The Edo State House of Assembly was mired in crisis before and after its inauguration due to allegations in some quarters that most of the members-elect were not carried along regarding the Proclamation Notice issued by the governor of the state for the commencement of legislative duties of the House of Assembly.
In the course of the inauguration of the said House by Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, certain members who were said to be in the majority and loyal to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, particular godfather in the state, stayed away from the House, while nine members out of the 24 who ordinarily had formed a quorum to transact House business, were present upon the proclamation by the governor.
They did elect a Speaker, who in turn swore in the new nine members of the House. They later went ahead and approved a list for commissioners submitted by the governor.
This action of the nine members and or the governor has raised some dust as to the legitimacy of the whole process, as to the propriety of the proclamation, the inauguration, the issue of majority versus minority, the issue of quorum and even the alleged time of the said inauguration at night. There was a cacophony of voices for and against the inauguration.
The once united political family under one political party, All Progressives Congress (APC), has since become sharply divided. Pledges of loyalty and acts of betrayal have become the order of the day. Some people have insinuated “godfatherism” at work. Others differ.
House of Representatives joins the fray
The House of Representatives, at its plenary, declared as null and void all actions presumed to have been taken by the seventh Edo State House of Assembly “pending proper inauguration.” The lawmakers also directed the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, and the director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mustapha Bichi, to shut down the Edo State House of Assembly to avoid alleged intimidation of some members-elect. The decision was imperious, overbearing and constitutionally baseless.
The resolutions followed the unanimous adoption of a report of the House ad hoc Committee on the “Need for Intervention in the Edo State House of Assembly Crisis,” chaired by Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa).
Adopting the recommendations therein, the House urged Obaseki to publicly issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the state assembly within one week, in line with the provisions of Section 105(3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It was incredible hearing the lower chamber of the bicameral NASS dish out such orders, like a headmaster to his pupils.
The House further warned that the, “National Assembly would invoke Section 11 (4) of the 1999 Constitution and take over the Edo State House of Assembly,” if the recommendations were not heeded. The House of Representatives had set up a seven-man ad hoc committee to intervene in the affairs of the crisis-ridden Edo State House of Assembly. The committee was constituted following a motion for urgent need to intervene in the affairs of the state assembly by Hon. Julius Ihonvbere and Hon. Peter Akpatason (both APC, Edo). The ad hoc committee was mandated to unravel the remote and immediate causes of the crisis tearing the Assembly apart, and then seek ways for amicable resolution and proper inauguration, in line with the provisions of extant laws. The lawmakers, while debating on the motion, had said the National Assembly’s intervention was in line with Section 11 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The House of Representatives equally observed that on June 17, 2019, Obaseki had caused the Clerk of the House to secretly swear in nine members out of 24 “outside the time recognised by the Assembly’s rules for legislative business.”
Consequently, a 13-member ad hoc committee was set up to visit the state and try to and find out the true account of events and, if possible, make recommendations for the resolution of the impasse. Immediately the committee was constituted, allegations were heard from the governor’s faction in the state to the effect that the committee was set up do a hatchet job for the faction loyal to the national chairman of the APC, Oshiomhole. The committee dispelled the rumour and came visiting to the state and interviewed some persons, with a view to obtaining accurate information of the reason for the crisis.
The action taken by the House of Representatives on the crisis viz-a-vis the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Altered)
The action taken by the House of Representatives is definitely not within the contemplation of the 1999 Constitution, as altered. The relevant section that gives the entire NATIONAL ASSEMBLY the powers to intervene or act is Section 11 (4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution, as altered.
The said section, for clarification, is reproduced hereunder:
Section 11(4): “At any time when any House of Assembly of a State is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that State, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of that State with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions; and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly pursuant to this section shall have effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the State”.
S11 (5): “For the purposes of subsection (4) of this section, a House of Assembly shall not be deemed to be unable to perform its functions so long as the House of Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business.”
A cursory look at this section together with its subsections shows some measure of constitutional irregularity in the acts of the House of Representatives. It must be understood that the Constitution empowers the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, and not only the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, to take any step with regard to any state House of Assembly that is engulfed in crisis. The current pronouncement made at the floor of the Lower Chamber was at the material time without the concurrence of the Upper Chamber, and was in conflict with the express provisions of the section of the 1999 Constitution, as altered. The Lower Chamber cannot and will not act sorely in any pronouncement concerning the taking over of the Edo State House of Assembly, or any other House of Assembly for that matter. It should be noted that the only time that the National Assembly is authorised to intervene with regard to any House of Assembly is when it is unable to perform its legislative duties due to crisis.
In so doing, the National Assembly is to peaceably take over the functions of that House and not seal or make any other order or orders that run contrary to the express provisions of the Constitution, as the House of Assembly did.
Most important are the provisions that the House of Assembly concerned must have been unable to function or make laws for that state due to crisis, necessitating the intervention of the National Assembly to take over the legislative duties of that House of Assembly. The following is very important and ought to be noted by all seekers of truth:
“The said House shall not be deemed to be unable to perform its functions so long as the House of Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business.”
From the events so far disclosed in the Edo House of Assembly, could it rightly be said that the House was unable to hold its meetings and transact business? The answer is a RESOUNDING “NO.” The House as presently constituted can meet and carry out its legislative duties as required by law. It indeed screened the nominees for commissioners as sent by Governor Obaseki.
Reasons have already been given by some of leaders of the House of Representatives for the action they have taken so far, including the order to the IGP to seal the House complex in order to deny either faction access to the House of Assembly Complex, and found the reasons so far advanced as one that will further compound, rather than mitigate the crisis.
This order by the House of Representatives will most likely lead to the escalation of the already tense political atmosphere in Edo State and create constitutional crisis of immense proportions in the long run. Already, there is insinuation that before the plenary during which the recommendations were announced, there were already certain pronouncements by the judiciary, granting injunctions restraining the National Assembly from taking any steps to interfere with the legislative duties of the newly constituted House. Agreed that the judiciary cannot stop the legislature from performing its functions, or from taking over a House in crisis and which is unable to make laws for that state, but there must be genuine constitutional reasons for the intervention of the National Assembly in the first place. In the present circumstances, there is absolutely none. For the record, the singular act of the Lower Chamber in dishing out orders alone pertaining to the crisis in Edo State House of Assembly has further complicated the crisis.
One is not ignorant of the grave allegations against the present governor to the effect that he made the present proclamation against the strict provisions of the Constitution, and that it was done in a clandestine manner, thereby denying the majority of the members-elect the knowledge of the date and time of inauguration. These allegations are, to say the least, quite weighty and should be subjected to investigation and resolution. However, the House of Representatives as an institution created by law and which is subject to the Constitution must, as Caesar’s wife, be above board and try as much as possible to comply with constitutional provisions while carrying out its legislative functions.
It is my considered view and opinion that the National Assembly, and not just the House of Representatives, only can take over the Edo State House of Assembly if the House can NO LONGER CONDUCT the business of the House. For instance, if only seven members or less than 1/3 of 24 members are available to conduct the business of the House, the National Assembly, and not just the House of Representatives, can intervene to prevent a vacuum and run the activities of the House.
Consequently, so long as eight members, in addition to the Speaker, are available, the House continues to conduct its legislative functions and the National Assembly, and not just the House of Representatives, CANNOT take over the Edo House of Assembly.
(To be concluded next week)
Thought for the week
“No matter where you stand politically, even if you’re unsure of what your political ideology is, it is important to take part in the process of shaping our government.”