The Ondo State House of Assembly has been in crisis for over six months following the defection of the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and later to Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) where he contested as the party candidate in the October 10 governorship election.
After the defection, there were moves by the state assembly to impeach Mr Ajayi as some members of the state assembly signed the impeachment process of the deputy governor but nine lawmakers refused to sign then.
Of the nine lawmakers, the assembly indefinitely suspended four: Iroju Ogundeji, deputy speaker, representing Odigbo 1 Constituency; Tomide Akinribido, representing Ondo West 1 constituency; Favour Tomomewo, representing Ilaje II constituency and Adewale Adewinle, representing Ondo West II constituency.
Not pleased with the development, the embattled lawmakers sued the assembly before a state high court in Akure and the judge who presided over the matter, Ademola Bola, ordered their reinstatement and asked the assembly’s leadership led by Speaker, Bamidele Oleyelogun, to pay N5 million each to the lawmakers for their unlawful suspension.
The speaker, Mr Oleyelogun, approached the Court of Appeal for a stay of execution.
The appeal court, on November 20, upheld the decision of the lower court. The appeal court judge, Oyebisi Omoleye, also asked that appellants to pay the sum of N250,000 jointly to the lawmakers as damages.
Rather than obey court orders, the assembly on November 24 voted to impeach Mr Ogundeji as the deputy speaker for alleged “gross misconduct.”
The speaker of the House, Mr Oleyelogun, said 20 lawmakers signed the impeachment proceedings and that it required 18 to form two-thirds of the house.
Meanwhile, nine others came out to dissociate themselves from the impeachment.
In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the ‘impeached’ deputy speaker, Mr Ogundeji explained how he and the other three landed in ‘trouble’ for opposing the assembly’s illegalities against the deputy governor, Mr Ajayi.
PT: There was unrest in the Ondo state house of assembly for nearly seven months now. It led to your suspension and now impeachment. Can you give us a summary of events?
Mr Ogundeji: The purported impeachment announced by the speaker and few others is child’s play and I will explain to you how the crisis started. Around July this year, the speaker said the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, had directed the assembly to impeach his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, and that led to the submission of impeachment notice which nine lawmakers including myself disassociated from.
There are 26 lawmakers in the assembly and for the impeachment notice on the deputy governor, 14 signed in support, nine of us were against and three lawmakers were on the fence. Later, the speaker called us that the governor asked him to suspend us for rejecting the impeachment of his deputy and we advised him against such action. But because he wants to retain his seat as the speaker, he suspended myself and three others on July 8, 2020. We know that the speaker lacks the legal powers to suspend us because we are all elected.
PT: But why suspension of just four out of the nine who opposed Mr Ajayi’s impeachment?
Mr Ogundeji: We did not know the rationale behind selecting just four, perhaps they felt we are the ones encouraging others but that was not something to disturb ourselves for. We were particular about the illegality of the suspension; so we approached the court and the court of law gave a judgement declaring the action of the speaker and his cohorts illegal. The court in its wisdom on August 28 directed that we should be reinstated and paid all our entitlements.
The funny thing was that it was the representative of the attorney general and commissioner for justice of the state that represented the speaker and the assembly despite being an officer of the state. I don’t know why the office of the Attorney General will represent them if the governor is not interested because the commissioner for justice is an appointee of the governor, carrying out the directive of the governor.
The speaker and the leadership house later went to appeal for stay execution but the court decided that judgement must be obeyed. The appellate court in Akure struck out their case on November 20. On the following day, we went to the house of assembly but the main entrance was locked against us with armed police officers, saying we cannot enter the house to carry out our responsibility and we left.
The next thing I saw on social media on November 24 was that I had been impeached as the deputy speaker. The constitution is clear on the removal of officers. No provision of the constitution was followed. They said 20 people impeached me but nine of 26 have sworn affidavits dissociating themselves. They must have 18 members but that was not the case. Whatever the 17 others have done is illegal which I believe that the court will upturn.
PT: What you are saying now is that your constituents and that of the other three on ‘illegal’ suspension have no representatives at the assembly
Mr Ogundeji: Exactly, they have denied my constituents the dividend of democracy. I’m their mouthpiece and I cannot hear the opinion of my people anymore and it is against the law to deny my constituents representation. In fact, that’s why I’m selling redress in court. My people in my constituency advised me to go to court and they will soon join the battle because they believe in respect of the constitution and not anarchy. I must tell you that my constituents are proud that I did not support the supposed impeachment process of the deputy governor.
The four of us suspended from the activities of the house were in court and court gave order which is now being disobeyed. We’ve gone a little further by approaching the court with form 48 – a warning against that disobeying order and despite that filing, they still denied us our rights. We have gone to court with form 49 which is contempt and as a result of that, the court has fixed December 17, 2020 to hear the matter.
PT: Why are you so sure that Governor Akeredolu knows about these happenings?
Mr Ogundeji: It is witch hunting. I don’t know their interest and what they want to gain. It is not by force or by intimidation for me to sign an impeachment notice of the deputy governor. My constituents told me not to participate in the impeachment of the deputy governor.
On the very morning of the suspension, the speaker said the governor directed him to suspend us. They even tried to induce us but we refused. What is the offence of the deputy governor? It is only unfortunate that the governor is a lawyer, most importantly a SAN and former NBA president.
PT: You made mention of inducement. Tell you how much you were offered.
Mr Ogundeji: Inducement does not necessarily mean money. That’s it.
PT: We are interested in knowing the kind of inducement you were…
Mr Ogundeji: But you know what it means to be induced. I’m not going to say beyond that.
PT: Ok, we will come back to that later. Since the assembly and the speaker did not respect the court order that reinstated you when pronounced suspended, do you think they will respect the outcome of the impeachment suit?
Mr Ogundeji: The first issue is the illegality of the purported impeachment. Whether they will respect the outcome of the court or not, let us get to the bridge first. They are the ones not happy with the judgement of the high court when we were suspended and they went to appeal which we won. Let’s wait and see what will happen in this same matter.
PT: What difference would you have made in the house of assembly if not suspended and now impeached?
Mr Ogundeji: It is unfortunate that they’ve not made any progress since they suspended. Ordinarily, we would have made progress by passing bills, undergoing oversight functions and doing things that are of public interests but that is not the case now. The people there now are rubber stamp who are simply following the instructions of the governor.
PT: Following your travails, do you regret opposing Agboola Ajayi’s impeachment then?
Mr Ogundeji: I did not regret taking action in line with integrity. I cannot regret standing with my constituents because the call for the deputy governor’s impeachment lacks merit in its entirety. I have more respect in my community for doing what is right and that’s enough. I won’t support illegality and I am obeying the call of my conscience. Those people that signed then were coerced. They meet us behind the scene to confirm that what they are doing is illegal. Some of them said that they are being forced to do it.
PT: What role has the deputy governor played in ensuring that you are reinstated? Is he the one bankrolling your court expenses?
Mr Ogundeji: The issue is not about the personality of the deputy governor. The person occupying the office is different from the officer. The decision of the nine of us is not about the person of Agboola Ajayi but about our conscience and integrity. It is about honouring our constituents not to commit illegality in our state. The governor and the deputy should not use the house of assembly to settle scores. The assembly is an institution of its own. We have no connection or relation with the personalities of the deputy governor but because we know what they are doing is illegal. This is the first time in the history of Nigeria where the governor will fail in his attempt to use the assembly to punish his deputy.
PT: So, back to the inducement. Have changed your mind from not saying it? Do you want to tell us how much you were offered?
Mr Ogundeji: Like I said earlier, inducement is not necessarily money, it could be in any form.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted shortly before the four suspended lawmakers were reinstated on December 14 by the state assembly.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...