Posted by By Jide Ajani, Political Editor, and Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa on
What looked initially like a no case against Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha among Bayelsa State government officials has turned out to be a complex, explosive and confusing issue that some of his-die hard supporters are beginning to lose hope of his eventual return as governor of the only homogenous Ijaw-speaking state.
What looked initially like a no case against Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha among Bayelsa State government officials has turned out to be a complex, explosive and confusing issue that some of his-die hard supporters are beginning to lose hope of his eventual return as governor of the only homogenous Ijaw-speaking state. That the self-styled Governor General of the Ijaw nation was arrested at the Heathrow Airport on September 16, 2005 as he arrived London from Germany over alleged money laundering and subsequently detained in notorious Brixton prison, before he was granted limited reprieve to his London home is no longer news.
However, what has continued to arouse the curiosity of the nation is what some observers describe as the unalloyed loyalty of the state deputy governor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and members of the state House of Assembly to the embattled governor whom they appear not to be in a hurry to impeach. Although the state deputy governor had repeatedly publicly declared his unalloyed loyalty to his embattled boss, informed sources told Vanguard that the Ogbia-born Jonathan is only biding his time and would not want to be seen as stabbing his benefactor from behind even though he is under pressure to take over from Alamieyeseigha. But daylight may have been brought into all that with Monday’s removal of the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Prince Boyelayefa Debekeme.
This, some observers see, as a very first and necessary step pursuant to impeaching the embattled Alamieyeseigha. Investigation by Vanguard has revealed that the uselessness of Alamieyeseigha’s case started dawning on the leadership of the state when news filtered in that he would remain under watch in London till December 8 when the Bow Street Magistrate Court would consider the request of the governor’s legal team that the case be transferred to a crown court and that would make it almost three months since he was arrested. Dr. Jonathan’s hesitation in taking over from his master is understandable giving the fact that he is nursing the ambition of succeeding him come 2007.
To further worsen matters, there had been some lobby on the lawmakers to resume sitting and discuss ways of impeaching Chief Alamieyeseigha. Fears that the governor might be convicted in London heightened when news reached Yenagoa that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had handed over documents containing the various accounts of the governor running into several millions of naira. The commission chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, was also said to have confided in some senior citizens of the state that Chief Alamieyeseigha ranks among one of the richest governors in the country and wondered why one man could be so stupendously rich in the midst of millions of his people who wallow in abject poverty. While the drama in London was playing itself out, the EFCC for the second time invaded the state and whisked away Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Prince Boyelayefa Debekeme.
His arrest was linked to the over N50million each member of the house collected in the name of constituency projects early this year and which a group known as Bayelsa Patriots are challenging in court. This sum was just half of what each member was supposed to have gotten.
The EFCC was however said to have granted the speaker reprieve after dangling before him the option of going to court to defend the legality of the illegal fund collected or pave the way for the impeachment of the embattled governor, prompting the caged Debekeme to, according to allegations, accept the latter option, with a proviso that the deputy governor should also go, since he could not completely feign ignorance of his boss’ looting of the state treasury.
A concerned Bayelsan alleged that, "apart from the house being a creation of the once all powerful but now crumbled "cartel" led by the cousin of the state governor Chief Abel Ebifemowei said to be on the run from the EFCC, it is most unthinkable for Jonathan to be said to be ignorant of what was going on in the state."
Investigations showed that members of the assembly were in a quagmire over what steps to take to find lasting solution to the complex situation on ground with the anti Debekeme forces who were all along not satisfied with his leadership style also pushing for his removal as speaker of the house. To this group of lawmakers, there ought to be a heavy collateral damage if a proper cleansing has to be carried out. But given the fact that house is no better than a mere rubber stamp "kicking out the incumbent speaker and impeaching the governor in one fell swoop could plunge the state into anarchy. The Federal Government is ready to dismantle all the political structures and declare a state of emergency which is not what we want," one of the members told Vanguard. But with the house reconvening Tuesday after nearly eight weeks of recess and insisting that it would not in any way allow itself to be used to further heighten tension in the troubled state occasioned by the arrest and trial of Governor Alamieyeseigha by the London Metropolitan Police over alleged money laundering, nobody is really sure where the house is heading now. A source disclosed to Vanguard paucity of funds may be a factor.
He pointed to the two-botched attempts made by the house penultimate week to reconvene, the inability to reconvene was blamed on the dearth of funds, a situation which prompted the lawmakers to stage a protest to the deputy governor who facilitated the payment of the fund and their subsequent resumption of sitting Tuesday. Speaking at the resumed sitting, a confident Debekeme had stated categorically: "This house will not participate in any way in increasing the tension occasioned by this unfortunate situation but rather commit the state to the throne of the God Almighty", adding, "we are heartened that this house has remained the symbol of peace and unity in the entire state at these trying times." This stability, which nonetheless was shattered Monday was first, tested last Friday when the state House of Assembly recorded unusual presence of armed mobile policemen fuelling speculations that the long anticipated impeachment of the embattled governor was in the offing.
However, members could not arrive at a compromise on the issue until yesterday when they eventually removed the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Prince Debekeme and his deputy Hon. Jephtah Foingha. Armed mobile policemen Monday morning cordoned off the assembly complex as members of the house met to implement the decision allegedly reached last Friday but which could not be executed because of disagreement among members. It was reliably gathered that with the exit of the two principal officers said to be vehemently opposed to the impeachment of the governor and emergence of Hon. Bright Erewari as deputy speaker and Premobowei Ebebi a former speaker of the house in the last dispensation who though was favoured by the lawmakers to continue with the leadership of the house because of his past experience, but lost to Debekeme, one of the loyalists of the governor’s cousin, Chief Abel Ebifemowei following fears that he could not be manipulated, the impeachment of the governor is expected to commence this week.
Indications that the lawmakers would be meeting to continue from where they stopped last Friday emerged in the early hours of the day when armed policemen arrived in three trucks and cordoned off the assembly complex by positioning themselves at strategic locations. Ironically, the policemen were led by a deputy superintendent of police who incidentally is the younger brother of the impeached deputy speaker, Hon. Jephtah Foingha, and before the lawmakers, led by the leader of the house Mr. Stephen Ereboh who is also Chief Alamieyeseigha’s son-in-law, followed suit at about 8:45 am in a white coaster bus with Bayelsa State government registration number.
Immediately the lawmakers moved into the house chamber, accompanied by the sergeant-at-arms with the mace, the symbol of authority, nobody was allowed access into the complex by the stern looking security operatives stationed at the gate. Curiously, some lawmakers who came late but were said to be opposed to the plan to effect a change in the leadership of the house if the plot to remove the governor must sail through, were also barred from going in by the security operatives in spite of identifying themselves as members of the house. In a motion moved by Hon Nelson Belief, representing Brass constituency III both principal officers were accused of, among other things, incompetence and dereliction of duty, failure to conduct regular sittings and concealment of vital documents of the house from members. They were also accused of high handedness, refusal to attend the PDP 2005 South-South Zonal congress after collecting money from the state government for that purpose and neglect, failure and refusal to attend vital state and national functions.
However, a lawmaker who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard that the allegations against the leadership of the house were unfounded saying the duo were not only opposed to the deputy governor taking over as the acting governor of the state but have also been stumbling block to the push for the impeachment of Alamieyeseigha. The more than two-third majority of the members of the house concurred and signed the removal resolution and elected Peremobowei Ebebi representing Ekeremor Constituency I as speaker and Bright Erewari representing Nembe constituency I as deputy speaker. At the end of the sitting, which lasted for about thirty minutes the staff of the assembly, the lawmakers all boarded the same coaster bus which brought them and proceeded to the Government House to confer with the deputy governor, while the assembly staffers were directed to vacate the complex and go home leaving behind the armed policemen who sealed up the premises ostensibly to prevent the loyalists of the speaker from gaining access into the compound to conduct their own sitting. An assemblyman who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity said no single individual is above the state and as such the two principal officers had to be removed adding that the impeachment of the governor is expected to commence this week. This would be the second time the leadership of the house would be impeached in six years with the first being Heineken Lokpobiri.
Whereas tongues are wagging concerning the intention of the deputy governor, especially in the face of his own alleged interest in the impeachment of his embattled boss, there are also genuine concerns that should he be viewed as playing the role of a distant accomplice to the continued stay in office of Alamieyeseigha, he runs the risk of being sanctioned by his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, since the party, from all indications is not particularly sympathetic to the embattled Alamieyeseigha.