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How can members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly, most of whom are yet to be legally inaugurated, impeach a properly elected and inaugurated speaker and his deputy? That is the scenario playing out in this once peaceful state, troubled by so much tension and violence. The truth that must be told is that 12 of the 17 pro-Oshiomhole members-elect opposed to Governor Godwin Obaseki, who carried out the purported impeachment of Francis Okiye, were surreptitiously and illegally sworn in last week. So, all their actions are a nullity. The law of our land does not make provision for the swearing in of lawmakers in private homes. The purported inauguration of pro-Oshiomhole members-elect was even done by the deputy clerk of the Assembly. Is the clerk lifeless?
I can also clearly remember that the Supreme Court, in the case involving the former governor of Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja, declared as unconstitutional, legislative sessions held outside the parliamentary building to impeach him. Justice Niki Tobi, who read the lead judgment, said: “It appears to me from the intention of the Constitution that the House of Assembly will sit in the building provided for it and for that purpose.” So, we can confidently say that the inauguration of the 12 pro-Oshiomhole lawmakers-elect is invalid.
The 1999 Constitution is very clear on the route to becoming a legislator. There has to be a proclamation by the governor for the commencement of the legislature for four years. An elected lawmaker is expected to present his certificate of return from INEC to the Clerk for admission into the Assembly. The Clerk conducts elections for the office of the speaker and the deputy.
They are then sworn in with other elected members. The bulk of pro-Oshiomhole members-elect are yet to go through this process and they cannot do this again because they have violated provisions of the Nigerian Constitution by not making themselves available to the Clerk for over 180 days. I will go back to this later.
Governor Obaseki and pro-Obaseki lawmakers did not breach any law regarding the proclamation issued for the commencement of the Assembly on June 17, 2019 and the subsequent elections of the principal officers of the House.
Well, the governor’s antagonists may argue that he deliberately issued the proclamation to exclude elected lawmakers opposed to him and that the inauguration was done at odd hours. Notwithstanding, Obaseki did not breach any law. He was just tactical and that should be expected in politics, particularly, when he is trying to ensure that Oshiomhole does not control the Edo State House of Assembly. Our constitution did not specify the precise time of the day that such proclamation should be made. Besides, the pro-Obaseki law makers met the legally required quorum to sit and conducted an election. Chapter V Part II 96 (1) of the 1999 Constitution explicitly states that “the quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of all the members of the House.”
In this case of Edo State, the quorum required for sitting is eight of the 24 elected members. Nine members sat and elected their leaders last year.
Constitutionally, the sitting was legal. This is the truth those challenging the legality of the swearing in of the minority of members always run away from. They have also been arguing that the majority were excluded from being sworn in. This is also contentious. It is a fact that three members from the pro-Oshiomhole camp later made themselves available for swearing in and they were sworn in. That was why, at a point, the Edo State House of Assembly had 12 members sitting. The remaining 12 members-elect relocated to Abuja to join their godfather, claiming threat to their lives in Edo State. They did not make the slightest attempt to enter the Assembly. Why didn’t they create a scene then, by trying to force their way in, if indeed, they were being prevented from being sworn in as claimed? Then, it was 12 to 12 on the two sides of the gulf and it was impossible to achieve their mission. They snubbed the Assembly, giving all manner of excuses. Now that the pro-Oshiomhole faction has the number required for achieving its aim, it is now working to force its way into the Assembly illegally.
It is pertinent to also note that the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, in a judgement delivered on September 12, 2019, decided that Obaseki’s proclamation on the commencement of the Edo State House of Assembly was lawful and that the National Assembly could not take over the function of the Assembly as the circumstances for doing so did not exist.
The Federal High Court affirmed that the Edo Assembly was duly installed and held that Obaseki or any other person could not issue another proclamation. This has not been dismissed by a superior court. Those arguing for a fresh proclamation by Obaseki always mask this fact.
Let’s flip back to the declaration of the seats of the 12 pro-Oshiomhole lawmakers-elect vacant by pro-Obaseki lawmakers. After the Port Harcourt judgement, the pro-Oshiomhole members-elect stayed away and declined to be inaugurated to perform their roles of representing their areas. After failing to sit for over 180 days, the leadership of the House declared their seats vacant and asked INEC to conduct replacement polls. Of course, Oshiomhole boys went to court to challenge the constitutionality or otherwise of the declaration. This suit is still undecided at the Abuja court. Their next action was to try and force their way into the Assembly while the case is pending in a law court. Haba! Does this make any sense?
Even our Attorney-General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, is unaware that when a case is in court, all parties to the dispute must await the court. I was shocked when Malami wrote to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, asking him to assist the pro-Oshiomhole members-elect to enter the Assembly, following a petition from their counsel.
Malami, in his August 5, 2020 memo to the IG, said: “The law firm has requested that the affected members-elect, who were willing to discharge their constitutional roles, should be inaugurated or sworn in by the Clerk of the House. Kindly provide adequate security measures for the inauguration of the assembly members and the subsequent sittings of the Edo State House of Assembly.”
That was absolute lawlessness by Nigeria’s chief law officer. A case is pending before a competent law court and Malami asked the IG to circumvent it. What a country! They actually tried to enter the Assembly by force on Friday August 7, but the large number of pro-Obaseki protesters prevented the police from enforcing Malami’s illegal instruction. The pro-Oshiomhole members-elect must learn to be law abiding and stop heating up Edo State. Pending the determination of this case, they can no longer be talking about forcing their way into the Assembly premises. The police can also no longer talk about aiding them to get sworn in. We must learn to respect the laws of our land.
For those pummeling Obaseki for tactically shutting the Edo Assembly for repairs, my question to them is a straight forward one: If they were in Obaseki’s shoes, will they just sit back and allow Oshiomhole to hijack the Assembly? This is food for thought today.
Cantankerous Ruling on Sacked Political Parties
Rulings of our courts often daze Nigerians. These judges remain one of the weakest links in this country’s democracy. One of such weird rulings came early this week when the Court of Appeal ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to re-list 22 political parties it had deregistered for falling short of its registration regulations, particularly failing to win any elective office in the 2019 elections. Last February, INEC deregistered 74 political parties, leaving Nigeria with wieldy 18 recognised ones. It exercised its powers in conformity with Section 225A of 1999 Constitution (as amended). The same Court of Appeal, in another judgement early this year, had upheld INEC’s power to deregister political parties.
One of the 74 parties, the National Unity Party (NUP), went to court in February 2020 to seek a declaration that “INEC does not have the constitutional power to deregister NUP or any other political party for failure to win any of the offices mentioned in the constitution or score a certain per cent of the votes mentioned therein.” Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Abuja Federal High Court dismissed NUP’s case and affirmed INEC’s power to deregister the party and others. In the same year, the Court of Appeal concurred and avowed the right of the commission to deregister political parties. Yes, this same Court of Appeal with another set of justices. The NUP appealed at the Supreme Court and the case is pending.
Before NUP’s case, some other parties went to court in 2019 to challenge INEC’s power to deregister them. They ended up being 22 in number and filed a suit before Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to challenge their deregistration. Justice Chikere dismissed the suit, ruling that INEC validly exercised its constitutional powers, adding that the parties provided no evidence that they met the criteria for them to remain registered.
It is this Justice Chikere’s judgement that the Appeal Court set aside early this week with bizarre reasons and ordered the reinstatement of the 22 parties. President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, who read the ruling, held that the sack of the 22 parties was illegal because due process was not followed. They ruled that INEC failed to comply with Section 225(A) of 1999 Constitution (as amended) because it did not provide reasons for sacking the political parties. Justice Dongban- Mensem states further that the rights conferred on a political party could not be taken away except by due process. According to the Appeal Court, the appellants challenged the process of their deregistration and not the act itself.
It was an inexplicable ruling. The issue of due process and clarification were never before the court. Which clarification is Justice Dongban-Mensem and her team asking INEC to provide the sacked parties that was not provided? Which due process did INEC fail to follow? I can clearly remember that INEC evidently followed the legal process of deregistration, with detailed explanation attached to the notice.
I was further shocked that the Appeal Court judges agreed with the 22 appellants that “INEC cannot exercise its power as provided by Section 225A until it had conducted elections into all elective offices listed in the section.” Is there still any election listed in Section 225 that was not conducted in the 2019 general election? The commission waited for all the elections to be completed before delisting the parties that failed to meet its requirements. This is indeed an uncanny ruling.
Good that INEC decided to appeal this ruling. INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Festus Okoye declared: “It is in the interest of the electoral process for both matters to be consolidated. The electoral process will be better served through a final resolution of the issues surrounding deregistration of political parties.”
I spent years, canvassing for the reduction of the political parties in our dear country. Deregistration of the 74 political parties was good riddance to rubbish. One of the biggest problems INEC created for itself in the 2019 elections was the large number of political parties it registered. It was the first time in the country’s history that ballot papers had 91 political parties, which evidently created logistic glitches for the umpire. For the voters, it was horrendous, as they spent time sifting through the long list on the ballot papers clogged with all manner of political parties.
Yes, it is part of democracy to allow as many political parties as possible, but for now, this country lacks the capacity to manage such a large number. Our election umpire does not even have the capacity to monitor the large number of political parties. The constitution amendments carried out by the 8th National Assembly substantially addressed the problem of multiple unusable political parties in Nigeria. For me, there should be further reduction of the number of political parties to not more than five.