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
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.
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.
From all indications,the legislative coup was well-hatched with the erstwhile Clerk of the Houseremoved by the governor ahead of the controversial inauguration. He had alsocuriously postponed the inauguration even after the mandatory proclamation hadbeen issued for “logistic inadequacies”. The new Clerk, Yusuf Gital, thuspresided over the sitting of the House, with only 11 members-elect inattendance, 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.
Damina, representingDarazzo constituency, was to explain to journalists that the parallelinauguration and subsequent election was aimed at enhancing democracy and notfor personal or selfish reasons, adding that invitations were dispatched to alllawmakers to be at the Assembly for swearing-in on Thursday, June 20 by 10:00a.m. According to him, “we came here some minutes before 8:00 a.m. but to ourdismay and surprise, we met 11 out of the 31 members in the chamber and (theyhad) purportedly done an election and had even sworn-in the Speaker and hisdeputy”. Political observers see the macabre drama playing out in the House asa 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 Bauchisaga which is a battle of wits between two opposing political parties, the Edoscenario is even messier, and indeed more intriguing. While some would see itas a case of political romance gone awry, some others, especially those in theknow of how the present government came about, would describe it as the heightof political treachery and callous back-stabbing. Immediate past governor ofthe state and now national chairman of the ruling APC, Adams Oshiomhole, daredthe odds to foist Godwin Obaseki, then the chairman of his economic team, onhis party, and on the people of the state, as his successor. Today, with thekind of dirty fight between them, such that Obaseki has opened a probe intosome of the activities of his predecessor, not a few would say to Oshiomholenow licking his wound of fore-warned betrayal, ‘we told you so’. The crisisrocking the legislature which resulted in the selective inauguration of nineout of the 24-member lawmakers-elect, evidently with the tacit support of thegovernor, is seen in political circles as supremacy war with the House as thefirst testing ground.
It all started when thegovernor refused to send a proclamation letter to the Clerk of the House forthe formal inauguration of the seventh Assembly about 10 days after theexpected date causing agitation amongst the members-elect. Political watchersattributed his perceived deliberate stalling to the mounting opposition to thegovernor’s second term bid within his party being championed by a pressuregroup, Edo Political Movement, EPM. Though the 24 members-elect all belong tothe 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, havenbeen supported financially by him at a time the governor allegedly turned hisback on them during the campaigns. The governor feared this could spell doomfor his continued stay in office. So, to avoid a situation whereby he wouldconstantly have to watch his back because of a hostile legislature, and fear ofimpeachment, he decided, like Bala Mohammed, to adopt crude and foul means toachieve his objective.
Hence, thehallowed chamber of the House of Assembly was turned to a theatre of the absurdand political shenanigans as nine out of the 24 members were clandestinely inauguratedand the House leadership constituted with Frank Okiye, former majority leaderof the house, and the governor’s anointed candidate emerging speaker, andYekini Idiaye from Akoko-Edo, as deputy speaker. The nocturnal event which waspresided over by the Clerk, Yahaya Omogbai, reportedly took place between 9.30and 10 pm though the government tried to sell a dummy that it took place at 3pm. Curiously, 19 out of the 24 members-elect had earlier in the day addresseda press conference at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ Press Centre wherethey 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 stategovernor, Obaseki to issue a proclamation for the convening of the parliament.The delay in sending the proclamation had led to agitations, protests andoutrage by activists and well-meaning Edo people. The crisis was toescalate June 18, a day after the nocturnal inauguration, as some politicalthugs allegedly sponsored by the state government unleashed mayhem on 16 lawmakers-elect loyal to Oshiomhole, and visited massive destruction on the GoldenTulip Hotel, Etete, in Benin City, venue of a press conference they had heldless than 15 minutes earlier to explain their exclusion from the inaugurationof the seventh Assembly.
Washington Osifo,spokesman of the thinning group of 19, said they would have been presentat the inauguration if they were invited. Osifo, a former commissioner foreducation, alleged that two of their members were abducted to make up thepurported forum of nine, adding that they got to know of the “kangaroo”inauguration going on when around 9.30 pm, photographs began to filter intotheir phones and “one of us was spotted with a short andslippers taking oath of office”. Faulting the process that led to thecontroversial inauguration, Osifo said “what the law requires isinauguration 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 wasmissing. They gave information of the inauguration only to those they wanted tobe 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 acontrary opinion, former president of Igbo Think Tank group, Goddy Uwazurike,also a lawyer, noted that there was nothing anybody could do to reverse whathappened in the two Assemblies since the lawmakers reportedly formed theconstitutional required one-third majority, and the plenary was proclaimedinaugurated 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 theplenary when the proclamation was made nullified whatever arguments they mayhave raised because as they are currently, they remained lawmakers-elect andnot yet legislators, since they are yet to take the oath. He opined thatwhatever they did outside the plenary was not recognised under the constitutionsince the mace, which is the symbol of authority of the House, was not withthem.
However, a miffed WaleOshun, former member of the House of Representatives and current Chairman ofYoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, carpeted the likesof Uwazurike, declaring that “anybody that is supporting what happened in Edoand Bauchi Assemblies is backing arrant nonsense”. He said the development wasan indication that “Nigeria does not have democracy yet, but civil rule” anddescribed the situation as the height of impunity that must be condemnedin totality. Aligning with Azinge’s position, Oshun said it was time for thegovernors to move away from the mentality of militarising our democracy throughunconstitutional proclamation.
Another former member ofthe green chamber of the National Assembly, Pally Iriase described as “ashame” what is playing out at the Edo State House of Assembly. Iriase, a memberof 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 ofshamefulness”, stating that “Yes, those who want to be utterly partisan orsectional, are likely to see nothing wrong; but there is a lot wrong. It’sunfortunate that 20 years after this democracy debuted in Nigeria, we still areexhibiting anti-democratic tendencies. It’s wrong, and everyone should call himor herself to order”. According to him, “the constitution is very clear on howthese things are done. You proclaim the House; yes, there will behorse-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 ofpeople 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, apolitical scientist and university teacher, was to rub it in that “any governorthat is aspiring to control the parliament, any governor that is aspiring tocontrol the judiciary, is a tyrant”.
Expectedly, the rulingAPC also weighed in on the ugly Edo and Bauchi legislative crises, positingthat every elected lawmaker has a legitimate right to participate unhindered inthe inauguration of the legislative arm in which he/she belongs. Describing thedevelopment as a “charade” the party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary,Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said “we view this illegality with shock anddisappointment. As a party that has made a commitment to change, we stronglyreject any attempt to take recourse to brigandage of the past, when democraticpractices were defined by the inordinate whims of people in power. Democracymust be governed by the rule of law. A situation where 11 lawmakers in the31-member Bauchi Assembly, and nine lawmakers in the 24-member Edo Assemblywere secretly “inaugurated” and purportedly “elect” principal officers behindclosed doors, is a joke and an embarrassment”. The party said it would use alldemocratic means necessary to ensure the right thing is done and called onGodwin Obaseki and Bala Mohammed “to urgently do the needful by issuing aproper letter of proclamation to allow for the lawful inauguration of therespective state Houses of Assembly and subsequent election of presidingofficers in a transparent manner”.
Various attempts toresolve the impasse have however met a brick wall. Worried by the bad blood thepower tussle had generated, traditional rulers in Edo State led by the Oba ofBenin visited the president to appeal for his intervention. Oba Ewuare 11expressed concern that the raging crisis could affect the development of thestate. Heads of the country’s security agencies led by the Inspector-General ofPolice were also said to have stepped in, being wary of the securityimplication of the festering crisis on law and order in the state. Unconfirmedsources hinted the magazine that Obaseki, as the chief security officer of thestate, was prevailed upon to go back and do the right thing by properlyinaugurating 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 hisfangs, Obaseki was to embolden the Okiye-led Assembly to approach a FederalHigh Court sitting in Benin and presided over by M. G. Umar, to securerestraining 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 tointerfere, disrupt or obstruct the constitutional duties of members of the EdoHouse of Assembly. They were also restrained from “interfering with,obstructing or harassing, in any manner whatsoever, the plaintiffs in theperformance of their constitutional duties as the Legislative Arm of the EdoState Government pending the hearing and determination of the motion on Noticefor 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 wasadjourned to October 9, 2019. The state was apparently acting the scriptby its Bauchi State counterpart, which had earlier secured an injunction fromthe state high court restraining the products of a parallel election by themajority members from parading themselves as speaker and deputy speakerrespectively.
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 ofSpeakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria is however not in the least amused bythe shenanigans in the two Houses of Assembly and has issued a stern warningthat the speakers that emerged from the fraudulent processes would not berecognized and welcome in its fold. Mudashiru Obasa, its chairman, in apersonally signed statement, said “a situation where the minority in a House ofAssembly takes control of activities over the majority is condemnable” adding that “no lover ofdemocracy in the country should support the charade…” In his words, “we must also call onthe two governors to do the needful by reversing their actions and acting inaccordance with the laws backing up the legislative arms of the affectedstates… A situation where nine members will elect the principal officers in a24-member House and inaugurate them, as it happened in Edo, is illegal.”
Obasa, who is thespeaker of the Lagos House of Assembly, also condemned the election ofprincipal 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 theBauchi Assembly had led to the emergence of two speakers, with its attendantlitigations. Frowning at the injunction secured by the 11 members of theBauchi House of Assembly stopping the majority in the House from parading theirelected speaker and deputy, Obasa cautioned the judiciary against unnecessarilymeddling in the affairs of the state legislatures. He said the injunction fromthe Bauchi State High Court was frivolous and must be stopped. Berating theaction of the court, a bewildered Obasa queried: “Why should anyreasonable court grant injunction in favour of 11 against 20? Why should thejudiciary interfere in the business of the legislature which is supposed tooperate on the principle of separation of powers?” The number onespeaker in the country said this development formed part of discussions at arecent two-day conference on the implementation of autonomy for statelegislatures and judiciary in Abuja.