Hon. Kombowei Benson as the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly had once survived an impeachment move in his 10 months reign in office. Osa Okhomina examines the recent charges of gross misconduct against him by the police and some members of the House over an alleged N78m fraud and the plot of another impeachment.
This is not the best of times for the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly; Hon. Kombowei Benson. He has become a target of impeachment plot by members of the Assembly and a subject of scorn by his kinsmen in Kokorosei community over his alleged role in the forceful instalment of an illegal community executive.
While the storm raging against him on the floor of the House of Assembly look unsettling and dangerous to his tenure as the Speaker, the home battle seems to have proved his recent poor rating in the state's political dynamics.
Though he narrowly survived the first impeachment plot launched against him last year, courtesy of the support of the wife of the president, Dame Patience Jonathan, but the coming tsunami against him seems to have offered fresh impetus for the present administration to dump him and enthrone a full Governor Seriake Dickson's choice of a House of Assembly Speaker.
When he survived the first impeachment plot, the Speaker of the House quickly moved closer to the Bayelsa Governor and became another shadow of loyalty in the restoration movement of Hon. Dickson. In less than eight months, the Assembly under the guidance of Kombowei Benson passed 22 executives bills and many resolutions.
Dickson, in his "countryman" manner, awarded the Assembly the best performing legislature in the South-South. According to the media aide to the Speaker, Mr. Preye Kreyamor, Rt. Hon. Konbowei's positive mien to operate the open door policy by allowing his colleagues and the public free access to office to contribute meaningfully paid off after all.
"The Laws passed by the Assembly will in no small measure, contribute meaningfully to the socio-political and economic development of Bayelsa state through the institutions they will bring into existence, with the attendant procedures that would be expressly put in place."
Data released from the office of his media aide showed that while the first state House of Assembly, which was inaugurated on June 2, 1999, passed thirty three (33) bills in four years, the second assembly, constituted on June 2, 2003, passed a maximum of thirty nine (39) bills. Equally, the third assembly, which was inaugurated on June 4, 2007, passed twenty nine (29) bills, while the Kombowei Benson led House of Assembly has passed 22 Bills into law.
"Rt. Hon. Konbowei Benson Friday has performed creditably well within this short period in office, as the sixth Bayelsan on the saddle as Speaker. Due to his pragmatic efforts to improve parliamentary transparency, with a view to provide free access to parliamentary proceedings for the citizenry and to ensure that members participate effectively in parliamentary sessions and make qualitative inputs to debates on the floor of the House."
A group, the Bayelsa Independent Watch, however described as "an Insult" and "a show of shame," the repeated excellent rating of the performance of the State House of Assembly by the governor, Hon Dickson, insisting that the rating by the governor is being done out of pity and to sooth of the bruised ego of the Assembly members.
The group said though the peaceful co-existence of the Legislature and Executive arms of the State is commendable, the commendation of the repeated claim by the governor that the present Assembly were the best in the federation is a joke and a soothing balm to the failures and bruised ego of the legislature.
The group, in a statement issued by its national coordinator, Comrade Boluwarei Benson, said the actions and rating of the State Assembly by the governor is wrong and selfish as they lack the will and creative mind to initiate bills except the passage of executive bills in the state. "Why would he rate them.If he is doing that, it is his personal and selfish rating," he said.
"It is regrettable to note that in the last few months of this new administration, they have become an avenue to pass bills into law at top speed without required public hearings and vetting. Though we hail them for keeping a very docile and quiet mien in the relationship with the executive, how do you explain the duplication of some functions and provisions of some of the bills passed."?
"We hope and pray that this timid show of the legislature and quick passages is not out of fear. We must say that the open show of deficient creativity by the House members in initiating bills or amending some is a source of concern to their constituent. It might interest them to know that what happened during the last screening out of incumbent chairmen of councils may be waiting for them when they seek re-election. t is not by being a dumping ground for executive bill and not initiate any that will endear them to the powers in the PDP. It is better to leave a mark than unnecessary resolutions as achievements"
Another Human right advocacy group known as Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative (IPDI) accused the state governor Hon. Seriake Dickson of playing shoddy games in the state house of assembly.
The group said that the speaker was imposed on the house through executive lobby and he has being the governor's boy before his emergence. The group claimed that the speaker is a tool or an agent of the Governor and that with the presence of the present speaker Rt. Hon. Kombowei Benson the house will not deliver meaningfully.
The group lamented that the governor is having too much influence in the house for selfish reasons, disregarding the laws of separation of power between the executive and the legislature. The group also alleged that the speaker only act the script of the governor in the house meetings, almost all decisions and policies of the house are being influenced by the governor through the speaker, and these are the bone of contentions between the speaker and his colleagues.
The Bayelsa Speaker, who started his political career as Councillor in Southern Ijaw Council Legislative Assembly, later became Chairman of Southern Ijaw Local Government Council and elected Into the Southern Ijaw constituency IV Seat in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 1997,remained convinced by his achievement as Speaker.
But a more dangerous slip is eroding his confidence in himself and his leadership of the Assembly at the moment.The police have concluded plans to arrest him and two others over alleged diversion of N78million commonwealth conference fund.
The other two members of the State Assembly Leadership alleged to have been fingered and listed for arrest are the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Victor Sam Ateki and the Clerk of the House, Mr. Aaron Nicodemus Timiye.
A group, the Transparency and Good Governance Coalition (TGGC), had in petition forwarded to the Inspector General of Police called on the Police to investigate the alleged misappropriation of N78 million approved by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson for the House of Assembly to attend the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
According to a source at the State Ministry of Justice,the pending arrest of the three Principal Officers of the Assembly was approved by Minister of Justice and Attorney- General of the Federation, Mr Bello Adoke and arrived at on completion of investigation into allegations of misappropriation by the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police.
Leadership gathered that the Special Fruad Unit of the Police,after establishing that the three Principal Officers were culpable, they forwarded a letter with reference number CB3514/X/SFU/ Vol 1 and dated November 7 to the office of Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) requesting for legal advice.
The office of the DPPF having studied the case file forwarded a copy to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Bayelsa State Ministry of Justice based on the fact that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the office to take action.
In a letter with reference number DPPF/ADVIL/92/2012 dated December 21 and signed by one E.K. Ugwu, an assistant director on behalf of the AGF, stated that the "offences as inferred on facts are conspiracy and fraudulent misappropriation and stealing by conversion of public funds under sections 516 and 383(2)(F) respectively, of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, applicable in Bayelsa State."
According to the letter, "this office has found that there is a prima facie case of conspiracy and fraudulent misappropriation and stealing by conversion of public funds against the leadership of the present Bayelsa State House of Assembly to wit, Hon Konbowei Benson Friday (Speaker of the House), Hon Victor Otonye Sam- Ateki (Deputy Speaker of the House) and Mr Aaron Nicodemus Timiye (Clerk of the House, hereinafter referred to as 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects, respectively) under sections 516 and 383(2) (F) of the Criminal Code Act respectively, CAP 38 laws of the Federal of Nigeria 2004."
The letter, which was received on December 27 by one Woyengife A.V., a state counsel at the Ministry of Justice, stated further: "that the said conference was meant for the House leadership and all other members were of observer status. In this regard, these other members, apart from the 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects, should be exonerated from the alleged offences as the House leadership was the brain behind the whole scenario. However, some other members of the House should be used as prosecution witnesses during the trial of the 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects in court."
The office of the AGF while acknowledging that "a perusal of the case file reveals that N21,923,000 million has been refunded or paid back to the Bayelsa State Government's treasury by both the House of Assembly generally, and by some individual members of the House from their share of the money", added that "it is this office advice that the House leadership should make good the provision of the balance of N56.77 million as restitution to make up for the misappropriated and converted public funds and pay same back to the treasury of the Bayelsa State Government as use of the money could not be justified to be in public interest."
Leadership attempts to get the position of the State Commissioner of Justice, Barr. Francis Egele failed as he was said to be engaged. But a close source in the Ministry argued that if such information is rightly passed, it will be looked into, "but as I am speaking with you now, the commissioner may have not seen it"
The group, the Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative led by its national president Comrade Ozobo Austin, secretary Peter Luke and Edonyabo Konboye P.R.O. supported the impeachment drama of the speaker as a result of 78 million fraud and the lies he told the house, they urged the house to endeavour to take courage and impeach him (The Speaker), to enable the house utilize their potentials and exhibit efficiency and integrity without fear or favour.
The state was set for his impeachement by some members of the House of Assembly and his arrest by the police looming. In a face saving effort on Tuesday, the Embattled Speaker convened an emergency session where a "kangaroo-like" vote of confidence was declared on him by his loyal members.
The Speaker of the Bayelsa House of Assembly, Hon. Konbowei Benson raised an alrm over rising plot by some politicians in the state to impeach him from office over alleged diversion of N78million fund by him and some members of the Assembly.
Kombowei Benson,after an emergency session of the House said though he has maintained his innocence over the alleged diversions of fund,some members of the State Assembly and their political sponsors are bent on impeaching him from office over a case not proved beyond reseda able doubt in a competent court of law.
According to him," Usually, there is no smoke without fire. I am aware that some House members are being incited, I am also aware that presently, signatures are being collected to remove me. The Speakership seat is no doubt an enviable position, "The Speaker, who admitted that though the members could not attend the session following their late arrival in South Africa, explained that there was no intention by the members to embezzle the money.
Konbowei, who maintained his innocence over the allegation of embezzlement, explained that Governor Seriake Dickson had approved the money for the lawmakers because of the importance of the parliamentary session to the lawmakers.
"The Governor saw the importance of the programme to the development of this Honourable House, that is why he graciously approved that sum of money for us to attend the programme.
"Quite clearly, nobody is disputing the fact that we went late for the programme. It is of note that something necessitated our late arrival. It was not our intention to go late for the programme or to embezzle any money," the Speaker stated.
Benson pointed accusing fingers at five ex-local government chairmen in the state who were investigated and removed by the leadership of the Assembly after they were found guilty of financial misconduct.
The Speaker said that the five ex-chairmen had written him sometime last year, demanding him to give explanation of what happened to the N78m approved for the House members for the trip to South Africa, which they never attended.
He disclosed that the ex-chairmen, who were bitter with him over their removal, had told him in their letter that they were empowered by the FOI bill to demand explanation from him over the N78m approval.
"These former chairmen are the brain behind the plot to remove me, presently some House members are being incited. I am also aware that signatures are being collected to move for an impeachment against me."
At the home from in the riverside Korokorosei community of Southern Ijaw local government area,Youths are warning up for battle against the Speaker.In one of the letters sent to the state chapter of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO),the youths asked the security agencies to prevail nothin not to provoke crisis in the community.
In a letter written on their behalf by a Yenagoa-based law firm, K.S Sogo and Co, Mr. Joseph Mathias-Gbeinbo, Chairman, Youth Frontiers of Korokorosei community, Mr. Rufus Gbeinbo, Mr.Victor Ikenka, Mr. Show Thomas and Mr. Ebiyeretei Lazarus, noted with concern that the peace of the community may be breached if the Speaker was not called to order.
The aggrieved community in the letter addressed to the CLO dated 24 December, 2012, and signed by Ebitari Allison, on behalf of the law firm, a copy of which was obtained available to newsmen in Yenagoa, decried what it described as deliberate attempt by the Speaker to negate its rotational arrangement for yearly election of chairman of Community Development Committee (CDC) by compounds.
The petitioners alleged Benson and his group of imposing Iniokpoemei Benson, his younger brother from Igaliwari compound, whose tenure as CDC chairman, expired on 31 December, 2012.
They noted with regret that though it was the turn of Ayakoroama compound to produce the next CDC chairman, the Speaker illegally convened a town hall meeting, where women were invited against the tradition of the people which forbids the latter from attending.
"The Rt. Hon. Konbowei Benson, even though he is neither the paramount ruler nor CDC chairman, presided over the kangaroo town hall meeting where he doled out cow, N100, 000 (One hundred thousand Naira) only and six bags of rice to each compound's representative within his gang, and directed that his younger brother, Mr. Iniokpoemi will continue in office as CDC chairman in 2013 and beyond as long he remained the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly", the petitioners alleged.
Ayakoroma compound, the community alleged had constituted an electoral committee with guidelines to conduct the election when Benson and his loyalists imposed his younger brother, Iniokpoemi on the community.
Benson, accoridng to the petition, also threatened to send his boys after anybody who tried to install another person in an attempt to remove Iniokpoemi adding that he would employ the instrumentality state to deal decisively with such persons.