The National Assembly has insisted on intervening in the crisis rocking the Edo State House of Assembly just as some federal lawmakers are battling to maintain their seats at the election petition tribunals, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo
Edo state is one of the 19 states controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Not only that, the 24-man state House of Assembly is also dominated 100% by APC members. Ordinarily, one would have expected a sort of mutual relationship between the executive and the legislature at the state level, but the reverse has been the case since the last general election about four months ago.
The proclamation of the 7th Edo Assembly last month by Governor Godwin Obaseki has now polarised the membership of the Assembly into two camps with some turning up for inauguration by the Clerk of the Assembly while others stayed back.
This imbroglio received the attention of the two chambers of the National Assembly, which immediately waded into the crisis by setting up ad-hoc committees to look into the matter.
At the Senate, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central) had during plenary last month raised a Point of Order to draw the attention of the Senate to the crisis rocking Edo Assembly and the urgent need for the Senate to act decisively on the matter.
The upper chamber therefore set up a seven-man Ad-hoc committee headed by Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, which went as far as Benin city to meet with some of the legislators-elect and Clerk of the Edo Assembly while 14 out of the 24-man Assembly, who had relocated to Abuja were also granted audience at one of the Senate committee rooms.
The House, on its part, resolved on July 9 to wade into the Edo Assembly crisis by setting up a 13-man Ad-hoc committee headed by Hon Abdulrazak Namdas following a motion to that effect jointly moved by the trio of Hons Julius Ihonvbere, Peters Akpatason and Hon Johnson Oghuma, urging the National Assembly in line with the provisions of Section 11(4) of the 1999 constitution, to take over the affairs of Edo Assembly and ensure that there is proper inauguration of the House.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had before going on annual vacation a fortnight ago, adopted the recommendations of their Ad-hoc committees, which included taking over the Edo Assembly functions by the federal legislature if the Edo Governor fails to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the state Assembly.
However, last Wednesday, a federal high court sitting in Abuja ordered all parties in Edo Assembly crisis to cease hostilities and maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the suit before it.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo had ordered all the parties to maintain status quo ante bellum in his ruling in a suit filed by Speaker of Edo Assembly, Hon Frank Okiye and a faction of the state legislature challenging the powers of the National Assembly to take over the duties of state legislative.
Reacting to the ruling, the Senate declared that all issues associated with the crisis rocking Edo state House of Assembly will have to wait till it resumes from vacation on September 24.
Chairman of the Senate Committeee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, told THISDAY on the phone, that, “all matters and decisions regarding the Edo Assembly crisis will wait until the Senate reconvenes on September 24, 2019”.
He emphasised that the Senate was on vacation and would not cut short its recess “so the issue of Edo Assembly wiil wait till we are back next month”.
The House of Representatives appears to differ from the reaction of the Senate to the ruling, saying it was going to appeal the judgment.
According to the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Benjamin Kalu said as law abiding institution, the National Assembly will respect the order of the court but he assured Nigerians that “the National Assembly will surely appeal the ruling but for now we must respect it”.
Kalu, who noted that the 9th House believed in the democratic principle of separation of powers, was of the view that the court ruling posed a problem to democratic tenets.
Arguing that what the House proposed in Edo was a matter of restoring public order and security, the House spokesman stated that the “Assembly has to perform its constitutional duty. It should not be a question for debate.
“Maybe the courts can (if they find reason after the takeover) say that the takeover was wrong based on their own interpretation of section 11 but not to pre-empt a constitutional role which is sacrosanct.”
Just as the Edo Assembly crisis was playing out, some Senators as well as House members were also battling to retain their seats before the Election Petition Tribunals in their respective states.
Notable among those whose elections are being challenged at the Tribunal are the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South); Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP Anambra South); and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP Enugu North).
In the Senator Utazi case, the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Enugu has fixed September 3 for its judgment on the petition filed before it by the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the disputed election, Hon Eugene Ogbonna Odo.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) (the third respondent in the suit) had on February 24, declared Senator Utazi (first respondent) as duly elected. Joined in the suit as second respondent, is the PDP under whose platform Senator Utazi contested.
The APC candidate who is the first petitioner in the suit is seeking, among other prayers, that he be declared winner of the National Assembly election conducted in six local government areas in Enugu North, on the grounds that Senator Utazi was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast in the election and that the election conducted was invalid by reason of substantial non-compliance with the provision of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the INEC manual for election officials 2019.