Not many Nigerians, especially close watchers of Nigeria’s National Assembly, will be surprised at the outburst and behaviour of Senator Dino Melaye on the floor of the Senate last Tuesday.
Mr. Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, had in a closed-door session of the upper legislative chamber, abused his colleague, Oluremi Tinubu, representing Lagos Central, over some remarks made against him by the latter.
Mrs. Tinubu, who is also the wife of a national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, was elected on the party’s platform as Mr. Melaye.
PREMIUM TIMES sources said the two senators clashed after the Kogi senator urged the Senate to deal with its members who had offered to serve as prosecution witnesses in the ongoing forgery case against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
Mr. Melaye reportedly accused the senators of working for the presidency to undermine the upper legislative chamber and warned that they should be prepared to face the consequences of their action.
“You should go and tell those who sent you that nobody, I said nobody, no matter who he is, can ever control this Senate,” the senator was quoted as saying as he pointed at the affected senators in anger.
When she rose to speak, the sources further said, Mrs. Tinubu, representing Lagos Central, expressed disappointment with Mr. Melaye, who she accused of always threatening people and behaving childishly and at times like a thug.
“I think he needs to know that every senator here represents their constituencies, and that there is no need to threaten anyone.
“We are seeking and working towards reconciliation, yet you are busy issuing threats.”
At this point, one of our sources said, the Kogi senator jumped up from his seat and charged towards Mrs. Tinubu, saying, “Look this is not Bourdillon (referring to the famous Lagos residence of Mrs Tinubu’s politician husband). I will beat you up, …..impregnate you and nothing will happen.”
But for the intervention by other senators, especially those from the South-West geopolitical zone, Mr. Melaye would have physically attack Mrs. Tinubu, a source said. The senators were said to have prevailed on him to take it easy and let peace reign.
Mr. Melaye, a strong supporter of the senate president, at a press conference on Thursday, confirmed the incident but defended his action.
He explained that he reacted that way because he was not a coward.
“Senator Oluremi Tinubu got up and was recognised to speak and immediately she started speaking, she specifically mentioned my name,” he said.
“For reasons only known to Senator Remi Tinubu, she got up and the first thing she said was that she was being harassed in this chamber by Senator Melaye at this point.
“She went ahead to say that why would he come here and be threatening senators and there was a large chorus from senators. At that point I was still calm. She got up again and said that this thug must be tamed. At that point, I got up and told her that she was very stupid.
“The next statement from her was ‘You are a dog’. She called me a dog, and when she called me a dog I stood up and reacted and I told her that this was not Bourdillon and she should look at my face, I am not one of those senators who normally come to prostrate to them in Bourdillon and I am from Kogi —and not from Lagos,”
The senator denied saying he would impregnate Mrs. Tinubu. He said he did not use such “insolent, abusive, degrading and mannerless language against any senator”.
He explained, “Biologically, it is even impossible to impregnate Mrs. Tinubu because she has arrived menopause. How can you say you want to beat somebody and at the same time impregnate the person?”
A leopard does not change its spots
Some Nigerians were surprised, and irritated by Mr. Melaye’s behaviour on Tuesday. But what many do not know is that Mr. Melaye had always exhibited such conducts since he was first elected to the National Assembly nine years ago.
In 2007, barely four months after he was elected into the House of Representatives where he represented Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency of Kogi State, Mr. Melaye got into the news for the wrong reason.
At the peak of the crisis that trailed the allegation that then Speaker, Patricia Etteh, awarded N628 million contract to renovate her official residence and that of her deputy, Babangida Nguroje, in Apo Legislators’ Quarters, Abuja, Mr. Melaye exchanged blows with two of his colleagues.
On September 20, 2007, at the public sitting of the David Idoko-led panel that investigated the alleged contract award, Mr. Melaye, a first-time lawmaker at the time, exchanged blows with Emmanuel Jime (Benue) and Samuel Sejoro (Lagos). The ugly incident forced the panel to adjourn sitting for the day.
Trouble began when Mr. Idoko invited Mrs. Etteh to the witness box to explain her role in the renovation contract as well as the purchase of vehicles for the principal officers of the House.
As the Speaker moved to the box, Mr. Melaye, who had a few weeks earlier been appointed Chairman of the House Committee on Information and National Orientation, and some other supporters cheered and clapped.
However, Mr. Jime , a member of the opposing group, which had styled itself Integrity Group, became angry and shouted “ole, ole, ole (meaning thief, thief, thief). Mr. Jime’s audacity angered Mr. Melaye, who jumped up and engaged in verbal exchange with his colleague.
Besides, Mr. Melaye took on another female lawmaker from the opposing group, Mercy Alumona-Isei, who he thoroughly abused and threatened to assault.
At that point also, Mr. Jime, a former Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, descended on Mr. Sejoro and dazed him with blows. Mr. Sejoro dodged a blow from Mr. Melaye, who, unsuccessfully, tried to hit Mr. Jime.
While the fight lasted, Mrs. Etteh watched with calm from the witness box before she was spirited away by aides. At the executive session that followed immediately, Messrs Melaye and Jime apologised, according to the then Speaker, who read out the resolutions of the closed-door session.
That was how the Kogi lawmaker first came into national prominence as an extremely troublesome and controversial figure.
Mrs. Etteh soon fell from power. And Mr. Melaye was never in the good books of her successor, Dimeji Bankole, even though he was re-appointed chairman of the Committee on Information on October 9, 2008 when the Speaker reconstituted the committees.
In the years that followed, Mr. Melaye worked hard to make the House somehow ungovernable for Mr. Bankole.
He first struck on June 25, 2009 when he accused the House leadership of massive corruption.
He started off by picked on three principal officers, namely Tunde Akogun (House Leader), Baba Shehu Agaie (Deputy House Leader) and Emeka Ihedioha (Chief Whip) who he accused of mismanaging funds released to them to organize events in the House.
He alleged that Mr. Akogun (PDP, Edo) pocketed part of the N160 million he was given to organise a retreat for members in Kano and Uyo.
He said Mr. Agaie (PDP, Niger) mismanaged N130 million advanced to a committee he headed to organize the country’s hosting of Afro-Arab Parliamentary Conference while Mr. Ihedioha (PDP, Imo) allegedly pocketed part of the N160million given to him to organize the 10th anniversary of the return of democracy in the country.
Mr. Melaye’s action almost earned him a suspension from the House. He escaped the hammer that day.
During plenary, Mr. Jime moved a motion for Mr. Melaye’s suspension.
The suspension prayer, however, threw the House into rowdiness for several minutes following the insistence of some members that it was a wrong move.
Mr. Melaye, a Geography graduate from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, who had resigned as chairman of the Information and National Orientation Committee of the House, later apologized for causing acrimony in the House and bringing it to disrepute.
He was to explain that he never accused Mr Ihedioha of fraud but of “social sins,” “arrogance” and “highhandedness.”
But like the leopard that he is, Mr. Melaye did not change his spots. A year later, he resurfaced with another antic.
In June 2010, he, alongside 11 other lawmakers gave Mr. Bankole seven days to resign from office.
What was the Speaker’s offence?
Mr. Melaye and his co-travellers, who styled themselves “Progressives,” said the young Speaker was dishonest and that his camp was tired of his leadership.
Other members of the group were George Daika (PDP, Plateau), Bitrus Kaze (PDP, Plateau), Austin Nwachukwu (PDP, Imo), Ehiogie West-Idahosa (PDP, Edo), and Anas Adamu (PDP, Jigawa).
Independence Ogunewe (PDP, Imo), Solomon Awhinawhi (PDP, Delta), Ralph Okeke (PDP, Anambra), Darlington Okereke (PDP, Ebonyi) and Asita Honourable (PDP, Rivers) were also members.
The group asked Mr. Bankole to resign because of corruption and bad leadership, which they claimed was responsible for the rift, disagreement and disharmony between the House and the Senate.
It also said the Speaker was highhanded, disrespectful to members, frequent breach of the rules of the House and sweeping and unsubstantiated comments capable of causing disaffection among various arms of government.
“We hereby, therefore, in strong terms call on Bankole to resign as the Speaker of the House of Representatives within seven days,” Mr. Melaye, who was the spokesperson of the group, said at a press conference on June 9, 2010.
Mr. Melaye warned that if Mr. Bankole failed to comply with the call in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians, especially the masses of this country, “this group has overwhelming evidence, information, everything you see here, they are incriminating records that we will publish, give to you the media.”
He assured that “in seven days, we are going to write a petition that every member, including the ones on recess, will sign physically and we will send it to the EFCC, the ICPC, the NSA, the SSS and indeed the headquarters of his political party.”
About two weeks later, precisely on June 22, the bubble burst. The plenary session of the House was thrown into turmoil as some members of the group were picked up during the plenary session, brutalized and expelled from the chamber for demanding Mr. Bankole’s probe.
Those attacked were Messrs Melaye, Awhinawhi, Nwachukwu, Kaze and Uboh.
They were almost stripped by the pro-Bankole lawmakers, who tore their clothes in the process in the full glare of the students of City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja, who had come on excursion to the House.
How did it begin? Shortly after the commencement of the proceedings at about 11.09 am, more than one hour behind schedule, Mr. Bankole asked Chile Igbauwa (PDP, Benue) to move a motion.
But as Mr Igbauwa moved his motion, Mr Melaye, who sensed that it was aimed at suspending him and members of his group, rose from his seat and began to shout “point of order” “No way! No Way! We will not take it! As he shouted, he also blew a whistle, which he brought into the chamber that.
He was joined by Mr Nwachukwu and Ms. Uboh, who struggled to seize the paper from which Mr. Igbauwa was reading his motion.
Mr. Melaye eventually grabbed the paper from Mr Igbauwa, who was sitting directly behind him, shredded it and threw it at some of his colleagues.
Mr Awhinawhi, who made to grab the mace, the symbol of legislative authority, was stopped and severely beaten up.
Obviously overwhelmed by the confusion that erupted, Mr Bankole adjourned the session and attempted to leave the chamber through the back door which is behind his seat, but was asked to follow the normal front door.
The Speaker was, however, persuaded by his loyalists, who perceived that such action would be interpreted as victory for the “Progressives,” to return to his seat.
Upon his return, the Speaker announced the suspension of Mr. Melaye and his “Progressives” colleagues and directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to eject them from the chamber.
That further infuriated the suspended lawmakers, who refused to leave, prompting the pro-Bankole lawmakers led by Ishyaku Bawa, a PDP member from Taraba State, to bundle them out of the chamber, one after the other. In the process, members of both camps were injured.
In the process, a pro-Bankole lawmaker, Chinyere Igwe (PDP, Rivers), had his right hand broken by Mr. Nwachukwu, who also allegedly attacked him with fire extinguisher. Indeed, when he was being forced out of the chamber, Mr. Nwachukwu lifted Mr Chinyere Igwe up and landed him on the floor. Mr Igwe was now bleeding had his arm broken in the process. Both were initially admitted to the National Assembly Clinic before Mr. Igwe was referred to the National Hospital.
Ms Uboh, on her part, was pushed down by Mr Bawa while Messrs Melaye and Awhinawhi were manhandled before being bundled out. Mr Kaze, who was all the while left alone, was later identified and bundled out and in the process, his dress was torn.
After they were sent out, Mr Bankole, who had watched quietly from his seat, called the House to order at exactly 11.45 am and apologized to Nigerians.
He said, “First, I must start by apologizing to Nigerians for the rowdiness of today’s session. But for the avoidance of doubt, we will still ask Igbauwa to go through the process (moving of motion) for clarity.
Invoking Order 5 of the House Standing Rules, Section 60 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 24 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Mr Igbauwa called for the suspension of 11 members of the progressive group for failing to avail themselves with the rules of the House in their activities and for causing their allegation to be published in the media.
He said the suspension should be sustained pending the outcome of an investigation into their activities.
Mr. Igbauwa also said that because of his great respect for the House, he was compelled to respond to the various actions of the “Progressives” under the leadership of Mr Melaye, “that have embarrassed and cast aspersion on this House as if it is incapable of resolving its internal crisis.”
He further blasted them for failing to adhere to the provision of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Code of Conduct for Honourable Members and Rules of the House in stating grievances and for taking their matter of the House into disrepute.
The long motion, which was seconded by Shehu Garba Matazu (PDP, Katsina) was unanimously adopted.
Those suspended were Messrs Melaye, Awhinawhi, Nwachukwu, Kaze and Uboh, Ehiogie West-Idahosa, Ogunewe and Anas.
Although they were not known to have openly identified with the Progressives, Gbenga Oduwaiye (PDP, Ogun), Kayode Amusan(PDP, Ogun) and Gbenga Onigbogi (PDP, Osun) were also suspended.
They were to stay away from the House till the end of the legislative year, June 2011.
Curiously, three lawmakers – Ralph Okeke, Darlington Okereke and Asita Honourable – who participated in the press conference the “Progressives” gave asking Mr. Bankole to resign, survived.
The then spokesperson of the House, Eseme Eyiboh, who briefed journalists after the sitting, said the trio were not suspended because the decision to suspend them was not premised on the press conference two weeks ago, but on the unruly behaviour of the progressive members on the floor.
According to him, the lawmakers, having been suspended were expected to move out of the chamber, but instead conducted themselves in a manner inconsistent with parliamentarians.
He said while Mr Nwachukwu came into the chamber with tear gas, which he interpreted as arm-bearing, Mr. Melaye came with a whistle in a clearly “un-parliamentary misdemeanour.”
But Mr. Melaye kicked and vowed to seek legal redress.
“It is the height of tyranny. What they accused us of, Eseme Eyiboh and Dimeji Bankole are guilty of talking to the press,” he said.
“There is nowhere in our rules that says we cannot talk to the press. (Halims) Agoda did the same. We shall not allow this. They refused to react to our allegation instead they suspended us. This is collaborative tyranny.”
Mr. Melaye and his colleagues later headed to the Federal High Court, Abuja where they challenged their suspension.
The Court subsequently ruled that their suspension was illegal and ordered their reinstatement.
However, in May 2011, just before the 6th Session of the House wound down, it passed a motion urging the leadership to pay salaries of the suspended members.
For the next four years that he was out of the legislature, Mr. Melaye (born on January 7, 1967, according to Christy Anyanwu’s “The Lawmakers 2007-2011”) went back to activism.
He floated the Anti-Corruption Network, which he used to campaign against graft.
One of the cases the group fought against was the one involving a former minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, who allegedly purchased two BMW armoured vehicles for N255 million while in office. Interestingly, both Mr. Melaye and Ms. Oduah are colleagues in the Senate today.
Mr. Melaye has transferred his brand of politics, which some consider indecent, to the upper house where he is not only a strong backer of Mr. Saraki but also chairs the Committee on the Federal Capital Territory.