By Kelechi Mejuobi
When British writer and political publicist, Ernest Benn came up with the claim “politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”, he may have had the dramatis personae of the evolving dramatic scenes of the Imo State House of Assembly in mind.
After the upheaval that saw leadership change which swept off Chiji Collins of Isiala Mbano State constituency as Speaker, and the emergence of the Onuimo representative, Paul Emeziem, the State legislature is in the news again for wrong reasons.
Remarkably, since the nascent democracy debuted, ruckus has always been part of the legislative process. But the recent discharging of six of the members from the Assembly complex, adds to another watershed in the history of the state assembly.
Few weeks ago, a specially designed democratic coup d’ etat, peculiar to this legislative arm, was executed which saw to the suspension of six of the 27 House members.
According to reports, after Speaker Emeziem and others met at an Executive Session without the knowledge of the victims, the moved into the House complex to execute the plot. Before the suspended lawmakers could detonate the design, their suspension order was announced as the gavel sounded to authentic the pronouncement.
Amidst staccato of gun shots that greeted the sanction in the House of Assembly complex, former majority leader of the House and comedian Uche Ogbuagu, Minority Leader, Anyadike Nwosu and a strong voice, Philip Ejiogu of Owerri North were sholved aside.
Others who received the Speaker’s hammer were Nelson Ezerioha, the House Committee Chairman on Information before the standing Committee of the House was dissolved, Michael Crown Onyemaechi Njoku of Ihitte/Uboma and Obowo neigbour, Kennedy Ibeh.
Interestingly, of the six, except for the minority leader, Nwosu and Ejiogu who are of the PDP, the rest belong to the ruling APC.
Going memory lane, it is trite to specify that skirmishes in the House leading to impeachments and restrictions against members have always dominated operations of the Imo Assembly. The Imo State House of Assembly is a fertile ground for Surugede Dance. It is a well known in Igboland, South East part of Nigeria that “he who dances to the Surugede Dance, does not know it is the dance of the spirits”.
When Achike Udenwa was governor 1999-2003, the House witnessed an inevitable commotion that consumed the leadership. Noel Agwuocha Chukwukadibia of Ahiazu Mbaise State constituency gave way to his Aboh Mbaise brother, Godfrey Dikeocha in swift leadership change. Before then, the Owerri Municipal man, Ernest Ibejiako had held sway for few days. The change of baton cannot be divorced from divergent views arising from intra members altercations.
During Udenwa’s second term (2003 to 2007), Kelechi Kennedy Nwagwu, of Ikeduru state constituency was lucky to preside affairs of the House for four years but not without encountering hitches which challenged his position as number one lawmaker. Those found wanting entered his black book and were restricted from entering the complex for a while.
Godluck Nanah Opiah who came in after Nwagwu in 2007 had a swell time until six days to end the tenure of the House. Though, few of his colleagues found wanting received suspension hammer earlier in the life of the parliament, but the window created by Ikedi Ohakim’s departure as Governor on May 29, 2011 saw lawmakers who sought favour from the new governor, Rochas Okorocha, struck. Though, the law courts quashed their actions and restored Opiah’s tenure, but it was a sign post that the House has always been filled with landmines wanting to explode with a slide touch. One of the Opiah’s men the betrayal come up with a postulation that Imo Assembly is a “Jankara Market”.
Late Ben Uwajumogu of Ihitte Uboma state constituency may have also been lucky like Nwagwu not to have his Speakership tenure truncated, but it was a topsy-turvy journey for him as he managed to torpedo uprisings against his prime position with handful of suspension handed to perceived opposing forces.
His immediate successor from Okigwe State constituency, Acho Ihim doled out suspension tablets to not less than five colleagues in his bid to get strong hold of the House.
However, Ihim fell by the way side the way the cookies crumble. Similar to what Opiah faced, the new government of the shortlived Emeka Ihedioha administration saw Ihim’s trusted allies in the Rescue Mission political family of Okorocha turn 360 degress overnight to remove him as Speaker. The rest is history though fresh in our memory.
Come to the time of the present House. Chiji Collins emerged Speaker at the inauguration of the 9th House and consequently moved his colleagues along and smoothly until midway into the life of the House when Hope Uzodinma emerged after the Supreme Court final verdict. Having been part of the Ihedioha first eleven, his “turn coatism” and subtle efforts to be accepted by the new comer governor, Hope Uzodinma was futile. Despite the new fashion of Chiji Collins 4 Hope Face cap show piece and regular poses near the governor during government functions, his days were numbered.
No soothsayer was needed to prophesy his removal and it was a smooth operation he had no option than to accept in good faith and went ahead to congratulate his successor, Emeziem.
Despite change of guard that saw Emeziem take over from Chiji Collins, cloudy weather still pervaded the House. And perhaps, a no nonsense Onuimo lawmaker, Emeziem not in the mood to be swallowed by underground scheming of his colleagues, in full swoop hammered the six House members in what he labeled “unparliamentary conducts”. What that terminology means as reasons for the suspension of his colleagues remain a discourse for another day.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that the character traits of the House Assembly aptly fits into the Ernest Benn quotes quite distinct from what another great thinker, Charles W. Pickering submits, “A healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant and respectful”.
At this point, its pertinent to state that the people of the various state constituencies their lawmakers are suspended are great losers in the micky-mouse game played by the Imo Assembly members.
With six lawmakers suspended, their constituents would definitely lose out from representation since no one speaks their voices in state assembly.
All allowances and other entitlements due to the suspend lawmakers shall cease. No form of empowerment and other pecuniary benefits due to the lawmakers, aides and other associates shall be observed.
Squabbles among lawmakers that give rise to impeachments of the leadership and suspension of members cannot be divorced from each of the elected members quest to have a feel of the principal office, especially, office of the Speaker. The popular slogan in the House remains “All Members are equal irrespective of position occupied. Therefore, aspiring for the speakership remains an ambition of lawmakers from the zone the position is allocated. For instance, in the present House, all lawmakers of the majority party from Okigwe zone are potential Speakers. When Chiji Collins of Isiala Mbano, was removed, neigbouring Onuimo where Emeziem hails from took over. Others from the remaining four; Obowo, Ihitte Uboma, Okigwe and Ehime Mbano can emerge Speaker if a successful impeachment sees the incumbent out. To guide his position jealousy, a Speaker can move against competitors with ferocious tackles. It might not be surprising that Emeziem may have suspected a gang up against his seat hence the decision to put the suspects and acolytes in the cooler.
One common feature that has always destabilized unity of purpose in the House is issue of Caucus. No Speaker operates without a “ruling caucus” in Imo Assembly. The ruling caucus is the selected group who runs the affairs of the state legislature with Speaker. These allies are the Speakers “ hitmen” and always employed to do the hatchet job against colleagues. Those not part of the main caucus may not be carried along in the scheme of things, hence schism will always crop up. Schismatic tendencies always give rise to mutual suspicion and the by product is either impeachment or suspension of members suspected to be plotting removal of principal officials.