Kombowei Benson: Interpreting Constitution, The Bayelsa Way | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Kombowei Benson: Interpreting Constitution, The Bayelsa Way

Posted: May 19, 2015 at 12:46 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


By Dele Omojuyigbe


Some people revel in stirring up controversies or springing surprises. They have a load of such under their command. They can dare the absurd and still defend it with the Constitution. Even as Speakers of State Houses of Assembly, they can sack errant legislators and declare their positions vacant.  All they require in their wild drama is the unwavering support of their governors. As they beat their drums of power and look back with glee, they behold their ecstatic governors, dancing to their unassailable music with kingly sceptres. Such is the situation in Bayelsa State right now. The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Kombowei Benson, has stirred up the hornet’s nest by declaring the seats of four members of the House vacant. Their offence is that they defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Benson says that he draws strength for his action from Section 109 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. One wonders why that constitutional provision was not utilized in the past when similar situations arose in other states in the country. Perhaps the Constitution has assumed a position of personal interpretation in Bayelsa State for exigent reasons. But this is doubtful. And the State Governor, Seriake Dickson, is applauding Benson’s bizarre action from the State House, saying that it is a step in the right direction. Benson too has assumed the position of a headmaster wielding the stick on his students. For him, being thrown out of office is the right punishment for defectors. But does Benson have the power of the court? Can he unilaterally or arbitrarily declare elected members of the House personae non grata? These are people elected like him and have equal rights to be the Speaker.

Benson has always been in the news. At a time, he was impeached as Speaker under controversial circumstances. On another occasion, his 78-year-old mother was kidnapped. Yet at another time, it was lightning that struck twice in his house. Then there was the controversy of a failed trip to South Africa by Assembly members under his leadership which involved N78 million. Aren’t these distractions too many?

The reason which the four Assembly members gave for their defection was that Governor Dickson had high-jacked the party and even unilaterally suspended the state party chairman, Samuel Inokoba. These reasons are not tenable. In a democracy, not all defections are defensible; some are a cowardly way of protesting. A party should be built on a strong structure laid down by its members. No formidable democratic platform can be established when lily livered politicians defect easily because they want to win elections at all costs. But the court should be the judge in the Bayelsa case and not Benson. Besides, the Speaker should limit his public glare and settle down squarely to his legislative duty.