Edo: Duel over court verdict on council boss
• Oshiomhole, Assembly Disagree On Dissolution of Councils
Three years ago, when local government council chairmen were sworn-in in Edo State by Governor Adams Oshiomhole, chairman of Oredo council, Osaro Obazee was one of the most visible, reason was that the governor himself before the primary election had endorsed him. That also accounted for his easy access to the party’s ticket even.
His closeness to Oshiomhole was demonstrated in how he mobilised support for the governor’s first term election in 2007 and his re-election in 2012. However, three years down the line, the relationship between the two politicians has become frosty, to the extent that Obazee was suspended over allegations of financial impropriety, and was later removed from office after a panel set up by the state government indicted him.
But the embattled chairman alleged that he was not given fair hearing or invited by any panel, even as he denied the allegation of financial recklessness against him. Then he went to court.
Although the tenure of the councils expired on last Thursday, the court declared Obazee’s removal illegal, but was silent on the issue of whether he should be reinstated.
The premises of the local government council was therefore, turned into a theatre of war last Tuesday, when he attempted to resume his office that had since been taken over by his former Vice, Sweet Ikpowomsa.
Thugs took over the precincts of the secretariat and locked the gate. In fact, one of them, allegedly physically attacked the embattled Obazee. There were sporadic shots by suspected thugs who were later dispersed by policemen but Obazee still went ahead to commission a road project he had earlier constructed before he was suspended.
Delivering judgment on Obazee’s suspension, Justice Esohe Ikponmwen, had held that relevant laws were not adhered to by the state government before the council chairman was removed from office.
The court equally exonerated the chairman of any allegation bordering on financial misappropriation. In the suit filed by his counsel, Kingsley Obamogie, the council boss urged the court to declare that as the constitutionally elected chairman of Oredo local government council, he cannot be suspended at the whims and caprices of the 1st Defendant without regard to the due process of law, especially Sections 7(1) and 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
He prayed the court to declare that the 1st defendant cannot competently set up a panel of inquiry to investigate alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds in Oredo local government and employment of new staff without the approval of the Edo State local Service Commission, without giving him a fair hearing, having already reached a firm conclusion on both issues.
He therefore, sought an order of injunction restraining the defendants, their privies servants and agents from interfering with his rights as chairman of the council or disturbing the exercise of his powers without due regard to the process of law.
Obazee said the judgment would further strengthen democracy in the country, adding that all he needed was not about returning to office but to put the records straight for posterity
He said he went to court against the governor to relieve council chairmen from the captivity of state Governors. He lamented the inability of the police to make any arrest of the suspected thugs that attacked him.
It would be recalled that State House of Assembly approved the sack of Obazee and Emmanuel Momoh of Etsako Central local government, who have been on suspension since June last year, while two others; Victor Enobakhare of Egor and Roland Ibieorutonen of Orhionmwon, who were also on suspension were recalled.
The lawmakers said the two chairmen were indicted by the panel of inquiry that investigated allegations against them. They noted that the panel’s report did not indict Enobakhare and Ibieorutonmwen, adding that the last two were not given fair hearing.
Obazee then described his sack as ‘laughable and very unfortunate’. “I was never invited to the panel to defend myself. My own position is clear, it is laughable that the comrade governor, who is a beneficiary of the rule law, could constitute himself in this way and manner to the extent that he committed contempt of court by not waiting for the judgment..
It was gathered that the once robust relationship between the governor and Obazee waned during the defection of some former members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) led by Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Obazee has a very close relationship with Ize-Iyamu and some very influential members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As at the time Ize-Iyamu left for the PDP, many expected him to leave with him and since he did not leave, he has been suspected of leaking vital information, an allegation Obazee had previously denied but insisted that his relationship with Ize-Iyamu is beyond political divide.
He was however believed to have betrayed his party when the party lost the presidential and National Assembly election in the Edo South senatorial district, including Oredo his council.
He was alleged to have displayed an unusual attitude on election day. As at 11 am when electoral officials and voters were still battling with mal-functioning card readers, he was already at home resting and at the end of the day, he lost his booth, his ward and the local government to the PDP. He was alleged to have compromised financially.
He also incurred the wrath of party leaders when he was the only APC official that attended the birthday ceremony of Ize-Iyamu recently, where he even granted press interviews.
During his council’s presentation of the 2015 Appropriation Bill, most of the dignitaries at the event were PDP chieftains, a development that did not go down well with the governor and party leaders.
He was also accused of employing a very senior staff into the council who is said to be a family member without approval of the Edo State Local Government Service Commission.
Meanwhile, Oshiomhole and members of the State House of Assembly disagreed over the house’ resolution on the tenure of local government chairmen in the state.
The lawmakers had on Monday April 18 directed the council chairmen to hand over the administration of their councils to their respective Heads of Local Government, at the expiration of their three-year tenure, which expired on Thursday April 21, 2016.
But in a letter personally signed by the governor and sent to the House on Wednesday, he described the resolution as a “usurpation of the power of the executive”.
“The resolution is a usurpation of the powers of the executive. The House does not have the power to give such directives.
“I have already directed the local government chairmen to submit their handing over note and transmit such to the office of the governor.”
But the lawmakers maintained that the governor may have been “misinformed,” as the House did not dissolve the councils, adding that they acted within the provision of the law and the powers conferred on the House by Sections 4, 6 and 7 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and Section 10(1) of the Local Government Law 2000, as amended.
The member representing Akoko Edo constituency I, Kabiru Adjoto, argued that the House derived it’s powers from the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “Mr. Speaker, I want to state clearly that the house has the powers to make laws for the state and any other matter not included in the exclusive list.
“We did not dissolve the councils; what we did was to remind them that their tenure expires on Thursday, April 21, 2016, and directed them to hand over administration to their various head of local government, as there can be no vacuum in government.
”I want to move that the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Henry Idahagbon, be invited to explain why he has misinformed the governor on constitutional matters,” Adjoto added.
After a unanimous submission by the 21-member Assembly, the Speaker, Mr. Victor Edoror, reaffirmed the position of the House on council chairmen and summoned the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to appear before the House on next Tuesday.
It is left to be seen how the ongoing face-off between the governor and the legislators would end, especially given the fact that the lawmakers would outlive Oshiomhole in office.
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