There seems to be no end in sight at the moment over the crisis rocking the Lagos State House of Assembly following the suspension of four of its members for gross misconduct. WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the twists and turns in the crisis
The past two weeks or thereabout has been quite tedious in the Lagos State House of Assembly over the removal of two principal officers, Rotimi Abiru (Chief Whip) and Olumuyiwa Jimoh (Deputy Majority Leader) and the indefinite suspension of two members of the House, Hon. Moshood Olanrewaju Oshun, representing Lagos Mainland Constituency 2 and Kazeem Raheem Adewale, representing Ibeju/Lekki Constituency 2.
Announcing the shocking shake-up during the House plenary of March 9, the speaker of the state parliament, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, said: “The House is the hope of the people and the heartbeat of democracy and that it should be well guarded. I hereby invoke Section 68 and Section 70, 4 (a, b) 2 and 3 of the House rules in respect of gross misconduct, insubordination, gross misconduct and actions that can destablise this House, I hereby move that Hon. Moshood Oshun and Hon. Raheem Adewale are hereby on suspension indefinitely.”
Twenty-four hours later, the Assembly effected the selections of two lawmakers as replacements for the affected officers that were removed in the persons of Noheem Adams from Eti-Osa Constituency 1 (Deputy Majority Leader), while Mojisola Miranda, representing Apapa Constituency 1 was elected as the new Chief Whip.
Of course, with the depletion in their ranks through the suspension, the air was filled with speculations as to what could be the reason for the action taken by the lawmakers against their colleagues.
Expectedly, different assertions were advanced for the crisis in the House but three appear to dominate discussions. One source said the suspended lawmakers were suspected of divulging information to the media on the purchase of vehicles for members and principal officers.
The report, entitled, “Lagos Assembly spends N2.4b on 80 cars in 11 Months,” allegedly indicted the leadership of the House and some principal officers of reckless spending.
The report alleged that sometimes last year, a contract was awarded for 40 cars to be purchased for the lawmakers and less than a year after, another contract was awarded for the purchase of cars for the members in December and January.
Expectedly, the report was said to have caused rancour among the members as some of them wondered how the issue got to the media. However, the chairman of the House Committee on Information, Hon. Tunde Braimoh, while reacting to the report, claimed that he was not aware any car was bought last year.
His words: “You may want to ask why the government is providing functionaries of the Assembly with vehicles. The vehicles are for government; registered in the government’s name. They are not a personal property of the Assemblymen.”
Another source said the speaker got alerted about a ploy to undermine and probably impeach him with the demoted lawmakers as arrowheads of the plot. It was gathered that the basis for mulling Obasa’s removal was over alleged high-handedness and lack of transparency in the running of the affairs of the House.
The last angle being proffered as the likely basis for the crisis is an unswerving clampdown on the former power broker in the House, now a member of the National Assembly, Senator Bayo Osinowo, who popularly referred to as Pepper. The speaker is also said to be nursing a senatorial ambition for Lagos West ahead of 2023.
But giving a tip on what might be the crux of the matter during another plenary, Obasa said the issue at hand is not about official vehicles, but the backup vehicles and money spent purchasing them.
He said: “Official vehicles for the 9th Assembly is the issue; it was a deliberate action to paint the House in bad light. The people that stole the vouchers that were leaked to the press are the issue.
“I thank you for all you have said about the petition. We have discussed issues relating to divulging the discussions in the House. I said that the issue that came out in the media is traceable to Hon. Moshood Oshun.
“He was asking for documents of the vehicle. He was the one that called me on the telephone that his vehicle was seized by the Customs. I once said that someone stole the vouchers of the vehicles. Where did he get it from if not for the role played by a member of the House? The writer of the petition is close to Hon. Olumuyiwa Jimoh. Some of the things he wrote were parts of what we have discussed.”
Speaker Obasa then declared that if those who had been disciplined by the House were responsible for what was being spread all over the place, the committee that was set up on the issue should be dissolved.
“I want to say that there is no crisis in the Lagos State House of Assembly, if there is crisis, we would not have this number of people in the Assembly that we have today. We have been sitting and we have been having parliamentary meetings. We must stand by the truth and the truth would set you free. There is no decision we take that we did not discuss in the Assembly. There is nothing hidden about the purchase of the vehicles, you can cross-check”
But since then, it has been one attack or another against the speaker and his leadership style. While some opine that he has handled the affairs of the state legislature in the past five years with every sense of responsibility, others, however, put a question mark on his leadership style.
But for his colleagues in the Assembly (besides the suspended four), Obasa is true to type, a pilot of the House. For them, he has displayed utmost transparency and team work, hence the seamless productivity the Assembly is enjoying in its legislative duties.
Rising from plenary on Monday, March 16, members of the Assembly for the second time have passed a vote of confidence on Speaker Obasa, following allegation of gross financial misconduct over the purported purchase of 80 vehicles for its members.
Moving the motion, Hon. Rotimi Olowo, representing Shomolu Constituency I, moved the motion under matter of urgent public importance stating that malicious publication going around was calculated at destroying the image of the House and it bothers on the 80 vehicles that were purchased within 11 months.
He said. “I am not new in this House of Assembly, I am a fourth termer. I joined the House of Assembly in 2007 and it is the norms as budgeted for. At that time before the election, some of our colleagues who did not come back to the House of Assembly were getting agitated that they had not gotten their back-up vehicles. After much pressure, we were able to get it in April 2019, including those who returned for the 9th Assembly and who got theirs about a month ago.”
He further clarified that there was the concurrence of the House of Assembly before the speaker purchased the vehicles and parliamentary sessions each time decisions are to be made on such sensitive issues.
Adding his voice, Hon. Rasheed Makinde, said the allegation on the purchase of vehicles is very appalling. “The Lagos State House of Assembly has a way by which we regulate ourselves. When we ask for vehicles to carry out our committee work and oversight functions; we are not asking for too much. The buses are not a largesse or for jamboree because they are official vehicles.”
In his submission, Hon. Desmond Elliot, said there is an attack on the person of the speaker vis-a-vis every member of the House of Assembly. “I want to tell people that the House of Assembly is for the interest of the public,” he added.
Also contributing, Hon. Alli-Macaulay Mojisola, said: “I want to say this categorically that this allegation is rubbish and I will back it with the parable that says nobody throws stones at a tree without fruits. Watch carefully when people throw pebbles at trees, it is because they have very good fruits. Mr. Speaker, you are a very good person, let us just ignore them and carry on with your good deeds because we are strongly in support of you.”
The Chief Whip, Hon. Mojisola Meranda, representing Apapa Constituency I, in her opinion, said she commends the speaker for uprightness. According to her, “the reason for saying this is because I was in the 8th Assembly when some members were against buying the back-up cars, saying that the money should be shared, but you, Mr. Speaker, stood your ground. If you had not, it would have been another story today.”
The chairman,House Committee on Information, Security and Strategy, Hon. Tunde Buraimoh, representing Kosofe constituency II, who lent his voice to the issue, said: “This is a democracy and in a democracy, there is freedom of speech. We have what it takes to defend the allegation; we know that the vehicles that were purchased were purchased in good fate. Let us wait for the formalization of the petition. I appeal to my colleagues not to lose any sleep on this.”
On the flip side, a petition by a rights group, Human Rights Monitoring Agenda (HURMA), requesting that the speaker should step down from his position pending completion of investigation on him surfaced in the media.
The relatively new group, in a petition it allegedly sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and signed by its Executive Director, Olaitan Isiak, said it is seeking probe of the activities of the speaker for alleged financial recklessness and cornering of public funds through illegitimate means.
Similarly, a coalition of civil society groups under the aegis of Lagos Peoples Assembly, urged the speaker to recall the suspended lawmakers, stating that the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State to rise and check the excesses of the speaker.
Speaking at a press conference jointly addressed by Shina Loremikan of Campaign Against Impunity, Femi Lawson, Mogbojuri Kayode (Centre for Accountability), Funmi Jolade Ajayi (Community Women Initiatives), Olanike Akanji (Lagos Island Women Vanguard) and Olarinde Thomas (Yoruba Youth Assembly), the coalition requested for an independent panel to probe the allegations and all issues, including alleged financial mismanagement and corruption against the speaker.
While the external interventions are on, a report surfaced over the weekend that the offices of the four embattled lawmakers were allegedly broke into and their personal belongings removed.
It was learnt that a principal officer of the House led some unidentified persons to the offices when workers were not around. A source said the offices of the embattled Chief Whip and the Deputy Majority Leader were forcefully opened and their personal belongings removed.
He said: “We were reliably informed that the offices of the Chief Whip and the Deputy Majority Leader, were forcefully opened today (Saturday) and their belongings removed. The keys to their offices were changed so that they would no longer have access to them.’’
Offices of the removed principal officers were allegedly sealed, while the other two suspended members were never allowed access to their offices.
Still over last weekend, an online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, published a report allegedly highlighting a list of companies the speaker had allegedly been using to award contracts to himself and launder public funds.
The report alleged that Obasa primarily used De Kingrun Multipurpose Nigeria Ltd for securing and implementing contracts from the parliament and ministries.
But speaking on Monday at plenary, Obasa denied allegations of awarding contracts to himself, just as he stated that there was no relationship between the alleged De Kingrun Multipurpose Nigeria Limited and the Lagos State House of Assembly.
He said: “Let me also join you to emphasize that what was published by ‘Sahara Liar’ has nothing to do with me. I said it two weeks ago when the publication was out about De Kingrun, and I made my position known on that.
“But the fact remains that De Kingrun has no relationship with the Lagos State House of Assembly. And I am challenging ‘Sahara Liars and Failures’ to publish if there is any. At least, they have alleged and they must be able to prove by giving out the name of such contracts, the amount, the location, the date and the contractual agreement.
“So, with this, the public would be convinced that truly such allegation exists. But, as we speak, I am saying emphatically that there is no relationship between De Kingrun and Lagos State House of Assembly. So, Sahara Liars and Failure you can prove me wrong.”
No doubt, the last is yet to be heard on the Lagos Assembly crisis, but ith reports that the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) is being convened to intervene on the issue, it is clear that there are forces racing against the leadership of the House. However, only time will tell how it will eventually pan out.