Ebonyi: Of defection and withheld wages – Tribune

In a move that smacks of primitive highhandedness,  the leadership of the legislative arm of government in Ebonyi State has reportedly withheld the salaries and entitlements of one of the lawmakers, Ngozi Eziulo, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) representing Afikpo North East State constituency in the assembly. The lawmaker said, the leadership of the assembly threatened to withdraw  her official car.  Her alleged ‘offence’ was that she refused to defect to the All Progressive Congress (APC) when the governor of the state, David Umahi, defected to the ruling party. The implication is that since November 2020 when Governor Umahi resigned his membership of the PDP and berthed in the APC, the salaries and entitlements of an elected public official have continued to be withheld for no just cause! This is a most despicable way to play politics.

It is disturbing that virtually all the political parties in this clime are bereft of any abiding ideology that could attract and retain passionate and principled  membership. And the situation has put party membership in the country in a state of flux, such that a politician could sleep as a member of party A in the night and wake up the following day  a member of  Party B without qualms. That is bad enough and is a cause for worry in itself.  However, the burgeoning tendency for elected officials to use the instrument of their offices to coerce fellow elected officials to change parties along with them is really disturbing and awkward.  That tendency is both illegal and morally reprehensible. And it is a very bad precedent. Why must Eziulo or any other lawmakers defect with the governor to another party? Is the lawmaker not protected under the law to make her own decision  of associating with or belonging to a political party of her choice?

Why should her entitlements and salaries be withheld? Is that not a brazen infringement on her rights? Or are her wages a consequence of her political persuasion? To be sure, Eziulo is an elected official, she is not a political appointee and she did not contest and win election on a joint ticket with any principal. Why this egregious affront on her rights? And even for an elected official who won his/her election on a joint ticket with a principal, is there any law stopping the subordinate from discharging the functions of his/her office and receiving all  his/her entitlements just because he/she  belongs to a political party  different from the principal’s? What is happening in Ebonyi State is a lucid case of arrogance of power, needless hauteur and unabashed abuse of office which cannot stand the scrutiny of the law. But because there has never been any effective mobilization of citizens against this manner of rape on democracy and impairment of the rule of law, the perpetrators often get away with their obnoxious and barbaric acts.

It is unfortunate that many heads of branches of government at local, state and national levels, and even governmental institutions,  are more  notable for  the  hubris of power rather than optimal discharge of the  enormous responsibilities attached to the tremendous power.  And unfortunately,  whenever advocates of legislative autonomy cite cases like this to justify their position, there are  some people  who are wont to believe that it is far-fetched. However, the show of naked power and abuse of office is now on display in Ebonyi for all to see.  It is really sad. Perhaps it is important to mention  that the Ebonyi case is not an isolated one. Eziulo’s  travail is in the public domain because she cried out. There are quite a few public officials who are being  harassed and sanctioned illegally because of political differences, but they  choose to keep quiet. Some governors have played  similar  oppressive games with some elected officials, including their deputies, whittling down the power and entitlements of their offices because of  differences in political belief. Some have even hounded their deputies out of office using the instrument of impeachment in connivance with pliable Houses of Assembly. This sordid state of affairs  is  worrying, very shameful and represents a sad commentary on the practice of democracy in the land, after 22 years of uninterrupted civilian rule.

The governor of  Ebonyi State should ensure that  Eziulo is not harassed because of her decision to keep faith with PDP. The laws of the land which public officials swore to protect are not permissive of  the kind of vindictiveness and self-help clearly evident in this case.

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