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Assembly Crisis: Like Bauchi, Like Edo

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The recent macabre styled inauguration and emergence of the leadership in both Bauchi and Edo states Houses of Assembly have got the All Progressives Congress (APC) and both state governments dancing to different drum beats. ANDREW ESSIEN writes.

With the National Assembly Inaugurated and it’s leadership at both the Red and Green chambers emerged, the task moved  to the State Assemblies to replicate the feat and also elect their leaders that will pilot their affairs.

Pundits had however posited that in some states where there were differences in the composition of the Assembly as it relates to the numbers of the APC versus the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers depending on the party that was in government at the state, issues were bound to emerge.

They also postulated that should a governor have more than a passing interest in who emerges as Speaker and indeed the constituents of the Assembly leadership, a clash was inevitable.

True to the various analyses, these scenarios played out at different levels.

With the 8th Assembly in Bauchi state dissolved on June 14, it was expected that the 9th assembly would be inaugurated on Monday 17th. The state government however, had other considerations as it postponed the inauguration of the state’s 9th Assembly to Thursday, days after the expected date.

The acting Clerk of the Assembly, Alhaji Umar Gital, announced the postponement in a statement issued in Bauchi, saying that the state government regretted the inconvenience the postponement of the inauguration earlier scheduled for Monday might have caused the invited guests.

Gital added that the inauguration would now take place on Thursday, at the state Assembly complex.

Reports aver that the APC has majority of the membership in the state that has a PDP governor. The shift in the date of inauguration therefore had many connotations from many quarters that the Executive branch wants to meddle in the emergence of the leadership rather than allow it emerge organically.

Expectedly, reactions within the state came rolling in as both parties sought to make sense out of the move. APC in Bauchi State expressed its displeasure over the postponement, describing it  as “undemocratic, null and void.”

The party in a statement signed by its state Secretary, Bako Hussaini, observed that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended) did not empower a state governor to suspend the inauguration of an Assembly after issuing a proclamation to that effect.

The party alleged that in order to perfect the governor’s plan of having his way in the process of electing a Speaker, he removed the Clerk of the Assembly a few days to the inauguration.

The statement reminded Governor Bala Mohammed that “the action is undemocratic, null and void” and stressed that “the APC has a clear majority in the ninth Assembly in the state with 22 members as against the ruling PDP which has eight members.

The APC leadership in the state will not fold its arms to allow the ruling party do anything contrary to the clear provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria as amended.”

The party, however, called on security agencies to advise Governor Bala Mohammed to reinstall the removed Clerk to the House immediately.

In a counter reaction, the state Chairman of PDP, Hamza Akuyam described the allegations of the APC as false and unfounded, adding that the postponement was based on a letter written by the Clerk of the House requesting that the date of the inauguration be shifted.

According to him, the Clerk had requested that the inauguration be adjourned because of logistics issues.

He added, “The Clerk had requested for that (shift in date) because the previous government was supposed to have made these arrangements for the new Speaker, but it didn’t. So the extension was to give the government time to make arrangements.”

Akuyam, who stated that the APC is the majority in the House, wondered how the PDP which had just eight lawmakers-elect would manipulate to win against the 22 APC members-elect.

In Edo State, another scenario that played out which took the matter to a different level.

At one level, the National  Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is from the state and as such, it is expected that the state will set an example and become a bastion of best practices as regards elections of any sort.

The other school of thought is that unlike Bauchi where the governor is of the PDP extraction and majority of the Assembly members are from APC, Edo state is APC from the executive to the legislature, which then naturally begs the question; what then is the issue?

Interestingly, only those involved saw it coming. Few hours after 19 members-elect of the Edo House of Assembly protested Governor Godwin Obaseki’s non-proclamation to pave the way for their inauguration, only nine members were available when the House was inaugurated by the Clerk of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Omogbai, lastMonday night with Mr. Frank Okiye from Esan North East I elected as Speaker, and Yekini Idiaye of Akoko-Edo I as Deputy Speaker. Sitting was thereafter adjourned till July 17.

Analysts aver that the current impasse is a fallout of the alleged rapidly deteriorating relationship between the state governor, Goodwin Obaseki and Oshiomhole.

The crisis was said to have begun after 19 lawmakers accused Obaseki of refusing to send a letter of proclamation to that effect at a time all state Houses of Assembly had been inaugurated.

Addressing journalists in the state capital, Benin City, on behalf of the 19 lawmakers, Mr. Washington Osifo, the member-elect for Uhunmwonde constituency said: “Whereas the tenure of the members of the last Assembly expired on 7th June 2019, Whereas the governor by virtue of Section 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 all other states of the federation of Nigeria have inaugurated their Houses of Assembly,  Obaseki has deliberately refused to allow the House of Assembly to function, thus usurping the powers of the legislators.”

Edo APC Chairman, Mr. Anselm Ojezua responded by reading the riot act to the lawmakers-elect, threatening to sanction them if they did not abide by the zoning arrangement spelt out by the party leadership.

It was further gathered that the governor and the party leadership prefer Okiye, while the 19 lawmakers are angling for Edoror.

Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Paul Ohonbamu, however dismissed as false allegations that the governor trying to impose a leadership on the House, adding that the governor was aligning with the party’s position, stressing that the party does not want what befell the Sixth Assembly where they had four speakers in four years to reoccur.

However, the party’s candidate emerged speaker, Monday night, thus setting stage for an avoidable clash  as the 19 members-elect insisted on the independence of the the Assembly.

All the entry points to the assembly complex were cordoned by security personnel to avert the breakdown of law and order and not less than 17 police patrol vehicles were stationed at the entrance of the gate during the inauguration. The lawmakers later visited Obaseki at his private residence.

By morning, some persons over the Assembly gate as early as 7:00 am hailing the inauguration of nine of the 24 members of the House.  A letter of proclamation sent to the Clerk of the House on June 14 that eventually emerged in the public domain had indicated that the inauguration was to hold on Monday.

However while some of the unidentified persons were busy keeping watch at the various gates of the House, another group, named Concerned Youths of Edo State, led by Kelly Uhunoma Okungbowa, stormed the assembly premises with placards of various inscriptions and chanting songs of solidarity in support of Obaseki and the emergence of Okiye as Speaker of the Seventh Assembly.

According to him “I am here this morning with the good people of Edo State, Concerned Youths of Edo State to felicitate with one of our own, Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye, the newly elected speaker of Edo State House of assembly

“We are here to inform the people of the world that what happened yesterday (Monday) is a welcome development in our state and we want to use this opportunity to urge the rest of the elected members to follow suit with the same way others came yesterday to elect their speaker and deputy speaker.”

After arriving the Assembly complex, Okiye said that the new members were ready to take the bull by the horn, and would never deviate from the law making business.

“Business of law making as it concerns legislative dealings is very precise. We will make sure we don’t allow the gap between the House members and their constituents exit anymore because once the gap is breached, they (the constituents) will have the dividends of democracy much more.

“We know that transferring raw materials from our various localities is challenging. We are prepared to deal with the complexity associated. We are hitting the ground running as quick as possible. As legislator, we will collaborate with the executive for better quality delivery that will lead to greater Edo State through motions and bills,’’ he said.

On why the House adjoined for four weeks, he said it was to enable them fix logistics, “the air condition in the inner office is not working. We need to check the offices, staff and legislative aides must be competent because we want them to meet up on the kind of job we want to do.”

Okiye also said the Seventh Assembly under his leadership will work assiduously to complement Obaseki’s effort in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people of the state.

“We are very determined and in high spirits to hit the ground running. 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. The betterment of Edo State in terms of economic and security is our focal point and we intend to address that headlong.”

The Speaker said the Seventh assembly will be different from the former as it was bent on getting closer to the people at the grassroots in order to feel their pulses and formulate policies that will improve on their well beings.

While congratulating the new speaker and his deputy, the governor said that with the inauguration of the Assembly, all was set for the members to commence legislative activities and perform their responsibilities to engender development across the state. “I congratulate the Seventh Assembly on their inauguration and the election of Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye as Speaker and Hon. Yekini Idiaye as Deputy Speaker. Their emergence, I am sure, will pave way for more development in the state.”

He assured of maintaining a seamless, fruitful relationship with the Seventh Assembly as experienced during the Sixth Assembly, noting that a cordial relationship would ensure delivery of dividends of democracy to the people.

“We are ready to work with the newly inaugurated Assembly in deepening progressive ideals in the state, ensuring that there is a close synergy to see to the delivery of policies, programmes and initiatives targeted at repositioning the state as an economic powerhouse in the country.

“As we continue to provide tech-driven, people-centric governance in Edo State, there is no denying that the new leadership of the House will key into our overall objective of re – articulating Edo state for prosperity and economic growth.

However, Co-ordinator of Nigeria Grassroots Patriots, Dr Isaiah Osifo, has slammed Governor Obaseki over the ‘midnight inauguration’ of the House, describing it as  “desperation taken too far.”

“How can a 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,” he said in a statement.

The response of the national Secretariat of the APC was firm as it condemned what it described as “the charade being presented as the inauguration of new State Houses of Assembly in Edo and Bauchi States”.

In a statement issued last Thursday night in Abuja and signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, APC upbraided Govs Godwin Obaseki of Edo and Bala Muhammed of Bauchi for resorting to underhand tactics in inaugurating the assemblies.

Part of the statement reads; “We viewed this illegality with shock and disappointment. As a party that has made a commitment to change, we strongly reject any attempt to take a recourse to brigandage of the past, when democratic practices were defined by the inordinate whims of people in power. Democracy must be governed by the rule of law. A situation where 11 lawmakers in the 31-member Bauchi State House of Assembly and nine lawmakers in the 24-member Edo State House of Assembly were secretly ‘inaugurated’ and purportedly ‘elected’ principal officers behind closed doors is a joke and an embarrassment. It is an unfortunate reminder of PDP’s queer brand of democracy. Practices like this are unacceptable under APC-led administration. As a party that is committed to higher ideals, we would use all democratic means necessary to ensure the right thing is done.

“Perhaps the actors in the inauguration sham in Edo and Bauchi States need to be reminded of the recent and widely-commended election of presiding officers in the newly-inaugurated 9th National Assembly. Our party has set new standards in party politics by upstaging the rule of force, while upholding the rule of law.

“It needs restating that every elected lawmaker has a legitimate right to participate unhindered in the inauguration of the legislative arm in which he belongs. The plot to arm-twist the majority in favour of the minority in the legislative arm died with the defeat of the PDP in 2015.

“We therefore call on the Governors of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed to urgently do the needful by issuing a proper letter of proclamation to allow for the lawful inauguration of the respective state House of Assembly and subsequent election of presiding officers in a transparent manner”, the party stated.

Reacting to the development in his home state, Oshiomhole said he was ashamed over the purported inauguration, adding that the minority cannot rule over the majority.

Also Speaking last Friday night at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja when he received APC members-elect of the  Bauchi Assembly, Oshiomhole said: “Unfortunately, the situation in Bauchi is also similar to the one that is happening in Edo State. I am ashamed to talk about it but there is nothing to hide.

“We have a similar situation in Edo where in our own case we have 24/24 all of them APC but somebody wants a particular person as a Speaker, 19 out of 24 are opposed to this person.”

He said the National Working Committee NWC of the party had met with the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Adamu and asked him to not provide security cover for few members of the Bauchi state House of Assembly who are working in cahoot with the state Governor, Sen. Bala Muhammed.

The leadership of the Edo State House of Assembly on its part responded by faulting the stance of the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu on the recent election of the house leadership, insisting that the party lacks powers to adjudicate on election of house leadership.

In its own statement issued in Benin City, Speaker of the Edo House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Frank Okiye, declared that “the All Progressives Congress (APC) lacks the powers to adjudicate on constitutional functions of the Legislature.”

In the statement signed by his spokesperson, Comrade Aigbefo Jnr. Iretiose, the Speaker noted: “We have read with disappointment the flip-flop of the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, on the issue of the election of the leadership of the Edo State House of Assembly.

According to the Speaker: “the National Publicity Secretary of the APC or the national leadership of the party is not in a position to adjudicate on the legality or lack thereof of the emergence of the Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly. They lack the capacity therefore to disparage an issue that is already cast in law.

“If they are not clear on the issue, they should approach a court of competent legal jurisdiction to seek redress, and not issue needless and ineffectual fiats.”

He explained: “We are certain that we carried out an inauguration and election of principal officers to the 7th Assembly according to all the provisions of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended. The issue of inauguration and election of principal officers is now behind us and we are now poised to carry out our constitutional responsibility of lawmaking.

“We also want to advise the National Publicity Secretary of the party to respect the independence of the legislature in Edo State. Mallam Issa-Onilu should stop calling on the head of the executive arm of government in the person of Governor Godwin Obaseki to intervene in our internal issues. Mallam Issa-Onilu should be guided that the independence of the different arms of government is one of the actual ideals of the APC, which Issa-Onilu and his advisers should be promoting.”

While all these last, governance in the states concerned is suffering even as the polity gets increasingly overheated. Like it is being said: “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. Peace must now prevail, the right thing done so that the wheels of governance will begin to spin in the direction that will ensure peace and progress for the people.

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