Reps Fault Wike For Calling Lawmakers ‘Traders And Merchants’

The House of Representatives on Tuesday faulted the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and his Oyo State counterpart, Seyi Makinde, for attacking the chamber over the emergence of Ndudi Elumelu as Minority Leader against the choice of the Peoples Democratic Party, Kingsley Chinda.

Another lawmaker, Mr Jide Jimoh, a member of the majority All Progressives Congress from Lagos State, had raised a point of order, making reference to a report in the July 5, 2019, edition of a national daily newspaper (not The PUNCH), in which Wike, while hosting Makinde, was quoted to have said the election of Elumelu as Minority Leader was by “traders and merchants.”

Jimoh also said Makinde was quoted in the report as saying that the House subverted the PDP choice for the position.

The lawmaker said, “Mr Speaker, having read that, I feel that my right as an individual, my privilege as an individual and collectively (as a House) has been breached.”

While noting that a matter of privilege was usually not subjected to debate, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, however, said because of the issues raised, he would allow some lawmakers to speak on them.

Commenting, Mr Nicholas Ossai, argued that the crisis in the PDP over minority principal officers of the House, should be limited to the minority party.

“The subject matter is a subject matter of the minority party. In as much as we don’t like the language used, because we are not merchants and we do not trade on the floor of this chamber, do we really agree that his privileges have been breached? Coming from a minority party, I feel that my privileges have been breached, but not his,” he said.

Gbajabiamila however interjected, noting that the issue of privileges of members did not have to do with their political affiliation, but as individuals and the collective chamber.

“What touches one, touches all,” he stated.

The Speaker added, “I was not intending to join issues on this matter but a decision has been made. Because it has been brought up, it is important to say just one or two things. One, the issue of separation of powers; a lot of people talk about separation of powers in the context of horizontal separation of powers, where you have the executive, judiciary and the legislature.

“But separation of powers does not end there; there are two sides to it. There is also the vertical, that is the Federal Government, the state and the local governments. The issue of what happens in the chamber has nothing to do with the state or local government. It is a breach of separation of powers.

“I also want to note that Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution is very clear on the freedom of expression. So, whoever makes a statement such as it has been referred to, has a constitutional right to their freedom of expression. But unfortunately, that freedom is not absolute. Section 45 basically checkmates that freedom.”

He added, “So, the point is noted that the privilege of members of the House collectively has been breached. I am glad that Hon Ossai has said that nobody is a merchant here. The language is very heavy; it is very serious. And no serious House who wants to protect itself and the institution would have said that.

“I will want to send the message out there to everybody who is outside that there is something sacrosanct about the institution and they should please try to as much as possible exhibit the leadership role that they are supposed to occupy. I don’t think you will find a member of this House castigating any state government unless it is absolutely necessary. Please, let us take note of that.”

In a related development, Gbajabiamila, also berated a member, Mark Gbillah, for accusing governors of Enugu and Ebonyi states, Mr Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and David Umahi, respectively, of sponsoring members from their states to oppose candidates of the PDP for minority leadership.

A member from Enugu State, Patrick Asadu, had raised a point of order at the plenary on Tuesday to lament that Gbillah’s comments on the leadership crisis, as reported by a national daily newspaper (not The PUNCH), infringed on his privilege and that of other lawmakers from Enugu and Ebonyi states.

Ruling on the order, Gbajabiamila said, “Let me say, Hon Mark Gbillah, of late you’ve been making several unbridled comments both in the print media and on television, many that even touched me in person and members of the House as well. And you have done this without exercising caution or mindful of the rights of others. Indeed, many can make several cases of defamation of character against you.

“Yes, Section 39 of the constitution allows freedom of expression but Section 45 checks that freedom; it is not absolute. Ordinarily, for me, if you remember, Hon Gbillah, not too long ago very weighty allegations were made against you. Very weighty indeed; and practically every member, including I, rose in unison to support you because those allegations were without proof.” [PUNCH]