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Edo House Of Assembly As Oshiomhole, Obaseki’s political chessboard

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The resurgence of the crisis rocking the Edo House of Assembly for over one year signposts that the lawmakers have come to terms with the implication of the forthcoming governorship election in the state on their political future and are seeking to remain safe afterward.

Ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, the 13 months and three weeks old crisis rocking the state House of Assembly has returned to the front burner. Although it had never been resolved, many observers had thought it would remain in the background until the election has been won and lost but yesterday’s ‘impeachment’ of the Speaker of the House and the election of a new one has vitiated such calculations. However, what has emerged from the new twist to the crisis is that the House has more or less become the political chessboard of the major gladiators in the governorship election.

The crisis, which has its root in the supremacy battle between Governor Godwin Obaseki and former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, started on June 17, 2019, when nine of 24 members of the Assembly, who were all elected on the platform of the APC, were secretly inaugurated. The governor had earlier scheduled the proclamation of the Assembly for June 7, but it could not hold because he was said to be absent. However, while they were waiting to be inaugurated, the Clerk of the Assembly, Yahaya Omogbai, was said to have ushered nine of them into the chamber and read out the letter of proclamation transmitted to his office by Governor Obaseki at 10 p.m. on June 17. Reports had it then that the exclusion of the 15 members-elect was to prevent Oshiomhole’s loyalists from taking control of the state legislature. Thus, at the nocturnal sitting of the nine members-elect, they lawmakers elected Frank Okiye (Esan North East Constituency I) as Speaker against Oshiomhole’s preferred candidate after the proclamation.

Since then, 12 of the members-elect have refused to be inaugurated while two of those who later presented their certificates of return to the Clerk and were inaugurated had not been attending plenary.

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In December last year, the Speaker, Okiye, declared vacant the seats of 12 members-elect for deliberately refusing to present their certificates of return to the Clerk of the Assembly for inauguration. He had also declared the seats of Messrs Uyi Ekhosuehi and Henry Okaka, representing Oredo East and Owan East respectively, vacant for allegedly absconding from plenary after the inauguration.

He had hinged the decision on the fact that if the lawmakers-elect began to come for sitting from then, they would not meet the mandatory 180 sitting days enshrined in Section 109, Subsection 1(F) of the 1999 Constitution.

The affected members-elect are Vincent Uwadiae, Ovia North-East II; Ugiagbe Dumez, Ovia North-East I; Washington Osifo, Uhunmwode; Victor Edoror, Esan Central; Kingsley Ugabi, Etsako East and Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Owan West.

Others included Sunday Aghedo, Ovia South-West; Chris Okaeben, Oredo West; Crosby Eribo, Egor; Aliyu Oshiomhole, Etsako West II; Oshomah Ahmed, Etsako Central and Ganiyu Audu, Etsako West I.

“Whereas the matter is in court, they have gone ahead to violate the elementary principle of law that says no party in a matter in court can do anything to render the position of the court that would eventually be, nugatory. That in itself is contempt. He is pre-empting the court and attempting to tie the hands of the court and the court does not take it lightly with anybody who does that,” Washington Osifo, who claimed he spoke on behalf of the other 13 lawmakers-elect, had said.

Nevertheless, in January, this year, Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, while ruling on the application filed by the 14 lawmakers restrained the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from conducting by-elections on the 14 seats declared vacant by the Speaker.

Since then, the 14 members-elect had been practically out of the scene while Obaseki tightened his grip on the nine lawmakers, effectively managing state affairs with their support.

But with barely six weeks to the governorship election, both camps have been making serious efforts to secure their territories, especially against the backdrop of Obaseki’s defection to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). They fully understand what victory or defeat at the polls portends for their political future and have been realigning forces.

Last Monday, the Deputy Speaker of the House and member representing Akoko-Edo Constituency I, Hon. Yekini Idiaye, and four other members of the Assembly pledged their support to the governorship candidate of the APC, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, bringing the numbers of elected members who have declared their support for the APC candidate in Edo Assembly to 17.

Those who joined Idiaye are Hon. Emmanuel Agbaje, Akoko-Edo Constituency II; Hon. Nosayaba Okunbor, Orhiomwon East Constituency; Hon. Dumez Ugiagbe, Member-elect, Ovia North East Constituency I; and Mr. Hon. Vincent Uwadiae, Member-elect, Ovia North East Constituency II. They all pledged their support during a solidarity visit to the private residence of Ize-Iyamu in Benin.

Speaking during the visit, the state assembly members maintained that they would not leave the APC for another party, assuring Ize-Iyamu of their complete loyalty and commencement of mobilisation of voters at the grassroots to secure his victory at the polls.

Idiaye particularly said he had no reason to join the incumbent governor in his defection or to back his re-election bid, because Obaseki had failed to initiate any developmental project in his constituency despite his consistent intervention efforts.

“There is no reason for me to defect to another party because there is no single project in my village to show under this present administration. I am from Somorika, in Akoko Edo Local Government Area (LGA) and my village is the most backward in Akoko Edo,” he said.

Obaseki’s camp immediately fought back last Wednesday with the impeachment of Idaiye on grounds of alleged gross misconduct, and the election of Roland Asoro as the new deputy speaker.

The impeachment was sequel to a motion moved by Henry Okhuarobo (Ikpba-Okha) state constituency and seconded by Marcus Onobun (Esan West) state constituency.

“Mr. Speaker with me is a notice of impeachment of the deputy speaker of the house signed by two-third members of the house. The impeachment of the deputy speaker is on the grounds of gross misconduct and divulging of official secrets,” Okhuarobo said.

Apparently miffed by the development, the lawmakers in Oshiomhole’s camp strategised to take over the House, a plot that blew open before its eventual execution.

Last Wednesday, the Speaker had alleged that the Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, and stakeholders in the APC in Edo State were plotting to use a fake mace to violently take over the House, noting that the plot was to be executed with Idiaye.

His alarm notwithstanding, last Thursday, the opposition 17 lawmakers met at an undisclosed location where they impeached Okiye and replaced him with replaced with Victor Edoror, representing Edo Central Constituency, while Emmanuel Agbaje of Akoko Edo Constituency II was announced as the new deputy speaker of the assembly. It was alleged that a retired deputy clerk of the House, Samuel Efezokhae, was hired to inaugurate the hitherto ‘absentee’ members-elect to give some legality to the exercise.

There have been different interpretations to the development with Obaseki saying it “had all the hallmarks of an attempted coup d’état.”

“It is worrisome that certain persons are willing to plunge the society into avoidable anarchy and conflict just to satisfy their illegitimate objectives. This unfortunate situation has festered because a former governor of the state is bent on throwing the state into crisis ahead of the forthcoming governorship elections. This government will take all steps necessary to defend the rule of law and democratic ideals,” Obaseki said in a state broadcast, yesterday.

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But the Chairman of Edo Media Campaign Council, Mr. John Mayaki, on his part, accused the governor of treating the House as an extension of his office, hence the crisis.

“It is a known fact that the 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 brutalisation of members-elect and the denial of representation to the majority of members.”

As both camps seek to condemn each other and appeal to the emotions of the electorate in the state to their advantage, what is clear from the foregoing is that the 24 lawmakers are fighting for their political interests, not necessarily the interest of the common man. What is wrong with their method is that they have allowed themselves to be pawns in the hands of their political benefactors.

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