After over one year of peace of the grave yard in the polarised Edo State House of Assembly, the crisis on Thursday took a dramatic twist with the announcement of Victor Edoror as the new Speaker of the House by the Adams Oshiomhole-led faction of the All Progressives, APC. Hitherto, Frank Okiye, who is yet to formally dump the APC but had openly identified with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP which the governor has defected into, had been operating as the factional Speaker leading a House of nine members. But as of today, with the exit of five members to join the group of 14 who are yet to be inaugurated, Okiye now leads a faction of four members out of a 24-member House.
That raises fears that Governor Obaseki may be endangered. It is feared that the Edoror-led assembly may go after the governor whose tactics had shut them out of legislative activities since last year. But if Edoror is to be believed , he was quoted in a statement after his election that his leadership of the House will not hunt the executive.
After a seeming lull, the tussle for the control of the House however resumed on Wednesday with the alarm raised by the Obaseki-controlled faction of the House that the former deputy speaker, Yekini Idiaye who was impeached at Wednesday’s plenary was plotting to forcefully take over the House with the connivance of the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma and members of the APC. Okiye, at a press conference, alerted that “The dubious plan by the Governor of Imo State, Sen. Hope Uzodinma and stakeholders of the APC in Eddo State to import a fake mace to take over the Edo State House of Assembly, working in cahoots with the Deputy Speaker, who recently declared support for the candidate of the APC to congregate in a secret location to illegally and violently take over control of the Assembly has been brought to our notice”.
The embattled factional speaker appealed to the president, Muhammadu Buhari, to urgently call on Uzodinma and others allegedly working with him “to execute this illegal plan to desist and allow the laws of the state to guide them”.
Idiaye and the other four members had refused to follow the governor to the PDP. Speaking Wednesday night on Channels Television Programme, Politics Today, Osaigbovo Iyoha, one of the aides to the governor, had explained that Idiaye was impeached as deputy speaker because he could not be allowed to continue to keep his position in a PDP-controlled House. Apparently jittery about its abysmal minority status, the Okiye-led House moved to forestall a possible take-over of the House by the other faction by fortifying security around the House of Assembly complex which it had abandoned several weeks ago to relocate to the old executive chambers of the Government House under the guise of fumigation of the chambers and premises against coronavirus infection.
Curiously, residents of Benin City woke up Thursday morning to find the House of Assembly at the King’s Square (Ring Road) under security siege. The security operatives comprised of men of the Nigerian Police, department of state security, DSS, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC. The magazine gathered that the state government had mobilized the security personnel to the complex to secure it against any form of invasion. Amongst the security operatives were men of the Operation Wabazighan, a security outfit set up by the governor. The security personnel were led by Ayoola Ajala, a deputy commissioner of police, DCP, in charge of Operations.
The magazine gathered that the action of the government was to forestall the alleged forceful take-over of the House by the group of 19 members whom they feared planned to impeach not only the speaker, but also the governor and his deputy, Philip Shaibu. The factional Speaker, who visited the complex amidst water- tight security, said he came to ascertain the security situation in the complex as well as inspect the progress of work on the ongoing renovation. Political observers however see the renovation work as a ploy to elongate their relocation to the government house for plenary.
Okiye however got conflicting reports about the alleged security breach at the complex. While one of the security guards claimed that there was an attempt by some persons to force their way into the premises, the Police Officer in charge of the House, Timi Peter, an assistant superintendent of police, ASP, said there was strange movement and that the area was “calm”. The governor, his deputy and other aides were to arrive later to assess the situation.
Addressing party supporters who thronged the area, Obaseki assured that as governor, he would do all within his constitutional powers “to protect the sovereignty of the legislative arm of government,” noting that “Nigeria is governed by laws and the constitution of the country”. According to him, “Mr. President has always insisted that we must follow the rule of law and do things according to the law. Nobody in this country is above the constitution and so this morning, Mr. Speaker, go about your normal duties as a parliament the way it should, and the way the constitution prescribes. For us as executive, we owe you the entire instrument available to us constitutionally to protect you and to protect the state”.
Meanwhile, in order to forestall the touted forceful take-over of the House of Assembly Complex at the Ring-Road, the roof of the building has been removed while heaps of sand and gravels had been tipped in front of the gate to completely block access.
But reacting to the development, the APC Media Campaign Council for the Edo Governorship election pooh-poohed claims by the state government that its leadership “ferried Police from Abuja” to block the Edo Assembly complex, stating that the APC, as a political party, does not control the Police.
In a statement by John Mayaki, Chairman of the State Media Campaign Council, the APC insisted that the Governor, whom he accused of being responsible for numerous other sieges on the Assembly complex, was in the best position to tell the world who was behind the Police blockade of the Assembly.
Mayaki said “It is a known fact that the outgoing Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has treated the House of Assembly, an independent and co-equal branch of government, as a mere extension of his office through the brutalization of members-elect and the denial of representation to the majority of members.
“In Gestapo style, the outgoing Governor hijacked a tiny minority and purportedly inaugurated them in the dead of the night. The sham inauguration was condemned and set aside by both arms of the National Assembly after their separate investigations revealed that the members, and indeed the Clerk, were forced to participate in the illegality under threat to life. With these criminal antecedents, we believe if there is any unwholesome activity ongoing at the Assembly Complex, it is Mr. Godwin Obaseki who is in the best position to explain to the world what is going on and why.”
According to Mayaki, “Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, or the APC, does not control the Police. When Obaseki went to obtain a questionable court order challenging the position of Comrade as the APC National Chairman months back, he was locked out of the National HQ of the party in Abuja. If indeed he has any control over the Police, wouldn’t he have instructed them to leave and grant him entry?
“The Edo State Government should explain to the world and Edo people what is going on. And they can start by explaining why a branch of government meant to carry out oversight functions and check the excesses of the Executive arm has been holding plenary inside the Government House for months over a supposed ‘fumigation and renovation exercise’ at the Assembly Complex”.
Mayaki had in an earlier statement, accused Obaseki of personally leading thugs to vandalize the complex of the Edo House of Assembly as part of his bid to enforce the continuation of what he described as an “illegal formation of a partial Assembly.” He claimed that the Governor besieged the complex out of fear that his “illegal House of just five members” would be overturned and replaced with a more representative Assembly.
According to Mayaki, “The outgoing Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has placed the independence of the legislative arm and the democracy of Edo State on trial. He has ordered the vandalism and destruction of the Assembly complex under the pretense of a renovation exercise out of fear that his illegally-formed Assembly of just four members would be overturned and replaced with a more representative one.”
He recalled that the National Assembly had ruled that “the Assembly formed by Mr. Godwin Obaseki last year after abducting some members-elect dead in the night was illegally done and, therefore, is unknown to law. Regardless of this, and loud outcry from the people of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki persisted in the illegality and denied representation to 14 members. Since then, five more members, led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yekini Idiaye, have since renounced the illegal gathering of Mr. Godwin Obaseki and maintained their support for the All Progressives Congress.”
Mayaki said it amounted to “Executive recklessness, disregard for the principle of separation of powers, and complete irresponsibility for Mr. Godwin Obaseki to insist he must dictate to the House of Assembly on who it must elect as Speaker, more so with just the support of five members out of elected 24.”