Orobosa Omo-Ojo, Publisher of Midwest Herald, reacts to an article on the propensity of Governor Godwin Obaseki to punish real and perceived opponents
My friend and professional colleague, Nseobong Okon-Ekong (Group Politics Editor of THISDAY Newspapers), started his commentary of September 24, 2021 “Beware! Demolition Man Obaseki on Rampage” on a foul note, obviously due to his meagre understanding of the developmental history of Edo State, at least, since May 29, 1999. Arising from this perspective, I will start from a ‘Dead Ball’ position.
Okon-Ekong scored an own goal with his first shot, when he misrepresented the court order which he argued to have stopped Edo State Government from implementing the compulsory Covid-19 vaccination for those planning to access the ‘Public Space”, including government offices, event centres, churches, cinemas and others.
Curiously, the legal facts of the case Okon-Ekong referred to, are in the public space and if only he bothered to find out from his judicial correspondent, he should have realised that there was never any order in the first place, that purportedly restrained Edo State Government from enforcing the Executive Order on the public health safety.
Below is the summary of the actual court proceedings that held on September 17, 2021, in Port Harcourt, River State.
Two lawyers (Chief E.O Odey Esq and S.C Eziefule Esq) who claimed to be representing ‘some aggrieved persons’ had reported to the Federal High Court that the Edo State Government had disobeyed the court order and embarked on the vaccination programme.
But the judge was irked and repudiated the appellant lawyers for misrepresenting his order because he never made any restraining order. He called on the Court Registrar to read out all the enrolled orders in the court’s file, and no such order which the applicant claimed was found.
The judge then asked the appellant lead Counsel if he was physically present in court when the alleged ex-parte order was granted and Chief E.O Odey responded that his junior represented him in court on the day His Lordship gave the order. The junior counsel in turn, said he took the enrolled order to the court secretary to insert the ‘omission’.
The visibly angry judge ordered both counsel into the dock and was about to send the duo to prison but for the intervention of Ken Mozia (SAN) and Wole Iyamu (SAN) who appeared in court for Edo State Government.
Both lawyers pleaded for leniency and pardon in the overall interest of a cordial relationship between the bar and bench. Femi Falana (SAN), also joined in plea for mercy.
The Presiding Judge, Hon. Justice A.T Mohammed pardoned both lawyers but warned them sternly against such misconduct in the future. Being the last day of the FHC vacation court in Port Harcourt, the case was transferred to the Benin Judicial Division of the FHC for continuation of hearing.
It is therefore ironic that my colleague will spend his treasured time to scavenge for unimaginable court order which the originators have already disowned.
Mr. Okon-Ekong also asked if Covid-19 threat is the “most urgent item on Obaseki’s agenda” while relying on the data from NCDC, which according to him does not place Edo as an epicentre of the epidemic.
He tragically went beyond his privileges to make honest comment and fair speech, with his claim that: “Obaseki must have deliberately exaggerated Covid-19 in Edo to deceive the people from looking at the myriad of pressing issues tasking the populace.”
Surely, one would have thought that, as a senior reporter with a leading national newspaper in Nigeria, Okon-Ekong should be in the vanguard of those finding solutions to the global threat of Covid-19. Moving forward, it will be heart-warming if he joins his colleagues, as some of us have done already, in the campaign to push Covid-19 back.
In a manner that may convince most politicians in Edo State, that Okon-Ekong was hired to tackle Governor Godwin Obaseki, he deployed the proverbial rough tactics of ‘if you miss the ball, don’t miss the man’. My brother at Thisday strayed off target to resurrect the story behind the demolition of Latifah hotel, owned by Mr. Tony Kabaka.
Again, Okon-Ekong failed to carry out his findings, before calling the governor a “demolition man.” If he did, he would have discovered that the matter was exhaustively determined at the court before the hotel in question was brought down to give way to the reopening of an existing road.
If I must add, the benefit of our pen as journalists is to serve the public (both high and low), without deliberately twisting facts or history.
From available records, which again are available to Okon-Ekong, a Benin High Court had refused to grant the prayer of Adun’s lawyer, U.L Osa-Uwagie, sometimes on October 22, 2019 – seeking extension of an initial 14-day restraining order, which temporarily stopped Government from removing Latifah hotel and Suites, that was earlier marked for demolition.
The court which was presided over by Justice D.I Okungbowa declined the request on the strength of a counter argument of the State Solicitor General, Oluwole Iyamu SAN, who insisted that the order cannot be extended beyond the fourteen days lifespan.
He also stressed that it was tidier for both parties to return to court on the 14th day to argue the motion for interlocutory injunction.
In his interlocutory application, Osa-Uwagie argued that Edo State Government did not declare the area (Ugbor), as a planning area and wasn’t gazette as in accordance to the Town and Country Planning Law of Bendel State 1979, CAP 165, Section 6. He also claimed that the State governor was witch-hunting his client (Adun) as a result of their political differences.
Edo State Government, through the Solicitor General, argued that “the Deed of Transfer attached to the motion by Mr. Adun and his lawyer was not registered with the State Government Land Registry, and that the building in question had no approved building plan.
The Solicitor General further told the court that: “The entire Edo State has been declared Planning Area and gazetted by the former Governor Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, with Gazette No 22, published 27th May, 2010.”
From the foregoing, Okon-Ekong’s submission has every tendency to misinform facts about Edo State, as unfriendly to those who may be seeking facts to assist them in their investment decision; including others conducting researches on political events in Nigeria. His wrong claims has the tendency to redicle both government and her people.
Shock, is an understatement as my response to the writer’s brazen attack on Obaseki with his observation that: “there is no pattern to Obaseki’s violent and uncontrollable manner.” Sadly, he merely relied on what he was told by politicians that the governor takes delight in pulling down his opponents houses. He also added the demolition of an ongoing construction owned by Mr. Ighile, popularly known as MOJO.
It’s obvious that Okon-Ekong is listening to too many disadvantaged politicians from the state who have lost their grip on the state treasury.
For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Ighile as stated by Oko-Ekong is Obaseki’s “die-hard” supporter. The property in question was marked ‘stop-work’ when the construction started, because of the set back and proximity to the road.
The gate house was built on the fence wall, in addition to other queries by the planning authority. It is therefore out of place to list this as one of Obaseki’s ‘rampaging’ activities.
I have taken my time to clearly state the facts behind the items of disagreement that the Thisday Politics Editor raised in his commentary to prevent others from relying on the subjective conclusions he raised in the very flowering and interesting fiction.
More ridiculous however, is the display of total lack of understanding surrounding the revocation of Garrick Memorial School in Benin City.
Unknown to Okon-Eiong, the school stopped operation several years ago and the present occupants are squatters whose main business is to use the premises for event hosting. At night, the vast premises which has been taken over by rude shrubs and bushes is a hiding place for criminals.
Also, those that briefed Okon-Ekong, had hidden the fact that Mr. Kehinde Garrick who he mentioned in his write up isn’t the residual beneficiary of Garrick’s estate. Unknown also, to the Politics Editor, the Garrick family actually suggested the revocation to Edo State Government to enable them get better value for the property, because erosion flood has reduced the market value. It is therefore uncharitable to suggest vendetta as the reason for the mutually agreed revocation of the former Garrick Memorial School.
I was tempted to ignore Okon-Ekong’s accusations that, Governor Obaseki master-minded the inauguration of 12 out of the 24 members of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly on June 17, 2019. The reason again, is because, the legal battle and their interpretations are public knowledge.
Suffice to say however, that the then members-elect as they were called, naively walked into political landmine that was placed by the former Governor of Edo State and sacked National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole.
Their seats were subsequently declared vacant by the Speaker Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye, after they failed to satisfy the constitutional mandatory sitting provision. My Pen-brother also refused to investigate the facts that surrounded the court judgement which made it impossible for Obaseki to revisit the controversy that surrounded the 14 members-elect.
On September 14, 2019, a Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, upheld the proclamation of the 7th Edo State House of Assembly made by Governor Godwin Obaseki in a Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/159/2019: Hon. Yekini Idiaye & Anor V. Clerk of The NASS & 5 Ors.
In the final judgment delivered by Justice J.K. Omotosho, the court ruled that a “governor does not have the powers to issue a second proclamation after a first proclamation has been made.”
According to Justice Omotosho, the governor of a state does not take directive from National Assembly and added that, the proclamation issued by Governor Obaseki was valid; “to do otherwise is null and void.” Part of the pronouncements the learned Justice Omotosho made to assert the decision of the court were that:
“…Proclamation must be in writing and published by printing out and duly signed under the hand of an identified person issuing same. That as far as law is concerned; the 6th Defendant has duly issued the required proclamation as provided for under the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999…
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Balonwu’s case with respect to Anambra State Governor’s proclamation under Ngige is to the effect that proclamation can only be issued once as done by the 6th Defendant in this Edo State case…
“The directive of NASS to the 6th Defendant has the effect of creating a constitutional crisis by elongating the life of Edo State House of Assembly beyond the constitutionally recognized four years.
“The proclamation issued by the 6th Defendant on 14/6/19 for the inauguration of ESHA on 17/6/19 is valid and subsisting in law and the directive of National Assembly to the 6th Defendant to issue another proclamation is unconstitutional, null and void…”
If I may ask, how did Okon-Ekong come about rationalising Obaseki as “tyrant, cruel and oppressive ruler.” Can this claim be substantiated with the slanted stories contained in his commentary?
I will love to conclude this response with perhaps what Mr. Nseobong Okon-Ekong may have considered the most important of his opinion on Edo State. That is the revocation notice on the IO Farms, owned by my friend and brother, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the APC candidate in the last governorship election. There is need for clarification on the misrepresentation of facts.
The details of the revocation order have extensively isolated the existing farm and the agricultural school with all the structures.
What may be affected is the additional land acquisition that became a contending issue between Amagba Community and Pastor Ize-Iyamu, well before the state government decided to acquire portions of land from the host community to create recreational ground for the vast new settlements in the area.
I am vested in the fact to the imbroglio between Amagba community, their leader and Pastor Ize-Iyamu because my acquisition falls within the same axis. Happily, Pastor Ize-Iyamu is presently seeking the leave of court to reverse the order of the state government, and he is also in discussions with Amagba elders.
Under Oshiomhole, there was nobody was given the opportunity to challenge government in court, talk less to challenge his order. Certainly, Edo State is witnessing a saner, more civil regime.
On a general note and speaking from my observations, first as a community newspaper publisher and also as former Commissioner and member of the State Executive Council during the administration of Mr. Oshiomhole, the present administration is what the state should have had, long time ago.
Mr. Godwin Obaseki’s weakness is his failure to be the ‘regular’ politician and this seems to be a blessing to the state – coming at a time the state needed to take critical decisions.
Had it been true that Obaseki attended Oshiomhole’s callous school of ‘thuggery’ as Okon-Ekong stated, he would be an obvious bad ambassador of the school, because he failed to learn how to disobey court orders. Obaseki certainly left Oshiomhole’s penchant for hostility, animosity, virulent and vitriolic behaviours behind in the school.
Unlike Obaseki, I can vividly recollect how Oshiomhole adjourned the State Executive meeting to personally supervise thugs and bulldozers that demolished several buildings that were allocated to the University of Benin by late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia when he served as Military Governor of Midwest State.
In one of the ugly scenes, the old wife of then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Osayuki Oshodin was attacked by thugs, as she pleaded for time to finish the lunch she was cooking for her grandchildren. Her tears didn’t stop the rampaging army from bringing down the property.
Sadly, the demolition took place simultaneously, same day with the court hearing.
Orobosa Omo-Ojo JP, Journalist and Midwest Herald Publisher, former Special Adviser and Commissioner, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.