Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Benue House - Swinging Chair

AFTER months of intrigues and clandestine meetings David Iorhemba was forced to resign as Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly. His resignation is reflective of the muscle that legislators can flex when they are resolute in any power contest with the executive branch.

THE much-sought peace returned to the House last Wednesday with the election of a new Speaker, Emmanuel Teryila Ayua representing Gwer -East state constituency.

Ayua is the third presiding officer of the House to be elected since its inauguration last year.

The first Speaker, Terhembe Tarzohor, had his election nullified by the appeal court barely three months after his election.

Iorhemba succeeded him but lost the confidence of members and had to resign his appointment barely a year in office to escape impeachment. 28 out of 30 members of the House had reportedly signed the impeachment notice to sack him before he stepped down on his own.

The crisis that rocked Benue House

Iorhemba was compelled to tender his resignation letter following allegations of lack of financial disclosure and high headedness leveled against him by members.

Iorhemba's 'sins' date back to last January when the legislators gathered at Obudu for their botched annual retreat and conference.

At that ill fated conference, early in the year, the lawmakers staged a walk out on Governor Gabriel Suswam at the venue of the retreat after insisting that Governor Suswam must hand over Prado SUV keys to them as he did to members of the Sixth Assembly in 2007 when they attended a similar retreat in Obudu, Cross River State.

Vanguard gathered that Governor Suswam had complained to the lawmakers of lack of funds as a result of the fact that subsidy in petroluem products as not completely removed as it had been envisaged that the present administration would do at the begining of the year.

He also maintained that the budget was yet to be passed and so no serious procurement could be done at the time.

However, the lawmakers stood their ground and walked out on the governor despite all entreaties to have them change their minds.

They also threatened to impeach the speaker if he failed to toe their path, which he grudgingly succumbed to.

Vanguard, however gathered that from that day members lost confidence in the Speaker and commenced nocturnal meetings to have him shoved from office since most of them were not comfortable with his style of leadership.

Lawmakers' grouse against Iorhemba

The bottled anger came to a head penultimate Thursday after a week long battle that defied all interventions by top officials of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP including the governor.

The aggrieved lawmakers had raised allegations bothering on finance and the former speaker's close relationship to the governor at their detriment.

I'm innocent - Iorhemba

However, Iorhemba denied the allegation and maintained his innocence stressing that the allegations were trumped up and unsupported charges orchestrated to kick him out of office.

How Iorhemba was pushed out

Determined to effect a change in their leadership, Vanguard gathered that the lawmakers also compelled the Deputy Speaker, Dr. Steven Onmeje to support their cause and retain his position or in the contrary be sacked alongside the Speaker.

It was as such not surprising that Dr. Onmeje hurriedly aligned himself with his colleagues and therefore presided over the sitting where the removal of Iorhemba was executed.

At the sitting, members of G-24 comprising non-executive members of the House, led by its Chairman, Mr. Baba Ode (Otukpo/Akpa State Constituency) raised a motion on the point of constitutionality, which empowered members to remove the Speaker of the House when necessary.

Ode, who quoted section 93 of the 1999 Constitution, presented the list of 28 members who had signed an impeachment notice on the Speaker.

However, at this point Onmeje halted the process and informed the House of a purported letter of resignation that had been tendered by the Speaker.

The letter was received and tendered before the House, and no member objected to it. At that point Baba Ode moved for the adoption of the resignation letter, which was seconded by Mr. Benjamin Adayi (Makurdi South) and it was carried.

Lawani's belated effort to save Iorhemba

Meanwhile as the process was going on, the Deputy Governor of the State, Chief Steven Lawani drove into the Assembly complex to calm frayed nerves but he was not allowed into the chamber.

Few minutes later thugs took control of the chamber and snatched the Mace just as they turned the complex into a battle field. Virtually all the members were thoroughly beaten as they scampered for safety.

While the ugly incident lasted for close to one hour, the Police failed to swiftly re-enforce its personnel at the complex as the few that were present watched helplessly while the thugs had their way.

Meanwhile Vanguard gathered from an insider in the House that the last might not have been heard about the alleged resignation of the Speaker since the hand written letter of his resignation which he tendered before the House was not signed and therefore was not valid and binding.

"We actually got the hand written resignation letter, but the letter was not signed and therefore not binding. But some of my colleagues are also attesting that the Speaker was made to sign the letter before thugs swooped on the chamber to thwart the proceedings", he stated.

However, with Iorhemba backing the adoption of the new speaker, it is hoped the new found peace in the House would be long-lasting.

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