Disquiet in Delta Assembly as sacked speaker returns

There was disquiet in the Delta State House of
Assembly on Tuesday as its sacked Speaker, Mr. Martins Okonta, returned
to the House, barely two weeks after he vacated the seat for the Deputy
Speaker, Mr. Basil Ganagana. Okonta vacated the seat on
May 18, following the nullification of his election by the Court of
Appeal, sitting in Abuja, on May 12.Okonta, while handing
over the leadership of the House to Ganagana, had said that the action
was to enable him to pursue the appeal against the judgment of the
appellate court at the Supreme Court.Sources told our
correspondent that Okonta had hinted Ganagana at the end of the events
to mark the Democracy Day and third year anniversary of the
administration of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan last Saturday, that he was
planning to resume on June 15 when the House would reconvene after a
two-week break.A mild drama occurred at the ceremonies
when Okonta was introduced as Speaker and was invited to sit at the high
table with the governor. Similarly, Ganagana, who was present at the
events was also introduced as acting speaker.Surprisingly,
however, Okonta, in company with a retinue of aides resumed at the
House on Tuesday. He went to Ganagana’s office and demanded to be
restored as speaker. Reliable sources in the House told
our correspondent that Ganagana, who was apparently aware of the
mission, immediately handed over to him.The appeal court,
in a unanimous judgement read by presiding Justice Uwani Abba-Aji,
nullified Okonta’s election and ordered the Independent National
Electoral Commission to issue a certificate of return to the petitioner
in the protracted pre-2007 election suit, Mr. Kingsley Nonye-Phillips,
as the validly elected representative of Ika South Constituency in the
state legislature.Nonye-Phillips in the suit had averred
that Okonta was not validly elected in the April 2007 ousted election,
as his name was wrongfully substituted for that of the embattled speaker
by the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party.Nonye-Phillips
is yet to be inaugurated by the leadership of the House despite that he
has presented his INEC’s certificate of return to the Clerk of the
House, Mr. Raymond Yavbieri.This development has
sparked-off protests by the people of his constituency.Meanwhile,
bewildered workers and members of the House, who were around when
Okonta arrived, expressed surprise at his action.One of
the lawmakers said, “This development (resumption by Okonta) is
disturbing. I am wondering on what plank he is standing, by resuming in
the House today (Tuesday) as speaker; as the Independent National
Electoral Commission has withdrawn the certificate of return from him.
This is not the type of democracy we are envisaging under the
administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is talking about
reforms. The action of Okonta is something that should really be a cause
for concern for all right thinking people.“This is a man
who said he was vacating his seat in the House to enable him to face
his appeal at the Supreme Court and that he would resume after the
judgment of the Supreme Court. Is he saying that the case has been
decided in his favour within two weeks? What becomes of his statement on
May 18 that he was excusing himself to pursue his case?”Okonta,
in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Tuesday said there
was nothing unusual about his action. He added that he neither resigned
nor stepped aside on May 18.Okonta said he only informed
the House that he would be “slightly away” to file his appeal at the
Supreme Court, adding that he resumed after he had carried out the
action.Okonta said he was not constrained by the judgment
of the appellate court to vacate his seat in the House, adding that
since the issue for determination in the case predated the April 14,
2007 election, the appellate court was not the court of finality in the
matter.“I neither resigned nor stepped aside, as reported
in the media. I only informed the House that I would be slightly away
to file the notice of appeal at the Supreme Court; and I have done that.
A pre-election legal dispute like the one involving me constitutionally
ends at the Supreme Court and until the Supreme Court decides on the
matter, the status quo-ante, which is that I am still a member and
Speaker of the House, will be maintained,” Okonta added.

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