. . . “We only want to Sanitize the House’’
On Tuesday, November 13, crisis erupted in the Anambra State House of Assembly when a group of legislators moved against the leadership of the house led by Hon Rita Maduagwu and elected Hon Ikem Uzoezie, in her stead. Fides finally caught up with the man in the thick of it all, Hon Uzoezie, who spoke with Fides Editor-in-chief, Jude Atupulazi, in a no-holds-barred interview, covering the reasons they struck and the way forwrad. Uzoezie, who hails from Igboukwu, represents Aguata 11 in the state assembly.
Can you give a summary of how this problem originated?
Well, you all remember that the former Speaker was nominated by me on June 13, 2015 and was elected by members present during our swearing in on same day. It's quite unfortunate that six months or thereabouts, down the line, after the inauguration of the house and her election as the Speaker, her ineptitude came to the fore. First and foremost, one will notice that the number of the bills that we've been able to do are quite small compared to what we did in the former house. That is, in the fifth Assembly. And the quality of the bills as well, is suspect, and one can see that most of the private member bills in one way or the other have been suppressed in favour of bills and motions that are pro-executive. Overtime, the house has been turned into a praise singing club for the executive. Every day, we hear of motions praising the governor for one award or one title or praising the governor's wife for one chieftaincy title or the other. And I don't subscribe that the House should degenerate to such a situation.
And more so, the confidence and trust imposed in her by her colleagues has over time, dwindled. Even the way and manner she treats members and staff has become suspect, degenerating to a situation where most times she has verbal outbursts and exchanges with members which is quite unbecoming of somebody holding that kind of position.
I'm well aware that on two previous occasions, the members resolved to remove her, if not for the governor's intervention. The last one was sometime before the gubernatorial election last year. The governor quickly intervened and promised that immediately after his re-election, we would be free to do the needful. We presumed that during that period and subsequently, she would turn a new leaf. But unfortunately, that wasn't the case. So, I would want the house of assembly not to be a place where people will be throwing banters without serious outputs. She has brought us to a situation whereby people don't even take us seriously anymore and we've become an object of mockery and social persecution through no fault of ours. So, we want to build an institution where people will recognize that this is a parliament of the people and that people are free to ventilate their rights at all times.
So, her highhandedness, misappropriation of funds allocated to the house and general attitude towards her legislative assignments and relationship with members have actually attributed to the resolve by members to remove her.
Now, people are bound to ask, 'why strike now?' Although you've said that there were instances in the past where you moved against her, save for the governor's intervention, there is this belief in some quarters that the people who are up in arms against her now are those who lost out in their bids to go to the Federal House. Do you subscribe to this?
Well, I won't say that our quest to remove her has 100% much to do with members not getting tickets and all that. Like I said, two times before now, we had resolved to remove her, save for the governor's intervention. So, what it means is that for every occasion, people will always come up with one argument that we should leave her because of this or that. We can't continue to leave a mad bull in a China shop. In one way or the other, we must get the bull out of the China shop because if you don't do it, the bull will continue to destroy things, so we have taken our resolve to remove her from the leadership. Yes, some members lost their bid to re-contest their seats or move to a higher pedestal but somehow, she contributed to that because the members' perception in the eyes of the party and the executive were at the lowest ebb under her watch. Members of the executive treat the legislature as their subordinates or as their aides or slaves. Members were extorted in the name of primaries and all that and she, in one way or the other, collaborated with the party and the executive to punish her peers for no just cause. So, I believe that she has not given us a purposeful leadership and the best time to get rid of the bad egg is now.
Now, it is believed that the governor is supporting her because of the fear that you people are targeting him in the long run. You have given assurances before now that you are not after the governor but the people in the party are still afraid that you're targeting the governor. Can you trash out this matter once and for all?
One thing is that I am so shocked and surprised that the governor would bring himself down to this kind of mindset because, if he is doing well, he shouldn't fear leadership change. You are well aware that the legislature is an arm of government. It's an independent arm of government. So, we're free at all times to re-jig our operations to suit our modus operandi.
We're not after the governor and like I said earlier, it takes a lot to remove a governor - whether working or non-performing. In the past where governors were impeached, more or less, the federal government collaborated with the legislature at the state level to get it done but this time around, you know that the governor is on good terms with, and working well with the government at the centre, and he's equally doing his own bit to do the much he can.
But, we can't allow him to turn himself into an emperor or a dictator. What happens in the house of assembly should remain in the house of assembly. It's totally our internal affairs. However, this idea of getting the Nigerian Police Force to barricade and block our premises is anti-democratic. He has no business encouraging the Nigeria Police Force block our premises under any guise, whether by pseudo means or whatever means. I know that some of my colleagues are being threatened by one thing or the other but we've already resolved that we must succeed in this battle because it's a battle for change and no good thing comes so easy.
When your party, APGA, announced your suspension alongside two others, they said it was because you didn't consult them. Now that I have the privilege of talking with you, did you not consult them, or have you met with the party after that?
It's quite unfortunate that the person that made that statement is quite uninformed about the workings of any legislature and I'm so sorry that he has never been a legislator, either at the lower level, state or even at the federal level. So, I don't blame him for displaying such ignorance. We're not running a British or Monarchy type of parliamentary system where party decisions are implemented by the parliament. We're running a presidential system of government. I do represent both the interest of the party and the interest of non-party members and I'm elected by the generality of my constituents and not by my party members.
So, I have to push those ideals that reflect the opinions and the will of my constituents. So, consulting the party or them suspending me is of no effect because you can't just wake up one morning and go to the newspapers and suspend high ranking members of your party; that is the speaker, the deputy speaker and the majority leader. It smacks of ignorance and irresponsibility for their part. I think they should first and foremost, cleanse the party because the party at this point is in a total shambles. They've lost the confidence of a lot of party members.
The leadership of APGA has turned itself into a big joke of the century. In the news media, you see many trending news, ranking APGA as the most corrupt entity in Nigeria. So, it's not a good record. I think the leaders of the party at that level, those that are making such assertions, should first and foremost, clean up their house and refund people the funds they have stolen from them before they could start talking about issues concerning the house. So, I'm not in a haste to consult them or meet with them because this is an issue that is entirely a house matter. It has nothing to do with the party.
To what extent do you think that the conduct of the primaries of the party will have a bearing on the current saga in the house?
May be I will just say 10% or even less because, like I said earlier, on two occasions, we resolved to remove her because of her gross misconduct and her inability to function properly as the Speaker of the house. She has not given the house the good representation we want and she has turned the house into an object of mockery and she personalizes the institution of the state assembly. So, more or less, it's an ongoing thing and you know; when anger and frustration boil, any slightest thing will make people to revolt. The French Revolution didn't start in a day. It was an accumulated issue and likewise every other revolution. So, this is a revolution that is internal to the house members and people shouldn't read ulterior motives to it. We're resolved and I'm resolved to make sure that the will of the people prevails and justice, given.
Exactly how many of you are in this, because you claim you have the majority. How many are with you?
One, at the last count we are over twenty that are in this struggle, forget about what you read in the social media. Yes, some members were given money to scuttle the struggle, but the thing is that impeachment has been done and it has been done, so no amount of bribe taken will solve the issue. One is that the governor and former speaker should come to terms that once impeached, she is impeached. The only thing they will do is to go back to the drawing board, when we are fully functional, if we are not performing, then they should instigate members to remove us; but not going behind our back to bribe members to recant.
I know in the Bible they say “what is written is written”, and already our colleagues have signed the impeachment. The impeachment has been done and I've been elected, going behind the scene to lobby and bribe members in a bid to whittle down the impeachment comes to nothing. So I pray that they should see reason to allow democracy to function in Anambra State and I urge all well meaning individuals and the press to rise up at this point in time to speak out and condemn this evil attack on democracy because when democracy is under attack, its everybody that will be affected, one way or the other.
Now, given the claims and counter claims from both sides, on the following of due process in the impeachment, is there anything you can show to prove that due process was met; maybe the signature of those who signed?
Yes, we are waiting for them in the court because I know that is where they will run to, so we are waiting for them in the court - both with the video clip and the signed documents. I know they are threatening some of our colleagues with ticket withdrawal so that they won't re-contest election. So we are trying as much as possible to protect our colleagues from that.
We have the signatures and at the appropriate time we will display it for all to see and it will shock the whole state and the governor to his bone marrows because I know that he will be surprised that those he calls his closest confidants and those that wine and dine with him on a daily basis are in it together with us because they encourage us to continue the struggle to liberate the Anambra House of Assembly from the grip of the executive.
Now to the issue of sponsorship, some people believe that you people are being sponsored by the opposition and some people are also saying that you are very close to Victor Umeh; that he is also sponsoring you. Can you clear the air on the issue of sponsorship?
Alright, I don't need one to sponsor me to build my house, or to sponsor me to make my bed when I wake up. So, I don't know who they think will be sponsoring us to get our acts cleaned up. I know that nobody has spoken to us with regard to sponsorship; it's only them that are afraid of their own shadow. I am not sponsored by any opposition party. Even Chief Victor Umeh, I just met him in one social function recently when one of our fathers, Chief Dr. Okwadike, did his 80th birthday. That was the first time I was meeting him and I have not spoken with him on the phone, my call log is there with MTN for people to come up and verify.
I have not spoken to him on any issue regarding this because this is entirely a state assembly matter; it has nothing to do with the politics of the party or family issues. So bringing in Victor Umeh into this controversy smacks of naivety because I remember in 2015 that it was the same thing they said about me being sponsored by Victor Umeh to be the speaker.
You know, when you are dealing with people that are weak in the spirit, this is the kind of thing they will be saying. Next thing they will say is that I am being sponsored by one bishop or one pastor or one person. I think the executive should focus on cleaning the executive, the party should focus on cleaning the party and we should focus on cleaning the state assembly, likewise the judiciary should mind their business and I even encourage the royal fathers to continue to do what they are doing by being unbiased and help, as well to tell the governor to focus on governance and leave the house of assembly alone. Likewise the religious fathers should focus on telling the people the truth because only the truth will set us free. Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die; we are ready to die in this struggle and by God's grace we will salvage the state assembly. I am not afraid of any person because we are all mortals. We will all fight this thing together, and I encourage the public to rise up and condemn the action of the executive and the so-called rumour mongers and peddlers and make sure that the House of Assembly stands on its two feet because that is the only way that things will function better in our state; we are not ready to impeach the governor and we are not discussing that.
Ok, back to issue of the authenticity of impeachment. Some, especially the clerk, are saying that the clerk should be the one to swear you in, so how does he come in? Do you need him to swear you in?
It is quite unfortunate that the clerk has descended into the arena of controversy. One, our constitution does not provide in any way where the clerk will swear in a speaker after another speaker has been impeached; likewise we do not need the clerk to conduct our affairs. He clerk is like a servant to the assembly; he is not in any way a member of the house of assembly, he can only be seen not be heard. When the video clip comes out, you will see the clerk there, observing the entire procedure. The clerk was there, the two deputy clerks were there and other table officers, an entire crew including the Senior Special Assistant to the governor on legislative matters, Edozie Uwa; all of them were fully covered, so they watched the entire procedure. The clerk is more or less a civil servant who has more allegiance to the executive than the legislature. I pity him. In one moment he will support impeachment and when threatened with sack, he will support the executive. I know that overtures have been made to him that he will be nominated as the chairman of House of Assembly Service Commission, come next year when he retires. I know that is why he is turning but immediately after the impeachment, he was hailing and supporting every action we took but you know human beings and more especially people from this clan, they are easily cowed.
Now that the house of assembly has been sealed off by the police and it is not something that we think will be re-opened anytime soon, how does that affect the functions of the house?
It is quite unfortunate because just last week after the closure of House of Assembly by the Nigeria Police Force, a similar thing happened in Akwa-Ibom. The police sealed off their premises and it took a resolution from the National Assembly to get it unsealed after 48 hours. I encourage our representatives at national assembly, both upper house and lower house, to condemn the action of the police for sealing the house for over one week and its quite unfortunate that the people we expect to talk are not talking. Even the religious fathers, the traditional rulers, businessmen, the elite in Anambra State, that we expect to rise up and condemn the action of the Nigeria Police have left the struggle entirely to the legislators which is quite unfair and we are fighting to save the institution of democracy.
So we expect that everyone should rise up and condemn the action. We've already written to the National Assembly just yesterday (November 23) and I've already written to both the State Police Command and the Inspector General of Police on the issue of sealing off of our premises. We are not in any military regime so I don't see any reason why our premises should be sealed off in such in a manner that will prevent the legislature from conducting their affairs and you know that in the Legislative Activity Act, 2017, I presume, it's unlawful for any security agency to seal off or prevent a legislator from attending to the duties of his office, so I know that there are people that respect the acts and laws of this land and very soon we will meet them in court if the action persists.
Finally what do you think is the way out of this log jam?
It is not a log jam, we are telling the police to vacate our premises and telling the governor, as a man of honour and the head of government, to accept the mere fact that the former speaker, Rita Maduagwu, has been impeached and it remains so and that I, Hon. Ikem Uzozie, have been so elected by my peers to lead the affairs of the house for the remaining months. She should accept it in good faith and let's forge ahead and work towards building a glorious state without too much rancor. So that is my prayer and I pray that God will see us through in this glorious effort of ours to liberate our institution from evil hands.