Twenty years after the return of democracy to Nigeria, politicians are yet to appreciate the values of democracy. There is still a strong belief in the adage ‘all is well that ends well’ with many politicians spending ample time plotting the downfall of their opponents and even their colleagues instead of allowing the will of the people to prevail. Among Nigeria’s State Houses of Assembly, Edo State lawmakers have always been in the forefront of such political intrigues since 1999. With the emergence last week of a Speaker not supported by a so-called majority of the members, a lucky group has once again had its way. It is only those not familiar with the tradition of the Assembly that may be disturbed about the unending political rascality of our law makers. But for those who have always followed the activities of the State House of Assembly, all is well; what is happening is just a story of continuity. Indeed, there is no need for all the emphasis on the term ‘majority’ because we have no evidence that many of the aggrieved members in the first place, genuinely scored the highest number of votes to be elected to the House.
What happened last week when some legislators were allegedly beaten up in hotel rooms was probably better than previous experiences in which thugs were imported into the Hallowed Chambers of the House itself, to beat up lawmakers on duty. While such brigandage ought to be condemned, we cannot lose sight of the obvious fact that it is in the character of our legislators to so behave irrespective of which political parties are involved. The House is always used to settle scores as we hear Adams Oshiomhole and Governor Godwin Obaseki are trying to do now. Between 1999 and 2007 when the House was dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, four legislators -Thomas Okosun, Matthew Egbadon, David Iyoha and Friday Itulah who served as Speakers were all installed in line with the power play between the gladiators of the time – the late Chief Tony Anenih and former Governor Lucky Igbinedion. So, nothing has changed though we desire change.
In fact, history tells us that in 2010, the battle to replace Speaker Zakawanu Garuba was fierce. Three members sustained severe injuries. According to reports, one member used an axe on some other legislators while another member used teargas. The two political parties involved accused each other of employing dangerous weapons in the show of strength. Outside the premises of the House, hundreds of thugs – apparently associates of legislators, condoned off the premises. Interestingly, an ambulance and medical doctors reportedly provided by the powers that be were at the scene to administer first aid on the touts or to treat any resultant injuries from the crisis. Those who are now shocked by the allegation that a member (in casual wears) was coerced into the chambers for induction last week, need to know that no less than two members had their signatures forged to justify the ouster of Zakawanu. There have been other battles. At a point, the roof of the legislative building was removed to prevent legislators from holding any session.
Any well-meaning citizen would no doubt want these ugly incidents of the past put behind us. But a statement issued on behalf of the APC by its national publicity secretary two days ago ostensibly condemning the way and manner new Speakers emerged in Edo and Bauchi states is against the run of play. Among other things, the statement gave an erroneous impression that a general malaise of factionalization in our materialized Houses of Assembly is traceable to only a particular political party. In truth, many of the Speakers who were surreptitiously installed or removed in Edo state in the past were the handiwork of the APC. For example, Bright Omkhodion, Victor Edoror, Justin Okonoboh, Elizabeth Ativie and Kabiru Adjoto were all APC manipulated speakers who got installed and or removed in deference to the former governor’s loud body language.
The position of the APC in condemning the latest in the party’s tradition is confusing because in several respects, the current crisis is quite different from the previous ones. To start with, Edo now has a Speaker whose emergence cannot be legally faulted. He was elected by the majority of bonafide members – 9 in number. Although the figure appears small, it was the valid Electoral College. All other persons claiming to be members because they won the last election into the House greatly miss the point; they are still members-elect. Again, the hour of the day of the election and the argument that some of the members got no invitation to the inauguration are essentially emotional issues. The members elect having previously publicised their suspicion that some secret inauguration was being planned and knowing the dexterity of their party leaders should have been more circumspect. The most important things are a) the venue was appropriate being the Chambers of the House, b) the election of Speaker and others was presided over by the approved authority – the Clerk of the House and c) inauguration was done only after a proclamation by the governor. Next time, as one comedian said two days ago, “armed robbers should never allow themselves to be kidnapped.”
One other salient point is that since the new officials of the House according to reports have the blessings of the governor and the state party chairman, it amounts to anti-party behaviour as espoused by their national chairman for any APC member to disagree with party decisions. Besides, the happenings at the Edo and Bauchi Houses of Assembly are dissimilar. In the case of Bauchi state, there are two speakers for one House which is not the same with Edo state. Second, there are members of opposition parties in Bauchi while all the 24 members of the Edo State House of Assembly belong to the APC. Edo legislators should, therefore, find it easier to put their disagreements away and work harmoniously with a humble Speaker, Frank Okiye who sees his election as divine intervention. Aggrieved legislators-elect should respect public opinion which is against the money-sharing anti-Obaseki group. As is already seen, many decent citizens such as the charismatic Margaret Idahosa, Archbishop of the Church of God Mission International have continued to applaud the determination of Governor Godwin Obaseki to use state resources to develop the state rather than deploying same to placate greedy politicians.
When fully in session, we look forward to a pragmatic Assembly that would concentrate on serving the people. They should write their names in gold by putting aside oppressive laws such as the State Pension law which allows a former governor and his deputy to earn more money in retirement than when they were in service. By so doing, the Edo State of House Assembly will be a model in value re-orientation that would encourage the citizens of the state to embrace attitudinal change.