Ahmed Mohammed is the deputy Chief Whip, House of Representatives. In the wake of the leadership crisis in the Kogi State House of Assembly, he was appointed chairman of an ad-hoc committee to resolve the crisis. In his first ever interview on the matter, Mohammed, who doubles as chairman of the North central caucus in the National Assembly, spoke on his relationship with the key actors, and his ‘special’ interest in Kogi State.
He insists that due process wasn’t followed in the change in leadership, but denied ever sealing up Kogi Assembly. He, among other things, told CHUKS AKUNNA that the crisis would be resolved sooner than expected.
Your committee was inaugurated on Wednesday, yet you arrived in Lokoja the following Monday. Why did it take you this long to take off on such an important assignment?
You know politicians, we had to begin with the major stakeholders and elders in Kogi State. The rumour had been that we would be in the state on Friday, but we decided that since the crisis isn’t just about the legislators, that if we wanted genuine peace, we have to get to the root of the matter. Instead of going straight to Kogi, we started by engaging the stakeholders.
Who were these stakeholders?
We started with the former governor Ibrahim Idris, former chairman of PDP, Senator Ahmadu Ali, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, among others. These were the people that engaged us between Friday and Saturday.
The report we got was that you arrived in Lokoja unannounced, suggesting you may have been compromised.
That is not true. We had decided against using one channel of communication, which is the Clerk of the Assembly. We issued a press statement which was aired on NTA Sunday night that we were going to be in Kogi the following day being Monday. We went as far as first informing the governor that we were coming to Lokoja.
The governor explained to us that he would not be available as he had a programme in Abuja for the whole of Monday. We then said, ‘fine!’ For we never really wanted to see the governor first. We had planned to see him after meeting with all the law makers directly involved.
Protocol demands that you first visit any governor hosting you. Were you planning on breaching this protocol?
Of course not! I had to ask the governor if he would take our telephone conversation in lieu of a courtesy visit since he wasn’t going to be in town? He agreed. We then proceeded to the Assembly. Before then, I spoke with the clerk of the House more than 10 times before we arrived in Kogi, and he promised that he was going to inform all the members of the Assembly. And he did confirm to me that he did so.
Before we arrived, we told him the venue and the police provided security. In fact, the police received us some 10 kilometres into Lokoja. If people claim they were not informed, how then did the police get theirs? We duly informed the Inspector General of Police of our coming. The SSS officials got instructions from their DG. We informed the governor. We informed the clerk, and he made all the promises. To our surprise, when we arrived, this same clerk was nowhere to be found.
Did you make attempts to reach the clerk?
Of course! When we didn’t see him so we called his telephone number. He picked and informed us he was in the Government House- that he has been reporting there, or so daily since the crisis started. He again assured he informed the members, and that he met the remainder of the lawmakers at the Government House, and that they would all come in a convoy. To our surprise, they came in singles. And even some of them didn’t come.
How many of them came to meet you?
About 16 of them. What then do you intend to do in the face of the controversy over whether or not you officially communicated the Assembly lawmakers?
The clerk told me you knew the proper channel of communication and yet chose not to follow it. The clerk cannot deny he was duly informed. See, I can go to MTN to download all our conversations. The other staff of the Assembly were aware of our visit. The reason they stayed to receive us. We met the Director of Legislative Matters. If he wasn’t aware of our coming, he wouldn’t have been there to receive us.
What then do you make of the position of the clerk that government business isn’t conducted on telephone, national television or newspapers?
My friend, listen. If he knew that why then did he agree to inform them? He shouldn’t have spoken of them agreeing to come in a convoy. And I told him to even send his email address so we can send an official notification of our proposed visit, and that we would hand him a hard copy on arrival.
What in your opinion could be responsible for the clerk initially co-operating with you and then, as it were, abandon your committee when you arrived?
I don’t know. But I think the clerk is under pressure from one axis, even though that is not the issue here. Of importance is that peace returns to Kogi. Already the political landscape is so heated up, and we cannot afford to add Kogi to this. If the situation is that which cannot be helped, we will all know so. But if it is something we can help, we will not sit on the fence and watch things degenerate. You know Kogi is a very volatile state. Within a very short time you will start hearing gunshots and people killed. This won’t augur well for us as a country.
There is this issue of your committee spending just about two hours in a state you were asked to come settle warring factions. Do you think you gave the main actors sufficient time to interact with you?
The records are there. Journalists were there. What we went to do was to confirm the process (for the change of leadership). We are not concerned with the reasons.
But don’t you think that without the clerk, who is the official custodian of records, your committee may never know whether or not the change of guards followed due process?
Everybody involved in Lokoja knew we were coming. The clerk was duly notified. Ah! The SSS will write their report that the clerk switched off his telephone. The story hasn’t ended. We are going to summon the clerk to the National Assembly. If he refuses to come we will issue a warrant of arrest. We will invite him. It is that simple.
Let me ask this for the records. There have been reports that you shut the Kogi Assembly. Did you shut Kogi Assembly?
We didn’t shut the Assembly.
All we said was that we would not entertain factional sittings. If the Assembly is willing to sit in full session, there is no problem. Go through the Constitution, read the operational House rules of the Kogi House of Assembly. They are on recess. We have extracts of the register of attendance with us counter-signed. We know the last time the Assembly sat.
And when was that?
Please listen. They are on recess. Only the Speaker can reconvene the House. No individual can do that. One or two groups cannot go and sit and purport to convene the Assembly.
They have to allow the Assembly be properly convened. Whatever they wish to do thereafter is none of our business. Even if tomorrow the Speaker of the Kogi Assembly is properly impeached, so be it. I am from Niger State. There were two impeachments in the state Assembly within one month or so. So long as the impeachment meets the constitutional requirements. We even told them that if they can properly re-convene and impeach them the following day, we have no problem with that. We have rules which guide our conduct.
If you don’t want to subscribe to the rules that we collectively subscribed to, it means we are heading for chaos. It means two people can wake up tomorrow and claim to have impeached the governor of a state. We won’t allow that.
From all you have said, it means you don’t believe any impeachments took place in the Kogi Assembly?
We have not come to that conclusion. We shall properly brief you when we conclude our report. All we are saying is that, based on what we saw there is a factionalised Assembly. We have one group with 13 members, the other has 12. And each of the group is claiming leadership of the Assembly. Each claims to have a Speaker and principal officers. One group claims to have the mace. The other say they have a mace. Each of the groups is bent on sitting. Such claims and counter-claims indicates we are heading towards chaos. And we don’t want to overheat the polity.
There are people who claim you appeared to have your minds made up even before coming to Lokoja…
See, if you meet me in my office, I can swear by my Koran. I don’t have any vested interests in Kogi. Anybody can be speaker. In fact, our overriding interest is to ensure that the governor governs well. We cannot allow any of the states to lapse into a situation of insecurity. As national parliamentarians, we shall be held responsible should anything go wrong in any part of the country beyond what we have at the moment. If you know me, you know my records. I am a man who calls a spade a spade. So I don’t have any vested interest as the chairman, and as a committee. Let the Constitution be protected. Let the Constitution be preserved. Let order prevail. That is all.
How soon will your report be ready?
Even tomorrow, if before we present our report they say, ‘OK, we have reconciled. We are resuming normally’.
And next tomorrow 17 people say they are passing a vote of no confidence on the Speaker, he is gone! They put him there. Any principal officer knows that he is there at the mercy of the members. The state legislators made a list of the offences they said their speaker committed.