Edo Assembly in session
The refusal of the Edo State House of Assembly Speaker to swear in Sylvanus Peters Eruaga of the Peoples Democratic Party as a member of the Assembly, despite an order of the appellate court, raises political anxiety in the state. Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City, writes
Speaker of the Edo state House of Assembly, Mr. Victor Edoror, may be the first speaker of a legislature in Nigeria to go to prison for contempt of court. This follows his refusal to swear in Mr. Sylvanus Peters Eruaga of the Peoples Democratic Party, who was declared as winner of the Etsako West II State Constituency elections held in April last year.
Eruaga had contested the state assembly election last year against the All Progressives Congress candidate, Dr. Gowan Yakubu Marighu. At the end of the exercise, the APC candidate was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Not satisfied with INEC’s declaration, Eruaga approached the Election Petitions Tribunal in Benin City in a petition NO. EPT/ED/NSHA/HA/08/2015, asking that he be declared the winner of that election because the APC candidate was not duly nominated in that the party failed to comply with Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, meaning that no valid candidate was validly presented by the APC.
However, in its judgement on October 22 last year, the three-man election tribunal chaired by Justice M. A. Adegbole, with Justices S. M. C. Uruguay-Onyenosoh and J. M. Ijohor as members, ordered outright cancellation of the election and directed INEC to conduct a fresh election within 90 days from the day of the judgement.
According to the judgement read by Adegbole, “The issue of weight to be attached to such a document as this in our view does not arise. Under cross examination, with respect exhibit V, the testimony of RW7 was thoroughly discredited and Exhibit V was also discredited by Exhibit A.
“Not having complied with the provisions of the Guidelines Exhibit W, Exhibit A’s competence has been scaled or witted down. From all we have elucidated above, Exhibit V is hereby discountenanced as being spurious and unreliable and this tribunal places no reliance on it. Consequently Exhibit A is rendered irrelevant as you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Exhibit A has its life wire on Exhibit V and if Exhibit V does not exit then there cannot be a rescheduling.”
The tribunal chairman continued, “Having placed no reliance on Exhibit V, it is accordingly expunged as not being useful to this tribunal. Issue No. 1 we hold has been established by the petitioner.
“In the final analysis, the consequence of noncompliance with the Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act is that no valid candidate was presented by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to contest the State House of Assembly election held on the 11th April 2015 in Edo State for Etsako West Constituency 11 against the other parties’ candidates, including the petitioner. The APC cannot present a substitute at this stage.
“Consequently, the election into the State House of Assembly in Etsako West Constituency II is hereby nullified. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is hereby ordered to conduct fresh election into the State House of Assembly Etsako West Constituency II within 90 days from today. This is our judgment.”
Still unsatisfied, Eruaga through his counsel, Dele Igbinedion Esq., headed for the Court of Appeal in suit NO. CA/B/EPT/343/2015 asking the court to declare him the winner of the election since the APC candidate was not duly nominated by his party, as attested to by the tribunal. Apart from that, the PDP candidate prayed the appeal court to quash the judgement of National and State Houses of Assembly Election Petition Tribunal in Edo State as earlier delivered.
Against this backdrop, the appellate court decided to give justice to Eruaga in a judgement delivered by Justice T.N. Orji-Abadua on December 19, 2015. The judge ruled, “The provisions of Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act is a nullity, therefore, all the votes cast for the 1st Respondent and the 6th Respondent are all wasted votes and ought not to have been countenanced. The only votes to be reckoned with are the votes cast for the Appellant and the other political parties and their respective candidates.
“Consequently, the appellant with 4001 votes, which remain the highest valid votes cast in the election, is hereby declared and returned as the lawful winner of the election held on the 11th April, 2015 for Etsako West Constituency II for Edo State House of Assembly. The Independent National Electoral Commission is hereby ordered to withdraw the Certificate of Return issued to the 1st respondent and forthwith issue to the appellant a Certificate if Return.”
With this pronouncement by Justice Orji-Abadua of the Court of Appeal, Eruaga went home happy. However, his joy was cut short as all efforts to get sworn in as a member of the state Assembly were rebuffed by Edoror who claimed that the Certificate of Return issued by INEC was fake.
Edoror did not stop at that. He applied to the appeal court for an injunction restraining Eruaga from presenting himself to the speaker for the purpose of being sworn in. The application was, however, withdrawn by J.I. Odibeli of Ken Mozia chambers when the case came up for hearing on February 24.
Edoror hatched yet another plot. This time, he was alleged to have told Eruaga the reasons he refused to swear him in. One of the reasons, according to THISDAY findings, was that there were several petitions against Eruaga from his constituency, which he was required to clear before his swearing in. Secondly, the speaker, allegedly, said his hands were tied.
The opposition PDP viewed Edoror’s second reason to mean that Governor Adams Oshiomhole had a hand in the speaker’s refusal to swear in Eruaga. More so as he and the governor are from the same constituency, PDP reasoned that Oshiomhole might have been the one who instructed Edoror to frustrate Eruaga. The governor is said to be uncomfortable with the situation where someone from an opposition party is representing him in the Assembly.
When Eruaga applied to the Assembly to be sworn in, a lot of obstacles were placed on his path. First, was when Eruaga wrote to the speaker attaching all the documents, including the code of Conduct Bureau slip, to confirm he had completed the requirements, and the Certificate of Return from INEC. The speaker, allegedly, objected, telling him to route his application through the Clerk.
When that was done, Edoror turned around to say that the file had been forwarded to the governor.
Before that could be settled, Edoror alleged that the Certificate of Return issued by INEC was under investigation; that he was going to send the Clerk to Abuja to ascertain the authenticity of the certificate issued by INEC in Benin City and duly signed by the INEC national chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu.
The entire episode, THISDAY was informed, worsened on January 11, when an industrial trainee working in the office of the speaker was alleged to have been beaten on his orders. The offense of the IT staff was that he signed the court documents from Eruaga’s counsel to the speaker and the clerk of the house.
To further demonstrate his partisanship in the whole issue, Edoror was alleged to have ordered the beating of a Court Bailiff and a staff of Dele Igbinedion chambers who came to the Assembly premises to deliver Form 48 Notice of Consequences of Disobedience of Court order served on him and the Clerk, Lawson Ugiagbe from the Court of Appeal.
The speaker has, however, denied the allegations. He called a press briefing where he denied either ordering or physically assaulting the court bailiff and staff of Igbinedion chambers.
Having exhausted all legal means to compel the Edo Assembly speaker to swear him in, Eruaga and his counsel have devised another means.
According to Igbinedion, since the Assembly had devised a means of not accepting court orders, “we have decided once again to approached the court to serve the Form 48 and all other court processes, including the subsequent Form 49 by publication in three national dailies and such publication by law will be deemed as properly served.”
He said the Form 49 was for the respondents to come to court to show cause why they should not be committed to prison. “Once they can satisfactorily explain to the court why they will not be imprisoned or if they are unable to explain to the satisfaction of the court, we will make the order to them to be committed to prison for refusing to swear in Eruaga.”