“Any friend turned into enemy, has been hating since day one.”
The above quote may perhaps be apt in situating the current crisis of confidence between former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, and his successor, Godwin Obaseki.
Oshiomhole is the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But before he assumed the position, he had told anyone who cared to listen that his successor, Obaseki and a few others were the reason he (Oshiomhole) became the governor in the first instance in 2008, after a protracted legal battle.
Considering their close relationship, coupled with the fact that Obaseki served as the head of the economic team in the Oshiomhole’s administration, many had thought that both men would enjoy the best of relationship, post Oshiomhole’s era in the state. But they were apparently mistaken.
At the beginning, Daily Sun gathered, they got on well. The governor mobilised resources to support Oshiomhole’s bid to become APC’s National Chairman, against a fellow Edo man, Chief John Oyegun, who wanted to retain the position at the time.
After Oshiomhole’s emergence, to ensure he operates “efficiently and effectively,” the state government again rented an apartment for him in a choice Asokoro area, in Abuja, to help him “hide away from the daily disturbances” that may come with operating from the party’s national secretariat. But that appears to be the governor’s greatest undoing.
“That singular mistake denied Oshiomhole the opportunity of mixing well with other party executives, thereby denying him the opportunity of knowing how party operates,” one of the government officials volunteered.
Although, on the surface, the inauguration of the state assembly appears to be at the centre of the current imbroglio between the two political gladiators, Daily Sun gathered, however, that there are far more issues than that.
One of the issues is the fact that the former governor was said to be bitter with the governor for the delay in opening the Benin Central Hospital for use. The hospital was constructed by Oshiomhole. It was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 at the twilight of Oshiomhole’s second term in office as governor. The hospital was only opened partially for use about three years after its commissioning.
Explaining the reasons for that, the governor, through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, said: “The facilities of the hospital are being calibrated to ensure each segment of the hospital renders top-notch care to patients.
“The state government resorted to the phased opening of the hospital as all the equipment expected have not been supplied due to allegations of fraud which exist as well as irregularities with the contract.”
He added that following advice from local and international experts on the operations of the facility, the state government is also carrying out a major structural adjustment on the facility, assuring that Edo people will have reasons to be happy when the hospital is fully open to them.
The other issue, it was learnt is the withdrawal from the streets of touts, who extort, harass and intimidate citizens in the name of collecting revenue. But while the issue of the hospital is being discussed in the open, both actors are silent on the latter, albeit in the public.
But those close to Oshiomhole suggest that “Oga, no happy at all, because those boys, na our boys and governor just comot chop from their mouth just like that.”
Controversy over house inauguration
Before the state assembly’s inauguration controversy, there were early signs that the national chairman was preparing for a showdown with the governor. State APC chairman, Anslem Ojezua, said that but for the maturity with which they managed the party’s affairs, the fate that befell the party in Zamfara and Rivers states, where the court ruled that APC could not field candidate would have befallen it in Edo: “The party’s decision was that each state should decide between direct and indirect primary which one it wants to adopt. We went for indirect, but the national secretariat reversed our decision without recourse to us. No protest. No complain. We complied.
“We held direct primary. But the outcome was again nullified and candidates who emerged were replaced. If we had not managed it well, we would have suffered the same thing Zamfara and Rivers APC suffered.”
The Edo State House comprises 24 members. But on the day of inauguration, nine out of the 24 members were inaugurated under controversial circumstances. All 24 members were elected on the platform of the APC.
But Oshiomhole described the inauguration as “illegal and embarrassing,” just as the national leadership of APC, rejected the inauguration and called for a fresh exercise.
“It needs restating that every elected lawmaker has a legitimate right to participate unhindered in the inauguration of the legislative arm in which he belongs.
“The plot to arm-twist the majority in favour of the minority in the legislative arm died with the defeat of the PDP in 2015,” the party stated, through its national spokesperson, Lanre Issa-Onilu.
But the Edo State House of Assembly Speaker, Frank Okiye, fired back at the party: “The APC lacks the powers to adjudicate on constitutional functions of the legislature.”
National Assembly intervenes
Apparently acting in accordance with Section 11(4) and (5) of the 1999 Constitution, the two chambers decided to intervene.
Section 11(4) of the constitution states: “At any time when any House of Assembly of a state is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that state, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of that state with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions; and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly pursuant to this section shall have effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the state.”
Section 11(5) further states: “For the purposes of subsection (4) of this section, a House of Assembly shall not be deemed to be unable to perform its functions so long as the House of Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business.”
Flowing from Section 11 (5) above, what it therefore means is that, the National Assembly can only intervene when the state Assembly can no longer “meet and transact business.”
But feelers from the state indicate that the lawmakers have been meeting, to the extent that they have considered, screened and confirmed nominees of the governor as commissioners. What is happening in Edo State today bear much semblance with what happened during the era of Oshiomhole as governor where nine members with a speaker from among themselves, performed legislative functions as though the whole house was involved. The only difference between what happened then and now is that about 12 members-elect are yet to be inaugurated. They are protesting the inauguration. They want a fresh one, apparently because they do not want Okiye as the speaker.
But the state party chairman said: “Prior to the inauguration, the party had taken a decision together with them on who to emerge as the speaker. But the following day, they went behind the party to take a contrary position.”
Asked if it was the duty of the party to decide who should lead the House, he said it is the House, but in accordance with the wishes of the party that sponsored them, on the platform they were elected.
He added: “It has always been the case. It was the case with the National Assembly. Why should it be different in Edo State?”
Regardless, following the National Assembly intervention, the House of Representatives, has gone ahead to consider the report of the committee dispatched to Edo and took a stand. Among other things, the House of Representatives directed the governor to issue a fresh proclamation within one week for the “proper inauguration” of the House.
The House further said: “The Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and Director-General of DSS should shut down Edo State House of Assembly and provide adequate security to allay further fears of intimidating and threat as alleged by members-elect.
“Where recommendations (i) (ii) and (iii) above fail, the National Assembly should invoke the provisions of section 11(4) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) to take over the state House of Assembly until the situation normalises.”
But in a swift response, Edo State House of Assembly rejected the position of the House of Representatives. It also called on the IGP, head of Department of State Security (DSS) and National Working Committee of the APC, to respect a subsisting court order restraining them from interfering in the activities of the House of Assembly.
Minutes after the House made its position public, the Senate, which is also probing into the same matter, gave a different impression. It appears not to be willing to toe the line of the lower chamber.
Aliu Sabi Abdullahi, who leads the Senate panel, said: “We have the constitutional duties to look into the issues with a view to ensuring that all is well. I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the civility of this state is not in doubt. Edo State enjoys parliamentary civility. We will visit the Oba of Benin and members of Edo State House of Assembly.
“We are here to get the facts; ours is to articulate and prepare the facts and lay it the way they are before the 109 senators who will do justice to the issue. I assure you that we are out for the good of this state and its people.”
Responding, and in apparent reference to the position of the House of Representatives, the governor said: “It is a very sad situation as we never anticipated this will happen. We are happy your committee is here on a fact-finding mission. If this has been done by the leadership of my party, we will not have gotten where we are today.
“I have fulfilled my constitutional responsibility, I believe in the separation of powers. There were issues and we expected that those in higher authority should have stepped in to ensure it is resolved but now the matter is in court. I am sure the 109 members will look at the facts dispassionately because I know you are men of integrity.”
Procedurally, any matter involving the two chambers, the two must meet at a joint conference and agree on their recommendations before communicating it to those concerned. But with the position of the House, the Senate must concur before Section 11 (5), which talks about taking over the state Assembly, can be activated. Will the Senate concur? The seven-day ultimatum given by the House to the Edo State governor expires this Thursday.
Regardless, lawyers and other analysts have been speaking on the position taken by the House of Representatives. Adaze Emwata, lawyer and lecturer at the University of Calabar, noted that Section 440 of the 1999 Constitution speaks to legislative powers and how such can be amended by the National Assembly also provides among others things that the legislative powers of the National Assembly and that of the state House of Assembly shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the court of law.
“On July 3, there was an order from a Federal High Court restraining the Inspector General of Police, the NWC of the APC and other security agencies from taking any action against the Edo House of Assembly. In view of this order, was it proper for the House of Representatives to make their resolutions as they did? For them to direct the IGP who has been restrained by the court to take over the House of Assembly contravenes section 448 of our constitution, which does not empower the National Assembly to encroach on judicial powers.
“It will be an invitation to anarchy to allow this to stand. The governor issued the proclamation under Section 105 of the constitution, and it will be an invitation to anarchy if anyone obeys the order of the National Assembly because it will amount to legislative rascality.
“Twelve members were inaugurated but nine members were on ground. Section 96 of the constitution which deals with the formation of a quorum states that for the House of Assembly to meet it must have one-third of its members and on that day, they had eight. In terms of electing a speaker, you do not need two-thirds of the members to be present, you need a simple majority; it is in the removal of a speaker that you need two-thirds. Nine members have fulfilled the constitutional requirement.
“Section 94 of the constitution states that for any member to have a seat in the Assembly, he must have done his asset declaration and at the time of inauguration, only 13 members had fulfilled the requirements. Nine members were present at the inauguration and three other members joined them later.”
Washington Osifo, member-elect, Edo House of Assembly, said: “Those who do wrong tend to cast aspersion on others instead of talking to their conscience. I want to direct attention to Section 11 (4) of the constitution as amended. It gives the National Assembly powers to take over the state Assembly if it becomes clear by reason of the circumstances on ground, that it is not possible for them to carry out their legislative business. In the wisdom of the National Assembly, instead of taking over ab initio, it would be in the interest of justice that investigation be done and an ad hoc committee was set up and the report of the committee is what we have seen today.
“You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. Was the inauguration done in line with the provisions of the law? Section 91 of the constitution states that ‘no House of Assembly in Nigeria shall be less than 24 and none shall be more than 40; Edo is 24 and what is expected is that upon inauguration, 24 members must be present at the beginning. But they wanted a situation where the minority is given the opportunity to produce speaker over majority.”
Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer, also said: “If you have a 24-member House of Assembly and almost two-thirds of them were not part of the inauguration, then what are you inaugurating? Could you have validly inaugurated a House of Assembly? Could you have elected a speaker knowing that the constitution states that a speaker should emerge by a simple majority?
“Now you want to classify simple majority by saying it is those who are seated at that time, which is eight or nine? What is responsible for these shenanigans? Politicians do not care about due process and the ethos of democracy. They care so much about who will be in control. Now they are dragging the court into it; how many matters will the court decide for God’s sake?
“It is illegitimate, treacherous and mischievous for you to create a crisis, wilfully violate the provisions of the constitution and dash to the court to secure a cover and then tell those who are complaining that you are in court now. So they are now saying that the National Assembly doesn’t have the right to exercise their own powers because some persons have dashed to the courts.
“Sections 5 and 11 give powers to both chambers to take action on state assemblies which means that they have to synchronise; the House of Representatives cannot unilaterally give an order and it will be carried out. If they want to intervene, the National Assembly should approach the court to ask for an order and not to direct the IG to seal off the place.”
As it is, the bone of contention is the number of lawmakers-elect to be present before inauguration can take place. But since the constitution is silent over this particular matter, it is either the feuding parties opt for a political solution or allow the court to settle it once and for all.