…over control of state, party structure
Precisely two weeks ago, on June 10, families, relations, support groups and associates of the 24 elected members of Edo State house of assembly under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) converged on the Anthony Enahoro Legislative Complex at the popular Kings Square, close to the sprawling Ring Road, the nerve centre of the metropolitan City of Benin, the state capital. Aside the air of conviviality and joy for having one of their own in the decision making processes of the Heart Beat state, they were at the House of Assembly to cheer their representatives into a new dawn on the much expected occasion of the inauguration of the 7th assembly of the legislative arm of government in the state.
But the joy and expectations for relief from all the pains and stress of long journeys of the relations and friends who had travelled from far and near were short-lived. What they met could better be imagined than experienced. The people were shocked to meet heavily armed security operatives comprising the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, Directorate of State Services (DSS) and others, who turned them back. It was gathered that the security men deployed in the legislative complex and other strategic locations within and around the Kings Square was to avert breach of peace.
The drama had raised curiosity and tension among the people and residents of Benin. The allegation was that Governor Godwin Obaseki failed to send a letter of proclamation to the house for the inauguration of the 7th assembly. Following the delay, a group of 19 APC lawmakerselect had last week stormed the premises of the Edo State council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, to protest alleged plan by Governor Obaseki to impose a speakership candidate on the house. They appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari; the National leadership of the ruling APC; the Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11 and other stakeholders to prevail on Governor Obaseki to immediately inaugurate the house for normal legislative business to commence.
The legislators-elect said the action of the governor was capable of causing constitutional breach and in the process, plunge the state into chaos. They insisted that the executive arm cannot impose a leadership on the legislative organ of government. They vowed that the governor would not pick principal officers for them as duly elected representatives of people of the state. Spokesperson for the protesting lawmakers, Hon. Washington Osifo, said, “It is also a common knowledge that the governor, no matter how powerful, cannot impose individuals either as Speaker or Deputy Speaker on the legislators. At best, he can only lobby for his preferred candidates as was recently witnessed at the National Assembly”.
But the state government, through the Commissioner for Information and Communication, Hon. Paul Ohonbamu, assured that Governor Obaseki would soon inaugurate the seventh assembly of the house. He assured of the resolve by the state chapter of the APC to avert the kind of crisis that engulfed the 6th assembly, where four different speakers presided over the affairs of the house. Ohonbamu explained that the entire problem was not the making of the governor, rather, he is only acceding to the decisions of the party leadership in the state. He said, “They are product of the party and the party is interested in what they are doing. The party only helped them do what is needful. The Governor invited them and told them the intervention is for legislative harmony. Nobody wants to impose leadership on them. The delay is not a threat to democracy.”
He added that, “The party wants a leadership that will be good for all and not the one that will be changing leadership at all times”. Meanwhile, Osifo said, “Whereas the governor by virtue of section of 105 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended is constitutionally required to immediately issue a letter of proclamation for the inauguration of the new assembly to avoid vacuum; whereas there cannot be democracy without the legislature, (because it is the legislature that gives credence to democracy). And whereas, all other states of the federation of Nigeria have inaugurated their houses of assembly, Governor Godwin Obaseki has deliberately refused to allow the house of assembly to function, thus, usurping the powers of the legislators.”
“It is public knowledge that all the members-elect in Edo State are all of the same political party -the All Progressives Congress, APC. Therefore, we urge all wellmeaning individuals including our well respected royal father, His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare 11, the Oba of Benin; His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the leadership of our party, the All Progressives Congress and the leadership of the National Assembly to prevail on Mr. Godwin Obaseki, governor of Edo State to immediately issue the letter of proclamation to enable the Edo State house of assembly to function and to avoid serious constitutional crisis.”
However, in a dramatic twist, the Clerk of the state assembly, Alhaji Audu Yahaya Omogbai, had on Monday last week at about 10:30pm, inaugurated nine out of the 24 members of the house after a proclamation letter dated 14th day of June was read to the lawmakers. The sudden development had elicited wide reactions and criticisms for and against both sides in the feud, particaularly, as it concerns the constitutionality, timing and otherwise of the exercise. Source close to Osadebay Avenue Government House, Benin, had wondered if any law exists which says it must be on a particular day for the proclamation. The source said, “Is there a law that says it must be on a particular day? They should go and read the constitution. Did it say every state must inaugurate its assembly the same day?
That is not the position; it is when the governor writes and proclaims it that it is inaugurated and it is only the governor that can do it. Our own will either be Friday or Monday.” However, the 16 memberselect of the house have reiterated that they were never invited for the inauguration ceremony of the seventh assembly. Spokesperson for the group of 16 lawmakers-elect, Barr. Washington Osifo, told newsmen in Benin, the state capital, that they would have been present at the inauguration if they were invited. Osifo said Clerk of the house called them at about 5:30pm to inform them that he had been called from the government house and they were happy that the press conference had moved the Governor to do what the constitution demands. He said, “The Clerk told us he would 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. “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”. “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”.
Further findings revealed that shortly after the controversial inauguration, thugs alleged to be loyal to the governor attacked the group of 15 lawmakers-elect at the Golden Tulip Hotel on Etete in Benin and wounded some of them while property worth several millions of naira were destroyed in the process. Both Obaseki and Oshiomhole were said to have met in Abuja last week following the intervention of President Buhari on the emerging sour politics in the state but are yet to reach a point of agreement, a development perceived to have led to the delay in the inauguration exercise. It was also learnt the question of who becomes the next speaker of the house was seriously on card in the thinking of the governor and Oshiomhole.
Sunday Telegraph gathered that the governor had opted for Okiye, a former Majority Leader as speaker while Oshiomhole settled for former Speaker of the same house, Hon. Victor Edoror. Hon. Emmanuel Okoduwa was said to also be among the candidates for the speakership position which had been zoned to Edo central senatorial district of the state by the State Working Committee of the APC. Besides, the raging cold war between the governor and the APC National Chairman centres majorly on conflicts of interests over issues bothering on the control of the party structure and the affairs of the state. The feud had worsened following Obaseki’s alleged alienation of key leaders of the party and those who worked and supported his emergence as governor and his choice of external bodies for some juicy contracts, although these misconceptions have at different times been refuted by aides to the governor. Added to this was the manner the governor disbanded some of the taskforce and committees manned by those who supported him without any alternative means of livelihood.
The governor was said to have provided an opportunity for those affected to be incorporated into the agricultural programme of the state governor, but this was seriously rebuffed. Rather, they insisted on stomach infrastructure as an empowerment measure. It will be recalled that Oshiomhole was said to have single handedly imposed Obaseki on the party even against all odds from the party leaders and other candidates who indicated interest to contest for the governorship in 2016. The development forced many chieftains of the party to pitch tent with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in the state.
Also, aggrieved members of the APC were said to have worked against the interest of the ruling party during the just concluded general elections in which President Buhari scored low in Edo State. Governor Obaseki, a seasoned investment and economic czar, was the chairman, Edo State Economic team during Oshiomhole’s administration. During the National and State House of Assembly primaries leading to the 2019 elections in the state, the exercise had split the party into ‘establishment camp loyal to Obaseki and those of Oshiomhole’s men, which partly led to the present suspicion among ranks of the party till date. A former Political Adviser to Oshiomhole while in office as governor, Mr. Charles Idahosa, had on Thursday, blamed the APC National Chairman of causing the crisis in the party which snowballed into problem in the house of assembly.
He said Oshiomhole’s silence and failure to speak out since the two camps were unleashing vituperations on each other, invariably means acceptance of the ugly political situation on ground. Idahosa therefore called for his resignation from his position as helmsman of the ruling party and to also to leave Obaseki alone as governor of the state, since the people are at home with him and achievements of his government. But in a quick counter reaction, the convener of the Edo Peoples Movement, EPM, opposed to Obaseki’s second term bid, Barr Henry Idahagbon, described Idahosa as a known political jobber. Idahagbon said, “Charles Idahosa is a known political jobber who recently met his colleague 419 sake and unfortunately for the people of Edo State, these two jobbers are frolicking together under the guise that they are fighting Oshiomhole.
Oshiomhole is national chairman of APC and not Edo State and as a result, he cannot condescend to their level to play ethnic politics”. The former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under Oshiomhole pointed said, “The crisis in Edo is between Obaseki and the leaders of APC and not Oshiomhole. Many of us are well known for the efforts we made to bring on board this ungrateful governor”.