Anambra: Drama over Speaker’s seat lingers

Major actors in the impeachment drama in Anambra State House of Assembly have retired to the rural communities to perfect their final plans in the battle to either save or impeach the embattled Speaker, report Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu and Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan

For about a month before the Thursday, April 6, 2017 report of the impeachment drama in Anambra State House of Assembly, there were clear indications that all was no longer well in the House which used to pride itself as one of the most united and peaceful in the country.

According to an insider source, by middle of March this year, it has become obvious that even some influential All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) committee chairmen and members, who were known as the Speaker’s close associates, were beginning to express openly, their dissatisfaction with the way things were going on in the House. Our source confided that both the leadership of the House and the governor seemed not to realise how deep the expressed sentiments had degenerated. So, the lawmakers’ sentiments remained mere complaints until that fateful Tuesday, when the Speaker, Hon. Rita Maduagwu, got wind of his colleagues’ determination to impeach her that day.

To frustrate the move, she bolted with the Mace before the commencement of the day’s plenary, leaving behind about 28 lawmakers, who waited endlessly for her entrance into the hallowed chamber. What followed was anger and swearing to pursue to its logical conclusion, their resolve to change leadership.

To appease the anger of the lawmakers, who felt insulted by the Speaker’s action, Governor Willie Obiano had to drive to the House that morning to address the lawmakers. At the end of the drama and the parley, Majority Leader, Victor Jideoffor Okoye, moved a motion for the House to reconvene on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Hon. Onyebuchi Offor seconded the motion.  That was just the first scene of the Anambra State Assembly impeachment drama.

A week after the curtain opened, The Nation learnt that the drama that ensued has become more complicated with the business of the Assembly put on hold while lawmakers and people of the state are left to wonder over the whereabouts of both the Speaker and the Mace.

Last Tuesday, Maduagwu, believed to be worried over the said plot by her colleagues to impeach her, remained underground and failed to reconvene the House. This is in spite of the fact that the House had last week adjourned sitting to the same Tuesday. Sources close to her also declined to disclose her whereabouts when asked by The Nation.

This is amidst growing allegations that she eloped from the Assembly during the last sitting with the Mace. Just as her current location is unknown, the whereabouts of the Mace, the Assembly’s instrument of authority, is also shrouded in controversial secrecy.

When contacted by reporters during the week, the embattled Speaker, who refused to say anything on the ongoing drama or her whereabouts, merely allayed any fear over her safety as she continuously affirmed that she is very safe where she is. “I am safe. I am ok,” she kept saying.

But no concrete word of explanation has emerged from her camp over the failure of the Assembly to sit last Tuesday, except one of her aides, who said off record that the lawmakers could not sit because of the Easter festivities.

However, speculations continue to thrive as observers of the politics of the state predict more confusion for the legislative arm in the days ahead.

A member of the Assembly, speaking to The Nation on condition of anonymity, said the inability of the House to sit on Tuesday is because the crisis within the Assembly is yet to be resolved. The lawmaker from Anambra Central said the disagreement between the camps of pro and anti Maduagwu lawmakers in the House is assuming a more serious dimension on a daily basis.

“As a member of the Assembly, I am worried. As a citizen of Anambra, I am bothered. This is because what is happening is not healthy for us, especially at a time like this. We have tried to get our members to sit down and discuss in the interest of the people, but politics is being allowed to destroy the business of legislation,” he lamented.

It would be recalled that last Thursday, the Speaker allegedly disappeared with the Mace, the  symbol of authority of the House, to her Ukpor country home in Nnewi South Local Government  Area when she sensed that her colleagues had concluded plans to impeach her over alleged highhandedness and other sundry offences.

More drama amidst confusion

The Nation learnt that in her bid to forestall her possible impeachment by her colleagues at Tuesday’s planned sitting, the Speaker had caused a bulk SMS message to be sent to all legislators, as well as staff of the House of Assembly, to the effect that there will be no plenary on the said day.

The messages, according to sources, were sent on Monday, a day before the adjourned day. And when surprised lawmakers made efforts to reach the hiding Speaker for clarification, they met a brick-wall as all effort to get her comment on the development reportedly yielded no fruit.

“We didn’t sit on Tuesday. I don’t know why we didn’t sit really but I got a text message on Monday that there will be no sitting. I asked around and discovered that all other members got same message. I didn’t hear from the Speaker but those who tried to ask her said they didn’t get to hear much from her.

You will recall that at the last sitting, we adjourned, through a motion moved by the Majority Leader, Victor Jideoffor Okoye, and seconded by Onyebuchi Offor, to reconvene Tuesday this week. But the text message changed all that and the sitting did not hold,” he said.

But Honourable Chigbo Enwezor, the member representing Onitsha North 1 State Constituency, explained that he got a text that the House would not sit on Tuesday because they were on Easter break. According to him, though it is true that the House agreed to reconvene that day, the text message actually gave the Easter holiday as a reason for the cancellation.

The House, he said, is likely to reconvene after the Easter break. But findings by The Nation revealed that unless the leadership crisis rocking the Assembly is resolved before then, the hope of the House sitting soon after the holiday may remain a mere wish.

It was gathered that several efforts by prominent individuals, including Governor Willy Obiano, to nip the crisis in the bud, have failed as lawmakers opposed to the continued reign of Mrs. Speaker are insisting on her impeachment. “The only option they gave her is for her to resign,” a source said.

This, The Nation learnt, is just as Maduagwu on her part, vowed not to resign her position. According to sources close to her, her refusal to accept the resignation option is due to her insistence that all the allegations against her are politically motivated.

Search for the Mace

And as the whereabouts of the Mace remained unknown, speculations are rife about the possible places the Assembly’s symbol of authority could be hidden by the embattled Speaker in her determination to ensure that she is not impeached by her colleagues.

Recently, following insinuations that the Mace may have been hidden away in some unexpected public places, including caves and shrines, the Chief Priest of Ogbunike Cave, in Oyi Local Government Council Area of the state, had to clear the air that the Assembly’s Mace is not in the revered cave.

According to a report in one of the national dailies, the Chief Priest said: “You should look for the Mace at Nnewi; the Speaker is not from Ogbunike. Maybe she kept it in Nnewi. They have their own god that looks after them and their properties.”

In the same report, former President- General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, urged those looking for the Mace to look in the direction of places like the Akpo Ogwugwu Ukpor, because since the embattled Speaker is from Ukpor, she is most likely to hide the Mace closer home.

“The Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Agwu, is not an indigene of Nnewi as speculated in some quarters. She is from Ukpor, which is in Ekwusigo Local Government Area. They should look for the Mace at Akpo Ogwugwu Ukpor and not Ogbunike Cave because she must have taken a cue from the former Senate President, the late Chuba Okadigbo,” he said.

But another member of the Assembly told The Nation that all the allegations that the Speaker hid the Mace in any of the places being mentioned are mere snide remarks. The lawmaker from the Awka zone of the state accused those opposed to Maduagwu of spreading false rumour about her.

“It is unimaginable to say the Speaker is hiding in a cave or shrine with the Mace. She has said severally that she is not on the run. The House is on holiday and it will be reconvened at the appropriate time. Those who want Maduagwu out at all cost are the ones spreading all these lies,” he said.

But a lawyer and Human Rights activist, Onyebuchi Uzoma, told The Nation on Thursday that the crisis in Anambra State House of Assembly has become complicated following what he called “immaturity of the members.” Before now, he said, “it has become obvious to every informed observer that most of the members of Anambra State House of Assembly had become either completely dissatisfied with the way things were going, or were ill informed on the fundamental proceedings of the legislative House. That is why many of them are constantly absent at both plenary and committee meetings. They only appear to collect allowances. They exhibited their inexperience by the way they went about the ill-fated impeachment. To worsen the matter, when the Speaker foiled the bid, the overzealous lawmakers, especially the Majority Leader adjourned the alleged sitting and fixed a date to reconvene. This action was faulty ab initio. This is because you cannot adjourn a plenary that never held.”

According to him, it was not enough for the Majority Leader to announce an adjournment. What they needed was to ensure there was a properly elected presiding officer, perhaps, the Deputy Speaker, to authenticate their meeting that day before announcing an adjournment.

“Also, I agree with the observers who said the action of the 28 lawmakers, who allegedly brought in an old wooden Mace, in place of the missing Mace, in order to carry out the alleged sitting was not just unacceptable but criminal. Except you are merely acting in a drama, you can’t smuggle in a contrivance, and call it the Mace, the authority of an authentic legislative House of a state. That was the height of the display of immaturity that has complicated the Anambra impeachment saga,” he said.

Before the present face-off, the current Anambra State House of Assembly, which has majority APGA members, was considered to be very peaceful and united. Ozo Ray, an analyst, commenting on the unity of the legislative House last October had said, “To all intents and purposes , the 6th Anambra State House of Assembly could be rated amongst the most peaceful , vibrant and proactive state  legislatures in the country, devoid of confusion and rancour. Issues of balcanisation, impeachment moves, secret plots as well as other anti-democratic tendencies are none existent in the current state assembly. This is largely due to the way and manner in which the incumbent Speaker, Rt.Hon. Rita Maduagwu, pilots the affairs of the House.” All that has since changed as most of the members have vowed to take on the Maduagwu-led leadership of the Assembly.

Our investigation during the week however shows that the seed of discord, now threatening the unity of the House did not just start overnight.

Even Ray had in his assessment of the Assembly last year pointed out that “the present crop of lawmakers could be categorised into active and passive lawmakers.”

According to him, “while some of the lawmakers spend the greater part of the legislative year making oversea trips, a handful of others blatantly absent themselves frequently from plenary despite promises of quality representation to constituents during electioneering periods. Some lawmakers have become strangers to their constituents. For some of those who endeavour to attend legislative sessions ended up keeping mute during discussions and debates, only to approach the accounts department thereafter to collect sitting allowance.”

These are part of the suppressed sentiments that set the stage for the current impeachment plot as critics of Maduagwu accuse her of not carrying them along. But her supporters insist she is a wonderful leader, whose current travail has more political roots than issue of leadership ability.

As the Speaker’s supporters retire to the rural communities in the state to meet with grassroots leaders and work behind the scene during this Easter holiday in order to resolve the matter peaceably before the lawmakers’ resumption, it has become obvious that the last has not been heard of the impeachment drama in Awka. Can Maduagwu appease her colleagues and retain the plum seat? That is the question that remains to be answered.


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