Legislative Coup in Bauchi, Edo

After 20 years of democracy in Nigeria, the era of executive impunity and legislative rascality is evidently not over as minority law makers in Bauchi and Edo Houses of Assembly seize leadership

Edo State House of Assembly Member Photo
Seven member being sworn-in by the clerk of Edo State House of Assembly after the election of Speaker and deputy speaker

At the Bauchi and Edo State Houses of Assembly, confusion reigns, and the business of law-making is in abeyance. It had been so since the inception of the current legislative calendar which was supposed to have taken effect immediately after the inauguration of new governors on May 29, 2019. The tenure of the previous Assemblies expired June 7. But in both legislatures that should be the symbol of rule of law and bulwark of democracy, democracy is being redefined. The emerging scenario of the warped leadership structure in the two houses is such that democracy has assumed a different meaning – a system whereby the minorities have their way, and the majority not even allowed having their say. And this has been the bone of contention in the crises that had engulfed both houses since this new political dispensation, which interestingly have the imprimaturs of the governors of both states whose desperation to seize control of that arm of government had been fanning the embers of disunity amongst the members. Though belonging to different parties, the governors of both states employed similar tactics which smacked of executive lawlessness and impunity to achieve their sinister objectives.

Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki with Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole photo
Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki with Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole

In Bauchi State where the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, succeeded in sacking the then incumbent governor and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, at the polls, the desperation to seize control of the house was borne out of the fear of the unknown. Bala Mohammed, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, felt insecure with an APC-dominated house and therefore decided to resort to self-help by installing a speaker that would be loyal to him and his government in spite of not having the numbers. Employing the Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means, and in connivance with two APC members, and the only member of the New Nigeria People’s Party, NNPN, he plotted the ambush of majority of the APC lawmakers to produce his own speaker. Eleven out of the 31 elected members of the Assembly were said to have sat as early as 7:00 am as against the 10 o’clock scheduled time for the inauguration of the house, to elect Abubakar Suleiman, a member of the APC representing Ningi Central Constituency as the Speaker of the House. The Bauchi State House of Assembly comprised 22 APC members-elect as against PDP’S eight, and one NNPN. In keeping with the conspiratorial power-sharing agreement, PDP’s Danlami Kawule, representing Zungur/Galambi emerged the deputy speaker.

Bala Mohammed
Bala Mohammed

From all indications, the legislative coup was well-hatched with the erstwhile Clerk of the House removed by the governor ahead of the controversial inauguration. He had also curiously postponed the inauguration even after the mandatory proclamation had been issued for “logistic inadequacies”. The new Clerk, Yusuf Gital, thus presided over the sitting of the House, with only 11 members-elect in attendance, and amidst water-tight security protection for them.

More drama was to unfold as the remaining 18 members-elect of the APC arrived around 8 am when the minority members had executed their plot.  But for the intervention of the sergeant-at-arms and security personnel present, there would have been a break-down of law and order as the angry members-elect attempted to snatch the mace. In their frustration, they assembled outside the Assembly complex under the statue of a mace, to hold a parallel election in which Kawuwa Damina and Tukur Ibrahim were elected speaker and deputy speaker respectively. Damina was the speaker in the eighth house of assembly and had been tipped by the out-gone governor to continue in that position in the ninth Assembly.

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Damina, representing Darazzo constituency, was to explain to journalists that the parallel inauguration and subsequent election was aimed at enhancing democracy and not for personal or selfish reasons, adding that invitations were dispatched to all lawmakers to be at the Assembly for swearing-in on Thursday, June 20 by 10:00 a.m. According to him, “we came here some minutes before 8:00 a.m. but to our dismay and surprise, we met 11 out of the 31 members in the chamber and (they had) purportedly done an election and had even sworn-in the Speaker and his deputy”. Political observers see the macabre drama playing out in the House as a proxy war between the immediate past governor of the state Mohammed Abubakar, and his successor with both having their preferences within the APC majority.

But unlike in the Bauchi saga which is a battle of wits between two opposing political parties, the Edo scenario is even messier, and indeed more intriguing. While some would see it as a case of political romance gone awry, some others, especially those in the know of how the present government came about, would describe it as the height of political treachery and callous back-stabbing. Immediate past governor of the state and now national chairman of the ruling APC, Adams Oshiomhole, dared the odds to foist Godwin Obaseki, then the chairman of his economic team, on his party, and on the people of the state, as his successor. Today, with the kind of dirty fight between them, such that Obaseki has opened a probe into some of the activities of his predecessor, not a few would say to Oshiomhole now licking his wound of fore-warned betrayal, ‘we told you so’. The crisis rocking the legislature which resulted in the selective inauguration of nine out of the 24-member lawmakers-elect, evidently with the tacit support of the governor, is seen in political circles as supremacy war with the House as the first testing ground.

It all started when the governor refused to send a proclamation letter to the Clerk of the House for the formal inauguration of the seventh Assembly about 10 days after the expected date causing agitation amongst the members-elect. Political watchers attributed his perceived deliberate stalling to the mounting opposition to the governor’s second term bid within his party being championed by a pressure group, Edo Political Movement, EPM. Though the 24 members-elect all belong to the ruling APC, a feat that was well-celebrated by the governor and the party, it was gathered that his worry was that only a few, about five out of the lot, were loyal to him, while the others were supporters of his predecessor, haven been supported financially by him at a time the governor allegedly turned his back on them during the campaigns. The governor feared this could spell doom for his continued stay in office. So, to avoid a situation whereby he would constantly have to watch his back because of a hostile legislature, and fear of impeachment, he decided, like Bala Mohammed, to adopt crude and foul means to achieve his objective.

 Hence, the hallowed chamber of the House of Assembly was turned to a theatre of the absurd and political shenanigans as nine out of the 24 members were clandestinely inaugurated and the House leadership constituted with Frank Okiye, former majority leader of the house, and the governor’s anointed candidate emerging speaker, and Yekini Idiaye from Akoko-Edo, as deputy speaker. The nocturnal event which was presided over by the Clerk, Yahaya Omogbai, reportedly took place between 9.30 and 10 pm though the government tried to sell a dummy that it took place at 3 pm. Curiously, 19 out of the 24 members-elect had earlier in the day addressed a press conference at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ Press Centre where they appealed to the president, Mohammadu Buhari, Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11, leadership of the National Assembly and that of the APC to prevail on the state governor, Obaseki to issue a proclamation for the convening of the parliament. The delay in sending the proclamation had led to agitations, protests and outrage by activists and well-meaning Edo people. The crisis was to escalate June 18, a day after the nocturnal inauguration, as some political thugs allegedly sponsored by the state government unleashed mayhem on 16 law makers-elect loyal to Oshiomhole, and visited massive destruction on the Golden Tulip Hotel, Etete, in Benin City, venue of a press conference they had held less than 15 minutes earlier to explain their exclusion from the inauguration of the seventh Assembly.

Washington Osifo, spokesman of the thinning group of 19, said they would have been present at the inauguration if they were invited. Osifo, a former commissioner for education, alleged that two of their members were abducted to make up the purported forum of nine, adding that they got to know of the “kangaroo” inauguration going on when around 9.30 pm, photographs began to filter into their phones   and “one of us was spotted with a short and slippers taking oath of office”. Faulting the process that led to the controversial inauguration, Osifo said “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”.

Allegations and counter-allegations have however trailed the rumbles in the Edo State House of Assembly with Oshiomhole accusing Obaseki of foisting a minority rule over the majority in the purported inauguration of the House, describing it as a shame. Charles Idahosa, former political aide to Oshiomhole, however, fired back, insinuating that such rascality was not novel and was perpetrated by the former governor himself. Going down memory lane, Idahosa recalled that “we were in this state when Oshiomhole passed a budget with nine legislators and impeached the then speaker, Zakawanu Garuba. He removed the roof of the state house of assembly and moved the lawmakers to government house to be sitting”. Henry Idahagbon, convener of EPM, and former Attorney-General and commissioner for justice under Oshiomhole saw the exclusion of 19 members-elect from the June 17 nocturnal inauguration as a “deliberate act of mischief and wickedness” by the governor whom he described as “tyrannical and dictatorial”. According to him, “the governor knows what he’s doing. It is pure gangsterism, and is being directed by the deputy governor under a governor that does not know his left from his right. The deputy governor is actually the de-facto governor; he’s the one directing the affairs, and the governor is just a willing puppet being led by the nose, and they are leading him to his political doom. We know this because we all have been together”. Before this return to the era of infamy, good students of our political history would be quick to recall how in Plateau State, eight out of 24 legislators impeached the then governor, Joshua Dariye on November 13, 2006. Dariye, now serving a jail term for corruption, was however reinstated by the Supreme Court April 27, 2007. In a recent experience, eight out of 30 law makers, backed by Federal might, July 30, 2018, served an impeachment notice on the Governor, Samuel Ortom, who at the time just dumped the ruling APC for the PDP. The majority PDP members were forced to shift plenary to government house following the locking up of the parliament by security agents.

The ugly development in the Bauchi and Edo Houses of Assembly has however continued to attract mixed reactions with the perpetrators of the illegalities and their sponsors justifying them, insisting the inaugurations and elections of presiding officers met legal requirements. Some legal luminaries, however, faulted the processes. One of such is Epiphany Azinge, a professor of Law, and a member of the Commonwealth Secretariat Arbitral Tribunal, (CSAT) who described the development as “a descent into legislative rascality”. According to the senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, “the issues should be condemned. Capitalising on the fact that a quorum was formed is not the practice; that is not in line with the constitution. The House must be properly constituted and properly seated. Every other member must be properly informed, so that anyone that is not present must be officially absent. There is a lot of legislative rascality going on and such should not be entertained. They are wrong and should not be encouraged”.
The former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies queried why there should be night sitting and election conducted in the absence of majority of members, stressing that such action would not lend credibility to whosoever emerges as the “emergency Speaker”, if the House is seen to be illegally constituted. A worried Azinge asserted that “the situation does not mean well for democracy” adding that “It is my opinion that both states’ Houses should return and be properly constituted. It is not the law court that will determine the legality or otherwise of the development.”

But expressing a contrary opinion, former president of Igbo Think Tank group, Goddy Uwazurike, also a lawyer, noted that there was nothing anybody could do to reverse what happened in the two Assemblies since the lawmakers reportedly formed the constitutional required one-third majority, and the plenary was proclaimed inaugurated by a letter from the governor in respect of Edo, while the Clerk, on behalf of the governor, proclaimed the House inaugurated in Bauchi. Uwazurike said the fact that the 18 lawmakers in Bauchi were outside the plenary when the proclamation was made nullified whatever arguments they may have raised because as they are currently, they remained lawmakers-elect and not yet legislators, since they are yet to take the oath. He opined that whatever they did outside the plenary was not recognised under the constitution since the mace, which is the symbol of authority of the House, was not with them.

However, a miffed Wale Oshun, former member of the House of Representatives and current Chairman of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, carpeted the likes of Uwazurike, declaring that “anybody that is supporting what happened in Edo and Bauchi Assemblies is backing arrant nonsense”. He said the development was an indication that “Nigeria does not have democracy yet, but civil rule” and described the situation as the height of impunity that must be condemned in totality. Aligning with Azinge’s position, Oshun said it was time for the governors to move away from the mentality of militarising our democracy through unconstitutional proclamation. 

Another former member of the green chamber of the National Assembly, Pally Iriase described as “a shame” what is playing out at the Edo State House of Assembly. Iriase, a member of the APC in the state and immediate past deputy whip in the eighth House, wondered whatever it is that would have predisposed the state to this “level of shamefulness”, stating that “Yes, those who want to be utterly partisan or sectional, are likely to see nothing wrong; but there is a lot wrong. It’s unfortunate that 20 years after this democracy debuted in Nigeria, we still are exhibiting anti-democratic tendencies. It’s wrong, and everyone should call him or herself to order”. According to him, “the constitution is very clear on how these things are done. You proclaim the House; yes, there will be horse-trading; but for God’s sake, do your dealings behind the scene. Iriase, former two-term member of the state Assembly, also wondered “why any set of people on both sides of the divide should have a set mind on what must happen. What’s the use of democracy? This is what is happening”. Isaiah Osifo, a political scientist and university teacher, was to rub it in that “any governor that is aspiring to control the parliament, any governor that is aspiring to control the judiciary, is a tyrant”.

Expectedly, the ruling APC also weighed in on the ugly Edo and Bauchi legislative crises, positing that every elected lawmaker has a legitimate right to participate unhindered in the inauguration of the legislative arm in which he/she belongs. Describing the development as a “charade” the party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said “we view this illegality with shock and disappointment. As a party that has made a commitment to change, we strongly reject any attempt to take 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 Assembly, and nine lawmakers in the 24-member Edo Assembly were secretly “inaugurated” and purportedly “elect” principal officers behind closed doors, is a joke and an embarrassment”. The party said it would use all democratic means necessary to ensure the right thing is done and called on Godwin Obaseki and Bala Mohammed “to urgently do the needful by issuing a proper letter of proclamation to allow for the lawful inauguration of the respective state Houses of Assembly and subsequent election of presiding officers in a transparent manner”.

Various attempts to resolve the impasse have however met a brick wall. Worried by the bad blood the power tussle had generated, traditional rulers in Edo State led by the Oba of Benin visited the president to appeal for his intervention. Oba Ewuare 11 expressed concern that the raging crisis could affect the development of the state. Heads of the country’s security agencies led by the Inspector-General of Police were also said to have stepped in, being wary of the security implication of the festering crisis on law and order in the state. Unconfirmed sources hinted the magazine that Obaseki, as the chief security officer of the state, was prevailed upon to go back and do the right thing by properly inaugurating the House with the full members.

But the governor came back, like King Pharaoh, with his heart even more hardened. No sooner he returned to the state than he embarked on vindictive action of weeding out the loyalists of his predecessor from his government. Eight commissioners either nominated by Oshiomhole or perceived to be sympathetic to him, were booted out. One of them, Mika Amanokha, commissioner for youths and special duties, is Oshiomhole’s nephew. Even more desperate to legitimize his perceived illegality, he began to dangle carrots of financial and material inducements before the remaining lawmakers and succeeded in wooing additional three to his camp thus depleting the camp of his opponents, and bringing the number of the inaugurated members of the 7th State Assembly to 12. Only 10 have however been participating in the activities of the House as the two members who were reportedly abducted, have since rejoined the opposing group.

Further baring his fangs, Obaseki was to embolden the Okiye-led Assembly to approach a Federal High Court sitting in Benin and presided over by M. G. Umar, to secure restraining orders against the National Working Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Inspector General of Police, the Commissioner of Police in Edo State, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, all defendants, their servants and agents, not to interfere, disrupt or obstruct the constitutional duties of members of the Edo House of Assembly. They were also restrained from “interfering with, obstructing or harassing, in any manner whatsoever, the plaintiffs in the performance of their constitutional duties as the Legislative Arm of the Edo State Government pending the hearing and determination of the motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction” among other orders. The orders followed prayers in an ex-parte motion filed June 28, 2019 by Omogbai, the Clerk of the House, and the Edo State Government.  Curiously, the case was adjourned to October 9, 2019. The state was apparently acting the script by its Bauchi State counterpart, which had earlier secured an injunction from the state high court restraining the products of a parallel election by the majority members from parading themselves as speaker and deputy speaker respectively.

The aggrieved Edo State legislators-elect, in cahoots with sympathetic members of the House of Representatives, as well as former members of the green chamber, have however taken their case to the National Assembly for its intervention. Following a debate on the motion moved by Julius Ihonvbere, and supported by Peter Akpatason and Johnson Oghuma, the House resolved to intervene in the crisis, and set up an ad hoc committee which was given one week, to investigate the matter. Okiye, the major beneficiary of the perceived illegality, is, however, kicking against the decision of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, warning it not to “dabble” into the affair of the state’s legislature. In a press release from the office of the special assistant to the governor on media, Crusoe Osagie, Okiye insisted the inauguration of the seventh Assembly was constitution and advised the members to face more pressing issues of insecurity facing the country instead of “wasting precious legislative time contemplating the hijack of the House of Assembly of a peaceful state like Edo State”

The Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria is however not in the least amused by the shenanigans in the two Houses of Assembly and has issued a stern warning that the speakers that emerged from the fraudulent processes would not be recognized and welcome in its fold. Mudashiru Obasa, its chairman, in a personally signed statement, said “a situation where the minority in a House of Assembly takes control of activities over the majority is condemnable” adding that “no lover of democracy in the country should support the charade…” In his words, “we must also call on the two governors to do the needful by reversing their actions and acting in accordance with the laws backing up the legislative arms of the affected states… A situation where nine members will elect the principal officers in a 24-member House and inaugurate them, as it happened in Edo, is illegal.”

Obasa, who is the speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, also condemned the election of principal officers in the Bauchi House of Assembly by 11 out of the 31 members, describing it as questionable. He also expressed regret that the crisis in the Bauchi Assembly had led to the emergence of two speakers, with its attendant litigations. Frowning at the injunction secured by the 11 members of the Bauchi House of Assembly stopping the majority in the House from parading their elected speaker and deputy, Obasa cautioned the judiciary against unnecessarily meddling in the affairs of the state legislatures. He said the injunction from the Bauchi State High Court was frivolous and must be stopped. Berating the action of the court, a bewildered Obasa queried:  “Why should any reasonable court grant injunction in favour of 11 against 20? Why should the judiciary interfere in the business of the legislature which is supposed to operate on the principle of separation of powers?”  The number one speaker in the country said this development formed part of discussions at a recent two-day conference on the implementation of autonomy for state legislatures and judiciary in Abuja.  

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