Date Published: 07/01/10
Bankole's House of Commotion: Journalists as scapegoats By Okechukwu Nwadike
The House of Representatives on Tuesday went through what pundits termed legislative catastrophe following the inability of members to avert the free-for- all fights that ensued amongst them at the resumption of plenary that day after its two-week recess.
Both premises of the National Assembly and the chamber of the Lower House witnessed unusual visitors even as the Press Gallery solely reserved for journalists was high jacked from them by curious spectators who thronged all available spaces to witness the anticipated proceeding of the overheated House.
Some aggrieved members during a two-week recess have been calling for the resignation of Speaker Dimeji Bankole alleging corruption and misappropriation of N9billion capital vote of the House. The aggrieved members who submitted their petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Monday in Abuja is led by Hon. Dino Melaye.
But Tuesday’s sitting which witnessed the eventual suspension of the anti-Bankole group was not without troubles as it gradually progressed from a rowdy session to fight for all at the floor.
Trouble started when after the opening prayers and presentation of petitions by members Speaker Dimeji Bankole invited Hon. Chile Igbaua (PDP, Benue) to present his motion. Igbaua’s motion came under Order 5 (1) Sub-rules 2 and 3 and Rules 2 and 3 read together with S. 60 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which allows the House to regulate its procedure and Order XVII Rules 7 Sub-rules 3 B, C and D which prescribe the procedure for internal dispute resolution through the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.
Furthermore, by the provisions of Section 24 of the Legislative House (Powers and Privileges) Act, according to the motion, “any person who publishes any statement, whether in writing or otherwise, which falsely or scandalously defames a legislative House or any committee thereof;
“Or publishes any writing reflecting on the character of the president or Speaker, as the case may be of a Legislative House or the Chairman of a committee of a Legislative House in the Conduct of his duty as such President, Speaker or chairman;
“Or any act or conduct inflicting or capable of bringing disrepute, disgrace and dishonor to the House, its committee or any of its members or officials or which in any way impairs or may likely impair the dignity and power of the Legislative House would constitute punishable contempt”
He added that while relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution guarantees the freedom of opinion and expression, “it must be done within the context of procedure so as not to infringe on the rights and privileges of others, in this case, members of the House. The recent attacks on the Speaker and the Principal Officers of the House on Television and the pages of newspapers, has cast serious dent on the image of this Honourable House”
He said for the members in failing to adhere to the provisions of the Legislative House (Powers and Privileges) Act, Code of Conduct for Honourable members and Rules of the House in stating their grievances and for taking their matter to the public domain with the view to maliciously bringing the image of the House into disrepute, “I hereby move the House” to “suspend the following members indefinitely, pending the outcome of investigation by Ethics and Privileges Committee”
The members so moved for suspension in the motion are Honourables Dino Melaye, West Ehioge West, Independence Ogunewe, Solomon Awhinawi, Austin Nwachukwu, Abba Anas, Gbenga Oduwaiye, Kayode Amusan, Gbenga Onigbogi, Bitrus Kaze and Doris Ubor.
Earlier, efforts by Melaye to prevent the motion from being read by the sponsor threw the House into the commotion that lasted over 45 minutes. Melaye interjected midway into the motion when he shouted “Point of Order”. He further stood from his seat when the Speaker ignored his “Point of Order” and shouts of “No way! We can’t take this” filled the air amidst rising tempers with whistle being blown all over by the opponents.
The chamber became tensed with growing camps as a member of Melaye’s camp; Solomon Awhinawi made for the maze but was quickly prevented by men of the Sergeant-at-Arms with an ensuing fight that left Hon. Doris Ubor seriously injured; Austin Nwachukwu’s cloths were completely torn and stripped naked while Melaye and Bitrus Kaze’s clothes were torn while they were forcefully dragged out of the chamber.
The situation heightened following the quick adoption and passage of Igbaua’s motion at the peak of the crisis and as well as the order from the Speaker that the affected members be evicted from the chamber. All happened in the presence of children of a City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya Abuja who were sitting right at the gallery to observe the Nigeria Parliamentarians in session.
Meanwhile, journalists covering the House of Representatives have continually been targets of the power play in the House as members fear they are being intimidated by agents suspected to be sympathetic to the House leadership.
While the drama at the floor of the chamber was ongoing Tuesday, a police Orderly simply known as Dauda said to be attached to the Speaker’s office pounced on journalists doing their legitimate duties at the gallery and tried to confiscate the camera of a Vanguard photographer. An uglier situation after some bloody brawls was prevented by the quick intervention of other members of the pen who stood their grounds in protests.
The fracas that ensued between Dauda and the reporters at the gallery saw a handset belonging to a Daily Independent reporter, Rotimi Akinwunmi snatched from him by a member of the State Security Services suspected to be of the Speaker’s team.
Again, while members struggled to sort out the release of their members’ equipment from these aides, the Director of Information and Publications of the National Assembly, Mr. Monima Daminabo descended on a Compass Newspaper reporter and ordered that he be arrested by the Police. This further infuriated the journalists who had to stage a walk out; a drama that threw the entire White House complex into a shouting arena until the aluta spirit exhibited by the journalists saw them through.
Last week, keys to the doors of the Press Centre of the reporters were removed and changed by the Sergeant-At-Arms unit of the National Assembly without recourse to the reporters; action members of the Press Corps suspect may have been perfected on the directives of the leadership of the House of Representatives. As at time of this report, the Press Centre is still under lock and key.
Although Hon. Eseme Eyibo, Spokesman of the House of Representatives had persistently denied the involvement of the House leadership in the travails of the journalists, apologizing to the reporters, Tuesday’s re-occurrence at the gallery had continued to baffle the correspondents who fear a reign of terror against the men of the pen profession.
But in a swift reaction through a press release made available to journalists same day, Daminabo accused some members of “the National Assembly Press Corps of paying scant premium to comportment in the hallowed precincts of the nation’s central legislature” urging accredited members of the Press corps to always make themselves easily identifiable by security operatives in the premises.
Reacting to the developments, James Ojo of the Daily Sun newspaper and newly elected chairman of the Press Corps of the House of Representatives said a situation where journalists are treated as if they were animals by politicians pursuing personal agenda would no longer be condoled.
Watchers fear if something urgent is not done, the worsening relationship between journalists and the Bankole’s House of Representatives would lead to a damning situation where information to the public are misrepresented.
Greg Okey Nwadike, Media practitioner is the Coordinator, Nigeria Without Borders Oraganisation (NIWBO) and writes from Abuja.