The evolving drama in the Edo State House of Assembly reflects the raging battle between the camps of Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, PATRICK OCHOGA, writes
Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is presently fighting the political battle of his life. The governor is at logger heads with his party men who are determined to stop his second term bid.
Obaseki’s relationship with his predecessor and the national chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, has deteriorated manifestly. Oshiomhole was Obaseki’s benefactor to the governorship seat barely three years ago under the APC.
In public, they pretend there is no rift even though evolving events around their loyalists in the state party portray a cold war, tilting towards internal rebellion and supremacy battle ahead of Edo 2020 governor primary/election.
Penultimate week, Obaseki in a bid to douse rising political tension generated by disagreement between his supporters and party members opposed to his second term bid, reportedly met with Oshiomhole in Abuja to seek for a truce.
Sources close to the meeting confided that the former governor had expressed surprise over complaints of abandonment against Obaseki by party members and leaders.The APC national chairman was said to have advised the governor to reach out to the aggrieved party members and leaders and make peace with them as they are the ones who possess the power to nominate party’s governorship candidate.
Oshiomhole was also said to have admonished Obaseki to constitute boards of parastatals that have been vacant in the last three years as a way of carrying party members along and stem complaints of abandonment.
The APC national chairman was however said to have expressed resentment against media write-ups allegedly being sponsored against his person by the Edo State Government.
The tension between loyalists of governor Obaseki and Oshiomhole deepened last week as the supremacy battle shifted to the Edo State house of Assembly.
The tension rose over the expected proclamation by the governor for the 7th Assembly of Edo State to be inaugurated as elected lawmakers.
Nineteen lawmakers said to be loyal to Oshiomhole were said to have given some conditions that Obaseki must meet before they would consider his candidate Hon Frank Okiye to be elected Speaker of the House.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that some of the conditions given by the lawmakers to Obaseki included that the he should restore their constituency allowance and empowerment programmes; and their annual vacation allowance which they claimed has also been stopped by the governor, among other conditions.
The inauguration was said to have been delayed due to inability of the governor to strike a deal with the lawmakers.
A state Working Committee was called last Friday where principal offices were zoned. The Speakership and Deputy Leader seats were zoned to Edo Central, Deputy Speaker and Deputy Whip seats were zoned to Edo North and Leader of the House and Whip were zoned to Edo South.
The members were however divided over whom to pick the top seat among the trio of Okiye, Hon Victor Edoror and Hon Emma Okoduwa.
The members supporting Edoror were said to be in the majority. They were said to have rallied behind him to spite Obaseki who was backing Okiye. The decision of the lawmakers was also instigated by a desire to get their pound of flesh over the governor’s refusal to support them during their election. For them, the governor lacked the moral justification to persuade them to elect his choice candidate as Speaker.
Another meeting called to resolve the impasse could not resolve the issue. The lawmakers insisted that Obaseki should come and address them instead of sending his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu and the Secretary to State Government, Barr. Osarodion Ogie.
Obaseki Outsmarts Oshiomhole’s Lawmakers
With no resolution in sight, it became clear to Obaseki and his strategists that it would be political suicidal to lose out in the struggle to control the leadership of the state House of Assembly, especially in the face of the growing opposition from his party men who are hard loyalists of the APC national chairman.
Sixteen lawmakers are said to be Oshiomhole’s men while Obaseki controls nine members who are loyal to him.
In a calculated political move to have his men in control of the 7th Assembly, nine lawmakers loyal to Obaseki met last Monday at the hallow chamber of the House in what observers considered a parliamentary coup and elected Obaseki’s men, Hon Okiye and Hon Yekini Idiaye as Speaker and Deputy speaker respectively.
The emergence of the Speaker and his deputy became controversial as government sources confided in LEADERSHIP Sunday that the inauguration of the 7th Assembly took place about 3pm while the 16 lawmakers accused the government of deliberately shutting them out of the inauguration.
While government claim that the inauguration took place about 3:00pm, at a time other lawmakers were addressing newsmen, the 16 lawmakers said it took place in the dead of night noting that they were never invited or communicated by the Clerk of the House.
At the chambers, the nine elected lawmakers who converged at the complex to elect Hon Frank Okiye and Hon Yekini Idiaye as both Speaker and Deputy speaker were immediately sworn in by Clerk of the House, Alhaji Yahaya Omogbai.
The party as gathered agreed the speakership will be zoned to Edo Central Senatorial District since the governor and the deputy hail from Edo South and Edo North district respectively.
As a party that won all the 24 seats of the state assembly, it is expected that the issue of principal officers of the House would have been an easy ride.
But this is not to be as six members buoyed by the backing of the governor lured other three members of Oshiomhole’s group, stormed the assembly and were inaugurated by the Clerk and subsequently installed Okiye and Yekini Idiaye.
As part of the strategy to take the other group by surprise, the Clerk of the Edo House of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Yahaya Omogbai, who apparently was in possession of proclamation letter by the governor dated June 12, 2019 did not make it known to all but the few privileged members loyal to Obaseki.
It was gathered that at about 10:30pm, lawmakers who are in the know were sneaked into the hallow chambers where the Clerk read out the letter of proclamation transmitted to his office.
After reading the letter, the clerk proclaimed the House and the members-elect began the process of electing the House leadership, with Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye of Esan North East Constituency I, emerging the Speaker, while Hon. Yekini Idiaye of Akoko Edo Constituency I, was elected Deputy Speaker.
Upon completion of the process of swearing-in, the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Okiye took charge of proceedings and thanked all the members-elect present for the confidence reposed in him, promising that he would work for the people of Edo State.
He also called on members-elect who have not satisfied the process of swearing-in, which includes the completion of the asset declaration form, to do so speedily so they could be inaugurated to undertake the task for which the people elected them.
The speaker also declared that the lines of communication with the executive arm of government and all other organs of government officially open.
The motion for adjournment was raised by the Speaker and the House was adjourned till July 17, 2019.
Among members present at the inauguration are Nosa Okunbor, Orhiomwon II; Hon. Henry Okuarobo, Ikpoba-Okha; Hon. Uyi Ekhosuehi. Oredo East; Marcus Onobun, Ewan West; Ephraim Anehbosele; Orhiomwon South; Roland Asoro, Orhiomwon I; Eric Okaka; Frank Okiye, Esan North East I; and Yekini Idiaye, Akoko-Edo I.
Before the act was perfected, 17 police patrol vehicles were parked in front of the Assembly complex while additional seven were strategically stationed in adjoining roads. No less than eight security vehicles were sighted around the residence.
After the mission was accomplished, the lawmakers were said to have adjourned sitting till July 17 and then were driven straight to meet the governor at his private residence.
The way it is, the 19 members whose numerical strength had reduced to 16, are now at a disadvantage because constitutionally, the inauguration has the backing of the law which recognised one-third of members to form quorum and take decision in the absence of others.
Besides, the majority 16 have not been sworn in and cannot be referred to as legislators.
A source close to the party who craved anonymity said those who are not part of the swearing-in cannot be regarded as members of the State Assembly.
According to a party source, “It is wrong for them to fall into the same ignorance that other states have inaugurated their lawmakers.
“First we need to ask, did the constitution provide for such situation? Section 96 states that quorum of the house of assembly shall be 1/3 of those in attendance so why must people now import what is not in the constitution to justify their ignorance?”
He noted that at present, those sworn-in would be given their official cars and the pecks associated with their present status while others not sworn in will remain like that until they do the needful.
16 Aggrieved Lawmakers Regroup
16 lawmakers-elect who were not part of the inauguration ceremony kicked when news filtered in that nine of their colleagues had been inaugurated. They insisted that they were not invited to the inauguration ceremony.
Hon Washinton Osifo who spoke on behalf of the group said they would have been present at the inauguration if they were invited.
Recounting events prior to the inauguration, Osifo said the Clerk called them at about 5:30pm to informed them that he has been called from the government house and they were happy that the press conference has pricked the governor to do what the constitution demand.
“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.
“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 was 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.
“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.”
But 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.
Eric Okaka elected to represent Owan East and Nosa Okunbor (Orhionmwon East) who spoke to newsmen 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 but I refused.”
The drama was to take a turn for the worse as suspected thugs have beaten up protesting lawmakers who were assembled in a hotel.
Among those beaten up was Hon Seidu Oshiomhole, the younger brother of the APC national chairman and lawmaker-elect (Etsako West 11) of the Edo State House of Assembly.
15 lawmakers, who were absent at midnight on Monday when the other nine members of the Assembly were inaugurated, were attacked at a hotel in downtown Benin, the Edo State capital, where they were having a meeting.
Some of them were said to have sustained serious injuries. A former Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Victor Tiger Edoror, was said to have led his colleagues to the police headquarters in Benin to report the assault.
Meanwhile, governor Obaseki, has since congratulated the newly elected Speaker, Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye and his Deputy, Hon. Yekini Idiaye, on their emergence as leaders of the 7th Assembly.
The Speaker promised that the Assembly under his leadership will work assiduously to complement effort of the executives led by Governor Obaseki in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of the state.
“The job we are doing will not be completed without the complementation of the executive. I subscribe to the fact that the governor is doing well and we will partner with him along that line to do better. We will get the government closer to the people, we will think tank among ourselves and associates like we are inviting him to be part of us to do the good job.”
Even as the debate over the constitutionality of the action of the house continue to rage, a political scientist and co-ordinator of Nigeria Grassroots Patriots, Osifo, knocked the governor over what transpired in the chambers.
In his words: “How can people be so desperate? Inaugurating less than a simple majority of the 24 elected members of Edo State House of Assembly is a crime by the so called Clerk of the House of Assembly and his sponsors against the people of Edo State.
“The House of Assembly members were equally elected by majority of Edo State electorates. How can a responsible governor be so anti- people by depriving elected representatives their Constitutional responsibility?”
“The midnight “inauguration” of Edo State House of Assembly is a desperation taken too far and clear evidence that we have in Edo State a governor who has come to Edo State for his personal interest, not for the interest of the people of Edo State,” he said.
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