Tony Osauzo, Benin
Edo State House of Assembly was inaugurated penultimate Monday at night amidst tight security and with only eight out of the 24 members-elect in attendance.
Interestingly, all the members are of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. But the party has been enmeshed in crisis over Governor Godwin Obaseki’s bid for a second term, thereby polarising members into pro and anti-Obaseki.
Daily Sun’s investigations show that the crisis started shortly before the party’s primaries to nominate candidates for the state Assembly election. The governor had his preferred choices. But his predecessor and National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, also had his own men. Both could not agree and they engaged in a quiet battle for supremacy over who should produce the candidates for the election.
In the end, Oshiomhole prevailed, as majority of those who emerged candidates were said to be his core loyalists. This was the position until May this year, when a simmering crisis in the party broke open, with a group, Edo Peoples Movement (EPM) within the APC, announcing its birth with the objectives of strengthening the party in the state and ensuring that Obaseki does not secure a re-election ticket for a second term.
But Obaseki on his return from his annual vacation, dismissed news of a rift between him and Oshiomhole or crisis in the party, saying that such news was “fake news”.
But soon, it became clear that something was amiss within the ranks of the APC in the state, as the governor after attending a security meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari along with other governors in Abuja, reportedly hinted the president about development in his state.
Consequently, he was said to have been advised by the president to meet with the APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole, to sort out the problem.
At their meeting in Abuja, Daily Sun gathered that Oshiomhole reportedly expressed his anger over media attacks on his person allegedly sponsored by the Edo State Government and thereafter advised the governor to mend fences with party leaders who have been complaining of “abandonment” owing largely to the governor’s style of administration. After the Abuja meeting, many had thought that the crisis was over.
But the events of Monday, June 17, proved otherwise. When states after the swearing of their governors, began inaugurating their houses of Assembly, there was no indication as to when that of Edo would be inaugurated. The growing anxiety forced a Benin-based NGO, One Love Foundation, to embark on a peaceful protest, wherein its founder, Patrick Eholor, urged the governor to resolve whatever problem he had with his party so he could send a proclamation letter to the Clerk of the Assembly to inaugurate the House to enable Edo people enjoy the dividends of democracy.
As the waiting game was on, meetings were called for the governor, party leaders and the lawmakers-elect to reach a consensus on who becomes the speaker of the House. While Obaseki preferred Frank Okiye, a former Majority Leader as speaker, 19 of the lawmakers-elect said to be loyalists of Oshiomhole, preferred a former speaker, Victor Edoror, to return. The meetings were deadlocked as the parties stood their grounds.
Apparently tired of waiting, the 19 lawmakers-elect on Monday, 17th June, addressed a press conference at the state Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Benin City, where they called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on Governor Obaseki to do the needful by issuing a letter of proclamation to the Clerk of the Assembly.
Unknown to the camp of the 19 lawmakers-elect, while they were busy addressing the press, Governor Obaseki was said to have outwitted them by sending a letter of proclamation to the Clerk, dated June 14, directing that “the first sitting of the Assembly shall hold on 17th June.”
The governor was said to have also “poached” three members of the group to be part of the inauguration.
And to the surprise of all, the Clerk of the Assembly, Alhaji Yahaya Omogbai, inaugurated the House at night on the same Monday, swearing in nine lawmakers-elect, who among themselves elected Frank Okiye, Speaker and Yekini Idiaye as Deputy Speaker, and thereafter adjourned sitting till July 17.
But since the exercise took place, there has been debates over the legality or otherwise of the inauguration, since the inauguration took place with only nine lawmakers-elect in attendance
However, the state government is insisting that no law has been violated, as section 96 of the country’s constitution as amended, provides for a one-third quorum of members-elect to be present for the House to be inaugurated.
To further justify the actions of the governor, the pro-government proponents are also arguing that legislative business can be carried out at anytime and anywhere provided, the mace, the symbol of authority is present.
Since the inauguration crisis, blames have continued to be traded, with former Political Adviser to ex-governor, Oshiomhole, Charles Idahosa, heaping the blames of the crisis in state chapter of APC and in particular, the Assembly problem, on the doorstep of the National Chairman of the party, Oshiomhole.
He accused Edo Peoples Movement, a group within the APC in the state, who are opposed to a second term for the governor of being responsible for the face-off, alleging that Oshiomhole’s refusal to speak-up and call the group to order, has allowed the crisis to fester.
“Silence means consent. Why has Oshiomhole not say he did not send them? We saw how this problem has snowballed into the House of Assembly.
“I make bold to say that Oshiomhole is responsible for the problem of APC in Edo State by his silence. Many of these boys are his boys, I am not his boy? Oshiomhole refusal to talk means he is supporting them”, Idahosa said.
Supporting the inauguration, he said Oshiomhole did worst thing during his time, when he allegedly removed the roof of the state House of Assembly under the guise of renovation and moved the Assembly to sit in Government House.
But one of the conveners of EPM and the state’s immediate past Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Henry Idahagbon, faulted the inauguration of the Assembly with nine members on two grounds.
He said the timing of the exercise at between 9.30 and 10 pm was wrong, as legislative business is not carried out at night.
Besides, Idahagbon argued that inauguration is for all members and cited the recent inauguration of the National Assembly as example, just as he referred to section 105 (3) of the constitution as amended, which talks about inauguration.
On the issue of quorum, which supporters of the inauguration are citing to justify the action, Idahagbon said it does not arise until after the inauguration, arguing that as things stand now, the House cannot function with nine members because they cannot constitute Principal Officers Committee (POC) which runs the Assembly.
“We are very happy to be so accused. Our objectives remain two-strengthening the party and shopping for a credible governorship candidate. If Idahosa says we are the problem of the party, then we have the capacity to precipitate crisis.
“Obaseki should not destroy the party that brought him from profound obscurity to national and international limelight. He should build the party and consolidate. It is not too late for him to reach out”, Idahagbon said.
He further explaining that aggrieved party leaders are not asking for money but for the governor to change his attitude and be accessible and humane.
But a Benin-based Lawyer, Douglas Ogbankwa, faulted the inauguration on the ground that due process was not followed.
He noted that the inauguration process requires that the Clerk of the House should issue notices to all members-elect before the date of the inauguration, adding that in the instant case, there was no evidence to show that such notices were issued, as a video clip that went viral, showed one of the lawmakers-elect wearing a suit atop short knicker while subscribing to oath, an outfit he said is forbidden by the 2015 rules of the House.
Besides, Ogbankwa argued that the rules say to be elected Speaker or Deputy Speaker, such a member must have had legislative experience, pointing out that the lawmaker elected as Deputy Speaker was a first-timer to the House and does not qualify to be so elected, just as he explained that the rules stipulate the sitting time of the Assembly as 10 am and not at night.
On the issue of quorum, he said that, that can only come into play after the House has been inaugurated and has commenced sitting, even as he queried why only the Clerk and no other staff of the House was present at the inauguration.
“The whole thing is a charade and cannot stand the test of law”, Ogbankwa declared.
In the meantime, the group of 19 lawmakers-elect has said they are studying what had happened and would deal with it soon. Their spokesman, Washington Osifo said “we are looking at it; it could be both legal and political but ultimately, it will be resolved in the interest of Edo people”.
Regardless of the arguments or sentiments, the Edo State House of Assembly has been inaugurated as of today and only a pronouncement of a court of competent jurisdiction can vary the position.
Oshiomhole lashes out at the governor
Speaking on the development, Oshiomhole, at the weekend said, “I am ashamed to talk about it, but there is nothing to hide. We have a similar situation in Edo, where in our case we have 24/24, all of them APC but somebody wants a particular person as a Speaker, 19 out of 24 are opposed to this person.”
Governor Obaseki reacts
Responding to Oshiomhole’s outburst, the governor, through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr Crusoe Osagie, said “We read with utter astonishment a statement credited to the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, with respect to Governor Godwin Obaseki’s alleged role in the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly.
“Apart from the fact that he based his conclusion on a totally false and baseless premise, we believe that he could have shown that he didn’t have a vested interest by simply inquiring from his friend, the governor, directly, or any official of the State Working Committee of our party to what actually transpired.
“Oshiomhole’s failure to satisfy the basic tenets of natural justice which makes fair hearing from all sides of a matter mandatory, has clearly exposed his bias in this issue.”