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Picketing the House has become part of governance here – GARBA, Edo Speaker

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IT is unlikely that the nation will stop talking of the April 2007 general elections in a hurry; if anything, the elections and its fallouts, some of which are still unravelling will continue to feature in discourses on the polity for some time to come.

Part of the fallouts of that election was the sacking of several elected officials by the judiciary; in Edo State for example, the governor, Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor was removed by the court and his opponent, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole ordered to be sworn in on November 12, 2008.

Hon. Zakawanu Garba, Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly.
Hon. Zakawanu Garba, Speaker, Edo State House of Assembly.

Before then the state House of Assembly has been in the news just normally like any other government institution. But since the state changed governors, it would seem that the House of Assembly has been serially picketed by various mobs for one thing or the other.

Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Zakawanu Garba explains that the picketing has almost become a regular spectacle, occuring whenever the House holds a view different from that of the executive. Excerpts:

As I was coming into the House of Assembly complex, there was a crowd, what is your  problem with okada riders?

I really don’t have any problem with okada people, but it has been the practice since November 12, 2008 that whenever the house has a divergent view from the government, you have various groups of people coming to the house.  They don’t come as okada riders, but of course, you have seen that they are okada riders. They are touts in motor parks, they are hoodlums, they masquerade in the name of students.

We got a letter from a group that says it is the National Association of Edo State Students, the authenticity of which body we have not confirmed, requesting that we must confirm members of the Universal Basic Education Board submitted to the house by the state government.

They gave a date, saying if that is not done before September 16, that they will stop proceedings in the house, they will disrupt sittings in the house and they will make it practically impossible for the house to function. Those okada riders you saw were supposed to be the students who wrote the letter. When you survive on deceit, it does not lead you anywhere.

A lot of Edo people now know the antics and it no longer works. Yes, we took discussion on their letter, and we said for all it may matter, let us do a letter informing them that it is not a deliberate thing not to confirm the board, but there is a subsisting court order, an injunction restraining the house from confirming that board pending the determination of the suit. Of course, I don’t expect an okada rider to understand such, so they may not have understood.

But one thing that was made clear was that those people were certainly not students as claimed in their letter to us. I think I will allow the Edo people see the unfolding events. But we established a point that we are not going to see them and that the house will sit because they thought they will stop proceedings in the house, and it will interest you that we sat throughout, nothing disturbed our sitting, we completed the proceedings and that included deliberation on the merger of schools. We sat so that whole world would know that they cannot disrupt us because we are elected to perform a role, we cannot be intimidated into performing it. You cannot intimidate us to disregard a court order.

There seems to be other issues that the Edo Assembly seems to have with the governor such as the issue of Oredo local government council chairman. What are the circumstances surrounding it?

You see, because we are two different arms of government, we are bound to, once in a while, have disagreements because two people can never reason the same. But the level of orchestration of such minor disagreements sometimes begins to make one wonder whether those on the other side actually understand the role of the legislature.

It was a very simple thing; the governor wrote us a letter proposing that he wants to suspend the Oredo local government chairman. The reason why he wrote the letter was clear because the law vests in the house the power to confirm such letter, so he was requesting our confirmation of his intention to suspend the council chairman. Unfortunately, we got that letter at about 3p.m on the day we went on recess (July 27).

I was sitting when I got the letter and as a sign of respect to the governor, I read the letter to the members. Ordinarily, I ought not to have read it that day, but it will look as if we are deliberately not doing anything about the governor’s letter if we go on recess without going through it.

His letter came at a point when members present in chambers that day were very few. So, I said we didn’t have the number to take this kind of fundamental decision, but once we were back, we are going to take it. Of course, the executive arm was in a hurry, whatever their motive is, I do not know, but they were in a hurry to suspend and went ahead.

The letter was before us, there was a statutory responsibility on our part to consider that letter. Because we had said we were going to consider it on the day of our resumption; but again, we didn’t have too many members that day, so we took it to the next day.

And we realised that the governor had already suspended the chairman without waiting for the confirmation of the House of Assembly as required under the law. That’s why you see that nobody spoke in favour of the letter. When that was done, we needed to let the society know because there was a misrepresentation that the governor acted in consultation with the house.

The society had to know because what the law said was not information to the house; that was why he called it proposing. So, we took our decision and it shows that if we refused like we did to accede to the governor’s request, it therefore means there was no suspension in the first place because he didn’t have the power to do it all alone.

I have always maintained that the house is an institution, I cannot know that there is an action in court without me being notified of an action in court. I do not think I’m made a party to an action in court; those that were made parties to the action in court, if any, probably the executive, were the ones conscious and being aware of the fact that there was an action in court, wrote us requesting for that confirmation.

We were acting on the governor’s letter, we didn’t just originate the issue because they wrote the letter requesting for us to accede to their demands to suspend. So, if you knew there was a matter in court, why did you write the house without disclosing in that letter that there was a pending matter in court.

You concealed that fact from us, we took a decision based on your letter to us, you then go back and say there is an action in court. Where you not aware that there was an action in court? You wanted to use the house to subvert the cause of justice, because it didn’t now work? So, I think basically, those are some of the disagreements that ought not to be celebrated but they become stories because of the mindset of certain characters in government.

But to all intents and purposes, the suspension did take effect. So, what do you think is going to happen?

There are two things: the chairman can resume work, subject to our resolution that he was never even removed in the first place.

You have a resolution to that effect?

Yes. Secondly, even if he was properly suspended, by a friction of time, he does not need any order from anybody to resume. Even if he was validly suspended; he does not need any order either from the house or from the governor to resume his work because the law he is purportedly acting on has a ceiling of two months. We had a similar case in Igueben. When the governor exceeded the time, the chairman resumed work because at that point, there no longer was any authority to keep him out of office.

Maybe the matter can be resolved that way?

It can be resolved either way. It’s either we go on with our resolution or on that date, he resumes work. But one point we have made is that the present usurper of office will pay for his due; mind you, whatever he does, henceforth in the office through the public account system, I will ensure he returns that money. Whatever he earned and spent as chairman, we will ensure he returns. He will think it’s a joke, but reality will dawn on him when the day of reckoning comes.

Now let’s talk about the party. How has the party fared since Professor Osunbor left?

You should realise that the same people who are in government are the same people who were in the opposition. Bearing that in mind, we have been able to sustain the party, working as a party with the sole aim of eventually reclaiming power. We have had our problems, these problems existed even before the exit of Osunbor, it was a factional problem. And our preoccupation is to see that that factional problem is resolved; once we resolve it, I’m sure we’ll have a stronger party. We are working very seriously ton achieve that.

People keep wondering why the crisis has lingered for so long. What, in your opinion as continued to militate towards achieving total peace?

You see, in a system where you have so many people, you certainly will have a Judas. Different people have their different motives, don’t be surprised that some of those fomenting trouble in the party may be paid agents of the other party, I do not need a soothsayer to tell me. Some may be on their way out and want to destroy, some may have been told deliberately to sit with you but have an agenda to destroy from within. We are seeing those signs and those traits in certain characters. You cannot rule out the fact that is what has actually created some difficulties in our attempt to resolve the crises in the party.

In effect, you believe there are fifth columnists within the party?

Certainly.

The last rerun election was a barometer that people use to judge the strength of the contending political forces in the state as it were. How did it turn out the way it did for your party?

We believe that there should be electoral reforms, our party should be a symbol of that electoral reform. I’m sure you saw what happened in Akoko-Edo. I told the press and asked them whether they needed a press conference to report what they saw which was shown on television. Instead of one man, one vote, it became one man, one gun; because with the amount of arms and ammunition, there was no way you would have a reasonable election or an election free of violence or thuggery or fear in the minds of the electorate.

Because we stayed out and did not react that’s why we probably did not have deaths as should have been recorded. I’m sure after people saw how the IG paraded those thugs, people would have been convinced and therefore should not see it as a barometer. If you see it as a barometer for measuring which of the party is stronger in the act of thuggery of violence, I will agree with you but certainly not as to those the electorate believe in.

The thing people find difficult to believe was how actually PDP could have lost in state it used to control….

(Cuts in) If you are going to vote and you see a gun, not only will you go back, you will go and tell your household not to go out to vote for safety, that’s what happened. We want electoral reforms in PDP. Because we want electoral reform, we must be seen to be showing that there should be such reform by our conduct. So, I think basically, that was what happened.

So, if it had been business as usual, the old order, it’s quite likely that…

(Cuts in) It was not business as usual from our side. Our opponents treated it as business as usual because don’t forget that 90 per cent of our opponents were in PDP, they left PDP. If you look at the antecedents of those characters when they were in PDP, they were believers in what they exhibited where they went to and on that election day. So, I do not think if it were business as usual, we would have won.

Because it was business as usual, that was why they won because they were the ones perpetrating that business before now and they are not ready to throw it away and accept electoral reform. Don’t mind them saying it with their lips and on the pages of newspapers, look at the act and the conduct of the persons.

By this time next year, the governor will be in his second year, then political activities will be heating up and it might distract from governance….

I agree with you; that is why some of us believe that we should concentrate more on governance now than politicking. But that, they do not appear to appreciate. If I were in a position of the governor and members of the executive council, I will use this first year in office and then a better part of next year to face development and play less of politics. But they appear to be playing more of politics now, than development, because there may really not be time at a later part of next year.

I agree with you that we have to get it right if we must develop. After that, you will now have the governorship election, so, we are going to be faced with elections. So, there may really not be opportunity for development.

You are the monitors of the executives, what is the pace like?

We are the monitors, but have we been allowed to monitor effectively? When you came in you saw okada riders in front of the house, that is what we have been faced with everyday.

So, how can you monitor under such conditions? Whatever I say would be treated as said by members of the opposition, but when the time of politics and campaign comes, I will talk and I will talk as the opposition and I will talk with reality. Honestly, I would not want to carry out any assessment now because I would certainly be accused, but go into the streets and ask people questions and report what you see.

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