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Outrage in Edo over Obaseki’s Refusal to Convene House of Assembly

Outrage in Edo over Obaseki’s Refusal to Convene House of Assembly

1.      After over one week of keeping the state Legislature in abeyance, there were high hopes yesterday that the governor, Godwin Obaseki might issue the much-awaited proclamation to allow for the inauguration of the state House of Assembly by the clerk of the house this Tuesday. But that was not to be. In line with constitutional provision, the governor ought to have issued the proclamation penultimate Friday to clear the way for the inauguration and constitution of the seventh assembly Monday last week. The delay has, however, been attributed by political watchers to flexing of muscle by the governor with his estranged political godfather and predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole over who controls the lever of power in the parliament. The undercurrent of the political power play is who commands the loyalty of a majority of the 24 members, who interestingly belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state. Investigation by the magazine revealed that the governor had been clay-footed in issuing the proclamation that would signal the convoking of the seventh assembly because he has insignificant number of foot soldiers amongst the members-elect to serve his interest in parliament. As at last week when the parliament was expected to have been inaugurated, the governor was said to have had no fewer than five members loyal to him, but the delay reportedly opened his supporters to poaching by his opponents leaving him with about three. Irked by the depletion in the number of his loyalists, Obaseki, according to sources close to him, had boasted that the doors of the House of Assembly chambers would remain closed for as long as he desired. It was, however, gathered that arising from pressure from various quarters, including protests and threat of legal action by concerned individuals almost swayed the governor to do the proper thing only to allegedly make a volte-face when he could not have his way with the members-elect. 

Obaseki, Oshiomole, Obaseki Photo
Obaseki, Oshiomole, Obaseki Photo

2.      Another source who should know hinted the magazine that the governor had been holding series of meetings with the incoming members over the ugly development and he was said to have promised them that a proclamation would be issued last Monday to set the stage for Tuesday’s inauguration. However, an indication that the governor and the elected lawmakers failed to strike a compromise in the former’s desperate attempt to buy them over, was to emerge when they addressed the press yesterday calling on the president, Mohammadu Buhari and the Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11 to prevail on Obaseki to issue the letter of proclamation to enable the house function and avoid constitutional crisis. Washington Osifo, member-elect representing Uhunmwonde constituency made the appeal on behalf of a group of 19 lawmakers during a press briefing at the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ press centre in Benin.

3.      According to him “We urge all well-meaning individuals, including our well respected royal father, His Majesty, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the leadership of our party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the leadership of the National Assembly to prevail on Mr. Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, to immediately issue the letter of proclamation to enable the Edo State House of Assembly to function and to avoid serious constitutional crisis”. Giving a hint that the governor’s reluctance to allow the house to be inaugurated was all about his desire to control the parliament, Osifo, a commissioner for education in the last administration, asserted that “It is also common knowledge that the governor, no matter how powerful, cannot impose individuals either as speaker or deputy speaker, on the legislators. At best, he can only lobby for his preferred candidates as was recently witnessed at the national assembly.”

4.      The seeming deliberate delay in constituting the parliament has, however, elicited public outrage with well-meaning Edo people condemning the governor’s action which some legal experts believe has far-reaching implications, constitutionally and politically. While pointing out that there was no reason at all for this impasse which he described as nothing but political, Edoba Omoregie, a professor of Constitutional Law, and lecturer in the faculty of law, University of Benin, said “It is just unfortunate that Governor Obaseki allowed politics to obstruct his constitutional duties.  It’s very unfortunate.” Describing the development as a very serious constitutional matter with grave implication, Omoregie noted that without the proclamation, the House of Assembly cannot commence sitting, stressing that Edo State, as it is now, does not have a functioning state House of Assembly “and that is completely at variance with the constitutional provision which says the moment a governor is inaugurated on the 29th of May, the governor shall make a proclamation for the house to begin to sit. So, the effective date really is May 29. The governor should have made that proclamation by that May 29.” 

5.      The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in a statement Monday afternoon by its chairman, Dan Osi Orbih, regretted that by the governor’s “unconstitutional act, he has assumed the character of a sole administrator.” Orbih was, however, quick to exonerate his party from what he referred to as “this unfortunate development”, stressing that the PDP was uncomfortable with it.  According to the major opposition party, “we knew the inherent dangers of the APC’s magical claim of 24 over 24. As a party, we want it on record that this unpleasant development has nothing to do with Edo PDP but a product of greed and inordinate ambition of a non-performing government which is afraid of its shadows. As at 2 pm today, June 17, 2019, Governor Obaseki has not given any official reason for his impeachable action.” Condemning what it described as an assault on democracy in the state, the PDP called on all lovers of democracy to call Obaseki to order and cautioned him against gambling with the destiny of the state because of internal party disagreement and intrigues. Orbih urged the governor to do the needful and transmit the letter of proclamation to the clerk without further delay.

Few minutes after issuing the statement, the party was to follow up with another in which it informed of its decision to approach the court to seek an order of mandamus on the governor to issue a letter of proclamation for the convening of Edo State House of Assembly. Signed by Chris Nehikhare, state publicity secretary, the party said “this course of action has become imperative as Edo PDP in utter bemusement, read a statement titled ‘Democracy Under Threat as Governor Obaseki Refuses To Issue Letter of Proclamation for The Inauguration of The Edo State House of Assembly’ signed by APC members-elect”.  Nehikhare said as a responsible political party, the PDP could not ignore the obvious drift to tyranny and impending catastrophe being orchestrated by the governor and his party.

Not a few Edo citizens are, however, concerned about the macabre political drama unfolding in the state and its implication for the polity. Friday Itulah, a lawyer and former speaker of the state house of assembly, further underscored the implication of the governor’s action. According to him, “we are practicing democracy, no doubt, and in our democratic practice, we have the three arms of government – the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary; and unless and until these three are in place, we cannot claim to be practicing democracy. And so, if a House of Assembly’s term has come to an end by effusion of time, ideally, it is the responsibility of the governor to send a proclamation to the clerk for the convening of the first sitting of the Assembly during which officials of the Assembly should be elected. But where that has not been done as in this case, and taking into account that the House of Assembly has already carried out its valedictory session, it becomes worrisome.” Itulah, a former member of the House of Representatives, said failure to so do would mean that the affairs of the state cannot be conducted because the governor cannot operate without a House of Assembly. “And you should know that without the House of Assembly of a state, laws cannot be passed, bills for appropriation cannot be passed and assented to, and therefore it can bring governance to a halt,” he explained. Speaking on the constitutional time factor, the former speaker said what is important is that the legislative assembly should be able to sit for a period of 181 days as provided in section 104 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, taking effect from the date that the House is inaugurated – the first sitting of the House of Assembly, adding that “If in every legislative year they are unable to meet 181 days, it’s a problem; it would mean that that House has not been able to discharge its constitutional responsibilities.” On the political implication, Itulah expressed concern that as the political situation in the state currently stands, nobody is representing any of the state constituencies in the House of Assembly and wondered: “if the people are not represented if there is no sitting, how can the government possibly operate? We are not in a dictatorship; we are in a democracy.” He advised that in the interest of the state, the governor should send a letter of proclamation to the clerk to convoke the sitting of the House of Assembly. But beyond appealing to the conscience of the governor as done by Itulah, Omoregie advocated a sustained public protest or legal action to force his hands. According to the law teacher, “It’s left for Edo people to react against what is going on. They should protest. They cannot just be looking and watching. They should go to the streets and protest peacefully to express their disappointment. If a protest is sustained, it can bring down a government. It can lead to many unsavoury consequences for such a government.  So, I call on Edo people to go out and protest and ensure that the entire Benin is shut down.”

Some activists are, however, already taking such actions to compel the governor to do the needful. One of them is Patrick Eholor, the founder and president of One Love Foundation who on June 12 Democracy Day, led a protest march round the streets of Benin against the governor’s decision to cripple the legislature and to plead with him to transmit powers to the Clerk of the House to swear-in the lawmakers. Speaking at the press centre of the state council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, Eholor said “I want to thank the men, women and the youths who had been very supportive of our cause. We are gathered here for a peaceful protest to remind the governor of Edo State that the citizens desire better governance. We are aware that most of the states in Nigeria have inaugurated their houses of assembly members. We expected that by now the governor would have transmitted powers to the clerk of the house to carry out the functionality of democracy so that the dividends of democracy can reach the people who voted the lawmakers into power. Rather, we are seeing something contrary and that is why we call on men, women and the youths who believe in democracy, to come out and appeal to the governor.” In a veiled reference to the alleged rift between the governor and his predecessor, Eholor said “If they have issues within themselves, they can go to a round table and settle the case. They cannot use the Edo people to settle their issues. We cannot continue to suffer these pains… That is why we came to appeal to the governor to, with immediate effect, transmit powers to the clerk to inaugurate the lawmakers. We are appealing to his conscience that, no matter what is going wrong within his party, or with other political parties in the state, Obaseki should do the needful and respect the rights of those who voted for him and those who voted for the lawmakers.” Eholor, however, ruled out the likelihood of going to court should the governor remain recalcitrant, positing that “we will not go to court; it is not a matter of going to court. But, I am hoping that the governor will transmit powers to the Clerk so that the lawmakers would be sworn-in.”

Like Eholor, president of Benin Solidarity Movement, BSM, a socio-cultural group, Curtis Eghosa Ugbo, threatened to occupy the House of Assembly if within seven days the governor failed to inaugurate the house the same way he did in 2014/15. Addressing some journalists in Benin on Sunday, Ugbo described as embarrassing a situation whereby it is only Edo State House of Assembly that had not been inaugurated in the country “because of some personal interest to the detriment of the people that elected members to represent their various constituencies.” In his words “It is more shameful that this is the first time that all 24-members of the House of Assembly are from the same party (APC). So they are shamelessly showing their incompetence to the world. Ugbo who said he was still watching the situation in the House of Assembly, declared that “if by next week nothing is done to inaugurate the Assembly, I will mobilize my members across the state to take over the House of Assembly because the House of Assembly and the state belong to the people and not a one-man business venture” boasting that “I have taken over the House of Assembly before in 2014/2015 as the Mock Speaker, and I can do it again”.

However, as far as Isaiah Osifo, a political scientist and lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Administration, Igbinedion University, Okada, is concerned, the governor’s action “is a slap on democracy, it is anti the people; it is dictatorial, it smacks of arrogance and self-glorification”. Chiding Obaseki for his touted superlative performance, Osifo wondered why then he would be frustrating the House from being convened and attributed his reluctance to internal politics of producing the speaker and so seize control of the parliament. In the opinion of the one-time member of the state house of assembly “any governor that is aspiring to control the parliament, any governor that is aspiring to control the judiciary is a tyrant”, stressing that “you can’t control them; you should have a relationship with them. And what type of relationship do you have with the judiciary? Assist them morally, politically and legally to do their job in line with the principles of the rule of law.”

Accusing the governor of working against the interest, hopes, and aspirations of Edo people, Osifo reasoned that “if he’s for the people of Edo State, you cannot keep their representatives out of job because they are their eyes in government. People participate in governance through elected representatives. So, he’s fighting the people. And the parliamentarians themselves will know that this guy is not a good person. So, when such a man is talking about second term, he’s talking thrash. He’s no longer entitled to any public office.”

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