Rt. Hon Frank Okiye is the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly. In this interview with select journalists, including Olaoluwakitan Babatunde, Okiye speaks on the crisis rocking the state legislature, the threat of takeover by the Senate and the role of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in the crisis, among others
What was the genesis of the crisis of the Edo State Assembly?
Before the elections, the 24 APC lawmakers who were candidates as at then were already interacting and some of them even as candidates were already seeing me as their possible speaker because of the way I emerged. So, the relationship was cordial as candidates then and even when we won the elections. So, going into the election that took place on March 9, we all did campaigns together and we congratulated ourselves upon our victory. In fact, when all the 24 were declared winner, they started calling me their speaker even before we got sworn in. About eight of them gathered and met with me, two of them were even negotiating what offices they can hold and what committee they can get. Everything was going on smoothly within our fold until the Edo Peoples Movement came up and then trouble started.
What did the Edo Peoples Movement do?
I just noticed that these same persons that we speak cordially as brothers and soon-to-be colleagues started foot-dragging and some are not even picking my calls any longer, then I knew that there was a problem. At the end of the day, everything snowballed into whether the lawmaker-elects were willing to be inaugurated, they now started saying that they are waiting for the green light from Oshiomhole and his stance on the house leadership; that if he asked them to vote otherwise, they will vote otherwise, but if he asked them not to vote otherwise then I can be sure of their votes. That was how the whole problem started with the horsetrading and lobbying.
What was the position of the Edo state chapter of the APC when the horse-trading commenced since all 24 are from the same party?
The party actually stood up to be counted and one must commend the effort of the party in the state. The party made its stance known as to the sharing of offices for the Assembly based on the principle of equity to ensure that no zone or Constituency in the state is left out. They carried everyone along including those who refused to come for their inauguration. That was why it is irritating and unfair when people said Governor Obaseki was the one who handpicked principal members of the house. In fairness to him, he was not involved in the process. It was the party that devised the framework on the emergence of the leadership of the House based on the principle of equal representation. Go and check it, the constituted leadership in the house is balanced and every constituency has something to show. The party actually came out clearly with its stand as to who are the people that should occupy each of the offices and our names were declared in the presence of stakeholders of the party, all 24 members-elect were present at the meeting.
Why didn’t they align with the decision of the party?
They were saying all sorts and it was at that point we started having all the problems that we are now having. They said Comrade Oshiomhole, the National Chairman of our party, must tell them this and tell them that. They said he is the only one that can talk to them and eventually they told me that Comrade has ordered that they go the other way. Later, they came and said they wanted money. I told them that I have not been inaugurated and I cannot be making a demand for money. They said no, that they know that Governor Obaseki won’t give them money because some of them know the governor before that if he doesn’t give them money at that time, he won’t give them again. They also said that they think the governor is in support of my candidacy and they won’t agree because they don’t want anyone who has the support of the governor as the speaker. So, until the party met with us and rolled out the list of the people they wanted in the office, we all thought it will be easy and over.
What eventually culminated at the inauguration day of the 24 elected members?
It was clear that they had other ideas than the wish of the party. On the Monday morning that we were supposed to be inaugurated, they acted strangely. You will call Mr A, he won’t answer; same goes for Mr. B. Some said they are in Abuja, some said they are in Sapele, some said that they have not heard from the Comrade and all kinds of stories but we didn’t know that they went to address a press conference. But before that day, we were all like brothers, we were all meeting like a team, we were all together in the Code of Conduct Bureau. So, the idea of saying some persons had to be invited from a distance was not there. So, for them to say that they were not invited or the invitation wasn’t published in newspapers was just an excuse to invalidate what was legally and logically done. On the inauguration day, about five of us were there at the Assembly at about 2:30pm and we waited for the rest of them. Before we knew it, some others joined us. When we got to about nine, that was around 4pm or thereabout, we told the Clerk that the law does not say everyone must be complete and that since we have formed a quorum, we can now go ahead and get inaugurated. It was after this that the Clerk commenced the business of inauguration and someone nominated me and the nomination was seconded by another and the Clerk asked for a further nomination but there was none. That was how I became the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly ditto for the Deputy Speaker and other principal officers. So, we rose that day, adjourn sitting and since then we have been sitting.
Are you saying that the Edo State House of Assembly has been sitting and conducting parliamentary activities?
We have been sitting as a parliament. I just drove out of my office after the plenary session. Lawmakers are going about their committee work. We just invited the Commissioner for Works to appear before the House over a matter of public importance. The constitution says when the House is unable to sit, that means when it cannot perform the function it was supposed to perform. And this notification was supposed to be given or declared by the governor of a state who will say that there is no one to deal with his legislative requests like clearance of commissioners and so on. That was what the constitution contemplated, not the National Assembly sitting over a state Assembly as if we are a colony under them. Do they know that they are creating an impression that they are coming to Edo State to come and sit in our chamber? These are not what the law says but if they think otherwise, let them go and test it in the court. So, I don’t understand what they are now saying. Which one comes first, is it the National Assembly to generate crisis and now take over or there should have been evidence of a crisis that the cannot seat?
Has any of the parties approached the court over this issue and is the National Assembly and Police aware of such?
We are in court; we have sued them and got two separate injunctions and we are going to cite all the cases in court on the pages of newspapers. The other twelve member-elect have also sued and challenged the legitimacy of my speakership. So, which means all the parties in this issue have cases in court already. We have a restraining order against the National Assembly, against the security agencies, against the party and their agents. So, why is the National Assembly trying to usurp the function of the court?
Senator Rochas Okorocha cautioned his colleagues against the swift takeover of the Edo State Assembly. Why do you think the National Assembly is perhaps engaging in a working to the answer tactics to quickly takeover the Assembly which you preside?
I have said it before on several occasions that we know who is beating the drum for them in the National Assembly. They have found themselves in position of a stooge to make it looks like they cannot think outside the box, it’s unfortunate. It wasn’t only Okorocha that spoke against the undemocratic tendency of the Senate, another lawmaker who is a lawyer from Benue also asked them where the decision they are taking on Edo Assembly supported in the constitution where the time and venue of taking over a state Assembly is spelled out.
The truth is that the Edo State Assembly and my office as the speaker are not the real target of this crisis. In fact, I can’t find myself anywhere in the whole scheme. The plot is actually aimed at Governor Obaseki and stopping him from getting a return ticket as governor next year. Comrade Oshiomhole is actually after Obaseki, the state Assembly was only a smokescreen to his plans. The idea now is to take over the house, destabilize the state and possibly impeach the governor. The Edo Peoples Movement that originated this crisis boasted that they will ensure that the governor does not come back for a second tenure. But I said to people that that is not the decision for them to make for our state. However, the door is open for the remaining lawmaker-elect, they should come to the Assembly, complete and regularize their documentation and they will be sworn in.
What is the way out of the crisis?
I guess a political solution to the matter is getting foreclosed by the day and the courts may have to be the solution provider now. The National Assembly should know that the lawmakers that they are purportedly fighting for are already in the court of law. The senate cannot be seen to be going against its own rule of interfering in any matter that is already before the court.
They should not allow themselves to be tossed around. We are a law-abiding people and we are waiting for the verdict of the court on this issue. The National Assembly must take note that they are to act as agents of peace and not merchants of crisis. Edo State has always been peaceful and any attempt for them to carry out this order will certainly disrupt the peace that is currently being enjoyed in the state. The section of the constitution which empowered National Assembly to take over the functions of a State House of Assembly is clearly and unambiguously stated in sections 11(4) and 11(5) of the Constitution.
These conditions do not apply here in Edo Assembly as the House has been performing legislative businesses in a peaceful atmosphere with me presiding as the Speaker. Since inauguration, the House has adopted the business calendar, constituted statutory committees, cleared commissioners and passed several resolutions. This is why I advised my colleagues who have refused to be inaugurated to present themselves for documentation and inauguration in other for them to give quality representation to the people who elected them.