Seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria who are indigenes of Ekiti State on Wednesday called for immediate restoration of normal constitutional order in the State House of Assembly by ensuring the return of Chief Gboyega Aribisogan as the Speaker.
Led by Afe Babalola, the SANs spoke in a statement at the end of an emergency review of the crisis in the Assembly.
They described Aribisogan’s impeachment as “gross display of rascality, Impunity”.
According to them, the direct implication of the negative development in the state Assembly, if not tamed in record time, is that the new state Governor, Biodun Oyebanji, is not safe from imminent impeachment.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that aside Aare Babalola, other signatories to the statement were Chief Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Dele Adesina (SAN), Olu Daramola (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) and Gboyega Oyewole (SAN).
The seven senior lawyers described Aribisogan’s removal as “an overt and brazen exhibition of illegality and use of brute force under democracy”.
They called on Oyebanji to watch his back, saying: “Keeping mute to this reckless abuse of power can boomerang and embolden the lawmakers to go after him in the near future.”
The lawyers warned those they described as “godfathers in Ekiti politics” to be wary of their actions and stop perpetrating acts that could ignite more serious crisis that may trigger instability in the state.
They decried the speedy way at which the lawmakers allegedly prodded by some godfathers, to move against Aribisogan, under flimsy excuses and unleashed their venom on him.
According to them, the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stipulates that the embattled Aribisogan ought to be given a fair hearing to defend any infraction he had allegedly committed to warrant impeachment.
They argued that this window was not provided or given “a scintilla of consideration”.
They said: “To say the very least, the situation in the Ekiti State House of Assembly should be of extremely grave concern to every decent and discerning mind.
“Before going further, it is pertinent to underscore the prime importance of the State House of Assembly in the affairs of any state in the country.
“By virtue of Section 92 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), once elected by the members of the House, as done in the case of Aribisogan, the Speaker shall continue to be in office during the lifespan of the particular House except, inter alia, removed from office by a resolution of the House of Assembly by the votes of not less than two-third majority of the House.
“From the short background above, it is plain as day that the elected Speaker was not allowed to function in office for the space of one day before the sealing off of the Complex.
“Therefore, at what point in time could he have committed any infraction of the constitution, any other law or the Rules of the House to warrant his supposed removal?
“Assuming and without conceding that the Speaker had committed any infraction, was he not entitled to be confronted with the allegation in that respect and given reasonable opportunity to defend himself?
“If so, when was he accorded that? Incontestably, election into such an exalted position as the Speaker of the House dictates that a holder of the office must be accorded fair hearing before being removed from the office.”
The senior lawyers said the alleged impeachment and stoppage of the salaries of the Speaker and six other members of the House are no less “misplaced, illegal, illegitimate, null and void”.
They added: “If care is not taken and if all of us seal our lips, fold our arms and get relaxed on our seats and allow this rascality and impunity to go unchecked, in no distant future, the Governor of the State would be impeached and forced out of office in like manner.”
The senior lawyers said that by the actions of the lawmakers, they had demonstrated a penchant for political rascality, impunity, brazenness and recklessness of no mean measure.
They said: “Let it be mentioned and registered, posthaste, without any modicum of equivocation, that the purported impeachment of Gboyega Aribisogan, as well as the announced suspension of seven members of the House, is an exercise in utmost futility and, unquestionably, null and void.”
Below is the full statement:
Ekiti State is globally known as ile iyi, ile eye (land of honour, land of dignity). By all standards, and especially on account of the excellent virtues and priceless values that Ekiti people are primordially known for, it is simply beyond disputation that the sobriquet of ile iyi, ile eye is superbly earned by the State. Credence is, doubtless, lent to this inviolate position by the surfeit of elite, highly distinguished and most exemplary personalities that the State parades as indigenes.
Against the backdrop of the salutary status of Ekiti people and State as people and land of honour and dignity respectively, it easily becomes a tragic irony and downright sacrilege whenever the State is in the news for less than honourable and dignifying reason(s).
This has disturbingly and disquietingly been the situation in the past few days on the standpoint of the socio-political debacle and shenanigans going on in the State House of Assembly.
By way of a somewhat pedantic proem, it is common knowledge that the erstwhile Speaker of the State House of Assembly, the Rt. Hon. Funminiyi Afuye, transited to eternity on the 19th day of October, 2022.
As a sequel to that unfortunate development, a new Speaker for the State legislature had to be elected.
The election to produce a new speaker, incontrovertibly, took place on Tuesday, the 15th day of November, 2002. As widely reported in the media, two members of the House contested for the Speakership and at the end of the election, one of the duo, Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan, was declared the winner of the election, having polled 15 votes as against the 10 votes garnered by the other contestant, Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba.
The winner of that electoral contest, Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan was promptly and duly sworn in as the new Speaker by the Clerk of the State House of Assembly.
Thereafter, it was brought to the notice of the general public that a new Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly had emerged.
In a strange twist to the tale, however, news filtered out in the morning of the very next day, 16th November, 2022, that the Ekiti State House of Assembly Complex had been sealed off by the Police. By the evening of that day, the new Speaker, Gboyega Aribisogan was heard on Channels Television saying that he was not privy to the decision to seal off the Complex by the Police and that when he reached out to the Commissioner of Police, Ekiti State Command, he was informed that the step was taken to avert an intended attack by hoodlums on the State House of Assembly.
According to the Speaker, the Police Commissioner had assured him that the situation would be speedily brought under control and normalcy would be restored to enable the House resume its constitutional and legislative functions.
However, to the dismay and discomfort of all peace-loving indigenes of the State, the State House of Assembly Complex remained under lock and key for the rest of that week. What followed was a visibly flustered Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan, the elected Speaker, appearing on Channels Television in the evening of Sunday, 20th November, 2022, to inform the whole world that there were plans to either impeach him as the Speaker or, failing that, assassinate him the following day.
Hardly, had the next day broken than the media space became awash with the news that Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan had been impeached and, added to that, himself and six other members of the House suspended. Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba, who had previously contested and lost the Speakership to Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan, was announced as the newly elected Speaker.
One may ask a few stunning questions, that is, who supervised the ‘election’ of Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba as the Speaker?
Was it the same Clerk of the House who presided over the election of Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan a few days earlier, publicly announced the results and declared him as the winner?
Be it noted that under the Constitution and any parliamentary practice, the Clerk is the Chief Executive of any Parliament and presides over the conduct of election for the presiding officers. If it was the same Clerk, who mandated him to conduct another election that foisted Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba on the House, in a spectacularly unconstitutional and ridiculous manner?
Who are the actual masquerades that prompted the Clerk to act in such an absurd manner? Are they from within or without the House?
Was the Clerk aware of the agelong principle of separation of powers, as between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, as now enshrined in the Constitution?
Or, were/are the sponsors of this debacle aware of or have scant respect for this sacred principle which sustains democratic governance and governments in the free world?
To say the very least, the situation in the Ekiti State House of Assembly should be of extremely grave concern to every decent and discerning mind.
Before going further, it is pertinent to underscore the prime importance of the State House of Assembly in the affairs of any State in the country. It is provided in Section 4(6) and (7) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) that the legislative powers of a State of the Federation shall be vested in the House of Assembly of the State and that the House of Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the State or any part thereof with respect to matters within the ambit of the legislative competence of the State legislature.
Apparently enough, therefore, the imbroglio that is presently ravaging the Ekiti State House of Assembly has effectively denied the State of the benefit of the constitutional responsibilities of the Legislative House and the consequences cannot but be dire on the security and welfare of the people, as well as the general wellbeing of the State and its indigenes.
Meanwhile, under and by virtue of Section 92 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), once elected by the members of the House, as done in the case of Aribisogan, the Speaker shall continue to be in office during the lifespan of the particular House except, inter alia, removed from office by a resolution of the House of Assembly by the votes of not less than two-third majority of the House.
From the short background above, it is plain as day that the elected Speaker was not allowed to function in office for the spate of one day before the sealing off of the Complex.
Pray, therefore, at what point in time could he have committed any infraction of the constitution, any other law or the Rules of the House to warrant his supposed removal?
Assuming without conceding that the Speaker had committed any infraction, was he not entitled to be confronted with the allegation in that respect and given reasonable opportunity to defend himself?
If so, when was he accorded that?
Incontestably, election into such an exalted position as the Speaker of the House dictates that a holder of the office must be accorded fair hearing before being removed from the office.
The alleged suspension and stoppage of the salaries of the Speaker and six other members of the House are no less misplaced, illegal, illegitimate, null and void. If care is not taken, and if all of us seal our lips, fold our arms and get relaxed on our seats and allow this rascality and impunity to go unchecked, in no distant future, the Governor of the State would be impeached and forced out of office in like manner.
Instructively, or with the benefit of hindsight, one would have expected the dramatis personae in this very constitutionally dastardly act to peep into history, at least momentarily, to learn therefrom, more particularly so that under a certain regime in the State, the then Speaker of the House was purportedly impeached, in a manner not as abrasive and audacious as the one under discussion, and the aggrieved Speaker, with some suspended members of the House, instituted an action against the constitutional aberration, and without much ado, the entire action was declared null and void by the High Court of Ekiti State, presided over by Hon. Justice Abiodun Adesodun, who decreed the reinstatement of the impeached Speaker and suspended members, as well as payment of all their accrued salaries and emoluments.
Taking cognisance of this precedent, the natural deduction to be made from the flagrant actions of the current political gladiators in Ekiti State House of Assembly and their instigator(s) is that they have no respect for the rule of law. By their actions, they have demonstrated a penchant for political rascality, impunity, brazenness and recklessness of no mean measure. Let it be mentioned and registered, posthaste, without any modicum of equivocation, that the purported impeachment of Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan as well as the announced suspension of seven members of the House is an exercise in utmost futility and, unquestionably, null and void.
The situation is highly condemnable. This is particularly by reason of the fact that the members of the House of Assembly said to have been suspended represent their constituencies in the legislative affairs of the State.
When regard is had to the fact that the House is made up of 26 members (now 25, with the demise of Hon. Funminiyi Afuye), the purported suspension of seven members simply implies that more than a quarter of the membership of the House and the constituencies represented by them are now rendered impotent and unfunctional.
This is absolutely unwarranted, unjustified and condemnable. By way of argument, the sponsors of the charade and their cohorts in the House have foisted on the entire State, a coup d’etat, in the sense that the suspension of more than one quarter of the members of the House equally translates to the fact that members of their constituencies have also been suspended from the State.
Going by the clear provision of Section 179 (2) (b) of the Constitution, the Governor, before being declared as the winner of an election to the office of the Chief Executive of the State was expected to have scored/polled not less than one quarter of the votes cast in not less than two-thirds of the Local Governments in the State. Excising over one-quarter of the Local Governments represented by the suspended legislators from the State, as it were, means that the Governor may no longer be presiding over the Ekiti State on which election that brought him to office was conducted, and/or that the Ekiti State which the constitutionally delineated constituencies from where the suspended legislators were/are produced is not the State now being governed by the Governor.
Without being immodest, Ekiti State parades a good number of the leading lights and icons of the legal profession in Nigeria such as Aare Afe Babalola, OFR, CON, SAN, Founder & Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, ABUAD and former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos; Chief Wole Olanipekun, CFR, OFR, SAN, former Attorney-General of the old Ondo State, past President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), former Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Ibadan; Dele Adesina, SAN, past General- Secretary of the NBA; Olu Daramola, SAN, Femi Falana, SAN, past President of the West African Bar Association (WABA); Dayo Akinlaja, SAN, past Attorney-General of Ekiti State and Gboyega Oyewole, SAN, past Attorney-General of Ekiti State, among several others, under whose auspices this statement is being issued.
In light of this position, it is nothing short of downright insensitivity, unmitigated disrespect, unalloyed affront and deep infra dig for the unconstitutionality and illegality that have emerged from the activities of the concerned political functionaries in the State and their masterminds to be contemplated, let alone so brazenly executed, knowing full well that the message unwittingly sent out therefrom is that there are no legally discerning indigenes of the State that could decipher the illegitimacy and illegality of the purported impeachment and suspension.
Significantly, it is exceedingly unfathomable and difficult to rationalise the basis for the roiling crisis in the Ekiti State House of Assembly on the strength of the fact that the entire members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly belong to one political party (APC).
Noteworthy, in 2007 or thereabout, the same State House of Assembly was polarised between two political parties (in equal proportion); this notwithstanding, the House was at peace and not beset by the crisis of the sort being witnessed today.
Without any speck of doubt, every person with a sense of justice, fairness and political decency must be scandalised by what is currently going on in our dear State.
As lawyers, we do not want to swallow hook, line and sinker the grapevine information and tales being peddled about for the reasons underscoring the crisis at hand, among the political gladiators in the State, and we do not want to elaborate on the narration given by Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan on Channels Television on 20th November,2022.
Be that as it may, we plead with our humble and respected Governor to appreciate the fact that having been sworn in as the Governor of the State, he automatically translates to the Chief Executive Officer of the State, and by extension, the buck stops at his table.
His silence in the face of the apparent threat to peace, order, good governance and harmony in the State is not the best, to put it mildly and respectfully.
Truth be told, he is the one, rather than the political marauders that will be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in the State. Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan informed the entire world in one of his Channels Television appearances that apart from his planned kangaroo impeachment, himself and some marked members of the House were/are to be assassinated.
Now, within a week, the State has purportedly produced two Speakers of the House of Assembly, and both of them were also purportedly sworn in by the Clerk of the House.
The Police had placed the premises of the House under lock and key, and we have not been informed under whose authority the Police so acted.
Let it be put clearly that the Police has no jurisdiction or power to take any instruction or order in matters relating to the security of the State from any other person or power apart from the Governor of the State.
All said, we unreservedly, unambiguously and unequivocally condemn what is presently at play in the Ekiti State House of Assembly.
It is legally and morally unjustified and must be deprecated by anyone with a sense of fairness and decency.
In light of this position, we hereby call on all members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly to return to the path of peace, honour and dignity by allowing the elected Speaker, Hon. Gboyega Aribisogan, to continue in office without let or hindrance. Anything short of this would amount to persevering in constitutional error and political rascality.
May it be emphasized that the Assembly cannot transact any legitimate or legal business under the contrived speakership of Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba.
As often said in legal parlance, one cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
From the biblical prism, if the foundation is destroyed, there is nothing the righteous can do.
It must be borne in mind that Ekiti State is not all about politics; it is about honour, decency, integrity, diligence, kindness, soberness, pursuit of all that is good and lofty, hard work, fear of God, man’s humanity to man, etc.
Put differently, Ekiti State is greater than politics and politicians. The State is also sovereign in her own right, and not an appendage or chattel of any person or persons.
On the premise of this position, no one or group of persons or politicians can be allowed to bring Ekiti State to dishonour and disrepute by whatever contrivance and for any ambition howsoever.
Pointedly and succinctly asserted, Hon. Olubunmi Adelugba cannot continue in office as Speaker of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, and we plead with her to honourably stop parading, presenting or holding herself out as the Speaker of the State, as her so-doing constitutes not just an illegality and unconstitutionality, but also a perseverance in such an unlawful enterprise.
In like manner, we plead with the members of the House of Assembly to allow all Principal Officers of the House, including the Deputy Speaker, the Chief Whip, the Majority Leader etc., continue in office, without making any attempt to impeach or replace any of them.
May we remind the legislators and their patrons that come May/June, 2023, the life span of the present session of the House of Assembly will constitutionally terminate.
Therefore, they should exercise some modicum of patience and wait for the next election, whereby they can sponsor their candidates to the House.
Even at that, the Legislators should appreciate the inviolate nature of the sovereignty of the Legislative House, and stop hobnobbing with outsiders or powers-that- be to usurp the powers and jurisdiction, rights and privileges, constitutionally and democratically conferred on them.
And to the Ekiti people generally, and more particularly the political godfathers, we want to admonish that we should do away with the overbearing, ruthless and negatively audacious attitude and disposition of deliberately embarking on any illegal and unconstitutional means or method of
achieving any goal, target or objective, as done in this particular instance; taunting and daring the hapless victims of their illegalities to go to court, where it would take them ages to redress the wrong already heaped on them, and during which interlude, their objective would have been achieved and perfectly actualized.
Ekiti State, being truly a land of honour and dignity, and equally the Fountain of Knowledge, deserves the highest standard of civility in the conduct of her affairs.
Dated this 23rd November, 2022
1. Aare Afe Babalola, CON, OFR, SAN Founder, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti
2. Chief Wole Olanipekun, CFR, OFR, SAN
3. Dele Adesina, SAN
3. Olu Daramola, SAN
4. Femi Falana, SAN
5. Dayo Akinlaja, SAN
6. Gboyega Oyewole, SAN.