The Politics, the game and the Law in Ondo impeachment…

“All animals are equal but some are more equal than others” is a vivid quote from the book, ‘Animal Farm’ written by George Orwell. This seems to be playing out in Ondo state ahead of the primaries and election proper for the office of the governor. Barnabas Olabisi writes.

Intrigues

Political calculations and the strategic game plans were initiated, adopted and applied in ‘Animal Farm’ and the most interesting and cautious part of the whole scenario was the discriminatory application of laws which ought to have acted as caution break. The scenario in the Ondo governorship primaries seems a replication as key players have defiled some known permutations all in an attempts to outwit each other ahead of the primaries and main governorship election in November. In fact, the modus oparandi for the conduct of the primaries to select the respective candidates from the hordes of aspirants to bear the flag of participating political parties have been contentious.

Booby-traps have been laid on the paths of aspirants even as deliberate controversies have been created and canvassed to generate tension and throw the spanner in the works of some aspirants. One of such apparently, in the view of some, is the current cobwebs of impeachment process raised against the Deputy Governor of Ondo state, Hon. Agboola Ajayi.

Impeachment as obstacle

The impeachment process began few weeks back after the deputy governor dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC) party and returned to his former political fold- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Recall that Agboola Ajayi came to the political limelight on the wings of the PDP. The reunion aptly captures the common saying in the Yoruba parlance: “Omi ki san ko gbagbe orisun” meaning ‘the river does not flow without source’. He was once a councillor, party chairman and member of the House of Representatives- all on the platform of the umbrella- the logo of the PDP.

What can be described as a “Marriage of convenience and contract sojourn in the All Progressives Congress (APC) ended abruptly on the 22nd of June 2020, when he formally terminated the contract and resumed a fresh marriage with the PDP, in what some have described as an expected home-coming. 

The marriage of convenience is not exclusive to Ajayi.There are many like him formally of the PDP fold but currently domiciled in the ruling All Progressives Congress in Ondo state. Personalities like Femi Agagu, the Commissioner of Education, and the brother to iconic late Dr Olusegun Kokomo Agagu- former governor and minister- and his then Chief of Staff, Hon Abegunde Ifedayo (a.ka. Abena),the immediate past Secretary to the State Government, Rt Hon Victor Adekanye Olabintan, the Speaker of the House during the Agagu PDP-led administration, and many other prominent political high fliers who are now in the Akeredolu-led government. They had helped Ogbeni Rotimi Akeredolu to clinch power in 2016.

How impeachment began

Though the Ondo state House of Assembly had embarked on sudden recess in the wake of the alleged discovery of the controversial N10.5 billion said to have lodged in a secret account, members were summoned to return to carry out an impeachment plot against the deputy governor over supposed sundry offences. They were initially scheduled to return from the recess in September.

According to the then Speaker then, Rt Hon Bamidele Oleyelogun: “The Assembly had gone on recess in order for members go back to their various constituencies and prepare well for the forthcoming October 2020 governorship election in the state and to resume by September 2020”. Ostensibly, reason for their recall was predicated on for ‘the sake of the progress of the state’. 

Notice served

Rather than deliberate on concrete infrastructural development issues, the real intention of the assembly manifested in the impeachment served the deputy governor for alleged sundry offences. As contained in the notice, the deputy governor was claimed to have committed gross misconduct against the interest of the state and the APC. The Notice of Impeachment was signed by 14 out of the 26 members of the house. However, nine other members declined to append their signature on the notice saying the impeachment move was unjustified.

This means that it failed to meet the two third majority as required by law for the act to effected. Subsequently, the process and framework of the impeachment plots became shaky.

Besides, the rejection of the notice by the state Chief Judge for failing to meet the constitutionally required two third of the majority of members-16- also seemed to put a nail on the coffin, according to a political science don, Dr Omotosho Ojo.

Claims and counter claims

Also, there were allegations and denial over financial inducement for the lawmakers basically to facilitate the impeachment process allegedly from high quarters in the government. 

 The deputy governor, a grassroots politician, appears to be a step ahead of the governor in this regard and other plotters plotting his impeachment. 

On Monday, July 6, 2020, the deputy governor, through his Attorney, approached the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to stop the state House of Assembly from impeaching him because he exercised his fundamental right of choice of association. 

The originating motion on notice with suit no: FHC/ABJ/ CE/684/2020 had as respondents the Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police, Ondo state, Director General, Department of State Security Services, Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly, Ondo State House of Assembly. 

No source of impeachment motion

There and then, on 7th day of July 2020, the House begins the impeachment process, despite the suit notice on the matter at the Federal High Court, Abuja served on the house.

Penultimate Tuesday they had gathered at the Assembly Complex earlier than usual.  The intention for the unholy gathering became known when the Clerk of the House, Mr Bode Adeyelu, read the  motion at the hallowed chamber but did not state who the authored the motion to house, only the allegation of gross misconduct against the deputy governor,  Agboola Ajayi. 

The Speaker of the House, Mr Bamidele Oleyelogun, also confirmed to the house that he received same motion, but kept mute on the writer(s) or source of such. 

While the impeachment process was being cooked at the hallowed chamber, an open letter was written to the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu.

The letter reads “In an ideal democracy, all power, especially state power, must be exercised under law and according to the dictates of law. If law governs power then it should be able to regulate those that are subject to it. The constitution of our country and the values in it, stand supreme – above the legislature, the executive and above all judicial officers.”

The assembly in a letter dated on 7th of July requested the Chief Judge to constitute a seven-man probe panel to look into issues raised against the Deputy Governor, based on resolution of the house pursuant to section 188 (3) and (4) of the Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). And attached other said documents for basis of the impeachment.

Divided house  

The house got divided as nine members also wrote a letter to the Chief Judge of the state dissociating themselves from the ongoing plans to impeach the deputy governor.

The lawmakers are Rt Hon Iroju Ogundeji (Deputy Speaker), Hon Jamiu Sulaiman Maito, Hon Rasheed Olalekan Elegbeleye, Hon Tomide Leonard Akinribido and Hon Samuel Edamisan Ademola.

Others are Hon Favour Semilore Tomomewo, Hon Festus Akingbaso, Hon Adewale Williams Adewinle and Hon (Barr.) Torhukerhijo Success.

In their open letter, the lawmakers notified the Chief Judge of plans by the leadership of the house to suspend some of them illegally. The letter said “Kindly be informed that nine under listed elected Honourable members of Ondo state House of Assembly have duly dissociated ourselves from the ongoing impeachment process of the Deputy Governor of Ondo state, H.E.(Hon) Agboola Alfred Ajayi in a letter dated 7th July, 2020 to the Clerk and the Clerk and the Rt Hon Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly , here with attached.

“We want to state and confirm to your good office that we maintain our stand by dissociating ourselves from the impeachment process. We are not in support of the impeachment based on our individual personal conviction.

“We are rest assured that your Lordship will uphold Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) particularly Section 188 (3) (4) (5) – (11).

“It is equally worthy of note that the total membership of Ondo state House of Assembly is 26 in which 2/3 is 18 and this remains the constitutionally required number irrespective of any arbitrary suspension.

“We are writing to call your attention to the fact that all or some of us who are signatories to this letter may be suspended in order to circumvent the provision of the constitution of Nigeria, which we all swore to uphold and protect, including your honourable Lordship, as this will be contrary to the laws of the land”.

Chief Judge speaks

In reply Justice Oluwatoyin Akeredolu pointed some lacuna in the process, lectures the lawmakers on how to go about impeachment of governor or deputy governor in line with the constitution of the land and following due process. 

She referred the lawmakers to the appropriate section of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), therefore turning down the request of the speaker that she should set up a seven-man panel to investigate the allegation(s) levelled against the deputy governor and need for the house to do their homework properly.

A detailed look at the Section 188 of the constitution she quoted revealed that the method adopted by the 14 lawmakers for the impeachment notice was without recourse to law.

The allegation of gross misconduct levelled against the deputy governor was not spelt out and could not be ascertained whether it has to do with his functions as the Deputy Governor of the state or otherwise. 

The Chief Judge declared that the 14 lawmakers of the State House of Assembly did not complete all the required constitutional processes that would inform setting up of a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations levelled against the deputy governor. 

The Chief Judge informed the speaker and his cohorts that she received a letter the Attorney of the Deputy Governor, Mr. Kayode Olagoke, saying the “letter tells me clearly that the matter of impeachment of Hon Alfred Agboola Ajayi, Deputy Governor of Ondo State is subjudice.” 

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