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Edo Assembly crisis: The true story

Against the backdrop of recent cancellation of assessment test for Edo teachers and crisis in the Edo House of Assembly, the state commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Louis Odion, fielded questions from a group of journalists. Excerpts:

Contrary to your earlier strong position on assessment test for teachers, the administration last week jettisoned the exercise. Some people see that as a surrender and abandonment of the pursuit of qualitative education in Edo State. What is your reaction?

I think it is a gross misinterpretation of our position. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has not abandoned the issue of quality in our teaching service. Rather, what the governor has done is to modify our remedial strategy to allay the fears of some stakeholders who, despite repeated assurances, continued to believe the competency test initiative was intended to witch-hunt or sack teachers.

*Odion
*Odion

Rather than sack, we have advertised vacancies in the teaching service. That is to demonstrate that we in fact want to increase the work force. As a labour man, Comrade Oshiomhole will never undermine the interests of workers. Since he assumed office, he has never sacked workers. Whereas the past PDP administrations placed embargo on employment for close to ten years, Governor Oshiomhole has created more than 30,000 new jobs since he assumed office.

The aim of the initial competency test was to ascertain those that might need help and the quantity of help needed. The Comrade governor has always been concerned about the quality of teaching in our classrooms. The leadership of the teaching service themselves had admitted that there were some misfits in the system. The point of disagreement was how such help would reach the needy.

To demonstrate that the original intention was not to sack but boost the capacity of our teaching force, Comrade Oshiomhole then agreed that our intervention efforts now be in the area of training and retraining. Rather than castigate the governor, I think he deserves to be praised as a leader who is more interested in building consensus rather embark on ego trip.

What is important is to boost the capacity of our teaching force. Only a true statesman acts in the manner Oshiomhole has done.

Edo has been embroiled in a crisis lately over the clash of APC legislators and PDP legislators. What is the way forward?

The point at issue is very simple. It is a contest between the constituted authority at the legislative branch willing and ready to defend the law and a tiny band of misguided members who seem to assume that temporary tenancy at the house places them above the law.

The immediate trigger is the refusal of four suspended members to obey court order. You will recall that an alarm was raised in May that a huge war chest had been set aside by PDP godfather in Abuja with a view to simulating crisis in Edo State ahead of the 2015 elections.

In their warped thinking, since the people’s governor had repeatedly beaten them in elections since 2007, they felt the only way they can have their own pound of flesh now is to make the state ungovernable ahead of the 2015 elections.

The PDP godfather and his hirelings want to divert the debate in Edo politics from issues of development to reports of violence because they know that when they again knock at the doors of Edo voters in the months ahead, people would naturally be asking them to present their scorecard between 1999 and 2008. They didn’t have an answer in 2012 to the sterling testimonial Oshiomhole showcased during his re-election campaign as well as the local council elections in April 2013.

Now, what did these anti-democratic forces do? They dangled some carrots to some members of the state assembly to leave the ruling APC for PDP. APC has always enjoyed a comfortable majority in the House. Out of 24 members, APC had 20 until recently, with PDP controlling 4. So, the strategy of the PDP godfather is to poach from APC with a view to diluting the control of APC in the assembly and thereafter attempt the impeachment of the people’s governor.

So, that was how PDP’s tally rose to 9 members. Their action in the house was supposed to be a secret deal. When the secret leaked, out of fear, four of these five lawmakers rushed to the court to seek protection. They sought two reliefs from the court, namely that the court restrain the State Assembly from declaring their seats vacant and two, that the court should also restrain the Assembly from suspending them.

The court under Justice A. M. Liman granted their first prayer namely that their seats not be declared vacant. But on the second count, the court said the issue of suspension borders on house rules for which the court has no jurisdiction.

Now, because these lawmakers were given target to woo their remaining colleagues in APC, they started pestering their colleagues to also decamp. Because the remaining 15 members have conscience, they refused to be tempted. Now, in its own wisdom, the house met and passed a resolution suspending four members for gross misconduct.

But these four members would not submit themselves to the house rules. Rather, they brought police to offer them protection in forcibly gaining access to the assembly in session. It was clearly an abominable spectacle with gun-wielding policemen standing by in the hallowed chamber as the suspended four members sat tight on their seats.

As respecter of due process, rather than resort to self-help, the House leadership went to court and got an injunction restraining the four lawmakers from the precinct of the assembly complex. Now, when they were served the court papers by the bailiffs, not only did the suspended four refuse to accept the valid documents from a competent court, they were abusing the Judge for having the temerity to issue the order.

In fact, the then suspended and now impeached deputy Speaker was shown on the television raining curses on the bailiff and calling the Judge unprintable names. Ever since, these four suspended lawmakers have continued to defy the court order and enter the assembly ground from which they had been prohibited by the court, with the active support of the police who provide them cover.

This show of arrogance, this display of impunity is at the heart of what you may call the logjam at the state assembly.

Now, some people have said APC leaders and PDP leaders should put their swords in the scabbard and call their members at the assembly to settle their differences. Some people have stressed peace. Yes, we want peace, but not at the expense of justice. In fact, I heard the impeached deputy speaker saying the other day that he was ready to return as deputy speaker.

But the question is: at what cost? It is convenient for the renegade lawmakers to talk about recourse to status quo ante? But that would amount to undermining the integrity and authority of the judiciary. It is toxic proposal, a dangerous suggestion to make in a democracy. The way forward is simple. The suspended lawmakers must submit themselves to the letter of the very law they themselves made. Until the order is vacated by a superior court, it remains binding.

The police force is supposed to be a federal institution, not the armed wing of the ruling party.The police should defend the law, not protect or offer cover or sanctuary to those defiling or raping the law.

But PDP claimed the renovation work being carried out at the assembly complex is an afterthought. In fact, the state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, said there is no appropriation for the job being carried out. What is your comment?

Ordinarily, any right-thinking or decent person should not be dignifying the foul verbiage seeping from the mouth of a Daniel Orbih with a response. But we can overlook the cognitive limitations of a man who scraped through the university and staggered out with a terribly poor result in History now trying to pontificate or speculate on the mathematical complexities of budget-making.

I am sure he never read the budget he is talking about or if he did, he finds the issues and figures articulated therein too complex to comprehend. How could you say in an entire budget there is no provision for even maintenance or renovation. You see, that is the depth of mischief and illiteracy we are dealing with in Edo today.

So, let us pardon Orbih’s ignorance. I am sure if he had been asked elementary question on say Mansa Musa of old Mali Empire or maybe the Rise and Fall of PDP in Edo State, maybe he would have offered a more sensible comment. Making noise is different from making sense. In all of this, the weighty question Orbih conveniently dodged is who is responsible for the damage to the hallowed chamber in the first place.

Of course, the damage was caused when the four suspended members, aided by police and thugs, forcibly broke into the chamber. They are not ashamed that they broke into that hallowed chambers. By the way, the assembly complex we are talking about is an institution belonging to the people of Edo State, not the drinking joint of PDP’s members.

The former Speaker, Festus Ebea, has alleged part of the reasons he dumped APC for PDP is that the Governor discriminates among assembly members along party lines and that his constituency, Esan South-East, has been marginalized in terms of allocation of projects.

This is another laughable lie. Ebea used to be a member of APC until he moved to PDP in May, a senior member at that in his capacity as deputy Speaker between 2011 and two months ago. If he is that principled as he now postures to be, why didn’t he raise a voice against such perceived bias on the part of the Governor between 2011 and May 2014? He was a member of APC until last month. Since he joined PDP, he has not had the privilege of sitting on the floor of the house.

So, at what time did he notice that Governor Oshiomhole discriminates against PDP members in the house? You can see the illogic in his argument. The truth is everybody in Edo State today acknowledges Oshiomhole as a unifying figure, a transcendental player. He is not detained by clannish or ethnic prejudice. Check the results of his re-election in 2012, he won in 18 local government councils. He won landslide by 75 percent. It has never happened in the electoral history of Edo State and I dare say Nigeria’s electoral history for an incumbent to win by that margin in a clean election.

It was a reward for his redeeming spirit. Ebea comes from Esanland. Oshiomhole cleared the votes in that district too in 2012. Don’t forget that in appreciation of Governor Oshiomhole’s detribalized nature, the coalition of traditional rulers in Esanland had in 2012 come together and publicly conferred on him the title of ‘Adolor of Esanland’. That means ‘the repairer of Esanland’.

To tell you how generous Oshiomhole is in spirit, the road to Chief Tony Anenih’s village in Esanland was one of the early projects Oshiomhole executed on assumption of office in his first term. What is instructive here is that Chief Anenih isn’t only a national leader of PDP but was also the Minister of Works between 1999 and 2003. But the almighty godfather who dazzled and evoked fear all over Nigeria with his talent at fixing election could not fix the road to his ancestral home. It took Oshiomhole to fix that road in Esanland. It is public knowledge. I in his hour of need with such unkind words. As they say, there is God ooo (general laughter).

The PDP has also alleged that the assembly members left their hallowed chamber at House of Assembly to hold plenary in the Governor’s Office. That is an assault on separation of power and another proof of the governor’s putting legislature in his pocket. Your comment?

I think it is a show of a poor sense of history for Ebea or Daniel Orbih to suggest that the assembly now holds plenary in the state governor’s office. For Orbih, it is doubly tragic because he claims to have read History in school. But Orbih has failed a simple test of History here. The location now being temporarily used by the state assembly is the old legislative chamber.

It was still in use up till 1999 at the outset of the present republic. In fact, by 1999, PDP was the ruling party in Edo State with control of the Assembly with a PDP Speaker. It is a pity that a man who had the privilege of becoming the deputy speaker of the Edo House of Assembly is not conversant with the facts of recent history of the very house he presided over. It is a pitiable showing indeed.

I think the Speaker, Right Honorable Uyi Igbe, has already educated people like Ebea and Orbih on the history of the old assembly in a press conference. What I think is left to add is to draw attention to its supreme irony.

The same Ebea raising a voice against the use of the old assembly chambers today is the same person who led a band of misguided members to break into the hallowed chamber at the Anthony Enahoro House at Ring Road in Benin in the first place.

I am sure Pa Anthony Enahoro who as a young man in 1953 first moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence and after whom the historic edifice at Ring Road is named would be turning sadly in his grave today at the sheer infamy and desecration Ebea and co visited on what is supposed to be the ultimate sanctuary of the legislative tradition in Edo State.

May the dead forgive them. If Ebea and co had not vandalized the new chamber at the Anthony Enahoro House, the house would certainly not have had cause to resort to the old chamber.

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