Nseobong Okon-Ekong was part of a team of journalists who interacted with Mr. Anselm Ojezua, the Edo State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress on the impasse in the state House of Assembly and the intervention of the House of Representatives on the crisis
What is the real story behind the crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly?
It seems to me to be more of a question on how well we are managing our success in Edo State. As you know, this is the first time that we have recorded an absolute victory in the sense that all the seats in the state Assembly are for the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). It has never happened before. With that as a background, whatever you see happening now will look more like a paradox. It is true that we are having issues in relation to the leadership of the house but it does not amount to crisis because Edo State is functioning, even the House of Assembly is functioning. We have a leadership in place. They are working. To that extent, there is no crisis. What we have is that the house has been inaugurated, leadership has emerged, some members are not happy with it and they are taking steps they feel is necessary to change what they cannot have. Some have gone to Abuja, they have been to court and as you can see they have also gone to the National Assembly. All that put together is to stimulate the prospect of a crisis but in Edo State, there is no crisis. If they’ve gone to court we subscribe to that because that is what the law says; that should there be any disagreement that they can’t resolve on their own, they can seek redress. They shouldn’t resolve to self-help. Thankfully, all the parties are in court. So, we await the court’s decision but as a party, we are also taking steps to seek reconciliation for our members in the house. If you recall, when the house was inaugurated there were 9 members. Today, there are 12. There is a prospect that the number will increase. I think what has actually been an impediment to a peaceful political resolution is the intervention of the National Assembly. If their intention is to come and help us in Edo, I think they have somewhat compounded our problem.
How do you mean?
The threat that they will come and take over our state Assembly is seen by the ordinary man on the street as an alien invasion of our state as if Edo state is a colony of some people in Abuja. That is the impression and we are having a hard time convincing them.
But some people believe that what is happening is like the hand of Esau but voice of Jacob. Those in this school of thought believe that given the cordiality between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, this shouldn’t be happening in Edo state?
I agree with you that what is happening now should not happen. I think both of them have the responsibility to do the right thing.
Can you clarify insinuations that the APC National Chairman actually wanted to foist a leadership on the Assembly?
I don’t have that information and I can’t say that I share a similar view. But you know when things like this are happening people are bound to speculate; it gives room for speculation. So, unwittingly we may have opened ourselves to all sorts.
What steps are you taking to co-opt the 12 lawmaker elect who are yet to be inaugurated to the Assembly?
We have been working with leaders of our party in parts of the state particularly leaders of those concerned that you mentioned. Don’t forget I said that we were recording some progress, three other members have been sworn-in to make the number 12. Let me say this, the day Prof Ihonvbere moved his motion on the floor of the House of Representatives, two of those 12 lawmaker elect were actually at the airport waiting to come to Benin to be sworn in when they were informed that they should return because the National Assembly is coming to take over the state Assembly. They went back and I said, for me that was a minus rather than a plus in terms of National Assembly intervention. So, I believe that when their interventions dissipate, we will continue the process of reconciliation that we have started.
Are you saying that the reconciliation process won’t commence again until the House of Reps is completely off the picture?
You see, we don’t even believe that the National Assembly has any business in this matter. We don’t even believe that it is right for them to take steps that they did. But you know that we are obliged to be polite to them when they come calling for very obvious reasons. So, we made all the facts known because if we had rebuffed them the tendency would have been to believe that we have something to hide. They have come and they have all the facts. What are the facts? That the seventh House of Assembly was inaugurated, that a leadership is in place and that they are actually functioning and that the matter is in court. With all that knowledge, what we expect them to report and to recommend is that in the light of all these facts, they should seek political solutions and also watch the judicial pronouncement. They didn’t do that rather they could not even wait for the National Assembly process to be completed before they went to town and therefore they may have justified speculations in town arising from an audio where one of the member-elect was boasting that the matter has been resolved and that the Senate President and Speaker of the House have been told what to do. And three days after, they did which the man said, though prematurely of their own processes. That to mind has compounded our problem rather than helping to resolve it. That is why I said when their energy is dissipated we will continue our reconciliation. We were on course before this. This thing you are seeing will be resolved. This is not the first time we are having issues in Edo State House of Assembly. If the need arises, we will do anything we have to do to protect our independence in the state.
What is the truth behind the abduction claim of a lawmaker?
Politics, sometimes elicits drama and this is one case of that nature. If a man is kidnapped and he is released, the next thing to do is to go to the police and make a statement and seek to prosecute his abductors especially when they are known. All that is part of the drama. But what I have told you is that 12 out of 24 have been inaugurated. There are yet another 12 that are yet to be inaugurated and we as a party are working to see that everybody is complete as a family.
How is it that the party is in such a crisis especially when there is no opposition party within the state lawmakers?
One thing that is significant and for which I am particularly grateful is that since I made my statement several weeks ago, nobody has come out to say it is not true. Whether they agree or not, it’s a different kettle of fish. You know in politics you don’t seek 100 per cent, you seek a consensus and it is measured in terms of majority. So, in those meetings that I alluded to, there was a consensus and everybody signed off on it. They decided to go against the position of the party and we feel it should neither be tolerated nor condoned in the interest of the party because when you keep a First Aid Box, you don’t know who you are keeping it for.
Will the erring lawmakers be sanctioned by the party?
You know the first thing we need to do is to put peace in place within the ranks of the party. I don’t think sanction will be the first way, as a matter of fact, it will be the last step after you have exhausted all avenues for reconciliation. The good news is that the house is inaugurated; they formed a quorum within their decisions. One peculiar attribute of parliament is that the constitution makes provision for 24 members but at the moment we have 12 and so when you want to calculate a quorum, you are calculating it on the basis of 12, that is the peculiar nature of parliament. As far as we are concerned, no problem. Unless a court of law, properly so-called, makes a pronouncement to the contrary.
What would be your message to the National Working Committee and the leader of the party, President Muhammadu Buhari?
I would rather not send a message to them through this medium I have made my position clear. I honestly do not think they need to get involved in this. For some of them who have gotten involved, their involvement has not been helpful. I think its time for them to let go and allow us to handle the issue at home.
What is your message to the people of Edo State?
My message to them is to continue to live in peace, not to be worried about the so-called threat of an invasion. There would be no invasion against the people of Edo. Our state remains a sovereign part of Nigeria; we are federating partner, we are not anybody’s houseboys. Edo is not a colony of the National Assembly or anybody’s. They shouldn’t worry at all. All these things playing out is politics and it will be resolved politically.