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Inauguration: More Trouble for Edo House of Assembly

Ordinarily, it should be one happy family with all 24 members belonging to one political party – the All Progressives Congress, APC. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the seventh Edo State House of Assembly which is taking off on a controversial and rancorous note over who produces the leadership between the feuding incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki and his estranged godfather and predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole. With the flexing of political muscles and battle for supremacy between the two camps, the hallowed chamber of the House of Assembly on yesterday became a theatre of the absurd and political shenanigans as nine out of the 24 members were clandestinely inaugurated and the House leadership constituted with Frank Okiye, former majority leader of the House, and the governor’s anointed candidate emerging Speaker, and Yekini Idiaye from Akoko-Edo, as deputy speaker. Okiye is a ranking member of the House now in his third tenure while Idiaye is a first timer.

Edo State House of Assembly Members Photo
Edo State House of Assembly Members

The nocturnal event which was presided over by the clerk of the House reportedly took place between 9.30 and 10 pm. Curiously, 19 out of the 24 members-elect had earlier in the day addressed a press conference at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ Press Centre where they appealed to the president, Muhammadu Buhari, Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11, leadership of the National Assembly and that of the APC, to prevail on the state governor to issue a proclamation for the convening of the parliament. The governor had since May 29 when new governors were inaugurated, refused to issue the mandatory proclamation for the legislature to be formally constituted as an arm of government leading to agitations, protests and outrage by activists.

As at yesterday morning, speculation was rife that the governor would before the close of work, issue the long-awaited proclamation for the House to be convened following his series of conciliatory meetings with the members-elect which began last Friday, and which was to culminate in the inauguration of the parliament on Tuesday. The matter, however, took a new twist when like a bolt from the blues, a leadership was said to have dramatically emerged under the cloak of darkness, to the chagrin of political watchers, with only nine members in attendance. Curiously, the governor’s camp which initially comprised of five loyal members-elect rose to nine with the successful poaching of additional four members from the Oshiomhole camp. Political observers believe that the governor’s deft political move to install his loyalists in the parliament could have been made to checkmate the move by the opposition party, the PDP to seek an order of mandamus from the court to compel Obaseki to issue a proclamation order. The party had in a statement yesterday afternoon signed by its publicity secretary, Chris Nehikhare, condemned the governor’s delay in allowing the House to be constituted, stressing that as a responsible political party, the PDP could not ignore the obvious drift to tyranny and impending catastrophe being orchestrated by the governor and his party.

From all indications, what the party feared may indeed have come to be with the seventh House of Assembly fouling the political air and giving political watchers and hapless Edo people cause for concern. With all the 24 members belonging to the ruling APC, the messy situation is, therefore, a case of a house divided against itself while the major opposition party takes upon itself the role of a referee moderating the fight.  While concerns have been expressed in some quarters about the legality of the action of the governor and his group of nine legislators, opinions are, however, divided on the issue, especially the circumstances under which the House was convened. While the governor’s loyalists insisted that the inauguration was in order, and was in conformity with the constitution, dissenting opinion argued that what happened on Monday night smacked of political rascality and impunity. What may have come to many as shocking, and perhaps mischievous, was that while there had been agitations and protests over the delay in issuing a proclamation to the clerk to convene the House, one had already been transmitted, so the executive would have one believe, to the Clerk last Friday, June 14 directing the inauguration of the House on Monday. Why the information to that effect was however kept a guarded secret and not made available to the public but only known to the nine members present, can only be answered by the executive.

Investigation by the magazine revealed that the governor who was not sworn-in with other governors on May 29, latched on the constitutional loophole which did not envisage governors with staggered tenures in the provision as it concerns proclamation of the House.  According to a source loyal to the governor, “the constitution says after the swearing in of the governor on May 29, he shall issue a proclamation. Was the governor sworn in on May 29? So, how will you now apply what is happening in another state to Edo State? This is a sitting governor. Did the constitution provide for such a situation?” On the issue of quorum, he cited section 96 which says the quorum of the House shall be one-third of members, stressing that “it did not mention whether it should be at plenary or committee level.” He accused the other 15 members-elect who were absent of failing to do the needful by approaching the Code of Conduct Bureau, obtain forms for declaration of assets and submit, and then report to the clerk of the House with the documents for inauguration. According to him, only the nine members fulfilled these requirements and were therefore sworn-in. He said anytime the others presented themselves to the clerk, they would be sworn-in. The source also argued that the proclamation was not for public consumption but a communication between the governor and the clerk of the house. He said the constitution did not also state what time a House should sit or be inaugurated, which means it could be done any time.

Henry Idahagbon, convener and leader of the Edo People’s Movement, EDM, the anti-Obaseki group within the APC, pooh-poohed the position of the governor’s loyalist. He said as far as he was concerned, the House has not been inaugurated, describing as “a charade” what happened on Monday. “The governor is living up to the name Edo people call him: wake-and-see. Edo people went to sleep and woke up to see that the House has been inaugurated around 9.30/10 pm, with three of our members abducted and driven to the House. So, we now have a wake-and-see governor, wake-and-see speaker, wake-and-see legislature, and wake-and-see democracy in Edo State, he said.” According to him, at the appropriate time, the full House would be inaugurated, majority of the members would be inaugurated and the House will take off properly.   Reacting to the contentious issues surrounding the hurried inauguration, immediate past Attorney-General and commissioner for justice in the state alleged that the governor’s proclamation order was backdated to Friday June 14. On the absence of 15 other members-elect, he explained that on receipt of the proclamation letter from the governor, “the Clerk, procedurally, was supposed to invite all the members, and when all the members come, they will show the slip of their assets declaration issued by the Code of Conduct Bureau before they will be sworn in by subscribing to the relevant oaths of office.” He said it is after the subscription to the oath that the House would be formally inaugurated, “before you start talking about quorum and election of principal officers of the House.”

Debunking the claim that a proclamation letter was not meant for public consumption but a communication between the governor and the speaker, Idahagbon recalled that when President Buhari issued a proclamation order, it was made known to all Nigerians, all the news media and social media, stressing that a proclamation is not a secret document. According to him, it is not meant for only members of the House of Assembly, but also for the general public. He said members of the House would be specifically invited to come with their friends, well-wishers, family members, political associates.  “It is a joyous occasion like the position of a governor when he takes oath of office.” Corroborating Idahagbon’s position, Isaiah Osifo, a university teacher and former member of the House, posited that the inauguration of the House is “a big state official ceremony that should be announced and attract the attendance of family and friends of elected members”.

Idahagbon believed the Obaseki group was also being economical with the truth when it claimed that the 15 other members had not fulfilled the requirements for being sworn-in. While refuting the claim, he said “it is not correct that those members have not subscribed to the relevant Code of Conduct Bureau oath; they have done so, all of them. They have taken their Code of Conduct Bureau forms, filled the forms, and they have submitted. They have their clearance; it is their slip they will show to the clerk because it is a condition precedent before they are sworn-in. They have done all that.”

He believes their exclusion was a deliberate act of mischief and wickedness by the governor whom he described as tyrannical and dictatorial. Said he, “the governor knows what he’s doing. It is pure gangsterism and is being directed by the deputy governor under a governor that does not know his left from his right. The deputy governor is actually the de-facto governor; he’s the one directing the affairs and the governor is just a willing puppet being led by the nose and they are leading him to his political doom. We know this because we all have been acting together.”

Also reacting to the development at a press conference, a group of 16 members-elect claimed they were not invited to the ceremony. Spokesman of the group, Washington Osifo said they would have been present at the inauguration if they were invited. Osifo, a former commissioner for education, said the Clerk called them at about 5:30 pm to inform them that he had been called from the Government House and they were happy that the press conference they earlier held had pricked the governor to do what the constitution demands. Giving a blow by blow account of what actually transpired, he said “the Clerk told us he will call back 30 minutes later but we didn’t hear from him again. Some of our brothers who were supposed to be at a meeting with us were absent. We called them and they were not picking their calls. At 9:30pm, photographs began to filter into our phones suggesting that a kangaroo assembly was being inaugurated. We were disappointed. One of us was spotted with a short and slippers taking oath of office. That was an offence in the hallowed chamber. They humiliated him.”

Explaining further, Osifo said “two of them were also kidnapped to make up the nine members. What they needed, because they lack understanding of what a quorum could mean, were nine members. There can be no quorum until the House is properly inaugurated”. Faulting the process that led to the controversial inauguration, Osifo said “what the law requires is inauguration of the entire members. They got four and said they have a quorum. It was for the Clerk to announce or cause invitation to be sent to us. That was missing. They gave information of the inauguration only to those they wanted to be there. We would have been there. We have done the needful. We want to encourage Edo people to defend democracy and stand up for the right of men. We have 16 members present here. Others not here are still in shock after they were kidnapped. Two of them are still in shock. They are receiving treatment because their blood pressure went up.” two of the lawmakers who were present at the inauguration ceremony said they were abducted and forced to the Assembly premises to make the numbers form a quorum.

The duo allegedly kidnapped also told their stories. Eric Okaka, elected to represent Owan East, and Nosa Okunbor (Orhionmwon East) said they were forcefully taken into the hallowed chamber. According to Okaka, “I didn’t know where they brought a suit from for me to wear. The oath-taking at the chamber was an illegal one. I am a child of the light. The inauguration was done under duress. I didn’t collect any money; even though there was an attempt to offer me money, I refused.”

For some of the members still out in the cold, the crisis presents an opportunity to bargain with the governor’s camp for pecuniary gains. A source confided in the magazine how one of them was negotiating to join the group on condition of being paid N10 million. The governor, on his part, is planning to “spoil” his loyal lawmakers with mouth-watering perquisites of office like exotic SUVs and allowances, perhaps to the envy of their alienated colleagues.

With the present development in the APC, watchers of unfolding political drama believe the stage is set for a fierce battle between Obaseki and his erstwhile political benefactor ahead of the 2020 governorship race in which the governor is seeking re-election. The magazine learnt that as soon as Oshiomhole who was holidaying in London, got wind of the turn of events in his home state, he cut short his visit to return to Nigeria to handle the situation even as many continue to express outrage at the ugly development. Isaiah Osifo, who is also the coordinator of  Nigeria Grassroots Patriots described what he dubbed “midnight inauguration” of the House as “a desperation taken too far and a clear evidence that we have in Edo State a governor who has come to Edo State for his personal interest” and not for the interest of the people. Idahagbon is, however, confident that his group would have the last laugh. He believed that at the appropriate time, the full house would be inaugurated, majority of the members would be inaugurated, and the House will take off properly. “What they did, they did at about 9.30 pm; that is why I say it is wake-and-see democracy. So, it’s a charade; it will not stand. We will reply them politically at the appropriate time.” Outrightly ruling out a legal action, Idahagbon said “we don’t think this is actually a court matter. Our thinking is that this is a political matter that should be resolved politically.”

Meanwhile, the governor has congratulated the new Okiye-led leadership of the House on their emergence, stating that their emergence would pave way for more development in the state. Obaseki assured that “we are ready to work with the newly inaugurated Assembly in deepening progressive ideals in the state, ensuring that there is close synergy to see to the delivery of policies, programmes, and initiatives targeted at repositioning the state as an economic powerhouse in the country.”

There are indications that in the next couple of hours, there would be more bizarre actions and reactions in the battle for the control of Edo State House of Assembly, and violence appears to be inevitable.

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