The decision by majority members of the Edo State House of Assembly to form a parallel House has thrown up fresh legal and political challenges thus further raising tension ahead of the September 19 Governorship election in the state.
The current scenario at the Edo State House of Assembly can aptly be described as a theatre of the absurd and political shenanigan in its basest form. Since June 17 last year when the state legislature became a House divided against itself as the minority clandestinely and conspiratorially with the executive arm of government seized control of that arm of government, it’s been a case of a chicken perching on a rope. Neither the chicken nor the rope will be at ease. And this is exactly the prevailing situation in the Edo State House of Assembly. More than 14 months after eight out of the 24-member House were sworn in and principal officers elected following the June 14 proclamation by the governor, Godwin Obaseki, peace had taken flight from the hallowed chambers as a rule of the minority was foisted on the parliament.
Though two members later submitted themselves for inauguration after alleged inducement and playing the ethnic card thereby bringing their number to 10, the Francis Okiye-led House remained an aberration. The protracted crisis has its root in the face-off between the governor and his erstwhile political god-father and predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole while the underlying reason the crisis had persisted in spite of various attempts by several stakeholders, mutual friends, and well-meaning individuals to mediate, was, according to political watchers, the fear of impeachment by the governor. The 12 lawmakers who were reportedly schemed out of the inauguration are known loyalists of Oshiomhole and the governor felt his position threatened with a legislature under the control of his estranged godfather who may use them to pursue vendetta.
A member of the group of 17 loyalists of the former governor confided in the magazine how Obaseki, from the outset, had resolved to work with just eight to 10 members in order to safeguard his position. According to him, “the governor said he would not allow certain people, including Edoror, Said Oshiomhole, Washington Osifo, Aghedo, and two others to come into the house. He said over his dead body. So, Obaseki had made up his mind from the beginning not to have a full house because he is afraid of impeachment. You can also see how he relocated the legislature to the government house to prevent our inauguration and protect his interest”.
Though the narrative had been that the 12 lawmakers deliberately refused to present themselves for inauguration, the fact in the public domain points to the contrary. On a day they addressed a press conference to call attention to the delay in the proclamation of the House after one month it ought to have been inaugurated, thugs unleashed mayhem on them in an attack at the Golden Tulip Hotel in which the hotel was seriously vandalized as the invaders shot their way in moving from room to room in search of the members some of whom were lodged there.
Said Oshiomhole, the former governor’s younger brother, was allegedly stripped naked and beaten into pulp. For fear of their lives, they fled the state and took refuge in Abuja. Having succeeded in hounding them out of the state, the minority House consolidated its position. Ever since, it had been peace of the graveyard as the 10-member House, buoyed up by the governor, carry on with legislative duties without qualms while at the same time resorting to legal gymnastics by filing multiple cases in court in order to prolong the crisis.
But the matter was to take a new twist Thursday, August 6, when the group of 17 decided to hold the inauguration of a parallel House with Edoror, who had been tipped by the Oshiomhole faction to clinch the position before the crisis, emerging speaker. The Okiye-led House was to suffer further depletion of its number when three of the inaugurated members switched loyalty to the majority group, bringing their number to 17.
The development was not without an intriguing drama. Apparently already tipped of what was to come, the group of seven, with the evident backing of the executive, mobilized security agents and thugs to lay siege to the House of Assembly located at the Ring Road, to prevent the rival camp from gaining access for the speculated inauguration or any form of legislative duty. There was pandemonium as the trigger-happy thugs unleashed mayhem on the building, severely vandalizing and looting it. Like an army of occupation, they positioned themselves inside the offices and in the precincts of the complex. The factional speaker was to arrive the House amidst tight security to dish out instruction that nobody should be allowed access into the building. The governor was to arrive shortly after, having to cut short his campaign tour of Edo North senatorial district to douse the raging political inferno at home.
Obaseki told an audience that he would ensure the legislative arm of the government was not compromised. He said: “I want to assure you that as the governor of Edo State, I will do all within my constitutional powers to protect the sovereignty of the legislative arm of government. Nigeria is governed by laws and the constitution of the country. Mr. Speaker, go about your normal duties as a parliament the way it should and the way the constitution prescribes. For us as an executive, we owe you the entire instrument available to us constitutionally to protect you and to protect the state”.
And to effectively keep away the expected “intruders” the government suddenly embarked on the renovation of the complex, deploying artisans to remove the roof of the building, pull out the dummy mace mounted on the building, while truck loads of gravel were tipped in front of the gate to block it. Interestingly, while the government was busy dissipating energy and resources to frustrate the plan of Oshiomhole’s loyalists, they were gathered in another venue where they were inaugurated by the deputy clerk of the House and principal officers were elected. The first action taken was to nullify all the decisions that had been taken by the Okiye-led faction, especially the declaration of their seats as vacant.
The development was to heighten political tension in the state. A source who should know hinted the magazine that the decision to inaugurate the 12 members and form a parallel House was impromptu. An unimpeachable source told the magazine that the plot had the imprimatur of the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje who only came to realize that the Oshiomhole faction was in the majority. A miffed Ganduje who is the national chairman of the Edo APC Governorship Campaign Council was said to have called Oshiomhole to find out why he had watched helplessly while the minority rode roughshod on the majority.
The Kano State governor who had been a victim of vicious attacks and humiliation by the government was said to have conferred with the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami who invited the embattled lawmakers and instructed them to proceed to Benin immediately for inauguration. He backed his action up with a letter. Confirming the information, an excited lawmaker stated gleefully that “the inauguration was successful; it was brilliant. We have inaugurated ourselves with the directive of the number one custodian of the Nigerian constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria. He called us and dispatched us to Benin immediately for inauguration and directed the DSS and the police to give us all necessary protection. That’s the custodian of the law”.
According to him, “How can you, in one year three months, you refused to inaugurate us and you are lying that we refused to submit ourselves for inauguration. Where is the inaugural letter? Before inauguration, you must give notice. You write, and if it is by text because of the era of technology we are in, Clerk, show the text message you sent round. Or if we get to court they would exhume it from the service provider if it exists. So, that one is already going in for perjury; seven years in prison. They are just lying up and down. Nobody called us because they had already said they wanted only 10. They kidnapped two, but they withdrew. They went to swear affidavit that they were not part of it. They are still with us till today. Today, we are not 14, we are 17; three have come to join us against seven. They can’t form a quorum, so why are they sitting? It’s forbidden. It’s sad”.
Okiye however fired back declaring that “There are no 17 law makers anymore, anywhere. The 14 lawmakers whose seats have been declared vacant have lost their status. So, I do not know where they can get the authority to reconvene the House outside the legislative premises. So, from the beginning it is defecation on the hallowedness of that chamber. There is no connection between the 14 lawmakers and the present House of Assembly at all. The 10 lawmakers are the ones that have constituted the House as of today. What you find happening is that out of this 10, three merely shifted their allegiance against the original position which is fine and within their constitutional right”. Okiye asserted that “by going out of their way to constitute an alternative governance amounts to treasonable felony; it is unacceptable. Nobody can listen to them”.
To demonstrate its seriousness, the faction on Wednesday obtained from a Benin High Court leave to apply for an order of Mandamus compelling security agencies to investigate the 17 lawmakers and the deputy clerk who inaugurated them for treasonable felony. Both camps were to also resume hostilities same day when the Oshiomhole loyalists, at their sitting, upbraided the parallel parliament for confirming five commissioner nominees at the behest of the governor to fill vacant positions in the state cabinet and in the Edo State Oil and Gas Producing Areas Development Commission (EDSOGPADEC), describing the action as “executive rascality”. They argued that the clearance was unconstitutional as they did not form a quorum.
However, in his reaction, the factional Speaker dismissed their position. Okiye who spoke recently on Channels Television programme Politics Today, said “They said we do not exist, so why did they recognise our position when we removed the Deputy Speaker? Are they not aware that there is a court order today (Wednesday) that ordered that they should be arrested and investigated for treasonable felony, forgery, and impersonation and we have resolved in our sitting that they should be investigated for treasonable felony, forgery, and impersonation? I have said repeatedly that they do not exist and they should work to respond to the order of the court and explain themselves to security agencies.
“They are just bringing issues that do not exist. This matter is even being challenged in court. All the parties that are concerned in this matter are in court. So, why won’t they wait for the court to determine? We are here, we have been sitting; we are doing our job. One-third of the 24 seats that ought to make the House is eight, and we are still 10. Nobody is suspended and nobody is driven away. So, 10 can do the business of legislation”.
Jiti Ogunye, a renowned legal practitioner, and human rights activist, however, disagreed with Okiye. Also speaking on the same Channels TV programme on the day the House was invaded by thugs, Ogunye who cited some determined cases, said “All these issues are clear. When you are talking about quorum, it has to be the quorum of all the members. When you are talking about regulation of proceedings of the House, it has to be done fairly and properly and so on and so forth”.
A visibly distraught Ogunye said “What happened in Edo State is very sad and disgraceful. It’s an act in totality that portrays the democratic process in bad light and that shouldn’t be happening; not in 1999, not in 2020. It’s so shameful and disgraceful and that ought not to have happened”. Commenting on Okiye’s impeachment, he put the blame of the crisis that had rocked the Legislature on the governor.
Ogunye noted that “Right from day one, we’ve had comedies of errors. It shouldn’t have happened in this country that a governor of any state by his own whim and caprices would prevent a total number of a 24-member House of Assembly from convening to freely elect their leadership; that is what happened and that set the tone for all the comedies of error that we’ve seen in Edo State since then.
“I am talking about the inauguration of the House that took place allegedly in the state House in Edo State not in the legislative chambers in the night. That is the foundation of this ugliness that we are witnessing today. It shouldn’t have occurred in any case. And so, we then had a situation whereby for over a year now, 14 members of the House couldn’t sit with their colleagues…The National Assembly wanted to intervene at a stage, they were encumbered by a court and political desperadoes who were saying they were improving on the rule of law but it was patent that they were only improving on the rule of desperation. So, we had those things happening before today. So, what we are seeing today, therefore, is that we had a faction of 15, 16, 17 members meeting, not in the House where they should meet and where the Supreme Court has said …they should meet.
“They are not meeting in the House and they could claim that they are forced to assemble somewhere to go and meet. There and then they claimed they had impeached the Speaker. The speaker they claimed they had impeached was also elected by six or seven, eight members which is an oddity. So, my view in totality is that this shouldn’t be happening”.
Describing the macabre drama at the House of Assembly as “a melee and scandalous,” Ogunye noted that the “purported renovation being carried out by the executive, apparently dumping of sand, removing of roofs, and all that” was obviously to ensure that there was legislative paralysis. He posited that “No executive arm of government should be powerful enough to pocket a legislature or disrupt legislative proceedings because the principles of checks and balances, oversight, and so on, and representation of the electorate, would be thrown to the dogs and this ought not to happen in a democracy”.
He contended that even at the risk of being impeached, no governor should be too powerful to interfere in proceedings of the House and subvert the House for fear of impeachment. “Balarabe Musa was impeached in this country. So, what happened in Kaduna? So, those who impeached him, where are they now? Did that save the second republic from collapsing in December 1983? Politicians should know that there is life after power. If I were the governor, even when I suspect that I may be impeached, I should trust the democratic process enough to allow the process to go on so that if I am unlawfully impeached, I can get remedy”.
Ogunye is however worried about how the face-off would impact on the coming election and suggested that “politicians, law enforcement (officers), government at the federal level should work together to ensure that this foretaste, this rehearsal for mayhem is nipped in the bud so that the election that is coming up on the 19th of September would not be truncated”.