In Edo, Escalating Rage Fuels Family Feud

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Godwin Obaseki

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that as the showdown between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole drags on, different interest groups have sprung up, largely in Abuja and Benin City. But it looks like the unity of purpose in the Benin assemblage has rattled those in Abuja, whose influence is being whittled down by recent judicial pronouncements and constitutional provisions

The two-week difference in time between when the House of Representatives first issued its order and when the Senate followed in similar fashion does not matter. The message was the same: Both legislative houses of the National Assembly want a reversal of the Proclamation issued by Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State to inaugurate the 7th Edo State House of Assembly on July 17.

The crisis in the state assembly has provided a vinculum, allowing the Upper and Lower arm of the federal legislature to unite on a common goal and score the same impact.

Edo State, particularly, its House of Assembly has been on national focus since the struggle for control of the apparatus of power between Obaseki and his predecessor and National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole blew into the open.

As the showdown between Obaseki and Oshiomhole drags on, different interest groups have sprung up, largely in Abuja and Benin City. But it looks like the unity of purpose in the Benin assemblage has rattled those in Abuja, whose influence is being whittled down by recent judicial pronouncements, constitutional provisions and overwhelming public opinion.

The current embarrassing situation was sparked off on June 17, when 19 out of the 24 assembly members-elect, requested the Edo State Governor to immediately inaugurate the 7th Assembly since the 6th legislature had expired on June 7.  The lawmakers who demanded that Obaseki should proclaim the House as required by law were led by Washington Osifo.

Osifo was disappointed that the governor had refused to act according to the prompting of the constitution. “Section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), requires the governor to issue a letter of proclamation for the inauguration of the new Assembly to avoid vacuum.”

It wasn’t as if Obaseki was not aware of this constitutional provision, rather he was skeptical of the prevailing political climate then, which was not in his favour. He swung into action, as soon as he was convinced that the tables had turned and he had a better grip on the situation. The governor’s next move, caught his opponents napping. Mr. Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Strategy, revealed that the Assembly was inaugurated at 3:00pm, on Monday, June 17. The Clerk of the Edo House of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Omogbai, having received a written proclamation from Obaseki, notified members of the planned inauguration. The proclamation letter by the governor did not contain the time for the inauguration. Obaseki reportedly moved swiftly having been informed of a plot by pro-Oshiomhole members-elect to impeach him. With the obvious intention to scuttle their plan, he acted fast to save his political life. The elected members loyal to Oshiomhole were still holed-up in a hotel in Abuja, concocting their strategies when they learnt that the assembly had been inaugurated.

Osagie’s letter hinted at what happened, “After reading the letter, the clerk proclaimed the House and the members-elect began the process of electing the House leadership, with Frank Okiye of Esan North-East Constituency I, emerging as Speaker, while Yekini Idiaye of Akoko Edo Constituency I, was elected as Deputy Speaker. Upon completion of the process of swearing-in, Okiye took charge of proceedings.” Other members-elect present were: Nosa Okunbor, Henry Okuarobo, Uyi Ekhosuehi, Marcus Onobun, Ephraim Aluebhosele, Roland Asoro and Eric Okaka.

There has been a lot of outcry from every quarter imaginable. The legislators who are yet to be inaugurated have denounced the inauguration. The National Assembly has instructed Governor Obaseki to issue a fresh proclamation. Different parties have approached the courts over the matter.

However, the situation may not change anytime soon as the Benin cluster scored a significant victory when three members-elect swelled the ranks of legislators in the state assembly, who were nine in number when they were first inaugurated. There are 24 state constituencies in Edo. At the moment, there is an equal division, with 12 members, who are believed to have the support of the governor, sworn-in as legislators; while the remaining 12 who are awaiting a new proclamation are said to be working according to the dictates of Oshiomhole.

Arguments referencing both men have been very fierce. Words like ‘war’, ‘take over’ and ‘weapons’ are frequently used and it has become necessary to locate who whipped up all this anger in a state house of assembly that is one hundred percent controlled by a political party with the executive power both at the state and federal level.

There were early signs that the 7th Edo Assembly may come up against headwinds, even if one of these was accompanied with drama.  For instance, Hon. Ephraim Aluebhosele Otaigbe, representing Igueben constituency drew a lot of attention to himself for not being properly dressed at the inauguration. “I’m happy that I have been inaugurated; I can call myself a legislator because if I wasn’t inaugurated, I will still remain a member-elect and you know what that means. My people wanted a situation where I would be inaugurated. They are happy and I’m also happy because I’m not here on my volition, I’m here on the directives on my people,” Otaigbe told a news medium.

Speaking further on the manner of his appearance at the inauguration, Otaigbe hinted that he was far away from the venue of the inauguration when his attention was sought, he had to get there “by all means.” He also stated that he might have other critical reasons for appearing in the manner he did, “I would not actually want to go deep on that because if I begin to do that then I will be exposing certain things,” while waving aside a probe by reporters.

 “It could be on a medical reasons, no one actually has taken a better look to see whether I have bruises on me,” he volunteered, adding, “I will tell you that the knickers I was putting on was for my own good. It has nothing to do with something extra-ordinary. It was my own dress and I did not mean to harm anyone.”

In reality, the changes desired by the Oshiomhole camp of legislators and the National Assembly may likely take a long time to happen. For now, the Edo State House of Assembly, as presently constituted, is free to carry on its business without hindrance. The victory secured in its favour is not just symbolic, it is an all-embracing judicial pronouncement that may be referenced in future. The biggest beneficiaries are Obaseki and the nine members of the Edo State House of Assembly, who have been given a breather to think up other strategies.

Last Friday, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered the Nigeria Police, Department of State Services and the National Assembly to keep their distance from the Edo State House of Assembly. Justice Adamu Mohammed restrained the defendants from interfering or taking over the legislative functions of the state Assembly.

These institutions were ordered to stay away from the State Assembly pending the determination of the motion on notice instituted by the Deputy Speaker of the state Assembly, Yekini Idiaye, and the member representing Ikpoba-Okha constituency.

Defendants in the suit marked FHC/PH/CS/159/2019 were the Clerk of the National Assembly, Senate President, Speaker of House of Representatives, Inspector-General of Police, DSS and the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.

The court further restrained the governor from issuing a fresh proclamation for another inauguration of the House, pending the determination of the motion on notice.

Part of the order read, “An order of interim exparte restraining the 1st – 3rd defendants (the Clerk of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives) their servants, agents, officers or privies from interfering or taking over the legislative functions of the Edo State House of Assembly pending the determination of the Motion on Notice.”

“An order of interim exparte restraining the 4th to 5th defendants (Inspector-General of Police and Department of State Services), their servants, agents, officers or privies, from obstructing the plaintiffs on whatever manner in the performance of their constitutional duties as members of the Edo State House of Assembly pending the determination of the motion on notice.”

The recent court order emanates from one of the three suits pending in various courts, which according to Mr. Osarodion Ogie, Secretary to the Government of Edo State, are seeking clarification on “the factual and legal dispute regarding the Edo State House of Assembly inauguration have been submitted to the courts by both contending parties for resolution.” He stated further that there is a valid injunction in Suit No. FHC/B/OS/70/2019, “wherein the Federal High Court restrained various parties from interfering in any manner with the activities of the Edo State House of Assembly which said order had been brought to their attention in the course of their visit to Edo State.”

Other matters before the courts, which were ignored by the National Assembly are Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/159/2019 the National Assembly, the Clerk of National Assembly, the President of the Senate and Speaker of House of Representatives amongst others were specifically ordered by the Federal High Court to maintain the Status Quo as at 25th July, 2019 and Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/815/2019, wherein the Clerk and the National Assembly are defendants before the Federal High Court in Abuja, the National Assembly and the Clerk have not only been duly served with the processes but have entered appearances in the matter.

Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye, in a recent interaction with journalists traced the root cause of the crisis in the state to the plan by Oshiomhole, to eventually stop Obaseki from clinching a second term.

He said, “The truth is that the Edo State Assembly and my office as the speaker are not the real targets of this crisis. The plot is actually aimed at Governor Obaseki and the endpoint is to stop him from getting a return ticket as governor next year.

“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 has boasted that they will ensure that the governor does not come back for the second tenure.”

Urging his aggrieved colleagues to come over to the Assembly and regularized their documents as lawmaker elect, the Assembly Speaker said plenary activities is in full swing as lawmakers are considering bills, screening commissioners and aides and other legislative activities.

“We have been sitting as a parliament. I just drove out office after the plenary session. Lawmakers are going about their committee work. We just invited Commissioner for Works to appear before the House over a matter of public importance. The door is open for the remaining lawmaker-elect, they should come to Assembly, complete and regularize their documentation and they will be sworn in.

“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 who will say that there is no one to clear my commissioners, oversee my legislative requests 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.”

It looks like Edo State is becoming a place for frequent occurrence of political crises. The state is not a stranger to calamity in its legislative house. A similar incidence had taken place in 2014, when two parallel leaderships emerged for the state house of assembly. Perhaps, the clash could be explained away as emanating from divergent interests expressed by the then ruling party at the national level, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while the Edo Government, led by Gov. Adams Oshiomhole of the all Progressives Congress (APC), held its ground.

It’s in the public domain that the Chairman of APC in Edo State, Mr. Anselm Ojezua also served in Oshiomhole’s cabinet. A dispassionate observer may be pardoned for believing that he may be in a tight corner, trying to decide who to show more loyalty between Obaseki and Oshiomhole. So far Ojezua is courageous, leading the majority of APC office holders and members to stand behind the governor. “It seems to me to be more of a question on how well are we managing our success in Edo State. 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 APC. It has never happened before. With that as a background, whatever you see happening now will look more like a paradox,” he told reporters.

Ojezua acknowledged that the Edo polity is not experiencing the best of times, but he rejected the notion that it amounted to a full blown crisis. “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 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.”

Mr. Ojezua gives the impression that a full and final reconciliation is possible if encumbrances from partisan interests are completely removed. “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,” he said.

“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 nine members but today they 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.”

QUICK FACTS:

*The current embarrassing situation in Edo State was sparked off on June 17, when 19 out of the 24 assembly members-elect, requested the Edo State Governor to immediately inaugurate the 7th Assembly since the 6th legislature had expired on June 7

*Section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), requires the governor to issue a letter of proclamation for the inauguration of the new Assembly to avoid vacuum

*The Edo State House of Assembly is made up of 24 state constituencies, which is controlled fully by the All Progressives Congress

*Nine members-elect were inaugurated to the exclusion of others on July 17. Three others were later inaugurated, bringing the number of those inaugurated to 12

*Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye of Esan North-East Constituency I has emerged as Speaker, while Yekini Idiaye of Akoko Edo Constituency I, was elected as Deputy Speaker

*Other members-elect present at the initial inauguration of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly were; Nosa Okunbor, Henry Okuarobo, Uyi Ekhosuehi, Marcus Onobun, Ephraim Aluebhosele, Roland Asoro and Eric Okaka

*The Clerk of the Edo House of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Omogbai, having received a written proclamation from Obaseki, notified members of the planned inauguration

*There are three suits pending in various courts seeking clarification on the factual and legal dispute regarding the Edo State House of Assembly inauguration. They include a valid injunction in Suit No. FHC/B/OS/70/2019. Other matters before the courts are Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/159/2019 and Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/815/2019

*Last Friday, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt ordered the Nigeria Police, Department of State Services and the National Assembly to keep their distance from the Edo State House of Assembly. Justice Adamu Mohammed restrained the defendants from interfering or taking over the legislative functions of the state Assembly

*The court further restrained the governor from issuing a fresh proclamation for another inauguration of the House, pending the determination of the motion on notice

*In 2014, two parallel leaderships emerged for the state house of assembly