MUST READ: Who is the current Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly in the eyes of the law?

By Alexander Oketa Esq

On the 24th day of July 2018 or thereabout, the social and mainstream media was avid with the news that the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly Hon. Terkimbe Ikyange and his Deputy, Hon. James Okefe had been impeached unanimously by about 22 members present and voting at a reconvened session of the house.Section 101 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999(As Amended) empowers the house to regulate its own procedure, “including the procedure for summoning and recess of the House”

It is pursuant to the above cited provision of the constitution that Benue State House of Assembly made rules for the regulation of its activities in the House. The Rules being premised on the clear provisions of the constitution is sacred and not merely sanctimonious.

The Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly was elected by the house in accordance with its Standing Rules and the same House reserves the right to impeach him in accordance with the same rules.

The Benue State House of Assembly Standing Rules 3(11a) states that when a sitting is adjourned and a matter of public interest has arisen, a petition by 1/3 members addressed to the Speaker of the House notifying him of the House’s intention to convene earlier than the adjourned date, the Speaker may give notice accordingly to the members to reconvene.

On the 24th day of July 2018 the House was reportedly recalled from recess for a matter of “urgent public importance” which was to have the Speaker and his deputy impeached!

Before a successful impeachment can take place, there must be a duly convened or reconvened session of the house. The first question is whether there was a duly convened session of the house. The indisputable fact is to the effect that the house had earlier been adjourned to the 15th day of August 2018. The speaker, Hon. Ikyange has maintained that he was neither given notice of any request for a reconvention of the house, let alone notice of any allegation that precipitated the purported impeachment to enable him react. These assertions have not been contradicted.

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There was not even a preliminary remark to the effect that the requirement of reconvention pursuant to Rule 3(11a) of the standing rule preceding the purported session and subsequent impeachment.

From the foregoing, it means that there was no valid legal session of the House on the said 24th day of July 2018 and anything done in any such purportedly reconvened session of the house is null and void and of no effect. Yes, it simply never happened! This is why Hon. Ikyange has maintained, quite rightly, that the House remained adjourned to the 15th day of August 2018 as earlier unanimously agreed and that remains the Speaker of the House.

The House can only be reconvened from recess under matters of urgent public importance. The matter of urgent public importance was for the purported impeachment of the speaker and his deputy for alleged “high handedness”. Is this a matter of urgent public importance? The notorious fact is that the Governor of the State, Samuel Ortom had just decamped from the APC to the PDP and there was that unethical urgency to change the Speaker of the House who is of the APC. There is certainly not an iota of any matter of urgent public importance here.

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The rules of fair hearing, natural justice, equity and good conscience were recklessly breached when no notice of allegation and/or notice of reconvention of the house which was for the sole purpose of the purported impeachment was given to the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the house before their purported impeachment.

Furthermore, no activity was reported to have happened during the recess. The question that readily comes to any reasonable mind in view of the allegation of “high handedness” against the Speaker is at what point did he commit the offence stated as the reason for his impeachment? The allegation sounds more spurious when it is recalled that about a week to the date of the purported impeachment, the same house passed a vote of confidence on the speaker before it went on recess and was adjourned to 15/08/2018

The Police intervention on the 26th July` 2018 at the instance of the Speaker, Hon. Terkimbe Ikyange, to prevent the purported new speaker and his crew from sitting in the House is proper and apt in the circumstances of this case to maintain law and Order.

The purported new leadership of the House must be careful and immediately rescind their patently illegal acts as they could be liable for criminal impersonation and breach of peace.

On Friday July 27 2018, I received another information that there is a pending Order of the State High Court obtained via Eparte application restraining Hon. Terkinbe Ikyange led Leadership of the House from parading itself as the original leader of the House. If this is true, then the Leadership of the House is advised to immediately take steps to challenge the Order. Once a step is taken to challenge such order, the law is trite that they are not under any obligation to obey such Order and no contempt proceedings can be maintained against them.

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The Judiciary has always cautioned against Ex Parte Orders obtained without a hearing from the other party. An Ex Parte Order is given when only there exists an urgent need to preserve a perishable res. What is perishable or liable to be destroyed beyond repairs if Hon. Ikyange leadership of the House is first accorded a right of hearing before the Order?

Many Judges have been punished for giving such exparte Orders. A petition accompanied by a verifying affidavit to the National Judicial Council (NJC) is enough to galvanize the NJC into action.

We all have the collective duty to make the system work. This can only be done through adherence to the rule of law. We must not ridicule our judicial system by dragging it into politics. If anybody is desirous of dissolving the leadership of the House, the relevant procedures must be observed. Otherwise, a head-on collision with anarchy is inevitable.

Alexander Oketa Esq is a Legal Practitioner.

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