The prolonged conflict in the Edo State House of Assembly and its consequences on the September 19 governorship election are beginning to take their tolls, writes Adibe Emenyonu
The controversy and nomenclature surrounding the 7th Assembly of Edo State will continue to haunt its existence until something meaningful is done to correct that anomaly. This is because it was constituted on what might be described as a faulty foundation.
The faulty foundation was a product of perceived fear of who controls the state legislature between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his erstwhile godfather and predecessor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole
It all began before the 24 members were elected in 2019. Before Governor Obaseki was elected, the state had six lawmakers elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while his party then, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had 19 members.
The table, however, turned during last year’s general election, when the APC claimed all the 24 seats. There was wild jubilation in the party. The governor celebrated the feat even with a Church Thanksgiving.
With that, everyone had thought that there would be political harmony devoid of rancour usually experienced when there are opposition members in an assembly. Even the governor attested to that when he said, “With the victory of 24 over 24, the state is set for rapid development, because all the development bills to the House will enjoy quick and easy passage by the assembly.
This, some political analysts had also reechoed could propel faster growth in the state.
However, all the dreams and expected yearnings soon evaporated. Trouble set in when some persons with inordinate ambitions sold a carrot to the governor that allowing then Speaker, (Victor Edoror) who was impeached shortly after Oshiomhole handed over to him to continue would spell doom for the governor.
The story was that Oshiomhole wanted to use Edoro to control the governor and any refusal could earn him an impeachment. Incidentally, the man, believed to have sold the carrot to Obaseki became the Speaker shortly after by masterminding the removal of Edoro.
This story was bought and the plot began on how to stop the perceived enemy from succeeding. And knowing full well that in an open contest, the man could triumph the need to deny him and his supporters their inauguration was hatched, resulting in the late night inauguration of 10 members, shutting out 14.
In June last year, Obaseki defiled political calculations, when an inauguration of 10 members-elect was done in a controversial circumstance, shutting out 14 others he believed were loyal to Oshiomhole in an assembly of 24 member – all APC. Two later appeared and were sworn in but also left to join the other 12, bringing the figure outside to 14. By simple calculation, the house is being run by a minority as against the majority.
The National Assembly waded in since all the members were from the same political party with the governor. From their findings, the proclamation by the governor was selectively communicated to those he preferred. Besides, the federal lawmakers said from their findings, the inauguration was done outside legislative hours, which warranted them to tell Obaseki to issue a fresh proclamation so as to accommodate those not covered.
The Edo governor not only rebuffed them but went ahead to obtain an injunction from a Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State restraining them and their proxies from taking over the assembly, when the date given to him to do so expired which warranted the need to take over the assembly as the constitution stipulates.
His argument is that once a proclamation is issued, no fresh one could come because those who were not inaugurated refused to avail themselves for swearing-in by the Clerk.
To further strengthen their position, the Speaker then declared the position of the 12 vacant for absenteeism for 180 days as required by the Constitution. But another argument emanated that the seat of a lawmaker-elect not sworn in could not be declared vacant, which today has remained a subject of litigations. Recently, the state deputy governor, Philip Shaibu while appearing on one of the television stations said Oshiomhole sought his support to remove Obaseki, which he refused and of course, triggered the crisis that’s now taken a different dimension.
The governor told Nigerians that his differences with Oshiomhole and his supporters was that they asked him to share the state treasury for them, which he refused to oblige.
That notwithstanding, the fresh crisis rocking the assembly as gathered was powered by Obaseki’s recent defection from APC to PDP after losing the nomination ticket. Added to this is the fact that three members of the original 10 have refused to be coerced by the governor to join his new party, the PDP. They said they preferred to remain in APC and had even paid solidarity loyalty to the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Therefore, even without applying logic, the House as formally constituted by the governor and led by Frank Okiye cannot continue.
This snowballs into the latest bickering that resurfaced Thursday. Sensing earlier that it had lost control of not only simple but more than two-thirds majority, Okiye raised the alarm of plot by the 17 members to import mace from Imo State to impeach him and subsequently, the governor.
In order to thwart the move, a rumour was circulated that APC leaders in conjunction with the 17 members had invaded the assembly to sit with the intent to Impeach, which warranted the drive by PDP supporters and the subsequent removal of the roof of the assembly building on account of renovation.
The fears of Obaseki and the PDP was further heightened, when news of the emergence new leaders of the state assembly with Victor Edoror (Esan West) constituency emerging as the Speaker while Emmanuel Agbaje (Akoko-Edo II) as Deputy Speaker after a motion for the impeachment of former Speaker Frank Okiye was not opposed.
The exercise said to have taken place in an undisclosed location had Sunday Aghedo, (APC Ovia Southwest) move the motion and signed by the entire members 17 members, who called for Okiye’s ouster and was seconded by Ohio Ezomo (APC Owan West).
The motion nominating Edoror was moved by Washington Osifo (APC Uhunmwonde) and seconded by Eric Okaka (APC, Owan East), and in the absence of further nominations, he was elected.
Mr Chris Okaeben (APC, Oredo West) moved the motion that got Hon Emma Agbaje (APC, Akoko-Edo II) who acted as Speaker ex tempore elected as Deputy Speaker.
Before the election, 12 out of the 14 members, who were not sworn in last year, took their oaths administered by the Deputy Clerk of the assembly, Mr Tom Efezokhae. The oath taking effectively made the 12 legislators of the state at an event, which was said to have taken place at the Conference Hall of the state assembly.
Seventeen members attended plenary at the end of which Hon Ohio moved for adjournment as the Speaker announced that plenary would resume on Friday, 7th August 2020. In his address after he was elected, Speaker Victor Edoror said the 7th Assembly would focus on its legislative duties, and not pursue the impeachment of any member of the Executive.
He called for unity and togetherness, stating that there was no victor, no vanquished. Edoror also directed the Edo Commissioner of Police, the IGP, and other security agencies to eject the thugs, who invaded the Assembly Complex to pave the way for a rancor-free plenary on Friday, August 7.
The Blame Game
The two warring parties have continued to trade blame, claiming the other group is responsible for the evident breakdown of law and order, which warranted the presence of the Police and other security agencies.
At a media briefing, the PDP state chairman, Dr. Tony Aziegbemi, called on the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to wade in and arrest those behind the impeachment of Okiye saying, failing to do so would spell doom for democracy.
He made the call while expressing the party’s position on the recent happening in the state. Aziegbemi said the action of the lawmakers was treasonable and that they should not be spared but be dealt with accordingly.
Aziegbemi said: “To what happened yesterday at the House of Assembly in Edo State. As a party, we looked at the issue and we have come to the inevitable conclusion, which is, there was a coup attempt yesterday in Edo State. There was an attempt by the APC to upset the democracy we are experiencing in Edo State and to that effect, we expect the law to take its cause.
“We call on all the security agencies to look at this issue and we have come to the same conclusion that there was a coup attempt and we all know what happens when a coup fails and the consequence embedded in that failure. For us, it is very clear. We are not saying this, because we are the ruling party in the state. We are saying because that is what it’s.”
He claimed that those, who carried out the purported impeachment were no longer members of the Assembly, as their seats had long been declared vacant by the House.
The APC fired back, saying the crisis in the assembly began last year, when Governor Obaseki sponsored a midnight inauguration of minority members of the assembly, which amounts to Executive recklessness and affront on the constitution and the rule of law, not minding that the legislative arm is a co-equal arm of government with a constitutionally protected independence from external interference or pressure under the principles of Separation of Powers.
Vice-Chairman, Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Council, Mr. Patrick Obahiagbon, who stated this at a media conference, described Obaseki’s unilateral dictate over the affairs of the House as an unconstitutional bid to sideline majority lawmakers-elect, who he felt were not aligned to his political ideology.
He recalled that at some point in this long-standing drama, the party structure, from the national level, including the presidency, decided on an intervention, which was met with stiff and overt resistance by the governor.
According to him, the matters at hand are very pressing and urgent, that needed the immediate and comprehensive attention of the people of Edo State and that of the nation at large. He claimed it had become imperative to remind Edo State citizens and Nigerians how the state government under the leadership of Obaseki descended from the sublime to the ridiculous on the state assembly matter.
The former lawmaker queried the rationale behind the governor to lead his party members and thugs to stop majority members of the assembly from having and enjoying a peaceful sitting in accordance with their constitutional obligations.
Governor Obaseki is being considered the aggressor in the latest development for refusing the reign of peace, and remains standing in the way of justice and fairness, by putting his knees on the neck of democracy in the state. As the trajectory of the election reveals that the odds are against him, one may not wonder what he stands to gain from his current undertakings.
Now that the crisis has continued to fester like a badly treated sore, it may blossom if not nipped in the board before the September 19 governorship election. Security agencies are expected to act fast while the judiciary as a matter of urgency, gives a quick and unbiased interpretation to the assembly drama. Already there are claims and counter claims by the two parties of plot to deploy thugs to unleash mayhem during the election.
While PDP is accusing the APC of trying to use federal might to subvert the will of the people, the APC on the other hand is accusing the PDP of plans to use militants from neighbouring stated to intimidate and snatch ballot boxes to enable it declare favourable results. Will the law enforcement agents and voters allow the situation degenerate any further?