Battle of wits on the Plateau4 min read

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When the Plateau State House of Assembly, openly accused of being the rubber stamp of Governor Simon Lalong finally summoned the courage to reshuffle its leadership by sacking its Speaker and Majority Leader, two weeks ago, everyone knew that the battle line had been drawn.

By Marie-Therese Nanlong

THE immediate past Speaker, Mr. Peter Azi was accused of being docile. The Majority Leader, Mr. Henry Yunkwap, many members muttered, was high-handed. It was a stifling brew that the members tolerated for three years until two weeks ago when strange energy empowered the members to remove the duo.

Gov. Lalong

All efforts by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to reverse the impeachment of the former Speaker have been rebuffed and it seems both the party and the governor have given up. But apparently not on the restoration of the leader, Yunkwap, who represents Governor Lalong’s Shendam State Constituency.

Yunkwap has been replaced by Mr. Na’anlong Daniel from neighbouring Mikang State Constituency. However, he is faced with the allegation of not being completely loyal to the APC and its leadership, and is being pressured to resign to enable the party nominate another leader said to be from the Central zone of the state.

But the majority leader, who said he was not desperate about the position and explained to Vanguard the circumstances of his emergence, is unmoving.

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He said: “What transpired was that 19 members of the Assembly signed an impeachment notice against the then Speaker of the House, which led to his removal. Again, the APC Caucus in the House, out of the 17 APC members that we have in the House, 12 of them signed to pass a vote of no confidence on the then majority leader and he was removed. The caucus nominated and adopted me as the new majority leader.

“As soon as that change was made, we went straight to the party leadership and informed them of the change in leadership. We also went to the governor to introduce the leadership of the House, which he actually welcomed and congratulated us. After exchanging pleasantries, we left and went back to the party chairman, who also welcomed and congratulated us.

“But the following day, I started hearing rumours that the party and the executive were having a meeting. They called us to say that the position of the majority leader is the position of the party hence the party has a responsibility of deciding who becomes the leader of the House.

“For now, I have not met with the governor or the party chairman for them to tell me to go and resign. None of them has asked me to resign but if I am going to resign, it is going to be on my personal conviction, and it has nothing to do with what I am hearing as a rumour. But again, why would I resign?

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Na’anlong also contends that the move to move the office of majority leader from his Southern Zone to the Central Zone is against the policy of the party of getting replacements for officers from within the same zone.

Though many claim to be in the know about the alleged pressure on Na’anlong to step down, some members of the Assembly who spoke on condition of anonymity said they have made their choice and would not welcome any outside influence on who should be their leaders.

One of such who spoke on record, Hon. Peter Gyendeng of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Barkin Ladi State constituency, noted that the 8th Assembly has not and would not be a rubber stamp to anybody as the Assembly is only working in line with law.

Gyendeng debunked the insinuation that the House is a rubber stamp of the executive.

His words: “About the threat to some of our principal officers, I would say the issue of the Speaker is purely our business as the Members of the House but that of the Majority Leader is that of the APC Members and their Party so I would not want to comment on that.”

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However, the State Chairman of the Party, Chief Latep Dabang told Vanguard that the controversy pertained to the way the matter was handled.

He said: “Members of our party in the assembly are supposed to choose the majority leader in consultation with us in the party office but they didn’t. We have given them our communication and have told them what to do. Didn’t they tell you what we told them? We didn’t ask him to resign at plenary, are principal officers elected at plenary? That is the question. The other principal officers that are serving today, were they elected at plenary? Why should our own be different?

“If the APC caucus had sat down and communicated us that they have lost confidence in their leader and needed a change, this is what they wanted; it would have been between us and them but to go to plenary and move a vote of no confidence on the majority leader and conduct a voice vote of yes or no with PDP members participating, it is not done that way.”

However, at the time of going to press, the lawmakers had succumbed to the party’s wish. Naánlong has been replaced. The new Majority Leader is Emmanuel Dakas of Mangu Constituency.