By Orobosa Omo-Ojo
IT is raining actions (bizarre and usual) in the Edo polity as actors take positions, leaving in trail victors and victims. This commentary is about the 24 men at Chief Anthony Enahoro’s Complex. It is about their tactical moves and very flawed actions. While a set relied on the old order, a new set deployed an improved version of ‘EDHA Control App’. It is instructive to remind onlookers that Edo State House of Assembly is not new to crisis; at least since creation of the state.
As it was in the beginning
The Assembly lost its innocence early in 1991 when Mr. Matthew Egbadon was impeached as the first Speaker due to the contending interests of some power blocs, led by Chief Anthony Anenih of blessed memory and some rampaging youthful political elements. The state maintained her uncanny and eerie first position of a House in turmoil on January 31, 2000 when members resumed from the Christmas and New Year break to impeach Mr. Thomas Okosun who became Speaker in 1999 with the support of Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, then governor of the state.
Chief Anenih had supported Mr. Egbadon but some youngsters had their way until the old fox and his group found a crack to seize legislative power. Political watchers blamed Okosun’s high-handedness for the January 31, 2000 ‘coup’ but the young legislator was simply the fall guy in the proxy battle to control the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State.
Okosun’s campaign to instil ‘discipline’ in the Assembly as a way to ensure independence of the legislature won the support of majority of his colleagues but that was not to be, as he soon ran into troubled waters.
Trouble started when he impounded the official vehicles of some members, because they violated guidelines on the use of government vehicles, which the new speaker introduced. Part of the exceptional but cost-saving policy introduced and agreed by the House leadership was a restriction on unauthorised use and driving of the Assembly official Blue Peugeot 504 saloon cars after work hours. Few months down the road, some members ran foul. One had his car clamped as he cruised around Benin City at dusk, while the son of another Assembly member was sighted driving the Peugeot 504. This incident quickly reopened old political wounds between Governor Igbinedion and Chief Anenih.
Ironically, the House was dominated between 1999 and 2007 by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, with the exception of Akoko Edo and Egor local government areas where All People’s Party, APP, held sway. The PDP produced Thomas Okosun, Matthew Egbadon, David Iyoha and Friday Itulah, Zakawanu Garuba as speakers. They were however caught in power play between Chief Tony Anenih and Governor Lucky Igbinedion and his ground forces. It is imperative to put on record that although the various impeachments were sponsored by political gladiators, none led to blood-letting until 2008 when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole became the governor.
The impeachment of Zakawanu Garuba reinvented the power struggle in the House after the defection of Mr. Bright Omokhodion from PDP to the AC. He was crowned speaker in an ‘adversarial’ process. From then onward, the puppeteer pulled the strings as he deemed fit — depending on his mood.
Compared to the contraption that became the hallmark in recent past, the recent election of the speaker and deputy speaker by nine members have been hailed because it is a complete departure from the violence-riddled charade of the last 12 years when uninspiring persons were imposed as speaker and deputy speaker on the Assembly.
The handful of turncoats that have attempted to dismiss the emergence of Mr. Frank Okiye as the speaker on the allegation that the proclamation and subsequent oath-taking was a “nocturnal exercise” would do better if they educate themselves with lessons of their lost opportunity. All the components were present inside the so-called hallowed Assembly; the Clerk, the Mace-bearer, the Press and other secretariat staff who are transitory custodians of the legislative arm.
But while some seeming loyalists of a fast-fading godfather were acting in a manner that gave them away as dispatched ‘advance forces’ of a fast-fading godfather to clear the soft target, the five members-elect that have since increased to nine busied themselves with the compliance of the Code of Conduct requirement for Assets declaration. Probably due to over-confidence, they failed to notice that the Clerk had received the long-awaited proclamation from Governor Godwin Obaseki. Instead, they concentrated their energy on fruitless press conferences that gave them away as aimless aggressors.
The paradox is that, the text of their release demanded the immediate transmission of proclamation and inauguration of the Assembly. “We urge all well meaning individuals including our well respected Royal Father, His Majesty Oba Ewuare II, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the leadership of the National Assembly to prevail on Mr. Godwin Obaseki to immediately issue the letter of proclamation to enable the Edo State House of Assembly to function and avoid serious constitutional crisis”. Mr. Washington Osifo, spokesperson of the then 19 members-elect said. Few hours after their outburst, they refused to turn up for the governor’s proclamation and oath-taking.
If it is true that the erstwhile governor is behind the scallywags, it may appear that he has already been defeated, owing to Governor Obaseki’s growing support, chiefly among the Benins, who are piqued at the urge by the ex-governor to decide their fate. A quick reflection on the viability or legitimacy of the inauguration and subsequent oath taking by members-elect, must take into consideration the definition of a quorum in a new legislative arm of government.
The quorum debat
Simply put, quorum is not a requirement in the life of a new parliament; this can become necessary after the swearing-in and the formation of the House. The hard truth now is that the quorum required for legislative duty in Edo State House of Assembly is three, relative to nine and not 24. The malingerer members-elect who were idling away and failed to attend the inauguration and swearing-in cannot be seen in the face of the law as members of the Edo State House of Assembly.
It follows therefore, that a new legislative house is equally not a parliamentary Assembly, because it can only be called so after due inauguration upon the proclamation by the head of the executive arm of government at the relevant level. The Assembly is given life after the Clerk of the house has invited the members-elect for their inauguration at an appointed date and in the hallowed chamber.
Like several other political issues, the Nigerian constitution is silent on the number of members required at the inauguration as quorum and as a result, the now depleted pro ex-governor members-elect are misinformed themselves on the requirement of a quorum for a functional house against a functional Assembly. Simply put, it is not obligatory for every member-elect to be present for inauguration as the speaker is empowered to swear-in others at their convenient time.
Option for G-15
It seems to me, that the only breather left for the 15 roaming members-elect is to take seriously, the warning of the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress. Already, the party has condemned the actions of the members-elect who are throwing tantrums over the emergence of the leadership of the Seventh Edo State House of Assembly. Mr. Anselm Ojezua, the party chairman called the actions of the members-elect a betrayal of the trust reposed in them by Edo people.
He warned that the behaviour would not be tolerated. “We are calling on the National Chairman (of APC) who must have heard about their ignoble acts, to call them to order. What they have done is condemnable and will be handled with a firm hand. That is what we are going to do.
“We condemn their conduct in its totality and their tantrum betrays party supremacy. This is why we are exploring sanctions against those found wanting in no distant time. In fact, their punishment is in fixed deposit.”
- Omo-Ojo, a journalist, was a commissioner in Edo State and former spokesman to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole