The sudden impeachment of Edo state house of Assembly, Hon Frank Okiye on Monday and a later reversal of the impeachment to suspension and resignation has further raised eyebrows about the undercurrent crisis between state legislators loyal to Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu.
The impeachment of Hon. Okiye, who represents Esan North-East state constituency and replacement with a first-time lawmaker, Hon. Marcus Onobun, by Edo legislators and subsequent decision to technically revert the decision two days later took many political pundits by surprise, more at a time that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its leaders are still savouring the victory of Governor Obaseki in the September 19 governorship election.
But barely 48 hours after the incident, the House of Assembly on Wednesday recalled the impeached and suspended former Speaker and thereafter reversed his impeachment to resignation.
The new position of the House came at plenary, which was presided over by the new Speaker, Hon. Onabun. A motion to that effect was moved by Majority Leader, Hon. Henry Okhuarobo and seconded by Hon. Emmanuel Okoduwa, representing Esan North-East constituency II, who has also been appointed the Chief Whip of the House.
Shortly after the reversal, Okiye later joined the lawmakers at the plenary session.
Okhuarobo said the need to reverse the Okiye’s impeachment followed appeals from their constituents.
The new Speaker, Onobun, told journalists shortly after the plenary session that there was no rift between the House and the executive arm of the state government while the former speaker also said he was pleased that the House reversed its earleir decision on him.
It would be recalled that Okiye had penultimate week led seven of the state lawmakers loyal to Obaseki to the PDP.
As it stands today, there are only seven PDP and three APC lawmakers in the State Assembly while 14 others who have not been inaugurated remained shut out of legislative activities and are currently challenging the alleged illegality of the House inauguration since last year.
While it is not clear to many as to the real motive behind the impeachment of Okiye, a close ally and confidant of the deputy governor, who was present in the House on Monday during the impeachment procedure, however, attributed it to alleged ‘financial impropriety’ on the part of Okiye.
It was learnt that Obaseki, at the time of Okiye’s impeachment by the nine lawmakers, was said to be out of the country. It was also gathered that Obaseki had once saved Okiye from the axe of impeachment from his colleagues, who were said to have complained bitterly over the impeached speaker’s leadership style.
Attempts by some top government officials and party chieftains to save the situation on Monday and as well save the party of unforeseen implication of such action, proved abortive as the lawmakers prevented any external interference from the business of ensuring that Okiye was impeached.
The new Speaker, Hon Onobun, is said to b the preferred choice of the governor. A source confided in LEADERSHIP Friday that with him as the Speaker, the governor can go to bed with his two eyes closed.
Another source said there were overtures by the PDP-led government in the state to have the remaining 14 elected members of the State Assembly inaugurated.
However, the possibility and terms of accommodating the 14 APC lawmakers was being discussed and shrouded in secrecy.
It is also being speculated in some quarters that one of the conditions given to the APC lawmakers is for them to defect to the PDP and pledge their loyalty to Governor Obaseki and withdraw all cases which emanated from the house crisis from court.
How The Political Rug Was Pulled Under Okiye’s Feet
Days preceding his impeachment, Okiye was said to have described Onobun, the new speaker, as his right-hand confidant and trusted ally.
The two lawmakers are from Esan Central senatorial district, the zone expected to produce the next governor in 2024, when Obaseki completes his second term in office.
Expectedly, on the day of the impeachment, Okiye had come to the Government House, venue of the legislative siting since the roof of the official State House of Assembly complex at King’s Square was removed during the peak of the political crisis preceeding the governorship election.
Apparently, he had no premonition whatsoever that Monday October 12, 2020 would be his last day to preside over the affairs of the House. Okiye was not only impeached, he was also suspended for three months.
His impeachment followed a motion moved by Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Okhuarobo, representing Ikpoba Okha state constituency.
Okhuarobo’s motion was seconded by the member representing Akoko-Edo 1 constituency, Prince Yekini Idaiye.
The member representing Igueben state constituency, Hon. Ephraim Aluebhosele, had earlier moved a motion to nominate the new speaker after Okhuarobo raised the issue of a petition against Okiye and was seconded by the member representing Akoko-Edo II constituency, Mr Emmanuel Agbaje.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Roland Asoro, presided over the plenary shortly after the impeachment.
Members of the House unanimously adopted the impeachment motion through a voice vote.
Trouble was said to have started shortly after the House resumed its plenary when Okiye asked the clerk, Alhaji Yahaya Omogbai, to read the order of proceedings for the day to the hearing of members in order to start the business of the day.
Okhuarobo was said to have quickly drawn the attention of former Speaker Okiye to a petition against him and thereafter reeled out the impeachment motion.
The lawmakers accused Okiye of alleged financial impropriety and consequently was impeached.
The impeached speaker was also slammed with a three-month suspension and a committee headed by Okhuarobo was set-up to investigate Okiye and report to the House.
The new speaker, Onobun, upon his nomination, thanked fellow members for his emergence. Accordingly, moments after his emergence as speaker, he quickly dissolved all the House standing committees and relieved all the appointees of the House their appointments.
Onobun also constituted a three-man committee to look into financial records of the House under the leadership of Okiye while placing the former speaker under three-month suspension to allow for a peaceful transition.
Speaking to journalists inside the Dennis Osadebey Avenue Government House, Benin City, the Majority Leader Okhuarobo said “the members have compelling reasons to do what they did and that the house needed to wait till now because of political reasons and now the process is over. Irrespective of APC or PDP, we are united in the quest to move the state forward.”
Many of the aides to the former speaker and workers including police personnel attached to the state Assembly were seen stranded amid confusion what to do next.
Okiye, obviously in shock after his impeachment, also told journalists that he was not aware of his offences but promised to formally react on a later day.
Meanwhile, the impeachment saga has raised dust in the state as some political pundits and analysts are, however, divided on the real reasons for the development.
While others are of the view that the House is at liberty to decide who presides over its affairs, others said the development doesn’t speak well of the governor and his new party that just won an election.
For his part, a legal practitioner and the immediate past Public Relations Officer of Benin City chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Barrister Douglas Ogbankwa Esq, described what transpired at the state Assembly as “comedy of error”.
“The first issue is that the House of Assembly has been operating illegally. A House that comprises 10 members instead of constitutionally provided 24 cannot be said to be sitting legally. So the purported removal of the Speaker, just like the constitution of the House in itself is an illegality abinitio.
“There is actually a comedy of errors being perpetrated at the Edo State Government House. The purported inauguration of the House is an illegality having been done around 9:30 at night. The Authority of Danladi vs. Taraba State House of Assembly, in Judgment delivered by the Hon. Justice Olubode Rhodes Viviour of the Supreme Court,” Ogbankwa said.
Also, a political commentator and a member of the PDP in Oredo local government area of the state, Paul Idiaye, expressed shock at the development, saying the impeachment was uncalled for and noted what is expected is for all members of the party to work in harmony for the interest of the moving the state forward.
“We just had an election few weeks ago. This is not the time to be talking of impeachment. I expected the few lawmakers to understand themselves and do the needful by putting their House together for the purpose of working for the people of the state. I believe something must have gone wrong. Okiye had been with them and even worked to stabilise the government. I honestly think it is too early for this,” Idiaye said.