On July 8 this year, the Imo people and by extension Nigerians were jolted by an announcement made by the speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Paul Emeziem, that six lawmakers had been suspended for unparliamentary conducts.
The lawmakers suspended are Mr Kennedy Ibeh (APC Obowo), Mr Philip Ejiiogu (PDP Owerri North), Mr Uche Ogbuagu (APC Ikeduru), Mr Dominic Ezerioha (APC Oru west), Mr Anyadike Nwosu (PDP Ezinihitte Mbaise), and Mr Onyemaechi Njoku (APC Ihitte Uboma).
The speaker had said “Some members have been conducting themselves in an unparliamentary manner thereby bringing the house to ridicule. We have thoroughly examined this issue at the executive session of the house and have resolved that peace and order must continue to reign.
“The executive session has therefore recommended the suspension of the members who have engaged in different misconduct. This action is in line with ensuring that the image of the house remains as it should be, while providing a functional environment and the synergy which we are required to provide to ensure all arms of government work together,” Emeziem said.
The speaker further announced the dissolution of all standing committees of the House and a change in the office of the chief whip from Dr Arthur Egwim (APC Ideato North) to Mr Obinna Okwarra (APC Nkwerre).
However, the announcements came with heavy resistance from the affected lawmakers and the session became tense.
The speaker was whisked away by security operatives amidst sporadic gunshots as the lawmakers attempted to engage in a free for all fight.
While the six lawmakers alleged the action was illegal, unconstitutional and undemocratic, the speaker denied.
Within 72 hours after the announcement, Emeziem reiterated that the lawmakers were guilty of one parliamentary misconduct, stating that there was no reason for the leadership of the House to witch hunt any member with suspension or whatever.
According to Mrs Ngozi Obiefule (APC Isu), (not affected) there was no sitting for deliberation of the unparliamentary conducts, saying “Every attempt to extract the venue for the supposed purported executive session proved abortive as the speaker failed to respond to queries made via the House WhatsApp platform”.
However, the main opposition party in the state, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of suppression, harassment, and oppression of their members in the assembly.
Imo PDP chairman, Engr Charles Ugwuh, during a press conference, insisted that PDP lawmakers were being oppressed and suppressed by principal officers. He said their allowances and entitlements had been cut by nearly 50 percent. He said the PDP lawmakers are intimidated, harassed and threatened just because of their refusal to decamp to APC.
With the suspension of the lawmakers, there has been heavy police presence at the House premises even as the implications of the suspension are beginning to unfold.
For constituents of Obowo, Owerri North, Ikeduru, Oru West, Ezinihitte Mbaise, and Ihitte Uboma, their voices may become unheard until their lawmakers are recalled from suspension at the Imo State House of Assembly.
In the face of non-motorable roads in many parts of the state, suspended lawmakers cannot make cases for their constituents, thereby shutting out six state constituencies from being heard.
Interestingly, the House is yet to make a comment on the attack on the country home of Ekene Nnodimele representing Orsu state constituency which led to the beheading of his security guard in June.
Also, the Assembly was mum despite the public outcry over the security situation in the state until the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri, Rt Revd Anthony Obinna raised alarm over the indiscriminate shootings and arrests of youths.
However, on allegations of interference from Governor Hope Uzodimma, the speaker admitted that he will accept if it brings development of the assembly.
The speaker via the Information committee chairman, Hon Johnson Duru insisted that there was a clear separation of power between the executive and legislature but united to improve the state.
Duru had told newsmen “It is of note that the speaker has been on the heels of the governor on any issue that bother on the house welfare. As far as the house is concerned, the executive is purely separated from the legislature and the proper checks and balances have been maintained. If Uzodinma’s script is to ensure that good and durable infrastructures are put in place in Imo state, then I concur with the PDP lawmakers.
“If Uzodinma’s script is to ensure that imo is rescued, restored and restructured, then, what is wrong in being part of that script? If Uzodinma’s script is to ensure that the legislative arm has financial autonomy, then what is wrong in acting along with him? If it is to improve the welfare of civil servants, then why should lawmakers kick against such script? Our job is not to sink the state but work in tandem with the executive in matters of state emergency”, he said.
Still, the questions begging for answer are what exactly was the unparliamentary conduct by the lawmakers and where did they display it?
One of the suspended lawmakers who craved anonymity said the clause was unilaterally inserted by a principal officer of the House on the orders of the governor to stifle freedom of expression of the members.
According to him, the House can be likened to an extension of the governor’s office where the leadership of the House are summoned to explain activities of the lawmakers as against the reverse.
Only days ago, the minority caucus berated the speaker, who they said is unfit and incompetent to preside over the affairs of the state legislature.
The aggrieved legislators stated this in a release dated July 19, 2021 and signed by the minority leader and member representing Ezinihite Mbaise state constituency. It read “Rt Hon Paul Emeziem, since assumption of office as speaker of the House of Assembly, has been on increased pressure to silence any voice of dissent in the assembly”.
According to them, the overzealous actions and antics of the speaker had cheapened the legislature which should check the excesses of the executive, thereby eroding the respect, honour and dignity of the legislators saying now the governor and his aides treat them with disdain.
Another lawmaker who pleaded anonymity said the governor via the speaker plays to the gallery, adding that the said autonomy in the House was to get the attention of the presidency.
“The so-called autonomy is a farce aimed at hoodwinking the people. The speaker hurriedly announced it after interacting with the governor who often attempts to control and dictate the pace of the legislature through him, since he has mortgaged the collective interest of members, their constituents and entire state by refusing to be assertive and stand on the side of truth, justice and fairness”.
The concern however is that the Assembly once acknowledged for its brilliant submissions might, in the long run, become a shadow of itself.
The days ahead for the Assembly are hazy. How it’s leadership navigates through the unfolding drama will be instructive.