Anambra South: Uba brothers take battle to Appeal Court

| November 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

The crisis rocking the leadership of minority parties in the House of Representatives took a different dimension last week when the lower chamber resolved to investigate the Kingsley Chinda-led faction.
PHILIP NYAM examines the role of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and why the problem subsists

 

 

 

 

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ince the emergence of Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) as the minority leader of the House of Representatives on July 3, there has been no love lost between his team and the leadership of his party and the foremost opposition party in the National Assembly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Elumelu and his team made up of Hon. Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) as deputy leader, Hon. Gideon Gwani (PDP, Kaduna) as minority whip and Hon. Adesehun Adekoya (PDP, Oyo) as deputy minority whip had unsettled the PDP hierarchy, which consequently constituted a probe panel headed by former Senate President, Senator Iyorchia Ayu to look into the circumstances leading to their emergence and made appropriate recommendations.

 

 

The PDP had endorsed Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) as a minority leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra) as deputy minority leader, Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna) as minority and Hon. Ajibola Muraina (PDP, Oyo) as deputy minority whip.

 

Unfortunately, the Ayu-led panel was also enmeshed in controversy leading to the resignation of its secretary and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Austin Opara before the submission of its report in September. The case of the panel was worsened following allegations of corruption leveled against it by Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike. Subsequently, the Board of Trustees (BOT) itself also displayed a divisive posture when it disagreed over the submission or otherwise of the report of the panel. While, chairman of the BOT, Senator Walid Jibrin denied that the panel had not submitted its report, secretary of the BOT, and former Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara confirmed the report had been submitted.

 

How it all started

 

 

On July 3, the House of Representatives plenary had proceeded peacefully until Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila attempted to announce the names of minority leaders through a letter written and signed by members of minority parties in the chambers. Hon. Kingsley Chinda, had raised a point of order, citing Order 6 Rule 1 of the house, which says members of minority parties in the house shall choose someone with experience to lead them.

 

He said the leadership of his party had written to the speaker to inform him of its choice for the positions, asking Gbajabiamila to adopt the list sent by the PDP. The leadership of the PDP had written to the speaker to state its preference for Chinda as minority leader, Chukwuka Onyema as deputy minority leader; Yakubu Barde, minority whip and Muraina Ajibola, deputy minority whip. The party said it chose the lawmakers for the positions ‘in accordance with extant laws, House rules, conventions and general legislative practices worldwide’.

 

“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after wide consultations with house caucus, the party leadership from the geo-political zones and the national working committee (NWC) hereby forward the names of the duly agreed and approved house minority leadership as follows,” the letter read.

 

 

But Gbajabiamila said there were nine minority political parties and the PDP alone could not determine who led the minority. He consequently ruled Chinda out of order and moved to read a letter, which he said was signed by 99 members of minority political parties on the leadership positions, but he was booed just as some lawmakers left their seats and started struggling for the mace.

 

 

Members of the sergeant-at-arms rushed in to prevent them from seizing the mace and some lawmakers started fighting in the process. It became a ding dong affair, but the rowdiness did not deter Gbajabiamila from making the announcement as he went ahead to read the letter, announcing Ndidi Elumelu as minority leader, Toby Okechukwu as deputy minority leader, Gideon Gwani as minority whip and Adesegun Adekoya as deputy minority whip. Shortly after reading the letter, the speaker then adjourned plenary to the next day as his supporters praised him while the Chinda group booed him.

 

Elumelu and his team was immediately congratulated by the party’s BOT chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin, who later recanted his congratulatory message. Other stakeholders in the party such as elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark also hailed the emergence of Elumelu. But the party’s leadership kicked against it and Governor Wike was also vociferous in condemning the actions of Elumelu and his group.

 

 

It was after this incidence that the PDP constituted the panel led by Senator Iyorchia Ayu to investigate. Other members of the embattled panel were former Senate Presidents Adolphus Wabara and David Mark, former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu and former Deputy Speaker of the House, Austin Opara, who was the secretary. The party had also suspended the Elumelu leadership alongside Hon. Wole Oke (PDP, Osun), Linda Ikpeazu (PDP, Anambra) and Anayo Edwin (PDP, Ebonyi).

 

 

But before the panel could submit its report in September, the centre could not hold again, and Opara, the secretary resigned his membership and his state governor, Wike dropped the bombshell alleging acts of corruption by the panel members.

 

 

The probe

 

 

The House last week resolved to probe Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) for allegedly arrogating to himself the title of the leader of the PDP caucus in the House.  The House ethics and privileges committees, which has been mandated to interrogate Chinda is expected to also probe former deputy minority leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema (PDP, Anambra), the former minority whip, Hon. Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna) and Hon. Ajibola Muraina (PDP, Oyo) for allegedly parading themselves as leaders of the PDP caucus. 

 

 

The decision was taken followed the adoption of a matter of privilege raised by Hon. Ben Igbakpa (PDP, Delta) at last Wednesday’s plenary. Presenting his matter of privilege, Igbakpa informed that Chinda, Onyema, Barde and Muraina have been issuing statements as leaders of the PDP caucus in the House submitting that the positions are unknown to the rule of the House.

 

 

He argued that the actions of the quartet violate Section 24 of the Legislative Houses (Power and Privilege) Act, as well as the extant Standing Orders of the House.

 

Citing Order 1(1) and (2) of the Standing Order of the House, Igbakpa maintained that “it is common knowledge that on July 3, 2019, the Honourable Speaker, in line with Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives (which empowered the minority parties to nominate their leaders), announced the Minority leaders of the House. This was consequently published in the votes and proceedings of the same date.

 

 

“In spite of this, Mr. Speaker, some members of this House, Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Chukwuma Onyema, Hon. Umar Barde and Hon Muraina Ajibola parading themselves as PDP caucus leader, deputy caucus leader, minority whip and deputy minority whip have been issuing public statements outside the nomenclature of this House; misleading the general public and causing confusion and disaffection in the House of Representatives. This is a gross abuse of our collective and individual privileges…I hereby call on this House to investigate this and bring the perpetrators to book.”

 

 

In his ruling, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Ahmed Idris Wase, who presided over the session, referred the matter to the ethics and privileges committee.

 

 

Chinda’s reaction

 

 

But reacting to the decision of the House to investigate him, Chinda insisted that he has the authority of the PDP to function as the leader of the opposition party’s caucus in the House. According to him, “I am the PDP caucus leader in the House with the authority and consent of the party. PDP is a registered political party and a creation of Law and not the Rules of the House. PDP has its leaders in units, communities, amongst students, traders, professionals, and parliamentarians. These leaders are recognised by the party as such. 

 

 

“I have the mandate of the PDP to act as its leader in the House. Other minority parties are free to have their caucus leadership. I don’t see how that offends the Rule or law of the House or the constitution.”

 

PDP’s reaction

 

 

The National Working Committee of the PDP also took sides with Chinda saying its suspension of Elumelu and some of its lawmakers in the House subsists. The party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said, “The National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wishes to clarify its position on the PDP Caucus at the House of Representatives as follows:

 

“That the suspension placed on some PDP members who connived with others to supplant the party decision with regards to party positions in the House is subsisting and has not been lifted.

 

 

“That the suspended members of the party cannot, therefore, conduct any business of the party at whatever level until disciplinary measures have been concluded.

 

 

“That the National Working Committee (NWC) in its wisdom, knowing that nature abhors a vacuum and consistent with its position on the matter which has not changed, directed that the affairs of the PDP Caucus of the House of Representatives be organised and managed by Hon. Kingsley Chinda, Hon. Yakubu Barde, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema and Hon. Muraina Ajibola.”

 

 

Ologbondiyan also stated that the Chinda group has the mandate and authority of the PDP to lead its caucus in the House of Representatives adding that the PDP “will not reward disloyalty and will not allow anyone other than the party to impose their choices with the sole aim of annihilating or stifling the voice of the opposition.

 

 

“All PDP National Assembly members and organs are to note this and accord the irreversible party choices the necessary support to execute the party’s mandate in distinction as they have been doing so far.”

Elumelu’s fight back

 

 

But Elumelu rose is stout defence of his position saying the statement from the PDP painting him as a disloyal member of the party lacks fairness and is an affront on the rule of law. Elumelu, who spoke through his special adviser on legal matters, Barr. Oyorima Idahosa said “the attention of the leadership of the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives under Hon. Ndudi Elumelu has been drawn to allegations of disloyalty leveled against it in a statement issued by the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Friday.”

 

 

He said “This is completely against the principle of democracy, rule of law and fairness upon which our great party, the PDP is founded and known since its formation 21 years ago.

 

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Minority leadership of the House of Representatives was elected in strict observance of Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Order 7 Rule 8 of the Standing Rule of the House of Representatives.”

 

 

According to him, “Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously provides that “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the Senate or the House of Representatives shall have power to regulate its own procedure, including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House.”

 

“Accordingly, Order 7 Rule 8 clearly states that: “Members of the Minority Parties in the House shall nominate from among them, the Minority Leader, Minority Whip, Deputy Minority Leader, and Deputy Minority Whip.

 

 

“This, the overwhelming majority of the Minority Caucus comprising nine political parties (PDP, APGA, ADC, LP, SDP, PRP, AA, APM, ADP) did, and communicated their decision to the Speaker in a letter dated 2nd July 2019 and signed by over 100 members of the 147-Member Caucus.”

 

 

He contended that: “By parliamentary rules persons so elected become the leaders of the party caucuses in the legislature. While the party can GUIDE their elected Members through the zoning of various Minority leadership offices, it is not in the place of the party, by the provisions of the Constitution, House Standing Rule, and parliamentary traditions, to Appoint or Foist Minority or Majority Caucus leadership on its Members.

 

 

“The conduct of the lawmakers in choosing their leaders, therefore, falls within the framework of the spirit, ideals, beliefs and underlining principles of the PDP and our founding fathers, who championed the enthronement of the tenets of democratic practice in Nigeria.

 

 

“It would be recalled that a similar attempt by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to foist leadership of the Majority Caucus on the National Assembly in 2015 could not stand as such obnoxious action was vehemently resisted by the Senate, which stuck to the list of elected leaders of the Majority Caucus submitted by APC Senators. 

 

 

“The stand of our great party, which also had Prince Uche Secondus, the current National Chairman, as the Acting National Chairman at the time, is still very fresh on the minds of Nigerians. The PDP strongly criticised and lampooned the APC for impunity and meddlesomeness in the internal affairs of the parliament.

 

 

“It is, therefore, ironical that the same party, under the same Chairman, has now chosen the same path for which they pilloried the APC in 2015.

 

 

“It is even more distressing that the same party, under the same Chairman, has now branded the Minority leadership and their colleagues who transparently elected them, as disloyal for the simple reason that they strictly followed the Constitution, the Standing Rule of the House and best parliamentary traditions.

 

 

“Such malicious allegation is therefore totally insupportable as Hon. Elumelu and his colleagues in the PDP remain loyal and law-abiding members of the party.

 

 

“It is equally curious that over four months after various organs of the party set up Committees to investigate this matter and related issues bordering on PDP National Assembly Caucus within two weeks, the party has been reluctant and/or refused to consider the reports of these various Committees so that the issues can be laid to rest.

 

 

“Moreover, the endless suspension of loyal party members outside the provisions of the PDP Constitution, 1999 Constitution, and rules of parliament as palpably oppressive.

 

 

“In this regard, Hon. Elumelu and the members of the Minority leadership in the House respectfully urges the leadership of our great Party to weigh its actions and not allow certain individuals with vested personal interests to destroy the reputation and democratic foundations of the PDP, a party Nigerians look up to for direction at a time like this.

 

 

“Indeed, those who stand behind the scene spurring such disorder in our great party for their personal interests do not wish both the PDP and our dear nation any good.”

 

 

The confusion

 

 

It is surprising that the PDP as a party is dilly-dallying on the report of the panel and has been unable to take a decision almost four months after the crisis. Now, with the Chinda led group, being endorsed as the party’s caucus leadership in the House, a decision that did not go down well with the Elumelu’s minority leadership, which saw this as a ploy to undermine their authority, the opposition in the lower chamber would be further weakened.  This is the first time in the history of the House since 1999, that the biggest minority party would have two leaderships; one controlling the entire minority and another claiming to be in charge of the party. This scenario has been fostered by the inability of the PDP leadership to take a definite position on its stance on the emergence of the minority leadership.

 

 

Although the Chinda’s faction is laying claim to the superiority of the party, the Elumelu leadership hinges its position on the provisions of the standing rules of the House, which states that only lawmakers can choose their party leaders in the chambers.  And with the leadership of the House led by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, standing firm on the provisions of the House standing orders and rules, both the PDP and the Chinda faction may be fighting a lost battle and the PDP will be further polarised. Besides allegations of corruption, no leadership has ever been unseated in the House on account of not being the choice of a particular party. In 2011, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha (now governors of Sokoto and Imo), against the directive of the PDP contested and won election as speaker and deputy speaker respectively. The same scenario played itself out in 2015 when Hon. Yakubu Dogara and Hon. Suleiman Lasun Yussuff, went against the All Progressives Congress (APC) zoning arrangement to emerge as speaker and deputy speaker at the expense of Hon. Demi Gbajabiamila and Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno.

 

 

In both circumstances, the parties felt slighted but they had to allow sleeping dogs to lie because the majority of the lawmakers were solidly behind them. It is instructive to observe that Hon. Elumelu and his faction have the support of majority of the lawmakers from minority parties. In fact, from the figures presented when he crisis emanated, Hon. China’s faction does not enjoy the backing of any lawmaker from the other eight minority parties. Analysts are of the view that instead of forcing the Elumelu led leadership to resign, the PDP should have reconciled Elumelu and Chinda in order to forge a strong opposition in the chamber, if not the Gbajabiamila led leadership may not experience any strong opposition in its tenure.

 

 

Some have argued that the PDP cannot afford to thrive on controversy as an opposition party and must, therefore, mend its fences especially now that her presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has also lost at the Supreme Court against President Muhammadu Buhari.

 

 


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