The plenary of the House of Representatives on Wednesday became rowdy following the protest by some sympathisers of the sacked House Chairman on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who felt a member had moved a motion to suspend Jibrin. Trouble started after the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Emmanuel Orker-jev, raised a point of order. He was recongnised to speak by the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara.
After welcoming his colleagues back to plenary, Orker-jev urged them to disappoint journalists, who had predicted a rowdy session by allowing peace to prevail in the chamber. He asked for and received permission to move a motion, citing a breach of the privileges of the House as well as that of members. The lawmaker noted that the House had come under heavy attack by the allegations of budget padding being made by a member.
At this point, all eyes were on Jibrin, who was dressed in a white flowing gown as he stood from his seat, stepped out of the chamber and returned minutes later with a stash of documents. Members of the internal security arm of the National Assembly kept him under close watch as some moved to protect the mace.
Orker-jev proceeded to read his motion titled, ‘Breach of privileges of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, National Assembly and provisions of the Legislative House’s Powers and Privileges Act, CAP, L12, LFN’. Things went on smoothly as members listened attentively until he got to the point where he mentioned Jibrin’s name.
Some lawmakers, believed to be members of the Transparency Group, started shouting, “No, no, no!”, colliding with shouts of “Dogara, Dogara, Dogara” as pro-Dogara members began to distribute green scarves with the inscription ‘I stand with Dogara’ boldly written in white.
Some tied it on their heads; others hung it on their shoulders, while others tied it to their waists. The rest of the motion was drowned in the noise which followed. When a relative calm was restored after about 20 minutes, Dogara told his colleagues that copies of the motion would be distributed. He, however, said he would read the only prayer of the motion, which was to refer the matter to the Ethics and Privileges Committee for proper investigation.
The committee was given one week to submit its report. At this point, another member, believed to be Jibrin’s supporter, Aliyu Madaki, raised another Point of Order amidst protests from other lawmakers. Dogara, nevertheless, recognised him after jokingly telling him, “You are reaping what you sowed. When others were speaking, you did not allow them.”
Madaki then went on to explain that Orker-Jev’s motion was not seconded before it was referred to the committee, but was overruled. The motion was, however, passed and referred to the ethics and privileges committee. Jibrin could be heard saying, “I won’t get a fair hearing” a couple of times.
This was happening at about a time when a group of protesters, under the aegis of the Coalition in the Defence of Democracy, staged a protest at the main entrance of the National Assembly, demanding Jibrin’s immediate suspension. Convener of the protest and President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Imo Ugochinyere, said the protest was organised to defend the integrity of the National Assembly.
He alleged that there was a plot to destabilise the National Assembly using the sacked appropriation committee chairman.
“Despite knowing the powers of the legislature in appropriation as provided in sections 59, 81 and 82 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Hon. Jibrin obliged himself to negative democratic influences, who are willing to go the extra mile to derail democracy,” he said.
Earlier, Dogara in an address of welcome he read during plenary, stated that the leadership of the House had exercised great restraint in the face of consistent attacks and unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing by Jibrin. He said the events of recent weeks gave cause for grave concern and posed existential threats to the corporate integrity and image of the House as a democratic institution. Dogara stated:
“Shortly after we adjourned for recess, our colleague and erstwhile Chairman, Appropriation Committee, embarked on a strange propaganda clearly aimed not only at the destruction of the image of some members but a systematic destruction of the institution of the House of Representatives and indeed the legislature by portraying it to the public as an irredeemably corrupt institution.”
“The chief motivation for his actions, as he has said several times and repeatedly is to have the four principal officers removed from their positions and not that the truth should be known. It was T. S. Eliot, who once said, ‘The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reasons’.
“Unfortunately, T. S. Elliot didn’t tell us what it is when someone does the wrong deed for the wrong reasons. These wild allegations, which were initially directed at four members of the House leadership, progressively engulfed the entire membership of the House and then the institution.”
The Speaker added:
“We chose the part of maturity by maintaining great restraint in the face of all these, fully conscious of the fact that at the appropriate time, the truth will prevail. I have bad news for those who think they can pull down this institution of the people.”
He stated that members were also patriotic enough to understand the mood of the nation and the critical and sensitive matters of urgent national importance deserving of immediate attention. Dogara said:
“We will, therefore, not be distracted by any insidious antics, however well orchestrated and falsehoods however cleverly propagated to confuse Nigerians. We remain accountable to Nigerians for our conduct as public servants.”
“This is not the appropriate venue to address allegations made against individual honourable members, many of who are criminal in nature, as there are constitutional avenues for that.”
“This is more so that these matters are before all the security agencies and ridiculously before some foreign missions.”
Meanwhile, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties has called on Dogara and other principal officers of the House, who were accused in the budget padding saga in the chamber, to step down immediately. It said this would enable the House and security agencies to investigate the matter. CNPP said it agreed on this decision at a meeting held by its national leadership in Abuja on Tuesday.
The CNPP, in a statement signed by its National Chairman, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and the Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, in Abuja on Wednesday, vowed “to mobilise Nigerians to occupy the National Assembly if the Speaker and his accused colleagues refuse to listen to the voice of reason.”
The body maintained that “it is out of place for the House leadership to continue to be the judge in their own case”. The statement added:
“The best way to lay to rest the budget padding allegation is for the speaker and the principal officers of the House to step aside. Anyone, whose hands are clean, should not be afraid to submit himself or herself to investigation.”
“To us, the budget fraud allegation, running into billions of naira, is grave enough for the leadership of the House of Representatives to disqualify itself from presiding over the House to allow for internal self-cleansing and to give room to the security agencies to do a thorough job.”