MORE than two years, the dog fight in the Edo State House of Assembly persists, with 14 elected lawmakers still shut out of the legislature by their colleagues loyal to Governor Godwin Obaseki, HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE writes.
What the electorate appeared to have joined together in Edo State, the godfathers have, no doubt, put asunder. At the mention of Edo State House of Assembly, one question comes up readily. How did the House of Assembly become a divided House, considering the fact that the All Progressives Congress (APC), which Governor Godwin Obaseki belonged then, won all the 24 seats in the 2019 election?
Most analysts had reasoned that resolving the struggle for the control of the House ever since the night time inauguration on June 17, 2019 will be thorny. Almost three years after, the end is still not in sight as both parties have refused to shift positions. From a court challenge in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to thugs taking control of the House of Assembly complex during the heat of the crisis to former Speaker Frank Okiye declaring the seats of the 14 lawmakers vacant, the controversies continue.
The stage for the impasse was set on June 17, 2019 when Governor Godwin Obaseki, issued a proclamation to a chosen few of seven lawmakers-elect, all members of the APC which he belonged then, leaving out the 17 who were not called in the cold. Watching what was like a gripping melodrama, the 17 lawmakers, who are loyal to the immediate past national chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, swore not to submit themselves for the swearing in.
When the echo of the gavel broke the silence of that night, the seven lawmakers elected Mr. Frank Okiye (Esan North East 1) as speaker, while Idiaye (Akoko Edo 1) was selected as deputy speaker, setting the stage for what is now referred to as the divided Edo State House of Assembly.
On August 6, 2020, residents had woken up to the sight of a detachment of armed policemen who blocked the gate of the assembly complex, named after the nationalist Chief Anthony Enahoro.
There was bedlam at the complex over the alleged planned invasion by some persons.
Meeting at a secret rendezvous in Benin the previous day, G17 as they were referred to, had administered the oath on the elected Victor Tiger Edoror (Esan Central) as speaker while Emmanuel Agbaje (Akoko Edo 1) was selected as deputy speaker.
Persistent efforts by the APC to resolve the impasse ended in total fiasco. First, the House of Representatives committee came all the way from Abuja to resolve the crisis but their work ended in vain as the feuding factions refused to concede a yard.
Next was the Senate Committee, which flew into the Edo capital in a last-minute ditch effort to salvage the situation. Just like their counterparts in the lower legislative chambers, they unambiguously gave their verdict: Governor Obaseki should issue a fresh proclamation as the first one was deliberately deficient for not inviting all the members-elect for the inauguration and election of principal officers. Both reports were consigned to the ash heap as the warring parties clinched to the axiom which holds that concede an inch and the other party demands a feet.
The day before the planned assault, former Speaker Okiye had raised the alarm of a plot allegedly by Imo State governor Hope Uzodinma and top APC leaders in Edo to import a fake mace to take over the complex. He alleged that the Imo governor and the APC leaders who are working with Idiaye aimed to assemble at a secret location in the state to illegally and violently take over control of the Assembly.
Okiye spoke shortly after the end of a session by the lawmakers, who comprised the speaker himself and six lawmakers at the old executive committee chambers, Government House and resulted in the removal of deputy Speaker Idiaye over allegation of gross misconduct. He was promptly removed by the erstwhile leader, Mr. Roland Asoro (Orhionmwon 2).
Idiaye, however, insisted that his removal was illegal as the lawmakers did not form a quorum, noting that his refusal to toe the line of Governor Obaseki and Okiye and dash to the PDP were regarded as cardinal political sins by his colleagues, hence the action which he dismissed with a wave of the hand. Idiaye said: «I am a member of the APC and will always be. Under the APC, I became a commissioner and later a member of the House of Assembly. When the issue of whether to defect to the PDP or not came up, I consulted with my people who insisted that I remain in APC. «Citing internal crisis within the APC, Idaiye (Akoko-Edo 1) and Nosayaba Okunbor (Orhionmwon East) had since changed their stance and made a move to the PDP.
On February 1 last year, the Speaker, Mr. Marcus Onobun read their letters of resignation from APC on the floor of the house. With the exit of Idiaye and Okunbor, Mr. Emmanuel Agbaje (Akoko Edo 2) is now the lone man standing for APC in the House. Idiaye explained that he took the decision to dump the APC because of the internal crisis in the party from his ward to the local government level which led to the factions in the party. Okunbor, who also hinged his decision on the division within the party, lamented that the situation has become intractable.
The crisis had taken a turn for the worse on December 4, 2019 when Okiye invoked section 109 subsection 1F of the Constitution and declared the seats of 14 of the 24 members vacant. The speaker said that the action followed the refusal of the 12 members-elect to present themselves for inauguration while the remaining two allegedly absconded after the oath taking. He accused the 12 members-elect of deliberately refusing to present their certificates of return to the clerk of the House for inauguration.
The seats of Mr. Uyi Ekhosuehi and Mr Henry Okaka representing Oredo East and Owan East respectively were also declared vacant for allegedly absconding from plenary after the inauguration of the seventh Assembly on June 17, 2019. The affected 12 members-elect are Vincent Uwadiae (Ovia North-East 2), Ugiagbe Dumez (Ovia North-East 1), Washington Osifo (Uhunmwode), Victor Edoror (Esan Central), Kingsley Ugabi (Etsako East), Michael Ohio-Ezomo (Owan West). Others are Sunday Aghedo (Ovia South-West), Chris Okaeben (Oredo West), Crosby Eribo (Egor), Aliyu Oshiomhole (Etsako West 2), Oshomah Ahmed (Etsako Central) and Ganiyu Audu (Etsako West 1).
The ex-speaker declared: «12 out of the 24 members-elect who completed their screening and documentation process were inaugurated on June 17, 2019 out of which two of them have refused to discharge their legislative duties.
Okiye, thereafter, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct bye-election within 90 days for the affected constituencies. He was, however, impeached on October 12, 2020, by nine out of the 10-member Assembly present at a brief sitting, following a motion by the Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Henry Okhurobo, that he be removed over allegations of high-handedness.
Following Okiye›s action, the PDP promptly called on the INEC to withdraw the certificates of return issued to the 14 lawmakers. In a letter to the chairman of the commission by a former publicity secretary of the main opposition party in Edo, Mr. Chris Nehikhare argued that the action was necessary as the affected members have allegedly failed/neglected to take the seats in the House they were elected. He noted that the refusal/neglect by the members-elect to subscribe to the Oath of Membership/Allegiance with respect to the affected constituencies throughout the First Session and First Quarters of the 7th Assembly of Edo State amounts to abdication of office.
The secretary said that sequel to the declaration of the affected constituencies vacant by the speaker, the commission should not in the interest of justice and equity, conduct any fresh elections into the affected constituencies as the affected members-elect did not subscribed to the Oath of Membership/Allegiance and abdicated their responsibilities. He demanded that certificates of return should be issued to the first runners up in their various constituencies, since the members-elect who abdicated their position did not subscribe to the Oath of Membership/Allegiance before their constituencies were declared vacant by the Speaker in the interest of justice and equity.
A second republic member of the Bendel State House of Assembly, Mr. Chris Agbonwanegbe argued that the 14 lawmakers, having refused to make themselves available for the oath taking before the speaker had forfeited their mandate. Agbonwanegbe, a top member of the PDP, threw his full weight behind Okiye, insisting that the former speaker was in order when he declared the 14 seats vacant. He noted that the proper thing for the 12 lawmakers to have done was to have submitted themselves for the oath taking and fight from within instead of outside.
The Edo State chairman of the Conference of Registered Political Parties (CRPP), Mr. Samson Isibor advised Governor Obaseki to seek for a political solution to the problem. He said the saga is a dent on the country›s budding democracy, considering the fact that the governor, who was elected by the people and has since been sworn into office has put several obstacles in the ways of the legislators who equally have the mandate of their people from resuming. Isibor said: «This is not fair and is a dent on our democracy. It is not fair for one man who was elected and has since been sworn in turn around to prevent 14 persons who were also elected from assuming office.»
The chairman chided Governor Obaseki over the crisis, alleging that he adamantly refused to accept the recommendation of federal lawmakers who waded in and also did not listen to the attempts by the All Progressives Congress (APC) which he was a member then to resolve the quarrel. Isibor insisted: «Governor Obaseki should try to find a political solution to the problem. He should allow the 14 lawmakers elect to resume so that they can express the mandate given to them to represent the people. The people in these 14 constituencies are being denied representation. This is unfair.»
Not to worry the Edo State secretary of APC, Mr. Lawrence Okah assured the beleaguered lawmakers that any of them who aspires to go back to the House of Assembly will be given the party›s automatic ticket due to their steadfastness.
The last shot fired in anger by the different camps may certainly not have been heard in the unfolding drama and commotion which the Edo State House of Assembly has descended into.
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