Central state. As leaders of the Federal legislature, we are ready to work with our colleagues in both chambers of the National Assembly to prevent any attempt to destroy any state legislature or use it to derail democracy”.
PDP Condemns Impeachment Move Against Ortom
Also, the national leadership of the PDP yesterday condemned the plot to impeach Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, alleging that the act is intended to precipitate crisis for declaration of state of emergency in the state.
The PDP made the declaration in a communiqué at the end of an emergency National Working Committee (NWC) meeting on the issue.
The national publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, who addressed a press conference said, “The NWC condemns in its entirety the purported sitting of eight APC members, including the impeached and suspended Speaker in a 30-member House wherein they illegally claimed to have served an impeachment notice on the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom.
PDP also condemns the use of the EFCC and DSS to harass and intimidate officials of the Benue State Government. We note the roles played by the factional Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government and Sen. George Akume in encouraging lawless acts and anarchy in Benue State.
“Party States that the actions and opinions expressed by Oshiomole on the decamping of Governor Ortom to the PDP as well as the deployment of Policemen by the Buhari-led Federal Government to force the purported issuance of illegal impeachment notice on the Governor are acts intended to precipitate crisis for declaration of state of emergency in Benue.”
While recalling that the Speaker had been impeached, suspended and restrained by a court of competent jurisdiction from parading himself as Speaker, PDP expressed shock that “in spite of this, no fewer than 300 Policemen were alleged to have escorted the impeached Speaker to the State House of Assembly to initiate a disgraceful and manifestly illegal process.”
PDP however warned against deliberate acts that are maliciously designed to truncate democracy by employing underhand tactics to achieve what is inconceivable in a democracy.
“The Party calls on the Nigerian Public, the civil society organizations and International Community to note the series of plots and deliberate attempts by the Buhari-led APC Federal Government to cause mayhem in a state that is struggling to recover from a spate of killings and bloodletting”.
“We are aware that these plots were designed to scare away Nigerians, Including State Governors and Legislators, who are desirous of rallying with the PDP to rescue our nation from the misgovernance of the Buhari regime.
In the same vein, the Benue State chapter of the PDP has asked the APC to show immediate respect for the rule of law by withdrawing all forms of support in the plot to illegally impeach the state governor, Samuel Ortom.
The party, while accusing the APC of backing the impeached former Speaker, Ikyange, including security agencies deployed at the Benue State House of Assembly Complex, said the Makurdi High Court order restraining Ikyange and other impeached principal officers of the House from parading themselves as such is still pending until the determination of the substantive matter brought before it by their 22 colleagues.
A statement issued in Abuja by the publicity secretary of PDP, Benue State chapter, Bemgba Iortyom, noted: “We demand that the APC show immediate respect for the rule of law by withdrawing all forms of support being given to the impeached former Speaker, Mr Ikyange, including the heavy security presence deployed at the Benue State House of Assembly Complex.
“The party must respect the prevailing Makurdi High Court order restraining Mr. Ikyange and other impeached principal officers of the House from parading themselves as such pending the determination of the substantive matter brought before it by their 22 colleagues”.
Reps PDP Caucus Threaten To Frustrate Passage Of INEC Budget
Meanwhile, members of the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday threatened to frustrate move to reconvene the House for consideration of the N242 billion supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies should the federal government fail to stop the planned impeachment of Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom.
Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, the deputy minority leader of the House, Hon Chukwuka Onyema said the PDP caucus condemned the impunity and unconstitutional approach used by eight members of the APC in the Benue State House of Assembly to impeach the governor.
Onyema warned that if the APC government fails to restrain the Military and Police from supporting the eight members to impeach the governor, they will reject the planned reconvening of the National Assembly to deliberate on the INEC budget and that even if the House resumes, members of the caucus will boycott the sittings.
Her said, “If they do not stop these unconstitutional means to remove Governor Ortom, we will not support the request to reconvene the House to deliberate on the supplementary budget; and even if the House reconvenes, we will make sure that no quorum is formed to hold session. If they do not desist, it is going to be fire for fire.
“We hereby condemn the ignoble action that is unfolding under the supervision of the APC Federal Government and the Police in Benue State. The eight renegade fellows have no legal authority to serve any impeachment notice on the governor of Benue State.
“The PDP House Caucus condemns the absolute disregard for the Nigerian Constitution and the people of Benue State whose land some highly connected herdsmen and their instigators desperately hope to convert into a huge ranch land.
“We condemn the gross injustice in Benue State and we hereby affirm that constitutionally, at least twenty members of the House of Assembly must sit to form a quorum. The so-called impeachment process begun by eight renegades and their sponsors must duly be described by all Nigerians as an illegality, an exercise in futility which shall remain null and void”.
EFCC Probes Ortom Over Alleged N21bn Fraud
Meanwhile, peratives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has alleged that it discovered illegal withdrawal, mismanagement and fraudulent embezzlement of over N21 billion by the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom and his officials.
EFCC said acting on intelligence on January 1, 2018 of alleged diversion of N8 billion cash from accounts belonging to Benue State government by officials of the government and the governor, its operatives, on investigation, discovered that between June 30 and March, 2018, over N21 billion was withdrawn from four accounts belonging to the state government.
Data obtained from the EFCC showed that one Emmanuel Aogar, Patrick Abah and Ochuga Peter, all cashiers of the government, allegedly withdrew N396,728,950; N130,199,386 and N704,041,000 respectively over the period under investigation.
The funds were said to be withdrawn from Benue State Government House Account, with account numbers 1017348051, UBA and 0027952907, GTB.
Also, one Oliver Mtom, a cashier, reportedly, withdrew the sum of N19, 468, 951, 590 from accounts of Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Service, namely account number, 1007540119, UBA and 2023788057, First Bank, between same period.
According to the data, when interrogated by the EFCC, the cashiers and accountants claimed they withdrew the funds and kept them in their offices on instructions of their bosses.
The EFCC operatives stated that while giving his accounts, permanent secretary of the Benue State government House, Gabriel Langba claimed the over N1 billion withdrawn was for the running of the Government House expenses.
Permanent secretary of the Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Service, Boniface Nyaakor, was however said to have claimed that the N19, 468, 951, 590 withdrawn was used to fund security agencies, numbering about six in the state.
He allegedly claimed to have followed the directive of the governor in disbursing the funds and noted that the governor destroys the approval after disbursement, hence there was no record of how N19, 468, 951, 590 was expended on six security agencies between June, 2015 to March, 2018.
All the funds were said to have been withdrawn with N10million cheques in 50 places on a daily basis.
Information obtained also showed that the Nyaakor disbursed between N5 million to N10 million to the security agencies on a monthly basis.
EFCC also said acting on a petition by one Abubakar Tsav against governor Ortom and former chairman of Gwer West local government area, Titus Zam, dated June 10, 2016 alleging illegal withdrawal of N928,903,967 from Fidelity Bank account of Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, with number 5030058730, in Benue state; the EFCC instituted an investigation and discovered that between October 2015 and June 2016, N1,328,000,000 was actually withdrawn from the account.
EFCC said its investigation also revealed that one John Bako withdrew N28,000,000 from the said account, while another Andoor Festus withdrew N1.3 billion.
Commission To Declare Benue Lawmakers Wanted Over N417mn Car Scandal
Also, the EFCC has said it is set to declare members of the Benue State House of Assembly wanted over alleged diversion of N417,000,000 car funds.
EFCC noted that its operatives investigating the alleged diversion of the funds meant for 30 SUV Prado Jeeps to be used for oversight function discovered that 21 members conspired with the contractor, MIA Three Nigeria Limited, to divert N375,000,000 after deducting tax.
Upon interrogation, 17 members were said to have returned N10 million each but Nawnan refused to refund N9 million, Kester Kyenge refused to refund N9 million, Terseer Adzuu refused to refund N9 million and Terkaa Ucha refused to refund N4 million.
While they are said to be reporting at EFCC office since 2016 when the case started and were also at the EFCC office last week, the members suddenly failed to report this week.
EFCC noted that the lawmaker will be declared wanted anytime soon for failing to report for investigation.
Imo Deputy Gov, Kano Speaker Impeached
Meanwhile, the Imo State House of Assembly yesterday impeached the State deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere, amidst tight security at the Assembly premises.
It was the same ball game yesterday in Kano State where the state House of Assembly impeached the Speaker, Alhaji Abdullahi Ata, and reelected Alhaji Kabiru Rurum, the immediate past Speaker of the House who was impeached over allegations of corruption as the new Speaker.
In Imo State, 19 out of the 27 members of the House of Assembly reportedly carried out the impeachment of the deputy governor.
The action of the House was carried out in disobedience to a court order of a High Court sitting in Owerri restraining the lawmakers from carrying out an impeachment proceeding against the deputy governor.
The court presided over by Justice Benjamin Iheka had granted an interim injunction, restraining the seven-man panel constituted by the Chief Judge of the state, Paschal Nnadi from continuing with its inquiry until the matter before it bordering on alleged constitutional breach is heard.
But the Imo lawmakers who arrived the state assembly complex yesterday afternoon moved straight to the hallowed chamber of the House, after meeting briefly, to commence the day’s business.
The sitting culminated in the impeachment of the embattled deputy governor of the state who is having a running battle with governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha.
The Speaker of the House, Hon Acho Ihim, stressed that the action of the House followed the indictment of Madumere by the report of a 7-man panel constituted by the State Chief Judge, Paschal Nnadi, to investigate allegations of gross misconduct against the deputy governor.
The motion for the impeachment was moved by the member representing Owerri Municipal, Hon Lugard Osuji and seconded by the member representing Owerri North, Hon Victor Onyewuchi.
The deputy governor was, among other allegations, accused of abandoning his official duties for three months without reasons or official permission, failure to perform constitutional duties like attending state executive meetings as well as state security council meeting, failure to attend meetings with the governor and other government functionaries and concealment of felonious act in the United States.
The Imo State Head of Service, Callistus Ekenze, was immedaitely nominated to replace Madumere as deputy governor. Ekenze is from the same Mbaitoli local government area where Madumere hails from.
Madumere was nominated deputy governor in 2013 after the former deputy governor, Jude Agbaso, was impeached over alleged corrupt practices.
In Kano, members of the State House of Assembly yesterday impeached the Speaker, Alhaji Abdullahi Ata.
Accordingly, the assembly reelected Alhaji Kabiru Rurum, the immediate-past Speaker of the House who was also impeached over allegations of corruption as the new Speaker.
Malam Labaran Madari representing Warawa Constituency moved the motion for the removal of the Speaker who was impeached alongside two other Principal Officers of the assembly.
The assembly had closed two months ago after threats to impeach the Speaker but the issue was rested following the intervention of the state government.
The new Speaker started presiding over the Assembly’s sitting which resumed yesterday after a two-month break.
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