By Chinelo Obogo
Lagos State governor, Akinwumi Ambode, was absent yesterday at the panel hearing set up by the State Assembly to resolve the lingering crisis over his inability to present the 2019 Appropriation bill.
The Assembly has been embroiled in crisis with Governor Ambode since December 2018 over the non-presentation of the 2019 budget, which led to the lawmakers threatening to impeach him if he fails to abide by the parliamentary tradition. Though the governor insisted that he indeed sent the budget to the Assembly on December 28, 2018, the lawmakers disputed it, insisting that the budget was not before the House.
At a plenary session last week, over 20 lawmakers took turns to accuse the governor of infractions and violation of the Constitution for spending from the 2019 budget which they say he is yet to lay on the floor of the House.
Earlier this year, a committee headed by the deputy speaker, Wasiu Eshinloku, was set up to probe the 2018 expenditure of the governor. As a result, the state Commissioner for Finance, Accountant General, Budget and Planning Commissioner as well as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice were summoned to appear before the probe panel. While submitting the report of the Committee before the House last week, the Deputy Speaker said his panel found Ambode guilty of the allegations against him and said he should either resign or be impeached.
Eshinlokun revealed that the committee met with relevant commissioners and heads of agencies and was told by the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Segun Banjo, that no money had been spent for the year. He also said that the Accountant General told the committee that they were given the go-ahead to spend up to 25 percent of the 2019 budget before the approval in the new year. He said that they would have to make a recourse to the House if they wanted to spend up to N200 million.
The crisis further deepened when on Wednesday, January 30, the House convened an emergency parliamentary session over the matter. Immediately after the session, the majority leader, Sanai Agunbiade, told journalists at a press conference that the House is expecting Governor Ambode to appear before it on Monday, February 4, 2019 to explain why the executive has begun spending from a budget which is yet to be presented. Another panel headed by Agunbiade was then set up this week by the House to meet with the executive over the friction. The committee, it was learnt, met with some commissioners on Thursday, January 31.
Governor Ambode was expected to appear before the panel yesterday to defend his actions, but it was the deputy governor, Dr. Idiat Adebule who came in his stead. She arrived the assembly complex without her official car because the meeting was meant to be a closed one. She was quoted as telling the panel that Governor Ambode has consistently maintained that he doesn’t deserve the treatment he is facing because he has committed no crime. The panel was closed to the press, but sources within the Assembly confirmed that the meeting held yesterday, saying it is part of an agreement to ensure that actions are taken in the interest of the state.
“Our people have also met with the deputy governor over the current friction. The meeting is just to find an amicable ground. We know the executive arm actually committed the infractions, but for the interest of the state and to keep it safe ahead of the election, we have to look for a soft landing for them. We are expecting the governor to appear on the floor of the House on Monday to answer some of our questions,” the source said.
Other members of the panel are; Moshood Oshun, Saka Fafunmi, Lanre Ogunyemi and Miranda Mojisola. It was learnt that the outcome of the meeting may be deliberated at a parliamentary session of the House when the lawmakers reconvene.
Meanwhile, a renowned scholar, Prof. Akin Oyebode warned on Friday that the APC might be sounding its death knell in Lagos State with the growing plot to impeach Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode. Ambode is expected to vacate office on May 29 this year after failing to get the nod of the APC to run for a second term. He has been in political hot water since he fell out of favour with the national leader of the APC, Mr Bola Tinubu, who is also acclaimed as Ambode’s godfather.
Speaking in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Friday, Oyebode, a renowned expert in international law and jurisprudence, said that the APC might be bringing a “death wish’’ to itself in Lagos State. “The APC in Lagos seems to be making a death wish. First, you muscled out a performing man from a second bite of the apple. Now, you want to throw him under the bus, which, quite frankly, amounts to an overkill. If they persist in this misadventure, the people will teach them a lesson which they will never forget in the coming election.”
Oyebode described the growing maneuver by members of the Lagos State House of Assembly to impeach the governor as a misadventure that could make APC to lose the governorship elections in the state.
In the same vein, the State House of Assembly has been told it lacks any basis to initiate any impeachment proceeding against Governor Ambode and must therefore desist or face a mass revolt of the people.
The warning was contained in a statement issued on Friday by a civil society organization, Legislative Probity and Accountability Project, LPAP. The NGO had on Tuesday issued a press release that later went viral, challenging the leadership of the State House of Assembly to account for the N28.8billion they have collected as running cost under the Mudashiru Obasa leadership of the House without doing anything.
In its latest statement signed by its Chairman, Mr Olu Fajana, LPAP said it was ridiculous for the lawmakers to ask the governor to appear before a committee to defend allegations against him or be impeached. While urging the governor to ignore the summon or send his appointees, the group said there is no basis for the harassment other than selfish interests. “We have studied the pretentious allegations for which they have been ridiculing and desecrating the office of Lagos governor. We dare say that if indeed the lawmakers know their work or take time to study the constitution, they will understand that they cannot hold the governor for going ahead to spend part of the 2019 budget, which they have deliberately refused to consider and approve over two months after the budget proposal had been sent to them.
“Section 122 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, says expressly that: ‘If the Appropriation Bill in respect of any financial year has not been passed into Law by the beginning of the financial year, the Governor may authorize the withdrawal of moneys from the consolidated Revenue Fund of the State for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the service of the government for a period not exceeding six months or until the coming into operation of the Law, whichever is the earlier. Provided that the withdrawal in respect of any such period shall not exceed the amount authorized to be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State under the provisions of the Appropriation Law passed by the House of Assembly for the corresponding period in the immediately preceding financial year being an amount proportionate to the total amount so authorized for the immediately preceding financial year.’
“We believe this is clear enough and has removed any doubt as to whether the governor has the right to spend from the 2019 budget, which the Assembly has in pursuit of its pre-determined agenda held back with the sole purpose of crippling the government and making it incapable of delivering good governance to the people. This is barbaric and uncivilized politicking to say the least”
The group further ask the lawmakers to acquaint themselves with provisions of the constitution, which allows the governor to delegate executive powers to his appointees. “We will also like to draw the attention of these lawmakers to Section 5(2) of the constitution on the delegation of executive powers as well as Section 188 that deals with impeachment procedure. This is necessary for them so that they can save themselves from further embarrassment and relieve the people of Lagos of a pending confrontation between the forces light, that is the masses and that of darkness, which has for long feasted rapaciously on the commonwealth of the people of Lagos.”