Two Years after, 14 Edo Lawmakers-elect Still in Limbo
Adibe Emenyonu wonders why the judiciary is not making effort to quickly resolve the logjam over the 14 members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly with two years to the end of their tenure
The Edo State House of Assembly is made up of 24- member seats, elected during the 2019 general election. But of the 24 seats, 14 were declared vacant while only 10 hold plenary.
The crisis started when 12 members of the assembly were inaugurated while 12 shunned the inauguration exercise, alleging that it was not properly convened.
However, the struggle for the control of the state lawmakers between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his former political boss, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was behind the crisis.
On July 18, 2019, the entire people of the state woke up to hear the inauguration of 10 members on the previous night. Two days later, two others showed up and were inaugurated by the Clerk of the House, Alhaji Audu Yahaya Omogbai.
They are Emmanuel Agbaje of Akoko-Edo II state Constituency and Yekini Idaye of Akoko-Edo I Constituency, bringing the total number of the inaugurated lawmakers to 12. But in a dramatic turn, Uyi Ekhosuehi (Oredo East) and Henry Okaka (Owan East) abandoned the Obaseki group and joined the 12 that shunned the inauguration.
Those who shunned the inauguration exercise that was alleged to have been secretly convened by the governor at ungodly hours were Victor Edoror (Esan Central), Washington Osifo (Uhunmwonde), Vincent Uwadiae (Ovia North East II), Ugiagbe Dumez (Ovia North East I), Sunday Aghedo (Ovia South West) and Charles Ekhosuehi (Oredo East).
Others are: Crosby Eribo (Egor), Chris Okaeben (Oredo West), Kingsley Ugabi (Etsako East), Ganiyu Audu (Etsako West I), Seidu Oshiomhole (Etsako West II), Oshomah Ahmed (Etsako Central) and Eric Okaka (Owan East)
The inaugurated members are: Frank Okiye (Esan North East II), Emma Okoduwa, (Esan North East I), Yekini Idaye (Akoko-Edo I), Emmanuel Agbaje (Akoko-Edo II), Marcus Onobu (Esan West), and Ephraim Aluebhosele (Igueben),
Also inaugurated were Sunny Ojiezele (Esan South East), Roland Asoro (Orhionmwon I), Nosa Okunbor (Orhionmwon II), Henry Okuarobor (Ikpoba-Okha), Emmanuel Okoduwa (Esan North East I), and Michael Ohio-Ezomo (Owan West)
Prior to the inauguration, 19 member-elect believed to be loyal to Oshiomhole backed a member-elect representing Esan Central state constituency, Mr Victor Edoror as speaker against Mr. Frank Okiye (Esan North East II), who was reportedly anointed by the governor for the job.
Attempts by both groups to harmonise their differences out of public view reportedly collapsed, leading to plots and counter plots.
While the pro-governor lawmakers urged their colleagues to make themselves available for inauguration after they had elected the speaker and other principal officers, the lawmakers backed by Oshiomhole insisted on a fresh inauguration before election of principal officers.
While some people blame Obaseki for the crisis in the assembly, others accused the members-elect of abandoning the inauguration and listening to their godfathers.
However, the 12 affected lawmakers-elect first protested to the party hierarchy. The spokesman for pro-Oshiomhole members-elect, Osifo, had called for a proper/re-inauguration of the seventh assembly. But the then Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Hon. Paul Ohonbamu in a statement claimed the assembly was properly inaugurated at 3p.m., adding that it was about the same time the pro-Oshiomhole “ignored the inauguration” and were addressing journalists.
A member of the National Assembly representing Owan Federal Constituency, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere had raised the issue at the plenary for the party and the National Assembly to intervene.
The National Assembly constituted a committee to find a political solution to the logjam.
According to the findings of the separate committees by the two chambers, which were made public, the letter of proclamation from the governor was selectively communicated. In other words, while some got the letter, some were denied the letter.
To resolve the crisis, the two houses recommended that the governor should issue a fresh proclamation which should be properly communicated because, “(a) the inauguration was allegedly done at 10p.m. outside legislative hours; (b) that the proclamation letter from the governor, which should have been advertised in national dailies was back-dated, an indication the entire exercise was done to leave some persons out.”
The war of words by both camps thereafter continued to defy all known solutions, including the National Assembly’s recommendations, which canvassed re-inauguration of the assembly and takeover of Edo State House of Assembly’s legislative functions.
A wedge was however put to the National Assembly’s resolutions when a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State delivered a judgment on September 12, 2019 declaring that Obaseki’s proclamation of state House of Assembly was lawful. The court went further to affirm that the assembly was duly inaugurated and further held that the governor or any other person cannot issue another proclamation.
As the deadlock continued, two out of the earlier 12 members inaugurated left the Obaseki camp and joined the Oshiomhole-backed lawmakers.
This depleted the number of the pro-Obaseki supporters in the assembly to 10 members, while his opponent’s camp has 14 lawmakers-elect.
On December 14, 2019, the seats of 14 members were declared vacant by the speaker following their prolonged absence.
Declaring the seat vacant, the then Speaker, Hon. Frank Okiye, said they did not meet up with the 181-day sitting requirement for a member in a legislative calendar year.
Twelve of the seats, according to the assembly, were declared vacant because the members-elect did not present themselves for inauguration since the letter of proclamation of June 17, 2019, while two other members representing Oredo East and Owan East were declared vacant because the two members, Ekhowuehi Uyi and Eric Okaka Eric, failed to attend sitting after the day of inauguration.
This was backed by the judgment of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
However, instead of approaching the Appeal Court to challenge the decision of the Federal High Court sitting at Port Harcourt, the 14 lawmakers went to Federal High sitting in Abuja, which is a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
The 14 affected members filed a suit No. FHC/ABJ/1582/19 at the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging the constitutionality of the declaration of their seats vacant.
The presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) not to declare the seats of the 14 lawmakers-elect vacant. The order was sequel to an exparte motion brought before him by one D. D. Dodo on behalf of the 14 members-elect. He urged the parties to maintain status quo until the determination of the motion brought before court.
As it is, it appears all political solutions reached by the both parties to resolve the crisis have failed, leaving only the court to resolve it.
Obaseki alluded to that early this year when he declared that it was only the court that could resolve the matter.
The governor had played host to the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state who visited to congratulate him on his Supreme Court victory and at the same time pleaded with him to find a way to resolve the fate of the 14 members whose seats were declared vacant.
According to the governor, “Some characters said they sent congratulatory letters to me, and put it in all kinds of conditions (referring to the congratulatory message by the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who also urged him to accommodate the 14 lawmakers).
“How can you tell me to forgive those 14 lawmakers-elect who are responsible for sedition and treason in Nigeria? Of course, we are going to start charges.
“You see, what is bad is bad. Let’s stop covering up things so that people can learn and not do it again. We have gotten support from all of you and are very glad that your support gives us the confidence to continue to fight. Their matter rests with the court.”
With this, all eyes are on the judiciary to accelerate the hearings of all the motions pending in various court.
But the judiciary appears not to be tackling the issue as quickly as it deserves and this has denied a larger segment of the good people of Edo State representation at the state House of Assembly.
The absence of the 14 lawmakers-elect, no doubt has slowed down legislative sessions in the House. Till date, the lawmakers were yet to handle two key resolutions. One of them is the Asaba declaration of Southern Governors banning open grazing and asking the governors of the south to put up a legislation through their respective state assemblies. Today, Edo is among the states yet to do that because the governor has to transmit the Executive Bill for the House to deliberate with a view to passing it into law like other states.
The second issue is the legislative and judicial autonomy, which prompted several months of strike. Before the strike was called off, part of the resolutions was for an Executive Bill from governors to be passed into law by the state assemblies. Again, Edo State still remains among the states that have not done anything to that effect because there is no executive bill to work on.