By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta & Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu
SPEAKER of the Edo State House of Assembly, Hon Frank Okiye, has revealed that some members-elect on the opposing side of the power struggle in the state, had visited him to congratulate and pledge their loyalty to him.
Okiye, who spoke to Vanguard in Benin City, said external influences should leave the lawmakers to resolve their differences and not turn the House to a battleground. He also debunked the notion that inauguration of the House took place in the night, saying there was no truth in the allegation.
The Speaker disclosed that as of Saturday, the House had 11 bonafide members while the quorum required to run the business of the Assembly is eight. He also said he was already reaching out to some of his unyielding colleagues to complete their documentation and come for inauguration.
According to him, initially, some of them refused to pick his calls, but a number of them later called him back while others are still unbending.
His words: “The battle that you see is really not mine or theirs because I can tell you that over seven of them on the other side acknowledged me as the Speaker and that I am the best material for them even before the election. Therefore, when I won, it was like a seal on that assertion.
“We live in almost a heterogeneous community and we have been friends with ourselves being members of the same political party and I can tell you that majority of them are my friends off the issue of politics.’’
He debunked the allegation that the process under which he emerged was flawed, saying, “I take off from the assumption that some said they would not resume because I am not their Speaker. I do not expect them to put it that way, but whichever way it is, I think that is not statesmanlike because you do not expect the 24 members to agree on one Speaker.
“It is usually difficult under a democratic setting, but it therefore means that if two did not support the emergence of a particular Speaker, then those two will begin to say he is not their Speaker. That is why I said it is not statesmanlike because I do not quite believe that they will say so because all of us, the 24 members are friends and colleagues.
”Virtually all of us have met before we entered into the contest of being members of the House, we live in almost a heterogeneous community and we have been friends with ourselves being members of the same political party and I can tell you that majority of them are my friends.
“We have held meetings, even some of them mobilized for me as the Speaker, but all of a sudden, when that crisis broke out, the Edo Peoples Movement, EPM, was formed. Then some of them started foot-dragging and we knew that there was going to be problem.”
Crisis externally prompted
“What you see happening are externally prompted, it is not the conscience of my 24 members that are beating the drum, that is what make it a complex matter for us to deal with. When we see, we still interact and because they did not originate the crisis, they too are unable to take a decision. We were together when the party reeled out those they have nominated.
“This is not the first time, we understand ourselves that the party must play a role. We all know these things, even those beating the drum right now know that the party must play a role. Is it not based on the political party they belong that they are influencing who becomes what? When people say independence of the legislature all over the world, it is not watertight compartment. The party has roles to play, the community opinion moulders all have roles to play in whoever emerge as leaders.
“Now we have come to where we are; when the 19 people so to say met and addressed a press conference, it was not just an impromptu movement, they had met. Why were the five not part of them? I, as a stakeholder, they did not consult me.
“We, as a senatorial district had met, I did not know what happened in the other senatorial districts, but we were supposed to all now meet at our individual level outside the party’s thinking. The party had told us what they wanted and nobody objected, only for them to address a press conference.
“All of us were embarrassed and meanwhile, we were all pushing that a proclamation be released so that we can go to the floor and having said it and nobody objected, we were not suspecting any foul play.
What really transpired
“The proclamation was released while they were addressing the press, so you can understand that at that point in time, there were already divided interests. When the proclamation was released, we started calling them and some of them said they were in Sapele, some said they were in Lagos, some said they were in Abuja, some said they were sick because we needed to meet to agree on the proclamation and decide on what to do, but they were not picking their calls.
“It was later we got to know that they were holding a press conference when we were calling them. So those of us around moved into the House, it is wrong for them to claim that it was midnight that the House was inaugurated. That is not true, we moved into the House about the time their press conference was being concluded and some of them moved from there to join us.
“We were still making calls but they did not quite know that we were also ready in view of the proclamation, but after that press conference, if we had allowed a gap, more external influence with sinister motives would have come in and what we thought we could do as a family would now be altered.
“We waited for them till about 4.00 pm to 5.00 pm and the other three came to join, but the clerk said he could no longer wait, he read out the proclamation. He read out the roll call and those that were marked present, he asked them to nominate. One of the members nominated me and he asked for a second nomination, there was no other nomination.
“We finished that day at about 6.00 to 7.00 pm and not 9.00 pm. We were six when we got to the House then three came to join us. You see those ones that claimed they coerced them, which is not true, persuasion to accept and coercion as they claim is not the same thing. Yes they may not have been ready, but we said let us go it is the same thing.
“I also have families that I would have invited, but we have to move on and some of them gambled to negotiate for some positions and we agreed and that was the bargain. Nobody was under duress to sign any signature. They signed and had a handshake with me and smiled to the camera. Some of them have also come to tell us that they were under duress to release that video that they were forced to come to the House.
“But we believe that they will see reasons to come and work together with us. We are reaching out to those we can reach, but mind you, they are also adults but few of them do not pick my calls maybe they are with the people prompting them on what to do and what not to do.
“Some of them called back, others have even visited me in my house so it is not an issue of enemies but I believe some persons are still assuring them that what has been done can still be dismantled and then something else will happen.
“We have moved on, but we have intentionally not shared all the committees, we have deliberately withheld some of the principal officers because we know they need to be accommodated because we are going to work together as a family,” he asserted.
Leave us to resolve our differences
On the way out of the crisis, he said: “I must say from my understanding of the event that those who think the House of Assembly will be the battle ground should leave us alone. If they leave us alone, we definitely will be able to sort ourselves out and go back to work for which we were elected to do.”
On claims that after their press conference the government sent thugs to harass and beat them up, he said ‘’if it did happen, I am not happy with that but there are now two sides to the story. Our guests also lodged in that hotel, we heard that when one of our official cars went to that place to pick our guests, they attacked them all of a sudden. Another story came that thugs went to attack them; we never even knew they lodged there.
Another account said they had a mace, they were preparing to go and sit and were planning to launch an attack, so there are so many stories, but those of our people attacked; we asked them to go the police. Police sent a letter to me asking me to release them for interrogation but of course, we do not have their names on our list yet as honourable members.
I also told the police that these are my friends so they should take it easy with them. I will keep appealing to them to do their documentation, go for their Code of Conduct verification, get to us through the clerk and if certified that they have done all these formalities, then we can fix a date for them to be inaugurated.
The game has changed now that the House is constituted it is no longer a place where everybody comes. The clerk reads out names, it is now appearing before the Speaker. What you see some of them running away from is the fact that they do not want to acknowledge that a Speaker has emerged. They, by law should acknowledge that a Speaker has emerged. The two that came, came to congratulate me and pledged loyalty to the leadership that has been constituted.
On whether the number they have is convenient to carry on with the business of the House, he said: ’’Democracy has put into consideration a number of factors and what is required to do the business of the House is eight, which is a quorum and any business of the House can be done, except where there are incidences of abridging the procedure and maybe two third is needed, that is only when we cannot function.
However, I must be quick to say that we are 24 different heads, different psychology, different idea and different backgrounds, which if we all put our brains together, it will give us robust representation and that is what is better in a democracy. Therefore, we need these intellectual differences, diversity of opinions to cook what we have and produce a better and richer product for the people of Edo state, so it is still better if we all come on board to work together
Has the party intervened in the crisis?
Several times the leadership of the party has called those of us inaugurated to a meeting and asked us not to make any statement because they are handling it, that they are sure they will come, but they have also come out to set the records straight. The only embarrassing thing we have had is when the party leadership at the national level issued a press release that our inauguration is not sustainable under any known norm.
Until now, I cannot recollect where to place such opinion. The party in the state has said that what transpired in the House was satisfactory and they still implored other members that have not showed up to come for inauguration.