Edo State is on edge, following the National Assembly’s order Governor Godwin Obaseki to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly. The Governor was given one week to carry out that order. But he has told the national legislators that they have embarked on a fruitless exercise, warning that the National Assembly does not have the constitutional powers it is appropriating. That is beside the fact that the matter is in court, for which all other interventions have become sub judice.
To show that this is going to be a long drawn ‘battle’, the Speaker of the Edo Assembly, Francis Okiye last Wednesday dragged the National Assembly to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, asking to stop it from taking over the state Assembly. In an originating summon and a motion on notice for interlocutory injunction with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/815/2019 filed by the Speaker and the state’s Assembly, the plaintiffs asked Justice Nkeonye Maha to restrain the National Assembly from going ahead with its plans pending the hearing on the matter. The suit was instituted against Mohammed Sani-Omolori, the Clerk of the National Assembly (first defendant), and the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (second defendant) on July 17.
The Senate had threatened that the National Assembly would take over the state Assembly, if the Governor failed to do its bidding.
In his response, Obaseki referred to the 1999 Constitution as amended, which mandates state governors to issue proclamation only once for the inauguration of their Houses of Assembly, a task he said he had dutifully performed, when he transmitted the first letter of proclamation on June 14 via the Clerk of Edo Assembly.
As matters stand, some say only a political solution will bring the face-off to an end. But where will such come from? It was rumoured that President Buhari had asked Governor Obaseki to issue a fresh proclamation to reopen the House, so that all the 24 legislators will have equal opportunity to attend and be inaugurated for the 7th Assembly.
But the Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy to Governor Obaseki, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, denied the report that President Buhari had directed the Governor to issue a fresh proclamation.
Describing the report as untrue, Obaseki linked the claim to sponsored agents and hirelings of vested interests, whose stranglehold on the state’s resources had been blocked.
He said: “We wish to state categorically that the story is false, as there was no Presidential directive to Governor Godwin Obaseki to issue a fresh proclamation. The President Muhammadu Buhari we know is a law-abiding leader, who will not issue directives that contradict constitutional provisions…”
The infighting in Edo Assembly is threatening to disrupt the peace in the state, as there is no likelihood that either side of the crisis would back out soon. For the governor and his team, the matter is well beyond what is presented, but a battle to rescue Edo from predators who do not understand what the party and the Presidency mean when they say they want to take the country to the ‘Next Level’. Feelers say the confrontation is also not strictly between Obaseki and his former principal, Adams Oshiomhole, who is also the national chairman of the party, but a much deeper battle to rescue the state from tiny gods who are used to sharing the state’s cake without seeking to bake more.
It was said that when Obaseki came on board, he was not comfortable with the handing over of revenue generating assets to ‘boys’ who report to their masters. That old arrangement shortchanged the state’s capacity to improve its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Obaseki has a private sector background, with sound bias for financial discipline. This was what Oshiomhole saw when he approached him among other professionals back then in 2007, when the former governor announced his interest to run for governor of Edo State. The Lagos professionals pulled resources and rallied round Oshiomhole and the outing became successful. To show appreciation, Oshiomhole asked Obaseki to come over and be part of his government.
Not in the driver’s seat then, Obaseki concerned himself with driving the financial aspect of governance, which yielded good results. It goes without saying thus, that Oshiomhole found Obaseki good and safe enough to hand over the state.
Now in the driver’s seat, Obaseki decided to cut to size the other stakeholders, who, according to him love to share at the expense of the people. The last elections were programmed to still have Oshiomhole calling the shorts, since he practically endorsed those who got the tickets of the party to run for offices. Since he inherited the 6th Assembly, Obaseki couldn’t do much but flow with the tide as long as it the tide was stable. But for the 7th Assembly, and for him to do the things that will recommend him for re-election, he needed to take charge. This is where the conflict is anchored. If Obaseki allowed Abuja (Oshiomhole) to solely determine the leadership of the Assembly while he is the Chief Executive, he might have his head shaved in his absence. In this democracy, you do not surrender your entire joker. This is why there is crisis along that flank, being fuelled by the earlier decision to kick the revenue boys (also called touts) and their masters out of the streets and markets.
As things stand, Edo is tensed up and stakeholders are worried and afraid that matters could degenerate. President of Benin Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (BENCCIMA), Evang. (Dr.) Mrs. H.E. Atekha Odemwingie, has expressed worry over the negative impact the face-off could have on the state’s economy. He said the ugly development should be nipped in the bud to guarantee a peaceful environment for business to thrive.
Odemwingie said: “There is need to review the prevailing circumstances. BENCCIMA appeals to all the actors to sheath their swords and embrace peace. We are highly bothered by the continuing political upheaval in the state, as it is capable of causing businesses to fail. We are, therefore, calling on the political actors, stakeholders who are all involved in the present political crisis, to find a middle course to resolve their differences. We appeal passionately that they should put Edo people’s interest first to guarantee the state’s social and economic future.”
Some All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains have expressed their displeasure with the intervention of the NASS.
The immediate past Governor of Imo State and lawmaker representing Imo West, Senator Rochas Okorocha, said it was an insult for the National Assembly to issue an ultimatum to Governor Obaseki on the crisis.
He said: “It is like we are eager to take over Edo State House of Assembly. Looking at the report of both the party and the facts, it looks like an APC family affair, which the party leadership should find a way to solve. There is no proof whatsoever that the Edo Assembly is not functioning.
“I was once a governor. It is not proper for us to say if a governor does not issue a fresh proclamation, we are going to take over the Assembly. So, I think we should look into this before we bring ourselves to ridicule by interfering in a matter we shouldn’t have.”
Countering Okorocha’s position, former Governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Sam Egwu, said it was wrong to organise inauguration at 9pm. Attempts by Senator Orker Jev Emmanuel (Peoples Democratic Party PDP, Benue North West) to explain the constitutional implication of the decision to take over the Edo House did not succeed as he was overruled by the President of Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
Backing the Senate’s decision for a fresh proclamation, the Edo State Chapter of Concerned Civil Society groups, led by Comrade Marxist Kola Edokpayi and Emmanuel Agbogun said the National Assembly’s intervention is constitutional, and so must be respected.
He said: “Section 105, sub section 3 of the Constitution as amended saddle the Governor with the responsibility to issue a letter of proclamation to the Clerk of the House for the inauguration of the state House of Assembly. The question here is: were all members-elect aware of the day and time of the inauguration?”
Reacting to the National Assembly resolution, which the Edo State Government condemned as illegal, Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie said: “The purported resolution is unconstitutional and a flagrant disregard for the Principle of Separation of Powers. This illegality will not stand. We, therefore, appeal to powerful persons not to be allowed to set our state ablaze merely to satisfy their thirst for power and control.
“The Senate’s resolution was not totally unexpected in the light of the enormous political pressure that had been brought to bear on the officers and members of the Senate by the highly placed and powerful persons, who are bent on foisting their will and choices on the good people of Edo State…
“Members of the ad-hoc Senate committee, which visited Edo State, were made aware of the existence of at least three suits pending before various courts, wherein the factual and legal dispute regarding the Edo State House of Assembly inauguration have been submitted by both contending parties for resolution.”
The Edo Assembly has been embroiled in crisis after the midnight inauguration of nine out of 24 members-elect on June 21.
The nine (now 12) members are believed to be loyalists of Governor Obaseki and have elected principal officers of the House. Thereafter, the other 14 members-elect (now 12), believed to be loyal to former governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, petitioned the National Assembly, and have stayed away from the Assembly proceedings over alleged insecurity.
Furious about the move to take over the Assembly, a group, under the aegis of Etsako Solidarity Forum, rebuked the plot allegedly from Abuja, indicting Oshiomhole in the political squabbles in APC and Edo Assembly.
The Forum, led by its President, Saidu Momoh, recalled how Oshiomhole as governor of Edo State between 2008 and 2016 ruled the state with little or no respect for constituted authority and rule of law.
Momoh said: “In 2010, the comrade governor inducted nine members out of the 24, instead of two-third of the 24 members, to impeach Rt. Hon. Zakawanu Garuba as Speaker. All attempts, including soliciting the National Assembly’s help to redress the assault on Zakawanu proved abortive. Oshiomhole warned NASS and called them busybodies to stop interfering in the state Assembly’s affairs.
“In 2013, Oshiomhole relocated the House of Assembly to Government House under the minority leadership of the then Speaker, Rt. Hon. Uyi Igbe with just 10 members, who got a contractor to remove the roof of the Edo State House of Assembly chamber.
“Throughout the eight years he held sway as governor, Adams Oshiomhole constituted himself into a godfather. The good people of Edo state will also recall that for the first time in the history of state, in 2012, a House of Assembly was forced to confirm commissioners without asking for their educational qualifications or undertaking necessary scrutiny of the nominees…”
APC leaders in Oredo Ward II, led by Osagie Edosomwan, said party members opposed to Obaseki’s second term bid were doing so for selfish interests.
According to Edosomwan, members of Edo People’s Movement (EPM) were not happy with Obaseki because their leaders failed to secure appointment in Obaseki’s administration.
The Speaker, Edo House of Assembly, Francis Okiye, reiterated that there was no crisis in the House.
Okiye said the House was carrying out its constitutional business of legislating for the good governance of the people.
He said: “Upon proclamation of the House by Governor Obaseki and invitation by the Clerk, only nine members were available to be inaugurated as provided for by section 105(3). The nine members took the oath of office, while the other members did not give reasons for their absence at inauguration.
“To avoid constitutional crisis, the House had to be inaugurated on June 17, 2019 as stated in the proclamation letter. The quorum needed by the House to carry out its legislative business was met, and the Clerk inaugurated the members that were present.
“Anyone in doubt of the constitutionality is free to seek redress in court, instead of manipulating the National Assembly to exercise powers they do not possess.”
According to him, the only condition under which NASS can take over the functions of a state House of Assembly is clearly and unambiguously stated in sections 11(4) and 11(5) of the constitution.
“These conditions do not apply here in Edo Assembly, as the House has been performing legislative business in a peaceful atmosphere with me presiding as the Speaker,” he added.
The Speaker, however, advised NASS members to face its duties and leave Edo Assembly alone, urging them not to throw spanner in the wheel of work in the state.
He said: “Since inauguration, the House has adopted the business calendar, constituted statutory committees, cleared commissioners and passed several resolutions.
“I advise my colleagues who have refused to be inaugurated to present themselves for documentation and inauguration to give quality representation to the people that elected them.”