The controversial speaker of Benue State Assembly, Titus Uba, speaks to JOHN CHARLES on the crisis rocking the legislature in the past few weeks
You were a member of the All Progressives Congress before your colleagues elected you speaker. What’s the latest on your defection from the APC to the Peoples Democratic Party?
I sent a letter to the APC chairman in my ward. I copied the Local Government chairman of the APC. I also copied the state chairman of the APC in the state, telling them that I have left the party to join the PDP. My letter which is to be read on the floor is available; we are only waiting for the day that we will reconvene, and it will be read.
How many of you have so far defected to the PDP and which party is in the majority in the house?
It has become a basis upon which we should be talking to the people because it’s something that has never happened in this country or anywhere, at least, to the best of my knowledge. The PDP, which was a minority on the floor, all of a sudden became the majority. And they (PDP lawmakers) were 13 in number; we (APC lawmakers) were nine in the party where I was before. That was when the impeachment (of Ikyange) was done; the majority (13 PDP lawmakers) conceded the speakership to the minority; and to the best of my knowledge, it has not happened anywhere in this country, where a speaker is impeached and the majority on the floor concedes the leadership of the assembly to the minority. What this simply means is that ours in this state has become a struggle, so we are not looking at acronyms; we are not looking at sentiment. We are looking at how we can come together and save the soul of Benue. In short, we, the PDP lawmakers, are 22 now. The others (APC lawmakers) are eight. So, all the former APC members have written their letters. We are just waiting for the day it will be read on the floor of the house.
You have presided over the affairs of the house many times. Why did it take you so long to present your letter of defection on the floor of the assembly?
Like I earlier said, the letter was ready. We met twice. These things should be done lawfully. I shouldn’t just go and read my letter on the floor without first transmitting it to my former ward council chairman. I needed time to do that. I don’t want a situation where I have yet to give a letter to my former ward, LG and state chairmen and then I would declare that I have left the party. They should be notified that I am leaving the party and I will leave after they have been notified.
Will you contest the elections in 2019?
When I was made the speaker, I took it (speakership) back to my people. I went to my kindred head, who took me to the Ter Ikyan, Ter Ukuna and Ter Jechira to give me their blessings before I started talking to the people. I had not attended any event until that blessing came yesterday (last Sunday) and they told me to go ahead with plans for the 2019 elections and that no one should contest against me for the House of Assembly from Ikyan Constituency during the forthcoming election.
Have you extended a hand of fellowship to the aggrieved members that you and your group claimed to have suspended?
We’ve been talking. Some of them, we did discuss and they have expressed their desire to… (laughs). Well, I don’t want to go beyond that.
How do you intend to achieve peace with them?
That’s why we’ve been talking. They are still members of the House of Assembly. They are still bona fide members of the 8th Assembly. They are only on suspension and until the suspension period lapsed, they won’t come back to our fold.
In the event that the status quo remains in 2019, and based on zoning arrangement, do you see yourself becoming speaker?
Speakership is not given by Governor (Samuel) Ortom. I want you to understand that. It is the assembly members that elect their speaker. I have just a few months; if I work and they (other lawmakers) feel that from now till the end of this assembly, I have performed very well and they want me to continue, fine, but if they feel somebody else should take the leadership, I’ll go with them.
The state High Court recently restrained you and your colleagues from sitting in the assembly complex. What is your reaction?
It is in our standing rules. It’s constitutional that, as far as you are sitting within the confines of Benue State, you can sit anywhere, even on the road and preside; you can make your biro your alternative mace. That is what the law says.
But there have been arguments of precedence set by previous judgments like the case of (Rashidi) Ladoja in Oyo State and (Joshua) Dariye of Plateau State, that decisions taken outside the confines of the assembly complex is not legal. How do you react to that?
I don’t know of that but I am telling you what I know and it states that, as far as you are within the confines of Benue State, you can sit anywhere and legislate.
There are reports that some of your members have started retracing their steps because the governor failed to complete the conditions in terms of money for the impeachment of the speaker?
That is an insult on the 22 of us. These people (accused of collecting inducement) are made already. They can dip their hands in their pocket and give you N1m. We cannot sell our people and this state for money. So, it’s an insult on my members. But you know that if you need to paint something black, you need black paint, so they must have the paint to paint us black and the 22 of us are intact, and by the grace of God, we remain unshakable and nothing will separate us.
Have you been receiving overtures from the Ikyange group which is allegedly being sponsored by loyalists to Senator George Akume to join them in their group?
No! Some of them are rather making advances to us so that they can return to our fold and not to take us to the other side.
So, will you lift the suspension should they come back to your fold?
That is negotiable. It also depends on if they behave themselves and retract the many false allegations they made against us. They must undo the bad, the black paint.
Has Governor Ortom been served the impeachment notice?
They (the eight aggrieved members) said they are still scouting for two members. They have not collated enough signatures to do that. They have yet to form a quorum up until now. So, how will he receive the impeachment notice? Besides, they cannot serve the governor because they were suspended; even the so-called sitting they did, the former speaker was not supposed to be there. He was already on suspension and someone impersonated the Clerk of the Assembly; we need to know who presided over the assembly as the clerk on that day. That sitting was null and void.
Recently, when the Ikyange faction was given a court order, they promised to abide by it, but on Monday, a court order has been issued to you. Will you abide by the order?
We have a team of lawyers; it’s the same court that restrained them that restrained us. It is in the hands of our team of lawyers to handle that. So, I don’t want to comment on that.