Edo Legislative Crisis: Obaseki Draws the Battle Line

The crisis rocking the Edo State House of Assembly and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, maybe a long-drawn one with the state governor, Godwin Obaseki showing signs that he is not in the least war-weary, and the controversial speaker of the embattled House, Frank Okiye spitting fire over the resolution by the House of Representatives to take over the functions of the House if within one week the governor failed to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the Seventh Edo State House of Assembly in line with Section 105(3) of the constitution. 

Adams Oshiomole, Henri Idahagbon, Godwin Obaseki Photo
Adams Oshiomole, Henri Idahagbon, Godwin Obaseki

Attempts by the National Assembly to mediate in the roiling crisis appear therefore to be stoking the raging political fire the more rather than dousing it. Recall that the selective inauguration of nine out of the 24 members-elect on Monday, June 17, 2019, had factionalized the House along the lines of the minority supporting the governor, and the majority loyal to the immediate past governor and national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole. Following a motion moved by Julius Ihonvbere, a former presidential aide, asking the National Assembly to take over the functions of the Edo State House of Assembly, the lower chamber unanimously resolved to set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the issues at stake before exercising its constitutional right in that direction. It is the outcome of that fact-finding exercise that is heightening political tension in the state and further ruffling feathers in the governor’s camp.

Adopting the recommendations of the report of the 13-man ad-hoc committee headed by Abdulrazak Namdas (APC-Adamawa) at plenary on Wednesday, Obaseki was also directed to publish the date, time and venue of the inauguration in any national daily, and television station. Other recommendations by the committee are that all actions already taken by the members of the current assembly should be declared null and void pending a proper inauguration; that all members of the assembly, both those who had been inaugurated and those not yet inaugurated should dissolve their factions, stating that this would be in the interest of peace and stability of the house with a view to moving the state forward. It was further recommended that the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of State Service should shut down the State House of Assembly and provide adequate security, stressing that this would allay further fears of intimidation and threat as alleged by members-elect. According to the report, where the recommendations failed, “the National Assembly should invoke the Provisions of Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution to take over the State House of Assembly until the situation normalizes”.

For the feuding parties, however, it was different strokes for different folks. While the Henry Idahagbon-led Edo Political Movement felt vindicated that what happened June 17 was nothing but sheer executive impunity and legislative rascality which should not be allowed to stand, a seething Okiye, with the conspiratorial backing of the executive arm, is kicking. A visibly upbeat Idahagbon gleefully told Tell “we are happy; we are going to celebrate it today. We are vindicated.  We told them, they didn’t listen. Next time when we talk, they should listen”. Explaining the implication of the possible take-over of the functions of the House, Idahagbon said “anything that has to do with Edo State House of Assembly now would be done by the House of Representatives. If you want to pass a budget, you will send it to them in Abuja and go and defend it there. If you want any law passed, you will send it to them. That is the meaning of taking over under section 11 of the constitution”. But pooh-poohing the development, Okiye wondered where the House of Representatives derived its powers from, insisting that there was no crisis in the Edo House of Assembly. Okiye who spoke to Channels Television in his office, said “here, there is peaceful conduct of our operation and the people that are in the National Assembly do not have such powers to issue out such orders. I repeat, they do not have it. So, it is condemnable and should be resisted”. Later in an official statement, the former majority leader of the House and a ranking member, reminded whoever cared to listen of “a subsisting court order restraining the Police, headed by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; the National Working Committee of the APC; the DSS and their agents, from interfering in the affairs of the Assembly, as the House has been going about its activities peacefully and without rancor”. Upbraiding the National Assembly and accusing it of bias, Okiye said the federal lawmakers must take note that they are expected to act as agents of peace and not merchants of crisis, positing that “Edo State has always been peaceful and any attempt for them to carry out this order will certainly disrupt the peace that is currently being enjoyed in the state”.

 Further chiding the committee members, Okiye said, “In a time like this in which the nation is being engulfed in one form of violence or the other, it is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is seen to be promoting violence and exacerbating the tension in the country”. He was not done yet. Accusing the committee of compromise, especially by Oshiomhole, the factional speaker said considering what they came to know in the course of this process, the recommendation of the Ad-Hoc committee did not come to them as a surprise. “For example, the chattered plane marked 5N FCT, which brought the committee members to Benin City, was paid for by the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who is a major party in the disagreement. Also, the younger brother to the National Chairman, Seid Oshiomhole, in a recent leaked audio conversation, revealed the underhand dealings in Abuja regarding the matter”, Okiye stated. He further alleged that the APC national chairman and his proxies had been having meetings with the committee members and other actors in the issue in Abuja and doling out money to ensure the issue went in their favour. “With all these, it was clear that the ad-hoc committee was up to no good. Their report was always going to be biased”, Okiye concluded.

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Joining issues with Okiye, Idahagbon punctured his arguments. While admitting the existence of a subsisting court order, the contended that it is not binding on the National Assembly because they were not made parties to the case. According to him, “If they wanted the National Assembly to be bound by the court order, they should have added the National Assembly… It’s elementary law; that is not something for argument”. Idahagbon hinted the magazine how the panicky Okiye-led faction on Tuesday made a last-ditch effort to restrain the National Assembly. “They went to Federal High Court yesterday (Tuesday July 16) to try and get an order to now restrain the National Assembly but it was too late. They wanted to sue the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives – but it was too late. And in any case, in law, you cannot even restrain the National Assembly from doing their job. So, he has to now comply or defy the National Assembly and I pray he defies them”, the EPM convener posited.

Idahagbon would not also want Oshiomhole to be dragged into the matter. Exculpating the former governor of any involvement, he said “They like to drag Oshiomhole into everything. Oshiomhole has already said what is happening in Edo State is like a buzzing mosquito in one’s ear.  This is Obaseki versus Obaseki; Obaseki the dictator against democracy. Oshiomhole is not involved in this at all… It is Obaseki against Obaseki; or at best, it is Obaseki the dictator against Edo People’s Movement”.

The National chairman himself came out with a statement debunking Okiye’s allegations against him. Simon Ebegbulem, his spokesman, described them as untrue and a figment of his imagination. Ebegbulem said the National Assembly had the duty to intervene in issues such as the “Gestapo manner” in which the Edo House of Assembly was inaugurated, noting that this would not be the first time that it would intervene in matters of this nature. Warning Okiye to desist from making frivolous allegations, Ebegbulem posited that no amount of blackmail and threat from Okiye and his group would smear the name of his principal.  

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party also joined the fray, describing the development in the state’s legislature as “sad and unpleasant”. A statement signed by its state chairman, Dan Osi Orbih, said the party is embarrassed by the ugly and unending crisis in the APC-controlled Edo State House of Assembly, noting that “this unnecessary power show is not in the interest of the state”. According to Orbih, “the assembly which ought to be a House of honourable men is now going to be occupied by uniformed armed men. We have always maintained that Edo State deserves better than what the APC is offering. The poor and lamentable state of affairs in the state underscores the need to vote out the APC government in the state. A party and government that cannot manage a House of 24 persons cannot manage the state. We call on all concerned in the assembly crisis to stop this ego trip and blame game and face the serious business of good governance in the interest of the people. Edo State is too sophisticated to be used as political guinea pig of supremacy between party and government strength”. Interestingly, the political space had in the last few weeks been awash with speculations that the embattled governor is seriously considering the option of defecting to the PDP if the APC remains a hostile environment for him to realize his second term bid.

But denying ever contemplating such move,  Osaro Idah, special adviser to the governor on political and community matters, accused the detractors of both Obaseki and the party of planting such stories in the media, stating that “these persons are threatened by the wide acceptance and support which the governor enjoys from his people.” Idah, said “we state categorically that Governor Obaseki has no intention of leaving the APC, where he has firm support at the state level and across all local governments, wards and units of the party. In Edo State, the governor’s popularity within the party and across the state is overwhelming and the few deviant troublemakers within Edo APC and their sponsors in Abuja are warned to desist from the irresponsible act of trying to cause trouble in their own home while seeking refuge elsewhere.” As Nigerians, however, wait with bated breath how the macabre drama will end, not a few are worried about the seeming lack of synergy between the two chambers of the National, more so as another committee raised by the Senate is also looking into the matter. Idahagbon is however confident that the upper chamber would toe the same line as its House of Representatives counterpart because according to him, the facts of the matter are the same.

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