The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs Patricia Olubunmi Etteh may have agreed to step aside for her colleagues to discuss the David Idoko panel’s report on the N628 million renovation contract scam.
The report indicted Mrs Etteh for not following due process in the award of the contract for the renovation of her residence and that of the Deputy Speaker, Babangida Nguroje, as well as the procurement of some utility vehicles.
The House is expected to resume plenary session next week following last Tuesday’s unilateral decision of the Speaker to adjourn for a week.
It was gathered yesterday that when the House reconvenes on Tuesday, the Speaker would be escorted to the floor with the mace, the symbol of authority, take her chair and offer the opening prayer.
There after, she will examine the votes and proceedings, call for any new member to be sworn in and ask any member with a petition to submit it.
At the point of the consideration of the Idoko-Panel report, she will announce that because she and her deputy are mentioned in the scam, they are stepping aside.
A chairman pro-tempore will then be elected by majority of the members to chair the committee of the whole House.
Statutorily, the deputy speaker is the chairman of the whole House. But because of his involvement in the scam, he will not preside.
The Speaker will then take a seat beside the Clerk.
At the end of the debate, she will return to her seat.
It was not clear yesterday what may happen to her if the whole House finds her guilty.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had, at the end of its National Working Committee (NWC) meeting with its members in the House on Tuesday, asked the Speaker to step aside. It however, said due process must be followed in doing so.
The Chairman, Rules and Business committee of the House and leading supporter of the Speaker, Hon. Ita Enang said yesterday in Abuja that it is not the responsibility of the Speaker to chair the debate on the report.
Enang said it is the duty of Mrs Etteh’s deputy to do so.
In a telephone chat with The Nation, Enang stated that the Speaker never insisted that she must chair the debate of the report.
In a swift reaction, members of the Integrity Group, a leading pressure group which has been rooting for Mrs Etteh to step aside, declared that they would not accept the arrangement where the Speaker would have to step aside for her deputy.
According to the group, the Speaker and her deputy are co-accused on the matter.
Hon. John Halims Agoda, a leading member of the Group said: “When we are considering a report, it is the Deputy Speaker, by our rules, that should be the chairman of the consideration of any report. Our rules allow that.
“But in this case, the Speaker and the deputy are accused in this crisis, which should pave the way for the election of a Speaker pro-tempore.
So, when we come to that, the rules and the constitution would guide us”.
There have been calls from several quarters that Mrs Etteh should step aside for the consideration of the report, since she can never be a judge over her own case.
The opposition members, who on Tuesday vowed to convey a sitting of the House yesterday, did not do so. Most of them did not show up at the National Assembly.
Those sighted at the lobby of the National Assembly include Reps Chinedu Eluemunor, Hon. Lynda Ikpeazu, Femi Gbajabiamila and Abike Dabiri.
On why the opposition members failed to sit as threatened, the Leader of AC (Action Congress) caucus and Deputy Whip of the lower arm, Hon. Gbajabiamila explained that they decided not to go ahead with the plan because two wrongs can never make a right.
Said Gbajabiamila: “The Speaker has adjourned illegally, but we will wait. Two wrongs will not make a right. We will come on Tuesday and sit. She won’t adjourn again on Tuesday and so, she will face the inevitable”.
Echoing him, Hon. Dabiri explained that the decision not to sit was informed by some developments and ongoing meetings.
She said: “They (opposition members) changed that decision (to convene sitting) for other reasons. They are meeting right now (yesterday) and a lot of things are going on because it has even gone beyond temporary or no temporary. Far reaching decisions have to be taken”.
Gbajabiamila insisted that the Speaker must resign in view of what had happened on the floor of the House, adding: “resignation is not an admission of guilt”.
He said: “When people resign, it is not necessarily because of guilt. You resign because people have lost confidence in you. When you have a House, a democratic institution, where people are fighting, people are jumping and you cannot even conduct business for as long as we have been in this House now, then it calls for resignation.
“It is not a sign of guilt or whatever that you just step down. The people no longer have confidence in you. The country cannot move forward and you put your country before self and you resign, that is all it is”.
A-14 member committee (made up of seven members each from the anti and pro-Etteh groups) set up on Tuesday by the party, yesterday ended their talks.
Members of the Integrity Group on the committee are Farouk Lawan, Chuma Nzeribe, Emmanuel Jime, Mercy Almona-Isei, Terngu Tsegba, KGB Oguakwa and Aliyu Wadada.
Those from the Due Process Group are Ita Enang, Tam Brisibe, Dino Melaye, Bashir Agai, Soli Fada Jibia, Jerry Manwe and Doris Uboh.
When they rose last night, four of the members – Jime, Enang, Ogbuakwa and Itulah – were asked to write a report on the outcome of their meeting.
By The Nation