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-manad-hoc committee headed by Abdulrazak Namdas (APC-Adamawa) at plenary on Wednesday,Obaseki was also directed to publish the date, time and venue of theinauguration in any national daily, and television station. Otherrecommendations by the committee are that all actions already taken by themembers of the current assembly should be declared null and void pending aproper inauguration; that all members of the assembly, both those who had beeninaugurated and those not yet inaugurated should dissolve their factions,stating that this would be in the interest of peace and stability of the housewith a view to moving the state forward. It was further recommended that theInspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of StateService should shut down the State House of Assembly and provide adequatesecurity, stressing that this would allay further fears of intimidation andthreat as alleged by members-elect. According to the report, where therecommendations failed, “the National Assembly should invoke the Provisions ofSection 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution to take over the State House of Assemblyuntil the situation normalizes”.

For the feuding parties, however, it was differentstrokes for different folks. While the Henry Idahagbon-led Edo PoliticalMovement felt vindicated that what happened June 17 was nothing but sheerexecutive impunity and legislative rascality which should not be allowed tostand, a seething Okiye, with the conspiratorial backing of the executive arm,is kicking. A visibly upbeat Idahagbon gleefully told Tell “we are happy; weare going to celebrate it today. We are vindicated.  We told them,they didn’t listen. Next time when we talk, they should listen”. Explaining theimplication of the possible take-over of the functions of the House, Idahagbonsaid “anything that has to do with Edo State House of Assembly now would bedone by the House of Representatives. If you want to pass a budget, you willsend it to them in Abuja and go and defend it there. If you want any lawpassed, you will send it to them. That is the meaning of taking over under section11 of the constitution”. But pooh-poohing the development, Okiye wondered wherethe House of Representatives derived its powers from, insisting that there was nocrisis in the Edo House of Assembly. Okiye who spoke to Channels Television inhis office, said “here, there is peaceful conduct of our operation and thepeople that are in the National Assembly do not have such powers to issue outsuch orders. I repeat, they do not have it. So, it is condemnable and should beresisted”. Later in an official statement, the former majority leader of theHouse and a ranking member, reminded whoever cared to listen of “asubsisting court order restraining the Police, headed by the Inspector Generalof Police, Mohammed Adamu; the National Working Committee of the APC; the DSSand their agents, from interfering in the affairs of the Assembly, as the Househas been going about its activities peacefully and without rancor”. Upbraidingthe National Assembly and accusing it of bias, Okiye said the federal lawmakersmust take note that they are expected to act as agents of peace and notmerchants of crisis, positing that “Edo State has always been peaceful andany attempt for them to carry out this order will certainly disrupt the peacethat 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 issueswith Okiye, Idahagbon punctured his arguments. While admitting the existence ofa subsisting court order, the contended that it is not binding on theNational Assembly because they were not made parties to the case. According tohim, “If they wanted the National Assembly to be bound by the court order, theyshould have added the National Assembly… It’s elementary law; that is notsomething for argument”. Idahagbon hinted the magazine how the panickyOkiye-led faction on Tuesday made a last-ditch effort to restrain the NationalAssembly. “They went to Federal High Court yesterday (Tuesday July 16) to tryand get an order to now restrain the National Assembly but it was too late. Theywanted to sue the National Assembly – Senate and House of Representatives – butit was too late. And in any case, in law, you cannot even restrain the NationalAssembly from doing their job. So, he has to now comply or defy the NationalAssembly and I pray he defies them”, the EPM convener posited.

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

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

The oppositionPeoples Democratic Party also joined the fray, describing the development inthe state’s legislature as “sad and unpleasant”. A statement signed by itsstate chairman, Dan Osi Orbih, said the party is embarrassed by theugly 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 menis now going to be occupied by uniformed armed men. We have always maintainedthat Edo State deserves better than what the APC is offering. The poor and lamentablestate of affairs in the state underscores the need to vote out the APCgovernment in the state. A party and government that cannot manage a House of24 persons cannot manage the state. We call on all concerned in the assemblycrisis to stop this ego trip and blame game and face the serious business ofgood governance in the interest of the people. Edo State is too sophisticatedto be used as political guinea pig of supremacy between party and governmentstrength”. Interestingly, the political space had in the last few weeks beenawash with speculations that the embattled governor is seriously consideringthe option of defecting to the PDP if the APC remains a hostile environment forhim to realize his second term bid.

But denying evercontemplating such move,  Osaro Idah, special adviser to the governoron political and community matters, accused the detractors of both Obaseki andthe party of planting such stories in the media, stating that “these persons are threatened by the wide acceptance andsupport which the governor enjoys from his people.” Idah, said “we statecategorically that Governor Obaseki has no intention of leaving the APC, wherehe has firm support at the state level and across all local governments, wardsand units of the party. In Edo State, the governor’s popularity within theparty and across the state is overwhelming and the few deviant troublemakerswithin Edo APC and their sponsors in Abuja are warned to desist from theirresponsible act of trying to cause trouble in their own home while seekingrefuge elsewhere.” As Nigerians, however, wait with bated breath how themacabre drama will end, not a few are worried about the seeming lack of synergybetween the two chambers of the National, more so as another committee raisedby the Senate is also looking into the matter. Idahagbon is however confidentthat the upper chamber would toe the same line as its House of Representativescounterpart because according to him, the facts of the matter are the same.

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