By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South West.
THE battle line has been drawn and if nothing is done urgently, the peace of the graveyard in the Ondo State chapter of the All Progressive Congress may further be ruptured.
The 26 legislators in the State House of Assembly are at dagger drawn with the head of the executive arm of government, Rotimi Akeredolu a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who seems to be a cat with many lives.
As he battles with some forces within and outside the state to retain his seat ahead of 2020 governorship election, he is again confronted with another in-house tango, this time with a vital arm of government, the legislature. However, the governor may win this fight with the lawmakers because the members of the assembly don’t have the courage to fully take on the governor headlong. Many of them have capitulated without the knowledge of their ring leaders.
Why lawmakers hatched the plan
The leadership of the assembly believed the plan was fool proof but unknown to many, there are fifth columnists amongst them who are the eyes of the executive. The plan was to arm twist the governor who they have concluded was frugal in spending money and has refused to release funds to them for the renovation of their deplorable chambers constructed in 1976.
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Some members of the think tank in the leadership of the assembly reportedly met and decided that the only way to make the governor release funds for the renovation was to cook up the story of snake invasion of the chambers and the collapse of the ceiling during plenary.
When the plan was tabled before other members, they embraced it and few of them who were still nursing the grudge on the alleged imposition of the speaker, Hon Bamidele Oloyelogun by the governor saw this as an opportunity to embarrass the governor and the state hence they encouraged the leaders to go ahead with the plan.
Reports had it that the governor was informed that the snake story was a ruse and a calculated attempt to arm twist him to release funds.
Vanguard however gathered that N2m was allocated to the assembly every year for the past ten years for fumigation of the complex while N57m allocation was given to the legislators on monthly basis.
Snake invasion, ceiling collapse
The leadership of the assembly who believed that they were on the same page with other members called a media briefing and relayed the stories of the snake invasion and the collapse of the termite infested ceiling that almost fell on the head of the speaker during plenary.
Journalists were conducted round the chambers and showed the ceiling where the snake dropped and landed almost where the maze, the authority of the house was usually placed.
The collapsed ceiling close to the seat of the speaker was equally showed to the journalists.
Chairman, House committee on information Hon Gbenga Omole who was mandated to address newsmen on the members’ ordeal said, “When we were about to enter into plenary on Wednesday, a big snake just ran out of the chamber which disrupted our sitting and we had to hurriedly leave the chamber.
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“We were about to sit again today ( Thursday) when the ceiling caved in directly where Mr Speaker was sitting, the whole house was agitated and when we looked around we saw the damage the termite had done to most of the woodwork in the ceiling. At that point, we had to adjourn the sitting. That chamber is no longer safe for legislative business and because of that, we decided to adjourn indefinitely. The house will be going on an indefinite recess.”
As usual, the report went viral, even the CNN reported that snake chased out legislators during plenary which forced them to adjourn indefinitely. It was the headlines in major newspapers. The legislators threw banters and were happy after the reports hit the headlines that they had achieved their purpose and that the governor would have no choice now that the matter had gone viral than to play ball. But they got it wrong as the fake snake story had been leaked to him by some of his trusted allies in the assembly. However, while the plan was being hatched, Governor Akeredolu was away in Abuja to show solidarity with the ministerial nominee, Tayo Alasoadura who appeared before the Senate.
Governor Akeredolu fumes
The embarrassing reports hit him hard that instead of heading to the Government House on arrival on Friday, Akeredolu stormed the assembly complex fuming and expressed displeasure over the lies by the members to embarrass him and his government. Like a school teacher scolding his pupils, Akeredolu lambasted the legislators for lying about the invasion of the chambers by snake.
He accused the lawmakers of blackmailing him and his administration and an attempt to hoodwink the unsuspecting members of the public about the happenings in the Assembly.
Akeredolu said “Did you see any green snake here? You said snake chased you out of this place and that you adjourned sine-die. How did you combine what happened here yesterday with your snake if it is not a grand connivance by yourselves? How did you come about snake yesterday and day before yesterday? How did you combine it and you said snake fell on your head? The media took your point and said snake fell on you and you all kept quiet. This House has stayed here for several years. If termites go into this place and eat it, no doubt unless you treat this place for termite, it will fall down.
“What I have come to do is to verify what has happened. I have seen that what has happened is that there is an attempt to blackmail the state and I think the government will not take it. I was given the facts and I want to be sure that the Speaker and that most of the officers are here.
“No snake fell here yesterday or day before yesterday, they were not sitting when the ceiling came down. They only met the ceiling that it came down. It was not that they were sitting. And all the pictures that were put up there are fake. There was no sitting; the ceiling did not collapse while they were sitting. How did you come about that story? How did you come about one giant snake or python; it does not exist here. How did you come about it?
“There is an attempt to blackmail the government and I don’t believe that is the best approach. This is an arm of government and they have their vote and what they are entitled to is the one we give them. This place is termite invested and certainly, the termites have been dwelling here for several years. We have just come for two years; there is no way termites’ infestation in two years would cause such destruction. Something is wrong, this place has not been maintained and members of the House have always been here, what have they done about the maintenance of this place? If they have not been concerned about it, we have to sit down at the table and work things out.
After the governor’s outburst that Friday, the spokesperson for the assembly, Gbenga Omole vowed that the legislators would not be intimidated by the governor and threatened that the N30b loan request of the governor would be put in abeyance until their demand for a better and conducive environment to carry out their legislative duties was put in place by the governor.
Lawmakers threaten not to approve N30b loan
Omole who was responding to the governor’s allegation that the members of the assembly were out to blackmail him and his administration denied that they were out to blackmail the governor as he alleged.
According to him “They want to borrow money now. I am a member of the Appropriation Committee.
“They want to borrow N30 billion, but if they fail to do what we want, we will not allow that to happen. Out of the money, they said they want to repair the Accountant General’s office, but they don’t want to repair the independent arm of government. It is not going to happen. The worst is that they will not give us second term but we will do what the people of Ondo State like.
“The truth of the matter is that, that place needs attention. The way they merged the issue of snake with the collapsed part of the building is the issue. The termites have eaten the roof of the building. The governor accused us of blackmail, why is it that the past leadership of the House has not done anything about it. Every year they put renovation of the Assembly in the budget and it was not implemented. The executive brings in budget and you passed it. The place where the budget is passed is termite infested.
“It is not going to be business as usual. That is my own stand as the spokesperson of the House. Do they not repair their own offices? There was a snake on Wednesday. On Thursday when we were about to sit, we discovered termites have eaten the roof. The question is that, termite did not start eating in the last two years. It has been the failure of the leadership of the House in the past Assembly.
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“The truth is that they will give them small money and they will pass the budget, the one that concern them will not be addressed. We are not going to take that this time around.
“We cannot, because we are friends to the governor, not say the truth, they repair their offices. Let us expose the leadership of the House, the Speaker said money is voted for the renovation every year, but it is not backed with cash. They did not release money for repair, yet you pass their budgets.
Rather than abate, the legislators fired again at an urgent parliamentary meeting held at the Speaker’s Lodge declaring that they “would not waiver in their responsibility as the representatives of the people of the state” and “insisting on “total autonomy of the legislative arm of government for proper functioning.
The Speaker of the Assembly, Hon Bamidele Oloyeloogun presided over the meeting, while the communique was read by Hon Success Torukerijo. The legislators lamented that the Assembly complex was in a state of dilapidation and needed urged renovation. It is pitiable that the Ondo State House of Assembly is the worst in terms of infrastructure in the whole country. It will also interest the public to know that the office of the speaker and the deputy speaker have no official cars. We reiterate the constitutional status of the legislature as an independent arm of government which therefore deserve to be accorded as such.
“We want to state without any equivocation that no fund has been released to the Assembly for the capital projects in the last five years, in spite of the yearly budgetary provision and there has not been any cash-backing for the renovation of the Assembly for the past 10 years. They lamented that “the previous administrations in the state had failed to release money for the renovation of the complex.
Not done the legislators accused the government of doctoring the video tape of the event that happened when the governor inspected the Assembly complex after the snake appearance to ridicule them.
Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the state in a statement signed by its Director of Publicity, Zadok Akintoye criticised the governor for portraying the lawmakers as his “cowardly, ineffectual and mindless errand boys.
Akintoye said “Mr Governor, you were way out of line. You were completely out of order. You carried your authority too far and abused what should be the member’s natural inclination to respect you as a leader. You abused your authority. Perhaps you do not realize it: You and these 26 members are the only ones who truly carry the mandate of the People. The people, it was, who trooped out to elect them as they did you too. To speak to them so condescendingly and so demeaningly portrays you as a dictatorial individual.The Legislature is an arm of government deserving of respect and honour.
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“Granted that the manner of the emergence of some of those who are there now may have been undemocratic and that you may have had to pay good money to buy votes for most of them, the truth is that ultimately the people voted for them all in much the same way that they voted for you.
“You poured expletives on them, asking them questions like a mean headmaster telling off an errant pupil. They came out looking that little. Your action has done incalculable damage to the integrity of that institution. You showed your contempt and utter disdain for the leadership and members of the House when you charged in there like a bull telling the whole world that they lied and were only trying to blackmail your government. Akintoye noted that “statesmanship demands that the Governor does not conduct himself in such a way to bring the institution into such disrepute with the public as you did.
With the governorship election coming up next year, political observers argued that the legislators may be dancing to the tunes of some powerful forces within and outside the state who were desperate to deprive Akeredolu a second term in office. The question on the lips of the people of the state is who blinks first, Akeredolu or the 26 legislators?. Time will tell.