COLLABORATION between the between the executive and the legislative arms of government is critical to the delivery of gains of democracy to the citizenry. But in the event of major threats to such harmony, the grass may suffer in a typical fight between two elephants.
In Ondo State, the two arms are locked in a battle of wits following two incidents. One is the claim by members of the state House of Assembly that a snake invaded the complex. The other was the collapse of part of the roof of the Assembly, due to neglect over the years. Angered by what he described as a cheap blackmail following the snake saga, the governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu, said he would not brook such nonsense.
The lawmakers had alleged that the presence of the snake brought about an abrupt end to their sitting. Consequently, they resolved to adjourn sine dine until the complex was given the appropriate attention. The chairman of the House Committee on Information, Gbenga Omole, gave an account of the two incidents, saying the lawmakers had to hurriedly leave the Assembly over the ‘big snake’ issue.
“We were about to seat again today (penultimate Thursday) when the ceiling caved-in directly where Mr Speaker was sitting. The whole House was agitated and when we looked around, we saw the damage termites had done to most of the woodwork in the ceiling. At that point, we had to adjourn sitting. The chamber is no longer safe for legislative business,” he said, adding that the House had written to the state governor, intimating him of the development.
However, Governor Akeredolu, during an unscheduled visit to the Assembly complex the following day, said the alleged falsehood was orchestrated, not only to attract his attention, but also to ridicule and blackmail his government for pecuniary gains.
“Did you see any green snake here? You said snake chased you out of this place and that you adjourned sine die. How did you combine what happened here yesterday with your snake if it is not a grand connivance by yourselves? What I have come to do is to verify what has happened. I have seen that what has happened is that there is an attempt to blackmail the state and I think the government will not take it. I was given the facts and I want to be sure that the Speaker and most of the officers are here.
“No snake fell here yesterday or the day before. There was not sitting when the ceiling came down. It was not that they were sitting and all the pictures that were put up there are fake. How did you come about that story? How did you come about one giant snake or python? It does not exist here. How did you come about it?
“There is an attempt to blackmail the government and I don’t believe that is the best approach. This is an arm of government and they have their vote and what they are entitled to is the one we give them. This place is termite-infested and, certainly, the termites have been dwelling here for several years. We have just come for two years; there is no way termite infestation in two years will cause such destruction.”
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the two incidents were part of the plan of the state lawmakers to call the attention of the governor to the dilapidated structures in the House of Assembly complex. But the cat was let out of the bag by some legislators disposed to the plans to go to town with the story of snake invasion, knowing the likely implications of the plan as hatched by their colleagues.
An official of the Assembly said the lawmakers should be blamed for the decay in the Assembly complex. According to him, the state House of Assembly receives an average of N57m on a monthly basis. He further said: “I can confirm to you that the state House of Assembly has been collecting a minimum of N2m every year for the past 10 years for the fumigation of the complex. But ask them what they are doing with the money. They are the one working here and they should think of renovating the place to their taste.”
However, the lawmakers appeared set for a showdown with Akeredolu over the snake saga. They threatened to decline approval for a proposed N30billion loan by the governor for developmental projects, if he failed to renovate the Assembly complex. Honourable Omole insisted that the lawmakers were not out to blackmail the state government.
“I am a member of the Appropriation Committee. They want to borrow N30 billion. If they did not do what we want, we will not allow that to happen. It is not going to be business as usual. That is my stand as the spokesperson of the House.
“Don’t they repair their own offices? We cannot say because we are friends to the governor, we cannot say the truth. Let us expose the leadership of the House; the Speaker said money is voted for the renovation every year, but it is not backed with cash. They did not release money for repair, yet you pass their budgets.
“Out of the money to be borrowed, they want to rehabilitate the Accountant General’s office but you don’t want to repair [the building that houses] the independent arm of government. It is not going to happen. The worst is that they will not give us second term but we will do what the people of Ondo State like,” he said.
The legislators also claimed that the video tape of the governor’s inspection visit to the Assembly was doctored to ridicule them and tarnish their image. According to them, the Assembly complex remains the worst in the country in terms of infrastructure. They accused successive administrations in the state of not releasing money for the renovation of the complex over the years.
Rising from a meeting attended by 25 of the 26 members, the legislators, in a communiqué read by Honourable Success Torukerijo from Ese Odo state constitutency, said: “We want to restate and reaffirm that on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, a snake fell from the ceiling into the chamber of the Assembly. On Thursday, July 25, 2019, part of the ceiling caved in and fell into the chamber, preventing us from holding a schedule meeting inside the chamber. We take exception to the doctored video released from the office of the governor as it did not reflect what transpired when the governor visited the Assembly on Friday, July 26, 2019 and we will not want to join issue by releasing the original version of the tape.
“We reiterate the constitutional status of the legislature as an independent arm of government which, therefore, deserved to be accorded as such. We want to state without any equivocation that no fund has been released to the Assembly for the capital projects in the last five years, in spite of the yearly budgetary provision and there has not been any cash-backing for the renovation of the Assembly for the past 10 years.”
Political watchers in the state, however, faulted the lawmakers for presenting a legitimate case in a wrong manner. The analysts accused the lawmakers of engaging in a war they could win. Apart from lacking the courage to fight the governor, many averred that most of the lawmakers were assisted to win their party’s tickets and their subsequent election.
Some politicians, however, threw their weight behind the lawmakers. They said the condition of the infrastructure in the Assembly complex was not befitting. They argued that there has not been any general renovation of the structure since it was built in 1976, aside a minor renovation exercise carried out when it got burnt some a few years ago. They however, laid the blame on the lawmakers who they said slept on their rights.
As things are, the lawmakers have threatened to boycott their legislative duties until the executive arm of government met up with their demands. On the other hand, Governor Akeredolu appeared set to call off their bluff. The question on the lips of most people in the state is, who blinks first between the lawmakers and the governor?