Undercurrents of Abia legislature’s bickering and leadership changes
For those who witnessed the proceedings at the Abia State House of Assembly on 29th of December last year, they would readily agree that a script with an unknown destination was being charted. It was the first time the lawmakers were impeaching one of their own in the 18 months old Assembly.
Martins Okechukwu Azubuike, a third term member on the platform of the ruling party in the state, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and representing Isiala Ngwa North constituency was impeached as Speaker by 20 out of the 24-member House of Assembly in what they considered to be in their interest and the general wellbeing of the state.
Azubuike, who had been in the House since 2007 and elected unopposed after his nomination by Tony Nwubani, seconded by Emeka Alozie was accused of financial reckless. According to the deputy majority leader, who represents Obingwa East state constituency, Solomon Akpulonu the sins allegedly committed by Azubuike include: “lack of character of transparency and accountability in handling public funds, insensitivity to the welfare of the members, autocratic style of leadership leading to inequitable distribution of positions in the House, abuse of office and gross misconduct”
The lawmaker explained that the listed offences were weighty enough to cost Azubuike his position, citing section 92 (2C) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). He argued that since 20 members had put their signatures to the impeachment notice, the House had exceeded the mandatory two-thirds majority needed to effect the removal of the speaker. Consequently, Azubuike was promptly removed on December 29, and was replaced immediately by Kennedy Njoku, who represents Osisioma North state constituency.
However, the next day (December 30), when Njoku was expected to formerly preside over the plenary for the first time, he threw in the towel. The lawmaker, who is in his first tenure in the House, announced his resignation to the chagrin of many members, especially those who voted him in. He told the bewildered members that his decision to resign was “on personal grounds.”
And to fill the vacuum created by Njoku’s sudden resignation, Chikwendu Kalu, representing Isialangwa South constituency, was elected. He thus emerged the 10th Speaker being produced by the House. Since the development which has left the Abia Assembly as one Assembly in history with the greatest turnover of Speakers so far in the present dispensation, prompting keen followers of developments in state to ask what the members intend to achieve as well as the undercurrents behind the move.
While many have attributed the development as part of the unwritten script or an effort to achieve a pre-election agreement between former governor, Theordore Orji and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, others said it was part of the ploy by the governor to assert his control of the House. Orji is reportedly scheming to plant his son Chinedum who is the majority leader of the House, as the Speaker. But members’ failure to nominate him as one of the nominees to replace Azubuike and Njoku put paid to that alleged ambition.
However, another source indicated that the plot was not targeted on the control of the House of but the governor of the state. It was gathered that the arrowheads would stop at nothing until their desires were achieved. The fears being expressed is that Ikpeazu is not in control and may have decided to dance to whatever music is being played for him in order to retain his seat in view of the ongoing governorship contest.
Yet others argued that Ikpeazu decided to use the shake up at the Assembly to fire warning shots on those undermining his leadership in the state as well as checkmate perceived enemies, who may want to cash in on his current travails. Ikpeazu it was gathered is being pressured with the electoral burden that had once removed him as governor, but still occupying office on the strength of the appeal court judgment.
The matter, which is between him and Dr. Uche Ogah also of the PDP, is now at the Supreme Court. Hearing in the matter had been altered following petitions allegedly from his camp against the panel of judges raised to hear it.
Although he was said to have proclaimed the sixth Assembly and allowed the lawmakers the free hand to choose their leadership when the House convened in June 2015, he reportedly did that without prior knowledge of some of the lawmakers and may have lately realized that such was putting the wrong foot in a convoluted politics like that of Abia.
To those who hold this view, the governor would be ‘digging his political grave’ should he continue to feel comfortable with the leadership of an Assembly that he did not influenced with 13 PDP and 11 APGA.
“He needs his own ally to be in charge of that Assembly knowing the hurdle he scaled through to become the candidate of the party and the fact that the political battle which his predecessor fought to install him has refused to give way in the state,” the source stated.
This was buttressed by the claim that the governor has not receive much support in his legal travails and quest to remain in office from the lawmakers as members had carried on “as if it is not their business”; a development he attributed to the leadership style of the ex-speaker.
On several occasions, attempts were purportedly made to remove Azubuike. These bids failed to materialize because they were believed to be pre-mature and the fact that the former Speaker earned the confidence of his colleagues at the time. The ex Speaker however became vulnerable when he insisted allegedly that money allocated to the House should be invested in projects and not be shared among members. He confirmed this much during a reception organized by his people recently.
A PDP chieftain who spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity, disclosed that, since much money was no longer coming into the Assembly following the protracted legal tussle over the outcome of the 2015 governorship election, deploying the existing ones into projects was seen as aberration.
Sequel to Njoku’s resignation the way was paved for the emergence of Kalu, said to be the governor’s favourite. With what seemed like a major hurdle out of the way and a victory on the side of the governor (at least with the election of his preferred candidate), what is yet to be seen is how this leadership change could play out in the politics of the state.
Ikpeazu’s Chief Press Secretary, Enyinnaya Appolos however contended that his boss has maintained a neutral stand on issues concerning the legislature in the state based on his implicit believe in democracy, stressing that it was wrong to accuse him of fueling the impeachment of Azubuike and the subsequent resignation of Njoku.
“We are in a democracy where we have the three arms of government working separately to ensure its promotion and protection for the good of the society. The governor was neither involved in the impeachment of the Speaker nor involved in the resignation of the man who resigned after being elected as Speaker. It was never our making.
“There are many issues of hearsay going on in the state. How can anybody wake up one morning to allege that somebody who was elected by his colleagues decided to resign afterwards was influenced to do so by the governor? We are not involved in the election of the House as much as they are not involved in the affairs of the executive. The governor is from Abia south senatorial zone and from the same federal constituency of Obingwa and Ugwunnabor with Njoku. We heard that he resigned because he felt that it was not fair for the governor and Speaker to come from the same constituency. Any other thing anybody is saying is not true,” he said.
Speaking on the issue, a lawyer and chairman of the Interparty Advisory Council (IPAC), John Nwobodo, decried the incessant change in legislative leadership arguing that it does not make for stability and would not give members the chance to concentrate on their duties.
“Such reckless removal can cause instability and cannot impact positively on our democracy. If a Speaker was removed on acts inimical to democracy and misconduct, then members should be given kudos; but if it is predicated on satisfying a set goal, then that House of Assembly is not for the interest of the public.