Enugu lawmakers turn heat on Chime | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Enugu lawmakers turn heat on Chime

Posted: Apr 27, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Emmanuel Nzomiwu Correspondent, Enugu

Before now the Enugu State House of Assembly was seen as a rubberstamp of the executive arm of government in the State. The fact that this fifth assembly is an entirely one party house with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) producing the 24 members of the House, has not also helped matters.

Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime

Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime

For keen watchers of political events in the State, it is a mere formality to bring an executive bill, including appropriation bill/budget to the House, as such bills were often given speedy passage in the House without any scrutiny.

This pliability of the Enugu State House of Assembly to the executive arm of government gained national attention during the “chicken impeachment saga”. The House had claimed that it impeached the Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, for operating a commercial poultry farm in his official residence.

But Onyebuchi, who was nursing senatorial ambition before his impeachment, accused the House of acting out a script prepared by his boss, Governor Sullivan Chime, who wanted him out of the way to pave way for his Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, who was also eyeing the same senatorial seat. The rest is now history.

However, the turn of events in the Enugu State House of Assembly in the past two weeks have made many people to wonder if the House is still the rubberstamp of the executive or whether it has now decided to assert its authority as an Independent arm of government, less than two months to winding up its activities.

On April 2, a few days after the Presidential and National Assembly polls, the House rejected a request by Governor Chime for an approval to authorize the state government to obtain N11 billion loan from a commercial bank. The lawmakers arrived at the decision after a critical consideration of a message by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Anthony Ani (SAN), from Governor Chime.

In the message, the governor made a request for a resolution of the House to authorize Enugu State Government to issue Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) to United Bank for Africa Plc in the sum not exceeding N11 billion to cover monies paid by the state government to its contractors executing projects in the State.

The request generated a heated debate in the House with majority of the lawmakers kicking against the loan, warning that the incoming administration may find it very difficult to function with a heavy debt burden.

However, two of the lawmakers, Joseph Agbo Ugwumba (Enugu East Rural) and Johnbull Nwagu (Udi North) supported the request by the Governor.

The Speaker Eugene Odo attempted to resolve the issue through voice vote, but it failed.

Odo therefore subjected the matter to individual voting and called the names of the lawmakers one after the other and told them to vote “yes” or “no”.

At the end of the voting, the Speaker announced that out of the 17 members who attended the sitting, 13 voted against the request by the Governor, 2 voted in support and 2 abstained from voting.

Based on the result of the voting, Odo announced that the resolution was rejected. At the same sitting, the House issued an ultimatum to the Accountant General (AG) of the State, Pascal Okolie, to pay the overhead of members by April 8 or incur the wrath of the House.

The AG was billed to appear before the House the previous day and explain why the members have not received their overhead/imprest but he sent a letter to the House that he was hospitalized.

The Speaker noted that it was disheartening that, for reasons not known, an arm of government was grounded by another arm of government. Odo described the development as belittling to the Enugu State House of Assembly and the legislative arm of government all over the world. “It is executive rascality. It amounts to strangulating an arm of government for the reason that an arm of government has been asked to execute,” the Speaker said, before taking the motion for adjournment.

When the House reconvened after the Governorship and State House of Assembly election on April 14, the Chairman of House Finance and Appropriation Committee, Hon. Johnbull Nwagu, was made a scapegoat for colluding with the executive arm of government to withhold their overhead.

Leader of the house, Sunday Udo-Okoye, announced that he had an oral report to make against the Chairman of Finance and Appropriation Committee, Johnbull Nwagu.

Udo-Okoye said Nwagu told another member, Iloabuchi Aniagu, that the members would not receive their March overhead for daring to reject the proposal for N11 billion loan brought to the House by the Governor.

Udo-Okoye, who also belongs to the Committee on Finance and Appropriation, said it was clear to him that the Chairman (Nwagu) is a failure, pointing out that he rarely called meetings of the committee and even when he did so, he invited only a few people.

“As Chairman of Finance and Appropriation Committee, Nwagu who represents Udi North should follow budget implementation and report back to the House but he has failed in his duty woefully. Somebody like me who represents a known constituency, Awgu North, I am very angry that Nwagu has been going about telling us that he is close to the executive arm of government. Mr. Speaker, with this and others, I hereby move a motion that he should be suspended forthwith for the next two months,” Udo-Okoye said.

Member representing Enugu South Urban Constituency, Paul Ogbe, rose up immediately and seconded the motion for the suspension of Hon. Nwagu. But member representing Enugu East, Edward Ubochi, made frantic efforts to save the embattled lawmaker.

Ubochi suggested that rather than suspend him from the House, he should be removed as Chairman of the Committee, but other members who spoke insisted that he must be suspended to change the negative public perception of the House as a rubber stamp of the executive arm of government.

Following the heated debate generated by the matter and a failed attempt to resolve it through voice vote, the Speaker, Eugene Odo, directed the members to vote on individual basis. Out of the 18 members in attendance, 12 voted in support of the suspension of the Committee Chairman, 5 voted against, and one person abstained.

Based on the outcome of the voting, the Speaker asked Nwagu to excuse the House and he was ushered out of the Legislative Chambers by the Sergeant at Arms.

As soon as Nwagu left, the Speaker notified the House that he received a letter from the Accountant-General and asked the clerk to read the letter to the House. In the letter, the Accountant-General clearly stated that based on the dwindling revenue, a directive was given to him that the governor must authorize all cash releases to government parastals and agencies.

Some of the lawmakers reacted angrily, wondering whether an arm of government has been reduced to a parastatal. Reacting after the AG’s letter, Hon. Anichukwu expressed worry that the House has been reduced to a parastatal of the executive arm of government.

Anichukwu expressed regrets over the fact that despite all the laws they had been passing in the House, the public still saw Enugu State House of Assembly as a rubber stamp institution, warning that they must act now before people emphasized this negative public perception of the House.

The House, therefore, threatened to arrest the Accountant-General if he failed to appear the next day. It also passed a resolution condemning the allocation of the land adjacent Enugu State House of Assembly to Park and Shop as no shopping centre is located at three arms zone anywhere in the world. It condemned the allocation of part of International Conference Centre to private residents.

The House further condemned the allocation of old Eastern Nigeria Industrial Layout to private developers. It advised all the allottees against developing the land as it was against the interest of Enugu people.

The House maintained its stand that the concessioning of Water Corporation to AG Gold Trust Limited was unacceptable and had generated mass rejection by Enugu people. It advised the Commissioner of Water Resources not to entertain any takeover of Water Corporation.

The next day, the Accountant-General failed to show up in the Enugu State House of Assembly for the third consecutive time. The Leader, Hon Sunday Udo-Okoye, recalled that the House passed a resolution the previous day, summoning the Accountant-General to appear the next day but he failed to show up.

Udo-Okoye therefore moved a motion that the House issued a warrant to the Commissioner of Police to arrest the Accountant-General and bring him to the House the Tuesday after. Member representing Nkanu East Constituency, John Anichukwu, seconded the motion. Consequently, the Speaker, Eugene Odo, directed the Commissioner of Police to arrest the AG and bring him to the House.

It would seem that the house has finally woken up to its responsibility to check the excesses of the executive.