Edo Lawmakers: One Crisis Too Many

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The Edo State House of Assembly, in a dramatic turn of events, impeached its speaker, deputy speaker and majority leader. Adibe Emenyonu who witnessed the drama, unearths the reasons behind the forceful removal of the leaders

Since 2015 when the 7th Edo State House of Assembly was inaugurated, it has changed leadership four times. First, it was Victor Edoror presenting Esan Central constituency. He was removed and Elizabeth Ativie (Uhunmwode constituency) came on board.

Thereafter, she stepped down to pave way for Dr. Justine Okonoboh (Esan South East) who was removed suddenly Monday, August 14. He was replaced by Kabiru Adjoto representing Akoko-Edo I constituency. Before his elevation, he was the majority whip.

Trouble began for Okonoboh in May when his colleagues attempted to remove him. He however, survived the plot because of the intervention of the state governor, Godwin Obaseki.

His colleagues had accused him of running a 25-member assembly in an assembly of 24 members. He was said to have made his wife the 25th member.

Having survived the botched attempt to impeach him, his colleagues expected Okonoboh to turn a new leaf. But he was said to have continued in his old ways. Not able to bear this any more, 16 members, constituting 2/3 majority, struck.

He however, did not go down alone. Also removed were his deputy, Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie (Uhunmwode) and the Majority Leader, Foly Ogedengbe (Owan East) for allegedly aiding and abetting the excesses of the speaker.

In their place, Kabir Adjoto (APC) representing Akoko-Edo constituency I was elected as the new speaker, Victor Edoror, a former speaker representing Esan Central constituency was made the new deputy speaker, while Roland Asoro, (Orhionmwon II ) became the majority leader.

Speaking to journalists after the impeachment, Adjoto said 16 members impeached the three principal officers and that after the impeachment the numbers rose to 19 members.

He said the impeached principal officers had been suspended for three months. Also suspended was Magnus Izehi-Igbas (PDP) representing Esan North-East constituency II. Adjoto alleged that the impeached speaker ran the house as a private entity in conjunction with his wife.

He said: “The impeached speaker converted the house to a private estate. We are supposed to be 24 members in the house but he now co-opted his wife as the 25th member, who was now privilege to know all the operations before the members.

“He also awarded contracts to himself without recourse to the house standing rules and due process.” However, the impeached speaker denied the allegation.

The plot to remove Okonoboh began at about 11:30 am that Monday morning when the house resumed sitting as the clerk commenced the proceeding of the day with a roll call of members.

While that was on going, the member representing Akoko-Edo II, Emmanuel Agbaje interrupted the clerk and informed the speaker (Okonoboh) that there was an impeachment notice signed by 19 members.

At this stage, crisis erupted and a free for all fight ensued. The pro Adjoto lawmakers over powered supporters of the embattled speaker and immediately elected Peter Eruaga (Etsako II) as the protem speaker, thus forcing Okonoboh to step down.

As Eruaga took over, lawmakers loyal to Okonoboh walked out of the chambers. At that stage, Adjoto was elected speaker while Eruaga handed over the baton of leadership to him.

The new speaker thanked his colleagues for electing him, saying: “We have 19 signatures and all we did today was according to the law.

“We did not know initially that we voted in an incompetent speaker. He (Okonoboh) had continued to adjourn proceedings in the assembly for selfish reason without due regard to our sitting calendar.

“In the months of June, July, we went on holidays for six weeks without any reason. In the month of August, we had another holiday for two weeks. Now we went for holidays for three weeks just because his son graduated from Covenant University and he wanted to go there and celebrate with the son.

“Secondly, we are 24 members in the Edo State’s House of Assembly we are not 25. His celebrity wife turned herself to number 25. Any decision we take in the house, the wife who is the 25th member will thwart. He now raised a memo and they travelled to celebrate a party in America for their son that graduated from Covenant University. They used the speaker’s vehicle in convoy within Edo state and outside Edo state. The children who are home here used siren with full speaker’s regalia.

“So we need somebody who will respect the sanctity of the office. Somebody who will take Edo people first, who will make laws for the people of the state and I think I will not disappoint our people” he stated.

However, Okonobo described the impeachment as illegal, adding that those who purportedly impeached him have been suspended.

Giving his own version of event, he said: “This morning, we started plenary when the member representing Akoko Edo II, Hon. Emmanuel Agbaje stood up and asked me to vacate my seat and I refused. That was when confusion started, and they started fighting.

“This cannot happen at this time that we need peace in Edo state for development. All they said about me was rubbish. These people have been very ambitious just because of their selfish interest. They don’t want peace in our state. They don’t want the governor to work and that is the issue. I remain speaker of the Edo state House of Assembly.”

To assert his authority, Okonoboh declared Kabiru Adjoto, Victor Edoror, Monday Ehalua, Roland Asoro, Peter Erhuaga, Sunday Aghede, Emmanuel Agbaje, Osaigbovo Iyoha suspended, according to him, ” for peace to return to the house”.

Aligning with the impeached speaker, the embattled majority leader, Ogedengbe described the action as null, void and unconstitutional.

Ogedengbe said they were allegedly impeached by only eleven members which he said was not up to two-third majority required by law. He said 16 members have the constitutional right to impeach the principal officers.

The governor was said to have summoned the lawmakers to a meeting at the Government House with a view to resolve the crisis. However, sources said the members of the house initially turned down the governor’s request but later agreed to meet with him at the APC secretariat. Even at that, the meeting, which lasted close to two hours, was deadlocked as the lawmakers insisted the impeachment must stand. At this point, the governor left the meeting, leaving the APC state chairman, Anselm Ojezua to address the media.

Ojezua said talk was still ongoing to resolve the matter. “We are talking. As soon as we finish talking, we will let you know of the outcome. But know that we are still talking”, he stressed.

He however pointed out that the party was still in consultation with members of the state assembly to ensure that the new speaker’s election conform with the party’s power sharing arrangement.

He explained that although members of parliament have the right to choose their leaders, Ojezua however, said that the process must conform with the political framework of the state.

Apart from the dialogue at the APC secretariat, it was gathered that further overtures were made to persuade the lawmakers to change their minds but that such efforts did not produce the desired result. Okonoboh’s fate appeared sealed. The following day the newly elected speaker assumed duties and ordered the former speaker and his deputy to return their official vehicles or face the wrath of the law.

“I must equally urge the clerk of the house to please take steps to implement to the letter the orders given from the red chair to retrieve vehicles in possession of the former speaker, the deputy speaker and the majority leader for the new officers to take off effectively” he stated.

Be that as it may, one thing the change of leadership in Edo State House of Assembly has succeeded in doing is that it has altered the political tripod of the state.

Ordinarily, the latest impeachment would have been regarded as one of those rascalities that are seen in legislative assemblies. However, this impeachment has resulted in a cry of marginalization by a section of the state.

Edo State stands on a tripod arrangement based on the three senatorial districts that make up the state namely; Edo south, homeland of the Binis, Edo central, comprising of the Esan speaking area, and Edo north, where the Etsakos, Owans and Akoko-Edos hold sway.

Before the impeachment, Edo south has the governor, the deputy governor is from the north while the speaker was from the central. Now, Edo north occupies the positions of both the deputy governor and the speaker, Edo south has the governor and majority leader, while the central district has now been schemed out of the power sharing arrangement. Only the deputy speaker comes from there. This has left to a disenchantment among the APC family in the state as those from the central district perceived the latest change of leadership a ploy to marginalize them. It may also have implication for the fortune of the ruling party.

An APC chieftain in Esan Central Local Government Area of the state, Mathew Emiohe, said this much when he warned that except the party urgently takes steps to correct the anomaly, it may be the beginning of the end for the ruling party.

He expressed disappointment over the impeachment of Okonoboh who is from Edo Central Senatorial district and noted that the Esan people have been completely edged out of the political tripod in the state.

He also identified lack of genuine political leaders in Esanland as one of the factors which have continued to work against the district urged leaders to be selfless on issues that concerns the people.

He called on Obaseki to reconsider some of his policies which he described as anti-people to douse the growing discontentment in the party.

“We the Esan people are not happy about the impeachment of the speaker who was replaced with an Edo north lawmaker. We want the speakership position to return back to Esanland. However, what happened at the assembly goes to show that all is not well with Edo APC”

“And that is why am concerned that something urgent needs to be done because election will soon come if not, we are going to have serious problem because we cannot afford to allow this problem lingers”.

Also commenting, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) led by Dr Samson Isibor saw the entire development as a welcomed one. He said: “It is unfortunate but it is a welcome development. In the sense that this is democracy at work. The members have the right to choose their leaders. It has not resulted to violence so we are happy. This house has been a rubber stamp. We have seen several decisions which are anti-people that this government has started executing but the lawmakers are not saying anything about it. They have not passed any bill that has benefited the people.

“Since this government came into place our people cannot not feed three square meals a day. The masses have thought that the lawmakers would be able to check the excesses of the executive but they have not been doing that. And we hope this time around the leadership will be on the side of the people and not on the side of the governor who is bringing the model of Lagos state to Edo state where we have no industries like Lagos state.”

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However, this impeachment has resulted in a cry of marginalization by a section of the state.