Chuks Okocha in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has stated that it would be guided by the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended), in dealing with the crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly.
The crisis rocking the state assembly had worsened when the Speaker, Hon. Frank Okiye, declared vacant the seats of 14 members-elect that refused to be sworn in by him.
This followed an order of a High Court in Benin, which declared the seats of the members-elect vacant and directed INEC to conduct fresh elections to replace those that refused to attend their legislative duties.
When THISDAY contacted INEC to know why the commission had not acted on the directive of the court, the commission said though it had received the court order, it would rather be guided in the matter by the constitution, especially Section 109.
According to the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, the electoral body had received the letter from the House of Assembly, but it was yet to take a decision on it.
“While INEC is empowered to conduct a by-election into a State House of Assembly, it will be guided by, among others, the provisions of Section 109 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended),” Oyekanmi told THISDAY.
Section 109 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides that: “A member of a House of Assembly shall vacate his seat in the House if-(a) he becomes a member of another legislative house;
“(b) any other circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of that House, would cause him to be disqualified for election as such a member;
“(c) He ceases to be a citizen of Nigeria;
“(d) If he becomes President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor or a Minister of the Government of the Federation or a Commissioner of the Government of a State or a Special Adviser;
“(e) Save as otherwise prescribed by this Constitution, he becomes a member of a commission or other body established by this Constitution or by any other law;
“(f) Without just cause he is absent from meetings of the House of Assembly for a period amounting in the aggregate to more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in any one year; (g) being a person whose election to the House of Assembly was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected, provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored; or “(h) the Speaker of the House of Assembly receives a certificate under the hand of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission stating that the provisions of Section 110 of this Constitution have been complied with in respect of the recall of the member.
“(2) The Speaker of the House of Assembly shall give effect to subsection (1) of this section, so however that the Speaker or a member shall first present evidence satisfactory to the House that any of the provisions of that subsection has become applicable in respect of the member”.
It was not clear if INEC, in its interpretation of the constitution, felt that none of those conditions has been met to warrant the declaration of the seats of the 14 lawmakers vacant.
But one of the members of the Edo State House of Assembly who did not want to be quoted, told THISDAY that the only resolution to the crisis would be political, adding that “those going to court are wasting their precious time,” because “there is no way, the minority will preside over the majority.”