By Kolade Larewaju, Abeokuta
The confusion that seized the Ogun State House of Assembly on the afternoon of September 6th, 2010 “coup” by the Group of 9 lawmakers against the G-15 is not about to abate after a high court blocked an attempt by the Integrity 15 legislators to sit last Tuesday.
The attempt was a response to the ultimatum issued by the House of Representatives that the Assembly should resume sitting not later than last Tuesday or its functions would be taken over by the Reps.
Trouble started on 15 May 2008, when the House sat with Deputy to then Speaker Titi Oseni, Edward Ayo Odugbesan presiding and 22 members voted to remove Oseni and replaced her with Tunji Egbetokun. As soon as that was done, Ayo Odugbesan, the Deputy Speaker who thought he was going to retain his seat, was also booted out and replaced with Remmy Hazzan.
Efforts were made to contain the crisis so that it would not get out of hand but the schism between the legislators and the executive, which in the first place, was not in support of Oseni, deepened.
Oseni was later suspended, along with another legislator, Omasanya Solaja for allegedly disparaging the House. The fight got messier and the division widened. On the floor of the House where there remained 24 lawmakers, 15 were anti the state governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, while the remaining 9 favoured the governor.
Several requests for approvals, including N100 billion Bond, confirmation of nomination of Commissioner for Education, confirmation of nomination of members of Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission, supplementary appropriation, were all turned down.
But in the wee hours of last 6th September, the 9 group of lawmakers were able to gain access into the hallowed chambers where they sat and removed Tunji Egbetokun as Speaker and Remmy Hazzan as Deputy and appointed their own officers.
Not done yet, they lifted the suspensions on Oseni and Solaja and gave approvals to all the requests of Governor Daniel, including the N100 billion Bond. They also suspended the 15 lawmakers. The Bond issue had been so contentious such that it was slated for a public debate.
Irked by this development, the Group of 15 lawmakers, led by Egbetokun, cried foul and said that they were going to sit the next day, and that in fact, the mace of the house was with them.
They argued that the mace with which the Coker faction used to sit was actually that of a local government. The state was set for a showdown. But the Federal Government quickly intervened and the House was locked up. Since then, there has been no sitting.
The Group of 15 then moved to a school in the Ijebu area with the mace and held their own sitting, insisting that what the Coker group did were all illegal.
While the Clerk of the House, Mr. Demola Badejo was at the sitting of the Group of 9, he was not at the sitting of the Group of 15. Since then, there has been exchange of hot words, letters to the National assembly, to the Presidency and all kinds of exchanges until Thursday, 14th of October when the House of Representatives passed a Resolution in Abuja to the effect that the Inspector General should provide security for Speaker Tunji Egbetokun for the House to sit within seven days, failing which it would take over the making of laws for Ogun State.
Unexpectedly, by the weekend, Egbetokun fired a letter to the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Musa Daura, asking that the Resolution should be effected and that he was going to convene the House on Monday for a Committee meeting of the whole House and Plenary on Tuesday.
However, on Monday, the House remained sealed without the Commissioner heeding the directive of Egbetokun, prompting all kinds of postulations on the legality of the House of Representatives’ resolution. Remmy Hazzan, the Deputy Speaker, told newsmen that they could not come because the police were yet to respond to Egbetokun’s letter.
The police kept mum. But the factional Speaker, Soyemi Coker, said that Egbetokun’s request was illegal and that he should be arrested for impersonation.
Coker, who made frantic efforts to get an injunction against the sitting, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Ayo Giwa said, “It is hereby re_affirmed that Mr. Tunji Egbetokun and other fourteen members remain suspended and the security officers attached to the suspended Speaker and other former principal officers be withdrawn forthwith.
Any move by the suspended Speaker to reconvene will be firmly resisted by the people of Ogun State.
“We also want to emphasize the legality of the House sitting of Monday 6 September, 2010. We carefully took into cognizance the constitutionality of our action and hereby state that it was a legal and valid Parliamentary exercise.
‘It has been ordered that Mr. Egbetokun should be arrested forthwith for impersonation and failure to hand_over all official documents and property in his custody.
“As a law abiding citizen, I have approached the Ogun State High Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Resolution of the House of Representatives purportedly seeking to reinstate the suspended Speaker, Mr. Tunji Egbetokun as the Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly as well as his cohorts.
“It should also be noted that a suit filed in April 2009 by Mr. Omosanya Solaja and ten other legislators, against the Speaker of the House of Representatives and others on the threat to take_over legislative activities of the Ogun State House of Assembly is still pending at the Federal High Court, Abeokuta.
“In the light of the pending court actions, we urge the Inspector General of Police to discountenance the request of Mr. Egbetokun for police protection for the purpose of reconvening an illegal meeting of parallel House of Assembly. This we view as an invitation to anarchy which should not be allowed.”
By the following day, the Coker group was able to secure an interim order in an Ogun State High Court restraining the Inspector General of Police from giving effect to the resolution of the House of Representatives.
Delivering judgment in Abeokuta in the suit filed by Coker, Justice Phillip Onamade said that the Inspector General should not provide security for Egbetokun to “preside over another Ogun State House of Assembly pending the hearing of the motion on notice.”
Coker had approached the court through his counsel, Mr. Olusina Sofola [SAN], asking the court to grant his interim injunction supported with a 22 paragraph affidavit, a 7- paragraph further affidavit and another 7- paragraph affidavit of urgency.
Sofola also supported his application with a 4- page written address, saying that the situation was of real urgency since Egbetokun was not even prepared to wait for the 7 days as contained in the House of Representatives Resolution before convening the sitting.
He argued that under Section 215 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, only the President of the country could direct the Inspector General of Police to take steps to protect the peace and order in any part of Nigeria. He said that the court should grant the application to avoid a situation where there will be two Houses of Assembly in Ogun State.
In his ruling after reviewing the submission of Sofola, Justice Onamade said, “there is no doubt that a situation of real urgency exists in this matter.
“While recognizing the constitutional powers of the House of Representatives under Section 11 of the 1999 Constitution, it will be the joy of the people of Ogun State if that power is exercised to reunite warring parties so as not to disturb the peace of the State. For, it is only under peaceful atmosphere that people can go about their lawful duties and development can take place.
“Order of Interim Injunction is hereby granted, restraining the Inspector General of Police from giving effect to the resolution passed by the House of Representatives to provide security for Mr. Tunji Egbetokun.”
With the ruling of Justice Onamade, everything has now been thrown back to the National Assembly as indigenes of the state wait with bated breath for what will happen next.