Boss Picks

Face-off: Ambode, Lagos Assembly in Fight to Finish

By Eric Elezuo

The face-off between ex-governor Akinwunmi Ambode and the Hon. Mudashiru Obasa-led Lagos State House of Assembly did not start today or just after the tenure of the former governor. It has remained a recurring decimal ever since the active days of the ex-governor, noted a government official who prefers to remain anonymous.

Prior to September 2018 when the All Progressives Congress (APC) chose Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu against Ambode as its governorship candidate for the March 2019 governorship election, much seems to have been going wrong for Ambode. In the first instance, he was fast losing touch with his godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose proxy, the Mandate Group, constantly harassed the then governor over his refusal to step down for the anointed Sanwo-Olu. It was therefore not by accident that Ambode lost woefully during the hurriedly organised direct primary election.

Ever since, it has been from one constitutional albeit personality crisis to another as the Lagos State lawmakers, who many Lagosians believe are acting the script written by Bola Tinubu, constantly harassed the former governor for one ‘constitutional breach’ after another. Early in January, the lawmakers rose from an emergency parliamentary meeting and insisted that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode must appear before them to explain infractions leveled against him. The lawmakers had vowed that if the infractions continued, they would impeach the governor.

In his assessment of the ultimatum, Majority Leader, Sanai Agunbiade had said that nobody was witch-hunting the governor but that the infractions were serious issues the House could not over look.

According to him, the House decided to correct some wrong information and misconception being bandied around by the House resolutions on Ambode, stressing that the House was not saying that Ambode should end his tenure but that because of issues surrounding the 2019 budget, he was summoned by the the House.

He said the major contention was that he has started spending from the 2019 budget which had not been laid before the House and against constitutional provisions.

“The budget is supposed to have been laid before the commencement of another fiscal, which has always been the practice in the state, and unless it is laid, you cannot spend from it but the governor has gone ahead to make expenditure from the budget.

“There are also some infractions the House observed about the 2018 budget, expenditures made outside the budget, which necessitated the invitation the House extended to him and some commissioners to come and explain things.

“It is not witch-hunting as people believe; to make expenditure from the budget, you must have laid it before the House, for now we don’t have the budget so you can’t spend. As legislators, we must do things properly”, he said.

In a rather new angle, Agunbiade added that it was not true that the lawmakers were after Ambode because he refused to fund their campaign. He concluded by threatening Ambode, on behalf of the House with impeachment.

The Majority Leader’s clarifications raised two issues 1. Ambode may have ran foul of constitutional and budgetary matters and 2. there are personal matters which vendetta is sought considering the ‘campaign’ matter insinuated.

It would be recalled that Ambode, in the middle of scuffle with his party, had addressed a World Press Conference on where he unequivocally stated that he’ll continue with the APC primaries set for the next day, the fact that he was told to step down notwithstanding.

He didn’t stop there; he went ahead criticise and painted the party’s anointed candidate, Sanwo-Olu, in black, saying he was once arrested for spending fake American dollars in a night club. He also claimed there is a medical record at Gbagada General Hospital that shows Sanwoolu had undergone rehabilitation. These and many more did not go down well with the powers behind the emergence of Sanwo-Olu.

But even as the primaries and the election proper have come gone with Sanwo-Olu emerging victorious in both situations, the powers after Ambode were still bent on revenge.

So as the days ran into months after inauguration of a new administration in Lagos State, the House of Assembly set up a committee to probe his administration’s purchase of hundreds of buses under the Bus Reform Initiative (BRI) project. The lawmakers accused Ambode of buying the buses not only without their approval, but at inflated prices. That was practically more troubles for the ex-governor as he is already being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) over alleged accounts traced to the office of his chief of staff in which N9.9 billion was said to have passed through from late 2018 to mid 2019 when he left office. The operatives of the ant-graft agency had stormed his Ikoyi and Epe residences where they conducted a search though at some point, they were resisted by residents.

Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, had not wasted time in constituting a committee to investigate Ambode’s financial activities, especially as it involved the purchase of 820 buses in defiance to lawmakers’ refusal to approve the purchase in 2017, 2018 and 2019 budget proposals. The motion was Gbolahan Yishaw. Many had said that the Speaker has been operating a no love lost kind of relationship with the governor ever since the proscription of Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) and introduction of Visionscape.

The committee whose members include Fatai Mojeed-chairman, Rasheed Makinde, Temitope Adewale, Bisi Yusuf, Oluyinka Ogundimu, Hon Layode Joseph, Olanrewaju Afini, Mojisola Miranda and Kehinde Joseph, were expected to investigate and determine the extent of financial burden on the state and proffer solutions

The ex-governor himself among other principal officers of his administration, including former accountant general, former commissioner for finance as well as former commissioner of transport and procurement were penciled down for invitation to explained the part they played in the allegation. But the invitation issued to them was rebuffed and the House agreed to go a step further to summon them through newspaper adverts, after which they failed to respond will be arrested. This decision followed two preliminary reports presented by two ad-hoc committees set up by the House to investigate the 820 buses purchased by Mr Ambode and to appraise the 2019 mid-year budget.

The former commissioners involved are Mr Kazeem Adeniji (Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice), Olusegun Banjo (Commissioner for Budget), Akinyemi Ashade (Commissioner for Finance), and Wale Oluwo (Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources).

Ambode and his former officers were indicted by the report of the nine-man ad-hoc committee headed by Fatai Mojeed, which discovered that due process was not followed. The report further stated that the former governor used the refund of the Paris Club for the purchase of the buses without the approval of the House. Over N48 billion was spent on the purchase of the buses and N22 billion was spent on import duties while another 520 of the buses are still at the seaport.

The committee also said that no payment voucher was made available to it just as there was no budget instrument used for the purchase was presented nor newspaper where the purchase of the buses was advertised.

The House went ahead to place advertisement in some national newspapers summoning Ambode and other four commissioners to appear before. But at this time Ambode reacted, dragging the House to court in a bid to stop from further investigating him and contest the constitutionality of the probe of the buses which were procured by his administration.

Based on the suit, the Lagos High Court in Ikeja ordered the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa to appear before it. Others to appear before the court are the Clerk of the House, Mr A.A Sanni; Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee set up by the House to probe the procurement, Fatai Mojeed and members of the Committee. They are Gbolahan Yishawu, A.A Yusuff, Yinka Ogundimu, Mojisola Lasbat Meranda, M.L Makinde, Kehinde Joseph, T.A Adewale and O.S Afinni.

According to his statement of claim before the court, which was served on the defendants, Ambode said contrary to deliberate misrepresentation of facts by the lawmakers, the procurement of the 820 buses was well captured in the 2018 Appropriation Law which was duly approved by the House thus:

“In section 1 of the Bill, the 1st Defendant (House of Assembly) authorized the total Budget for the year 2018 to be One Trillion, Forty Six Billion, One Hundred and Twenty One Million, One Hundred and Eighty-One Thousand, Six Hundred and Eighty Naira (N1,046,121,181,680.00) comprising the sum of Three Hundred and Forty Seven Billion, Thirty-Eighty Million, Nine Hundred and Thirty-Eight Thousand, Eight-Hundred and Seventy-Two Naira (N347,038,938,872.00) only and Six Hundred and Ninety-Nine Billion, Eighty-Two Million, Two Hundred and Forty-Two Thousand, Eight Hundred and Eighty Naira (N699,082,242,808.00) only as the Recurrent and Capital Expenditures respectively.

“Part of the items authorized by the Bill under Capital Expenditure was: “LAGBUS Public Transport Infrastructure (MEPB); Part financing of 820 buses” which was item 8 under schedule 1- Part C of the Bill.”

Ambode sought among others, the court’s declaration that the power of the House to pass a resolution under section 128(1) of the Constitution to cause an inquiry into his conduct as Governor is subject to right to fair hearing as guaranteed by section 36(1) of the Constitution.

He added that having prescribed the manner of withdrawal of funds in sections 3 and 4 of the 2018 Appropriation Law, it was unconstitutional for the House to attach another condition in section 9 of the law for further approval to be sought before incurring any expenditure on the purchase of the buses.

The former governor also found it laughable that it was the same set of members of the Assembly who “contributed actively in vilifying, disparaging and denigrating him constituted the bulk of the members of the Committee”.

Some other claims of the ex-governor are: “A DECLARATION that having regard to the provisions of sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Appropriation Law of Lagos State 2018, sections 8 and 9 of the Law which required the approval of the House of Assembly of Lagos State before certain expenditure of money is incurred by the Executive Branch of the State is not in accord with any provision of the Constitution and accordingly is unconstitutional, null and void.

“A DECLARATION that it is not lawful for the Defendants to represent or continue to represent to the Public that the Claimant, AKINWUNMI AMBODE, procured 820 buses in breach of budgetary approval.

“A DECLARATION that the powers of the 1st Defendant under sections 103, 128 and 129 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended does not include power to indict the Claimant as contemplated by sections 66(1)(h), 137(1)i and 182(1)i of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.

“AN INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants whether by themselves, their servants, agents and or representatives from compelling the Claimant, in any manner whatsoever, to appear before the Defendants pursuant to the Resolution passed by the Defendants on 27th August 2019 or any other Resolution passed in respect of the subject matter of this Suit.

“AN INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants whether by themselves, their servants, agents and or representatives from representing or continue to represent to the Public that the Claimant, AKINWUNMI AMBODE, procured 820 buses in breach of budgetary approval.”

When the matter came up in court, Ambode’s lawyer, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), informed the court of his pending application for interlocutory injunction, saying that same had been served on the defendants.

In response, a team of lawyers of the defendants led by Mrs. Adenike Oshinowo and included Mrs. Adegbite and Ms. Olayemi Johnson, confirmed service of the application, but pleaded for time since the processes were served late. They specifically requested for two weeks to respond but the date they suggested was not convenient for the court.

Responding, Oyetibo did not object to the application of the defendants for adjournment but urged the Court to direct parties to maintain status quo. In her response, the presiding Judge, Justice Yetunde Adesanya, said “it goes without saying” and called on Mrs. Osinowo for her response who also agreed that status quo would be maintained by the Defendants.

Responding, Oyetibo did not object to the application of the defendants for adjournment but urged the Court to direct parties to maintain status quo. In her response, the presiding Judge, Justice Yetunde Adesanya, said “it goes without saying” and called on Mrs. Osinowo for her response who also agreed that status quo would be maintained by the Defendants.

The court then adjourned the matter to November 20, 2019 for the hearing of the motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction.

In the meanwhile, ex-governor Ambode is free though not safe as uhuru is yet to be achieved. For now, he cannot be summoned by the House to answer any question as both parties have agreed to maintain status quo.

The battle may have subsided, but the war is far from over. Both parties have retreated to re-sharpen their swords, and will surely return breathing more fire.

Who wins, who blinks first…time will tell, but one thing is certain…it is a fight to finish!

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