The Edo State House of Assembly on Thursday June 17 marked its two years of inauguration. The event was a sad reminder of the plight of the people in 14 constituencies who are yet to be represented at the assembly. PATRICK AHANOR reports.
The 7th Edo State Assembly as presently constituted has begun its third business year out of its four years tenure which would come to an end in June 2023.
Therefore, the atmosphere at the assembly chamber on June 17, 2021 when the parliament marked its second year anniversary was to all intent, that of self examination and rendering of stewardship.
Speaker Marcus Onobun set the tone for the day at a press briefing during which he disclosed that “progressive bills and resolutions geared towards impacting positively on the lives of Edo people” were passed in the period under review.
He stated that the parliament passed a total number of 17 bills and 97 resolutions adopted between June 2019 till date.
He continued, “similarly, during the period under review, a total of 56 petitions were duly received from members of the public.
“Some of them (petitions) have been resolved and communicated to the relevant authorities for action; while others were being considered by various standing committees of the house,” he stated.
Be that as it may, the 10-man assembly as presently constituted is a little above one third of its lawful members- a development that have denied 14 constituencies representation and voices in the affairs of the state because their lawmakers-elect are yet to be inaugurated two years after.
The 10- member parliament in 2019 declared vacant, the seats of 14 members-elect over their refusal to present themselves for swearing-in.
The 14 members-elect went on self-exile over issues bordering on the controversial inauguration of the Assembly on June 17, 2019.
No thanks to the protracted political battle between the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, and the then National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole his estranged “godfather” over the control of political structure in the state.
Despite having all the 24 members elected as members of the APC, the assembly has known no peace.
In fact, the obvious gain in having an all ruling party legislature was tinkered with by both warring party leaders as they used the assembly as a battle ground to test their political strength.
Among those yet to be sworn-in included representatives of the constituencies of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Phillip Shaibu.
Prior to the Assembly inauguration, 19 member-elect said to be loyal to Oshiomhole backed a member-elect representing Esan Central state constituency, Mr Victor Edoror as speaker against Mr Frank Okiye who was reportedly anointed by the governor for the job.
Attempts by both groups to harmonize their differences out of public view reportedly collapsed, thereby forcing the pro-Oshiomhole members- elect to address the press at launch time on June 17 in respect of the misunderstanding.
At the briefing, they accused Obaseki of deliberate delay in transmitting proclamation letter to the Clerk of the Assembly to pave way for their inauguration.
In what pundits has dubbed ‘political ambush’ in the struggle for control of the house, 10 lawmakers-elect believed to be loyal to the Edo governor were reportedly inaugurated at about 10pm same day (June 17) by the assembly clerk, Alhaji, Audu Yahaya Omogbai.
Protest and call for reinuaguration
To this end, Hon Washington Osifo, spokesman for pro-Oshiomhole members-elect protested the development, and called for a proper/re-inauguration of the seventh assembly.
However, the then Commissioner for Communication & Orientation, Hon Paul Ohonbamu in a statement claimed the assembly was inaugurated at 3pm, adding that it was about the same time the pro-Oshiomhole “ignored the inauguration” and where addressing journalists.
Nonetheless, the war of words by both camps thereafter continued to defy all known solutions including the National Assembly and Senate recommendation which canvassed for re-inauguration of the assembly plus attempt to take-over their functions.
Besides, there are pending multiple suits arising therefrom at various courts in the land, some of which had barred the Edo governor from issuing fresh proclamation letter.
To this end, the 14 members-elect have continued to stay away from assembly proceedings alleging improper inauguration and threat to their lives.
Seats declared vacant
On December 4, 2019, the assembly Speaker, Hon Frank Okiye declared the seat of ‘absentee’ members-elect vacant, citing constitutional provisions that gave 180 days for a member to be absent from sitting before his seat would be declared vacant.
Twelve (12) of the seats, according to the assembly, were declared vacant because the members-elect have not presented themselves for inauguration since the letter of proclamation of June 17, 2019, while two other members representing Oredo East and Owan East were declared vacant because the two members, Ekhowuehi Uyi and Barr Okaka Eric, have failed to attend sitting after the day of inauguration.
Federal High Court to the rescue
Whilst some political watchers believed that the assembly resolution may have sealed the fate of the embattled members-elect, however, a glimpse of hope came through a Federal High Court in Abuja which ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to halt any move to conduct elections to fill seats declared vacant by the speaker.
The presiding judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, who gave the order in an ex-parte motion with suit number: FHC/ABJ/CS/1582/19 and filed by Mr D.D. Dodo on behalf of the 14 lawmakers, urged parties to maintain status quo pending the determination of the motion before the court.
The affected members-elect are Vincent Uwadiae, Ovia North-East II; Ugiagbe Dumez, Ovia North-East I; Washington Osifo, Uhunmwode; Victor Edoror, Esan Central; Kingsley Ugabi, Etsako East and Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Owan West.
Others are Sunday Aghedo, Ovia South-West; Chris Okaeben, Oredo West; Crosby Eribo, Egor; Aliyu Oshiomhole, Etsako West II; Oshomah Ahmed, Etsako Central and Ganiyu Audu, Etsako West I.
Obaseki extended, withdrew olive branch
In 2019, Governor Obaseki who was at the time a member of the APC made a dramatic move for peaceful legislature as he named the governor of Plateau state, Simon Lalong, to lead Edo assembly reconciliation
The committee also had Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Senator Ehigie Uzamere as members, just as the governor added that the constitution of the reconciliation committee is part of moves to restore harmony and peace in the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the state at large.
The governor insisted that he is committed to peace, arguing that a united front would make the party stronger, more cohesive and help foster more development in the state.
He added that the committee, which commenced work with immediate effect, would reach out to all parties in the dispute and ensure that all grey areas were addressed to make for peaceful resolution of the matter.
Not long afterwards, the governor who was at the time seeking a second term on the APC platform was disqualified from partaking in the party’s governorship primary over issues bordering on academic qualifications- thereby abandoning the peace committee.
He, thereafter, defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose platform he contested and was re-elected.
Nonetheless, the governor’s peace move at the time raised more questions than answers as critics wondered if he was referring to the members-elect whose seats were declared vacant and now a matter before the law court.
On May 31st, 2021, Obaseki ruled out political solution over the fate of the embattled lawmakers-elect following a request by Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the governorship candidate of the APC in the Edo state 2020 governorship election.
He once said, “How can you tell me to forgive those 14 lawmakers-elect who are responsible for sedition and treason in Nigeria? Of course, we are going to start charges.”
“You see, what is bad is bad. Let’s stop covering up things so that people can learn and not do it again”.
The APC candidate, Ize Iyamu had appealed to Obaseki to address the issue of the 14 absentee lawmakers.
Ize-Iyamu who stated this in a congratulatory message to Obaseki over his Supreme Court victory in which the APC challenged his academic qualifications, said the Edo governor should be a governor for all.
Despite the appeal, the governor has been adamant and time is indeed of essence. It is hoped that litigations arising from the controversies would soon be decided.