From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
It is certainly not the best of time for Mrs. Jumoke Akindele and Hon. Fatai Olotu, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly, who were sacked recently by some of their colleagues.
Their sack, followed allegation of corruption against them. Impeachment may not be a strange thing to Mrs. Akindele as she was impeached in March 2016 by 19 out of the 26 members of the House of Assembly over alleged highhandedness, fraud and corrupt activities. But she was later returned to her seat, following the intervention of the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, who reportedly pleaded with members of the House, to reconsider their position.
Akindele went through what could be described as the most turbulent period of her life at the time, as she was prevented from presiding over the affairs of the House, and her office was locked up by the members who impeached her. She was humiliated, embarrassed and harassed by her colleagues, many of who are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, Mrs. Akindele survived the trial and she was reinstated by the entire members of the Assembly. Since then, she had remained in control of the House until recently when she was again caught unawares by some members of the House, who again impeached her. Only 12 members signed her impeachment notice, and the 12 men went ahead to appoint a factional Speaker for the House, in the person of Hon. Malachi Coker, thereby making Ondo Assembly, the Assembly parading two Speakers, for now.
Expectedly, the two factions meet at the House of Assembly complex, though under a rancorous and acrimonious atmosphere. As at press time, the House of Assembly complex has been surrounded by security agents since the crisis broke out, to prevent any breakdown of law and order.
So far, Daily Sun investigations reveal, Akindele has majority of the members on her side, but the strong determination of the 12 members to take over the leadership of the House has been a source of serious concern to the state government and the Akindele’s faction in particular. For over five days, the House could not sit to deliberate on matters before it, as a result of the leadership crisis. The development has also prevented the governor from presenting the 2017 budget as Mimiko, who is alleged to be in support of Mrs. Akindele’s faction was prevented from exercising his duties by the Coker’s faction, thereby causing serious tension in the state for some days.
Trouble was said to have started for Mrs. Akindele when she allegedly ordered the paymaster of the House of Assembly, Mr. Majekodunmi Adesina to withdraw a sum of #15Million to execute some projects in the House, which was said to have been provided for in the state’s budget. But the paymaster was caught with the money and was not allowed to explain the source of the money, as some members of the House hurriedly called for impeachment of Akindele. The ‘rebel’ lawmakers whose membership cut across the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) reportedly caught the paymaster of the Assembly, Mr. Adesina with a ghana-must-go bag containing the money at the premises of the Assembly complex.
When asked about the owner of the money, Adesina was quoted to have said that the Speaker allegedly ordered him to take the money to her residence. The lawmakers were furious about the development and convene a meeting on the floor of the House to take a punitive action against the Speaker and her deputy. After suspending the Principal Officers, the ‘rebel’ lawmakers appointed Mr. Malachi Coker representing Ilaje 1 Constituency, Mr. Ayodele Arowele from Owo 1 Constituency and Olamide George, representing Akure North Constituency as the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Majority Leader, respectively in acting capacity. As if that was not enough, the lawmakers convened a plenary and asked Mrs. Akindele and Olotu to handover the properties of the Assembly in their possessions. Since then, the two leaderships have continued to pilot the affairs of the once viable and united House.
Police, Mimiko fail to broker truce
Efforts by the Police and Governor Mimiko could not help the situation, as the Coker’s faction was hell-bent at taking over the leadership of the House, just as they have kept the mace from the Akindele’s faction, a development which prompted the Police to quiz the deputy speaker of the faction, Mr Ayo Arowele and some other members of the faction.
PDP, APC join fray
The situation has however assumed a political dimension as the two leading political parties in the state, the PDP and the APC, have since taken interest in the matter. While the APC is in support of the Coker’s faction, the PDP has expressed its readiness to support Akindele, claiming that her impeachment was unjustifiable.
Reacting to the development, the PDP Publicity Secretary, Mr Ayo Fadaka said the crisis in the House was needless, saying “the PDP has taken due cognizance of the needless crisis in the House of Assembly and as such wishes to state very clearly that it takes absolute exceptions to this development.
“The party takes absolute exception to the needless crisis where a few members of the House of Assembly have fostered not only on the Assembly but on the entire state, a leadership that is unpopular. Their indecent assault on the paymaster of the House of Assembly can at best be equated with gangsterism and this is unbecoming of members of that respected organ of government. The party also takes absolute exception to the ploy to misrepresent the government and the party as being on a looting spree. The money that the paymaster went to bank to withdraw was to take care of certain expenditures by the Parliament and these honorable members are aware of that fact. Sequel to the foregoing, the Party hereby declares that it will continue to recognize Hon Jumoke Akindele as Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly. The Party also recognizes all other Principal Officers of the House of Assembly as the legitimately elected officers. We also commiserate with the paymaster who was needlessly assaulted, maligned and misrepresented in the media by this group and urge him to take actions to address the infractions on both his fundamental human rights and official responsibilities. “The Party therefore mandates this group of Assembly members to as a matter of urgency apologise to the government and the party for intentionally misrepresenting us as looters, and for assaulting and maligning the paymaster in two national newspapers within the next five days or face its wrath. Finally, the PDP will not tolerate this level of indiscipline at all and as such orders this group to begin to conduct itself with decorum forthwith,” the PDP spokesman, said.
But the APC on its part has called for an urgent investigation, by the EFCC, into the allegations leveled against Mrs. Akindele and Olotu, alleging that the crisis was as a result of alleged maladministration of Governor Mimiko. The party’s spokesperson, Prince Abayomi Adesanya, further said that “this is an attestation of Mimiko’s looting spree across all ministries, agencies and parastatals, and the corruption that has traversed the state in the last eight years. If Mrs. Akindele is the Speaker, it has no effect in the incoming administration of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu but we want sanity in the House of Assembly.”
Speaker Akindele Reacts
However, Mrs. Akindele told Daily Sun that she was not desperate to remain as the Speaker of the House, saying that she was already preparing to resign before the purported impeachment. The embattled Speaker said her intention to resign was due to the fact that the geo-political configuration of the state has changed with the emergence of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) from the North District and his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi from the south senatorial district where she also hails from.
“I was in Lagos on Friday January 27, when I got a call that some members, about 12 of them had allegedly removed the leadership of the House comprising myself as Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and the Majority Leader on the puerile and baseless claim of fraud or financial impropriety.
“I wish to place on record that though I am the signatory to the schedule, I am not a signatory to the cheques of the House. I did sign the schedule in line with the budget passed by the House so that I do not hold up the business of the House in the likely event that I do not return from my journey early enough. I did not speak with the Clerk and I most certainly did not speak with the Director of Finance and Administration (DFA) on the issue of cheques or any other matter at all. I did not ask the paymaster, Mr. Makanjuola Adesina, who was unfortunately brutalized by some of my colleagues to bring any fund to my house. The paymaster is the lawful custodian of all unspent funds of the House and he was only acting in his official capacity. As such, I wish to emphatically place it on record that the funds in question are meant for some projects in the House as passed in the Budget and approved by the approving authority. “However, I wish to state that the primary reason for the entire problem is because certain elements of the PDP caucus seem more interested in proving their loyalty to the incoming administration in Ondo state, instead of their own party and are actively working hand in hand with their APC counterparts to destabilize what would have been one of the most peaceful transitions ever. They are desirous of becoming Speaker and Deputy Speaker at all cost and are therefore playing to the gallery to show the incoming government that they are disenchanted with the outgoing governor, imagining that the erudite and insightful Senior Advocate of Nigeria would not see through them in the colors that they truly are.
“I was actually set to resign because the geopolitical configuration of the state had changed since the emergence of the Governor from the North and the Deputy Governor from the South. We are a people with an age long tradition that demands that the Speaker must of necessity emerge from the Central district of Ondo State. I have chosen to sustain this position, in spite of my willingness to resign because I owe it to all Speakers and all law abiding people in Nigeria who are naturally worried of the dangerous precedent that may be created if fraud, forgery and forceful takeover of this nature is allowed to prevail.
It is disheartening that some of my honorable colleagues forged the signatures of five members to make up their list. The members whose signatures were forged have strenuously asserted that their signatures were forged and have stood with the leadership of the House since the unfolding of this sad chapter in the annals of the history of our state.
“In the Ondo State House of Assembly, the purported removal of the leadership of the House by less than 18 members is a nullity that cannot stand,” she declares.