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Plateau Assembly crisis continues as constituents lament lack of representation

The ongoing crisis in the Plateau State House of Assembly has significantly disrupted legislative activities in the state for several months with no end in sight, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

Constituents, civil society organisations, political analysts and lawyers have said the crisis has continued to hamper the performance of oversight functions, lawmaking and the signing of bills essential for the smooth functioning of governance in the state.

Many of these stakeholders lament that the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Speaker of the House, Gabriel Dewan to refuse to swear in the 16 All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) members who were declared winners of the last elections by the Court of Appeal, is unwholesome for the state.

For over four months, the Assembly has remained inactive due to the Speaker’s position, first declaring a two-month recess and later claiming that he had “court processes” over the matter, and therefore, only recognising eight out of the 24 members of the House, whose cases were not a subject of litigation. The Speaker said his decision not to swear in the new members followed a motion filed by the sacked Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers seeking to review the decision of the Court of Appeal that sacked them from office.

And despite the decision of the court to throw out the fresh motion with a fine of N128million against the sacked lawmakers, the Speaker refused to change his position and the Assembly remains under lock and key.

However, the issue surrounding the Assembly has been heating up the polity, especially between members of the ruling PDP and the APC, a development that many said was affecting governance in the state.

Some of the constituents are decrying lack of adequate representation as the seat of their members have been vacant for quite a long time; hence their voices are not being heard.

Wrang Tengwon, a resident of Barkin Ladi Local Government Area, described the situation as unfortunate and uncalled for. He said, “It is indeed disheartening that lack of a functioning legislative arm in Plateau State has thrown the state into political confusion.

“Unfortunately, you cannot blame members who were sacked by the court and those that were declared winners. This is because the controversy surrounding the Appeal Court judgement and the subsequent Supreme Court ruling (which affirmed the election of the state governor, Caleb Mutfwang), exposed the flaws in our judicial system. Unfortunately, the impact of this decision is felt by the electorate, who are left without proper representation and a voice in their various constituencies.”

“The failure of the judiciary to function efficiently in this matter not only affects the political landscape of Plateau State but also undermines the trust of the people in the institutions that are meant to uphold justice and democracy.

“It is crucial for all stakeholders, including the political parties involved, the judiciary and the public to work together to address these issues and ensure that the democratic process is not undermined by controversies and errors in judgement,” he added.

For Peter Azi, another constituent, the absence of a full-fledged legislative arm is regrettable and has denied some constituents of job opportunities from their representatives.

He said, “Governance in Plateau State is incomplete due to the lack of a vibrant and active state assembly. In a democracy, there are three arms of government and the legislature is the most important as it represents, legislates and oversees. The inability to swear in the 16 state lawmakers is a setback to the progress of the state in different ramifications.

“The legislative arm often serves as a watchdog to the executive, ensuring that the budget is implemented accordingly and making laws and motions that directly affect the lives of citizens, especially in harsh economic times. Additionally, they oversee constituency projects and are entitled to two aides and a driver. We are now completely robbed of this benefit. I call on the authorities concerned to rescue Plateau State citizens from the whims and caprices of selfish individuals,” he said.

Isa Musa, also a constituent, reiterated the position of others but added that he felt personally cheated with the development because he “worked hard to ensure the victory of the lawmaker representing me but his election was unjustly nullified by the Court of Appeal.

“I am not happy with the current situation that is very detrimental to our people; and the implications of this are far-reaching and retarding development of the constituency, as we are already losing out in  terms of projects, employment and empowerment.

“It is important that we recognise the fact that the constituency and its representative are the creation of our constitution, which is fundamental, and anything that goes against it should be rejected by any person that believes in democracy and rule of law. And this is not about party affiliation but upholding the principles of democracy, rule of law, equity and fairness,” he added.

Yusuf Mairiga, another constituent said, “It is actually a big blow for us as a people to have the place of our member of state House of Assembly vacant since this controversy started. It is also putting the future of democracy and participatory politics at regional levels in great danger.

“My appeal is that the federal government should look into the matter, with a view to proffering a lasting remedy.”

Crisis affecting governance – CSOs

Commenting, some civil society organisations have condemned the situation at the Assembly, saying the continuation of the crisis is causing further losses to the state.

Steve Aluko, the director of the Civil Liberty Organisation, a Jos-based human rights group said, “The absence of representatives on the floor of the House is denying them the opportunity to contribute to the governance of the state. Lawmaking and oversight functions have been drastically affected.

“When you have 16 out of 24 members absent, you have a serious problem because the act of governance will suffer. Both the governor and the judiciary are suffering because budgetary allocation will be affected. The issue of check and balance will suffer at the end of the day.

“The best solution is for critical stakeholders to set a Plateau agenda that allows an alternative dispute resolution, and the agenda should go beyond party line so that at the end of the day, the people of Plateau are not shortchanged on what is supposed to be the benefit of the state. There is need for amicable settlement so that at the end of the day the people of the state effectively represented.”

He said the rumour that the Speaker is wary of swearing in the 16 new lawmakers over fear of impeachment shouldn’t be taken seriously “because there are laid down procedures for impeaching him. It should not be on that basis.”

For Peter Gad, the executive director, Cleen Foundation, “The Speaker of the Assembly should be a respecter of the law. So, until we have an alternative to this judgement, what the Speaker needs to do is to swear in those new members into office, and if a contrary view is given, they should vacate their positions.

“Plateau has gone through quite a lot and we don’t need to overheat the polity in any way that will make people protest in the streets, or the police patrolling the streets. I expect the state governor, political leaders and other stakeholders to find a political solution to this issue. There is clearly a gap there,” he added.

Refusal to swear in new members unjustifiable – Lawyers

In the same vein, legal practitioners who also weighed in on the matter opined that the refusal by the Speaker to swear in the new members is unjustifiable. They added that the issuance of certificates of return to the new members qualified them to be sworn in, and unless a contrary judgement is given, they remain authentic members of the House.

Sani Salihu, a Jos-based legal practitioner said, “By virtue of section 285 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the case of state House of Assembly and the National Assembly is terminated at the Court of Appeal. Whether the case is in your favour or not, once judgement is passed at that level, you have to accept it.

“The Speaker has no constitutional right to refuse the swearing in of the new members declared winners by the Court of Appeal. No amount of appeal will reverse the judgement.”

Gyang Zi, another lawyer who has similar view with Salihu, explained that, “The law is very clear. For all the constituencies to be adequately represented, there is a need that these 16 members are sworn into office. In the face of law, nothing can be done to bring the sacked lawmakers into office again. The Court of Appeal has already decided and that is all. We have to adhere to the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, pundits said the APC had also not tackled the issue with the firmness expected. They said that aside the threat of going to court the party issued months ago and reiterated recently, it had not really done enough to claim the mandates for their members.

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