Last Monday, Nigerians, particularly indigenes and residents of Taraba State, were jolted by the news of the removal of Rt. Hon. Istifanus Haruna Gbana as Speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly. Also removed along with him were the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Abel Peter Diah, Majority Leader, Hon. Charles Maijankai, and the Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Daniel Ishaya Gani.
Gbana’s impeachment as Speaker of the Assembly brought to an end his over eight year reign as the number three citizen of the state, having been elected Speaker in 2005. During his tenure, Gbana was elected chairman of Nigerian Speakers Forum in 2007, though, he lost his re-election bid in 2012 to the Speaker of Gombe State House of Assembly.
Series of allegations were levelled against Gbana and the other principal officers of the house in the notice of impeachment which was signed by 17 of the 24 members of the legislature. The allegations included gross misconduct and abuse of office. But THISDAY investigation reveals that the impeachment was sponsored by some well-placed persons in the state who had been calling for the confirmation of the acting governor, Garba Umar, as the substantive governor in view of the long absence of Governor Danbaba Suntai from the state.
The 17 members that signed the impeachment notice were Hon. Dr. A.A. Jugulde (Gembu), Hon. Dr. Mohammed D. Gwampo (Yorro), Hon. Ibrahim Adamu Imam (JalingoI), Hon. Yahaya Abdulrahaman (Gassol II), Hon. Aminu J. Umar (Jalingo II), Hon. Bonzena J. Kizito Zing), Hon. Emmanuel Dame (Ardo Kola), and Hon. Gambo Mai Kudi representing Bali II Constituency.
Other signatories to the notice of impeachment were Hon. Hamman Adamu B. Abdullahi (Bali II), Hon Haruna Tsokwa (Takum I), Hon. Iratsi Yohanna Adaki (Ussa), Hon Joseph Albasu Kunini (Lau), Hon Josiah Sabo Kente (Wukari I), Hon. Adamu Tanko Maikarfi, (Gassol I), Hon. Mohammed Abdulkarim (Ibi), Hon. Rashida Abdullahi (Nguroje), and Hon. Mohammed G. Umar (Gashaka).
Besides the speaker, his deputy and the other two principal officers, other members of the house that refrained from appending their signatures to the impeachment notice were Hon. Edward Baraya (Karim II), Hon Mark Useni (Takum II) and Hon. Charles Ishaku representing Kurmi constituency.
In the impeachment notice, titled “Notice of allegation of gross misconduct against the Hon. Speaker, Taraba State House of Assembly, Rt. Honourable Isitifanus H. Gbana, and the entire Principal Officers,” the 17 members, representing over two-third majority of the members, accused the speaker and the entire principal officers of gross misconduct and unconstitutional acts in the performance of their official functions.
The speaker was said to have unlawfully deducted N9.36 million out of the N12 million allowances approved and paid to members in December last year out of which only N110, 000 was given to the legislators. The remaining N9.3 million was alleged to have been illegally retained by the speaker and the principal officers.
The speaker and the principal officers were also accused of neglecting their roles in calling the financial and general purpose meeting with a view to intimating the members of the house and presentation of the statement of accounts for the running cost/monies allocated to them.
The aggrieved members also noted that failure to call the financial and general purpose meeting had showed the speaker’s lack of financial accountability on the allocations that accrued to the house. This, according to the legislators, amounts to gross misconduct.
Other allegations levelled against Gbana include lack of dexterity and capacity in discharging the duties of his office, thereby creating disaffection, disharmony and favouratism in the running of the house. The legislators said this was in contravention of his oath of office as speaker. Gbana was also accused of sidelining the members, except a “selected four”and running the house as his personal property.
Gbana, who had survived several impeachment attempts before, was alleged to have failed to conduct legislative council meetings, in contravention of the House Standing Rules of Taraba State House of Assembly, thereby crippling the legislative dealings and competence of the house and making the public to look at the house as a bunch of incompetent representatives.
Moving the motion for the impeachment of Gbana and the other principal officers, which was second by Hon. Dr. A.A. Jugulde, Hon. Joseph Albasu Kunini said it was the conviction of the house that the officers engaged in numerous acts of gross misconduct, contrary to Section 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution and Section 209 of the same constitution and to all principles of transparency, accountability and due process.
In place of the Gbana, Hon. Haruna Tsokwa from Takum 1 Constituency was elected Speaker while Hon. Adamu Tanko Maikarfi, representing Gassol 1, was elected Deputy Speaker and Hon. Joseph Albasu Kunini, representing Lau Constituency, emerged as Majority Leader of the House and Hon Josiah Sabo Kente was elected Deputy Majority Leader.
Addressing journalists after being sworn-in, Tsokwa said the members were fed up with the leadership of the house saying, “We are no longer satisfied with the quality of leadership of the house and we have to remove the leadership because we want to move the state forward.”
He promised to operate an open-door policy that would accelerate the growth of the state rather than drag it backward.
Though the removal of Gbana and the other principal officers was hinged on alleged misconduct and abuse of office, THISDAY learnt that the development may not be unconnected with political manoeuvring occasioned by the absence of Danbaba Suntai ahead of 2015.
There was consensus among the Assembly members that Gbana’s conduct as speaker had led to general apathy towards the Assembly and caused the members to be treated with disrepute by the general public especially. He was also panned for his controversial role as chairman of speakers’ forum in scuttling efforts to grant financial autonomy to the state assemblies. But not a few political watchers in the state believe that Gbana’s removal was necessitated by political exigencies.
It is already six months since Suntai was moved to Germany and later United States for medical treatment following injuries he sustained in a plane crash last year. And it is over four months since his deputy, Umar, became acting governor. But there has been serious pressure from several quarters for Suntai to be declared incapacitated and Umar to be sworn-in as substantive governor.
Before the fatal blow dealt him by fate, Suntai, who is in his second term in office, was in total control of the PDP structure in the state. Though many people are believed to be interested in running for the governorship of the state in 2015, it is a known fact that the door is being shut against many of them in PDP, ostensibly, because Suntai is perceived to have an anointed successor.
Suntai’s quest to ensure he hands over the baton to his anointed in 2015 and the avowed determination of some opposition elements within PDP, led by Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan and the immediate past chairman of the party in the state, Alhaji Abdulmumuni Vaki, observers say, is responsible for the current division and infighting in the Taraba State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party.
A PDP chieftain in the state, who craved anonymity, told THISDAY that all those aspiring for the governorship of the state in 2015, except the candidate purportedly anointed by Suntai, would prefer Umar to continue in office until 2015 to Suntai coming back to conduct the governorship primaries. As such, he said, they would do everything to ensure the rug is pulled from under the feet of Suntai.
According to him, “The change of leadership in the house is part of the permutation for 2015. You are aware that before the crash, Suntai had fallen out with Senator Aisha Alhassan, Chief David Sabo Kente, and others who are said to be interested in contesting for governor in 2015. Though, I cannot categorically say they are the sponsors of the development, I know that they will prefer Umar to continue as governor of the state till 2015 to Suntai returning as governor because that is the only way they can realise their ambitions in PDP.”
One of the members of the House of Assembly who refrained from signing the impeachment notice but said he did not want his name to be mentioned, told THISDAY that the “coup” in the house was orchestrated by Umar as part of a grand plot to sustain himself in office. He also alleged that a prominent special adviser who heads a government parastatal had provided the funds with which members of the Assembly were induced to effect the change in leadership.
According to the legislator, “I want to tell you that there is no way the acting governor can claim ignorance of what happened in house. Though, there could be external influences, it was a plot by him to ensure he continues in office as governor of the state, to the detriment of his boss. In fact, one of the special advisers, who heads a lucrative parastatal and had been a member of the house before, provided the bulk of the funds with which the members were induced to carry out the impeachment.”
However, Chief Press Secretary to the acting governor, Mr. Keffas Sule, dismissed the charge of complicity or knowledge of the change of guard at the Assembly against his boss.
Sule said, “The acting governor is grateful to God for what he has done for him and he is not power hungry. God in His infinite mercy deemed him fit to pilot the affairs of the state at this critical time and he has been doing that to the admiration of the good people of the state. In recognition and appreciation of the way he has been piloting the affairs of the state, the state House of Assembly and the national secretariat of PDP wrote separate letters to commend him for the good work he has been doing in the state. He has been extremely loyal to the cause of his boss and there is no reason whatsoever to do otherwise. So, it would be mischievous for anybody to accuse him of destabilisation in the house for his personal gain.”