Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
Over ninety councilors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Benin protested on Wednesday over the non-payment of their salaries and other entitlements allegedly as a result of their refusal to defect with Governor Godwin Obaseki to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The councilors, who staged a protest to the premesis of the Edo State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists in Benin, bore placards with inscriptions such as “Edo State Council Legislatures are not slaves, stop the intimidation of APC, “7 months without salaries is wickedness”, “15 months without salaries is murderous”, “they have raped democracy and the illegal removal and suspension of APC councilors must stop”, and “democracy must lead”.
They said they embarked on the protest to draw the attention of the world to ‘the inhuman treatment and abuse of our fundamental human right by the various Council Chairmen in Edo State on the directive of the Governor Godwin Obaseki’s led administration. It will be recalled that in the build up to the Edo State Governorship election 2020, the Governor decamped from our party the APC, having been disqualified by the national screening committee of the party.
‘Afterwards, the Governor directed that all political appointees and elected political office holders should resign from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and join him in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Quite honestly, the decision of the Governor to decamp to the PDP falls within his right as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While we respect this right of his, we are however left in shock as the governor has refused to reciprocate same to the decision by some of us who are elected councilors to remain in the All Progressives Congress (APC).’
Their spkesman, Hon Emwinghare Osabuohien, said: ‘Today the world should know that as elected councilors numbering over ninety (90), we have not been paid our salaries since May 2020. Salaries and wages of the legislature is not a gift from the executive arm of government. All rights, privileges and other entitlements have been stopped on the directive of the governor because of our democratic choice and right.
‘The beauty of democracy is the free participation of everybody in the governance of the people irrespective of our political party. To that extent, the opposition is recognized and allowed to freely raise objective criticism of the government.
‘Unfortunately, this is not the case in Edo State as there is a dangerous level of intolerance for the opposition. Our only offence is that we refused to with the governor to the PDP even though in our assessment of his performance, we found no moral justification on which we should abandon the party that provided us the platform to get elected.
‘Across the State, there have been illegal suspensions of elected and appointed government officials in sixteen (16) out of the eighteen (18) local government areas. A classic case is that which transpired in Uhunmwode Local Government Legislative Council with ten (10) Councilors. Sanctioned by the governor, the only three (3) PDP Councilors in the house sat on the 23rd of June, 2020 to suspend the seven (7) APC house members.The same has happened in Ovia South West, Egor, Etsako East, Akoko-Edo and Esan South East Local Government Area Legislative Councils to mention but a few. It is worthy of note that under the local government laws of Edo State, no law empowers a legislative council to suspend elected members of the house who have a statutory tenure of office. To suspend elected Councilors indefinitely without pay is to preclude them from carrying out their legitimate legislative duties and the resultant effect is that our respective wards are denied representation and participation which is a major set-back for community development. Currently in Edo State, the entire legislative arm of government is completely dysfunctional,’ the APC cuncilors said.
They noted that the State House of Assembly has not been inaugurated since 2019 while the entire legislative arm of the local government councils has been undermined with the illegal suspension of over 90 elected councilors under the supervision of Governor Godwin Obaseki.
‘The illegal indefinite suspension, stoppage of salaries, allowances, benefits, overhead and the denial of the over 100 communities we represent of meaningful development on the basis of our political party affiliation is alien to our emerging democracy.
‘As elected Councilors, we can only be validly removed from office by a recall as any other means will amount to a breach of section 110 (a) and (b) of the 1999 constitution and section 22 of the Local Government laws of Edo State 2000 as amended,’ the councilors said.
They called on President Muhammadu Buhari,, the National Assembly, the Oba of Benin, the National Caretaker Committee Chairman of the APC, the APC Governors’ Forum, the International Community and all lovers of democracy to rise up in condemnation of the tyranny, inhuman treatment, victimization and undemocratic actions of the Edo State Government and to urge Governor Obaseki, to as a matter of urgency, allow the councilors elected on the platform of the APC to resume their legitimate duties in service to their people.
They called on Governor Obaseki to direct all council chairmen to pay their salaries, arrears, allowances and all other entitlements, adding: ‘This will save the nation the global embarrassment that this is already bringing it.’
The Edo State Government has however dismissed allegations that it owes some public officials over political difference.
‘The Edo State Government remains one of the few States in Nigeria that has been faithful with its salary obligations to workers. This trend is ingrained in the government’s belief that every worker is deserving of his or her wage. So, the claims being made by some persons over owed salaries are baseless. The allegation that these persons are being owed over political differences is even more ridiculous. The allegations are false and should be disregarded.
‘We hereby call on the public to disregard the allegations, as they are ill-intensioned and have no basis in truth. Every employee, appointee or elected official of government has been paid up to date,’ the Government said in statement issued by Mr Crusoe, the Special to Governor Obaseki on Media and Communication strategy.