By Gabriel Enogholase, Ozioruva Aliu, & Dirisu Yakubu
There was tension and drama, yesterday, as combatants for Edo State governorship fought squarely for the soul of the State House of Assembly.
Seventeen lawmakers, including 14 members-elect whose seats had previously been declared vacant, met; swore-in the members-elect; elected a new speaker, Victor Edoror; impeached the speaker of the house, Frank Okiye, and his deputy, Roland Asoro; and fixed plenary for today.
The 17 factional members, who are in the majority (the House has 24 members), dodged attempts by the state government and House leadership to stop them from carrying out the acts which speaker Okiye dismissed as a joke.
As early as 8 am, policemen, personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, and armed plain-clothes security men took over the State House of Assembly complex over allegations that 19 lawmakers were planning to storm the Chief Anthony Enahoro complex, elect a speaker, principal officers and commence legislative activities.
The development made the governor to cut short his campaign visit to attend to the situation. He visited the assembly complex in company of his deputy, Comrade Philip Shaibu, to meet with the speaker, Frank Okiye, and four other lawmakers.
As at 8:07 am when Vanguard visited the complex, no less than 19 patrol vehicles belonging to the Police and NSCDC were stationed in front of the complex, the entrance and exit gates used by lawmakers.
The police officers were seen being coordinated by Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations, Ayoola Ajala.
Okiye, deputy impeached – 17 lawmakers
The 17 lawmakers met at an unknown location in Benin City, the state capital, hours after security officials took over the State Assembly complex.
An aide to one of the lawmakers said they conducted the ceremony in the conference hall of the House of Assembly complex.
In place of the speaker and his deputy, the lawmakers said they had elected Victor Edoror, who represents Esan Central Constituency, and Emmanuel Agbaje, who represents Akoko-Edo Constituency II as speaker and deputy speaker respectively.
At the meeting, the 14 lawmakers-elect were first sworn in and then, together with three other lawmakers who recently pledged their allegiance to Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate, claimed they had impeached the speaker and his deputy.
The Edo State House of Assembly has been embroiled in a crisis since 2019, which has now been worsened by the buildup to the governorship election.
Only 10 of 24 lawmakers elected during the 2019 general elections were inaugurated on July 17, 2019, sparking a controversy that included intervention by the National Assembly.
Five of the 10 lawmakers that were inaugurated, including then Deputy Speaker, Yekini Idiaye, had declared support for Ize-Iyamu last week, after accusing Governor Godwin Obaseki of rendering the legislature in the state useless.
In retaliation, four of the five inaugurated lawmakers met on Wednesday, impeached Idiaye, and replaced him with Asoro.
Shortly after the early morning incident where police took over the assembly complex and Okiye saying the complex was under renovation, pictures of the lawmakers-elect taking their oath of office suddenly emerged.
The aide one of the 17 lawmakers told Vanguard that Sunday Aghedo, (APC, Ovia South-West) moved a motion signed by the entire members calling for Okiye’s ouster. He was said to have been seconded by Ohio Ezomo (APC, Owan West).
When the attention of Okiye was drawn to the development, he simply said “It is a non-issue and I don’t want to respond to such.”
However, the lawmaker’s aide said the motion nominating Edoror was moved by Washington Osifo (APC, Uhunmwonde) and seconded by Hon Eric Okaka (APC, Owan East), and in the absence of further nominations, he was elected.
Chris Okaeben (APC, Oredo West) was said to have moved the motion that got Emma Agbaje (APC, Akoko-Edo II) who acted as speaker pro-tempore, elected as deputy speaker.
Before the election, 12 of the 14 members who were not sworn-in last year reportedly took their oaths administered by Mr Tom Efezokhae, the deputy clerk.
17 members reportedly attended plenary, at the end of which Ohio moved for adjournment as the speaker announced that plenary will resume on Friday (today) August 7, 2020.
Edoror said the 7th Assembly would focus on its legislative duties, and not pursue the impeachment of any member of the executive and called for unity and togetherness, stating that there was no victor, no vanquished.
He also directed Edo Commissioner of Police, the Inspector-General of Police, and other security agencies to eject the thugs who have invaded the Assembly complex in Benin to allow for a rancour-free plenary today (Friday, August 7).
Okiye, Obaseki condemn opposition’s alleged desperation
Shortly after Police took over the assembly complex, some supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Edo thronged the scene, chanting solidarity songs in support of the current leadership of the House.
Amid the chanting by the supporters, Governor Godwin Obaseki, who is seeking re-election on the PDP platform, arrived at the complex alongside speaker Okiye, and went straight into the Assembly premises without resistance from the security operatives.
In his reaction, Governor Obaseki condemned what he described as the desperation of his major opponent and his supporters for allegedly planning to take over the assembly complex and occupy it in order to disrupt the democratic process and rule of law.
He said he was determined to ensure that the rule of law and one-man-one-vote were accomplished in the state.
Obaseki vowed to ensure the lawmakers and the people of the state were protected.
His words: “I want to assure you that as the governor of Edo State, I will do all within my constitutional powers to protect the sovereignty of the legislative arm of government. Nigeria is governed by laws and the constitution of the country.
“Mr President has always insisted that we must follow the rule of law and do things according to the law. Nobody in this country is above the constitution. So, Mr Speaker, go about your normal duties as a parliament the way it should and the way the constitution prescribes.
“For us as executive, we owe you the entire instrument available to us constitutionally to protect you and to protect the state.”
Okiye, on his part, alleged that the police action was instigated from Abuja, saying: “It is our responsibility to defend the state House of Assembly and that is exactly what we have demonstrated. For the records, I am happy His Excellency (Obaseki) is here.
“We were inundated with rumours and all kinds of threat calls last night. If you recall yesterday (Wednesday) in our sitting, we acted on very reliable intelligence report that these people from Abuja were coming to invade the House to take over the sovereignty of the House and sacred nature of the House and we made it clear to the public,” he said.
The development at the complex created a gridlock around Ring Road and adjoining roads.
At press time, artisans were removing the roof of the assembly complex, while trucks of sand had been offloaded in front of the complex. Okiye said the house was undergoing renovation works.
While the scenario in the assembly complex was going on, news filtered in that 17 legislators had met at an undisclosed location and elected Victor Edoror as their speaker.
After addressing the supporters, Governor Obaseki left the scene, while the police once again ordered party supporters outside the complex, where they continued their solidarity dance.
Thereafter, tipper trucks drove to the complex and off-loaded sand and gravel in front of the Assembly in what the government explained was part of ongoing reconstruction work at the complex.
Inauguration of dissident members-elect won’t stand —PDP
Reacting to the development yesterday, Edo PDP said the action of the 17 lawmakers would not stand the test of time and alleged that policemen were brought in from Abuja to cause crisis in the state and use a retired deputy clerk to inaugurate “the dissident members-elect.”
A statement by the PDP State Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, said: “The All Progressives Congress, APC, and its former National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, have mobilised federal police from Abuja to replace the officers from Edo State Police Command stationed at the Anthony Enahoro complex of Edo State House of Assembly.
“The move, it was gathered, is preparatory to plots to take over the Assembly complex, which is undergoing reconstruction, with a view to illegally inaugurate 14 dissident members-elect, whose seats have long been declared vacant, so as to take control of the Assembly.
“It was learned that Comrade Oshiomhole has started mobilizing thugs to move to the complex to provide cover for the impending planned action to import a fake mace for the members-elect to work in cahoots with the impeached deputy speaker of the Assembly, Yekini Idiaye, to actualize this plot.
Don’t test the will of Edo people, PDP warns, Oshiomhole, Ize-Iyamu
Also, the PDP National Campaign Council for Edo State governorship election, yesterday, warned Oshiomhole not to test the will of the people of the state, following the invasion of the House of Assembly complex.
In a statement by the Secretary, Publicity Sub-committee, Kola Ologbondiyan, it said: “Our campaign cautions the APC, Adams Oshiomhole and Ize-Iyamu not to test the will of the people of Edo State as they are not ready to allow anybody to manipulate this election. Today’s (Thursday’s) spontaneous resistance by the people is also a signal of their readiness to collectively confront and dismantle all APC evil rigging schemes in the September 19 election.
“It is a further pointer to Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole that the people cannot be cowed in their readiness to confront and vanquish the thugs and hoodlums assembled by the APC to unleash violence and derail the election.”
Stop illegal invasion of Edo Assembly, PDP tells IGP
Earlier, the PDP in a statement by Ologbondiyan, called on the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, to immediately stop the invasion of the Edo State House of Assembly.
The party described the incident as an attempt to forcefully take over the Assembly by security operatives allegedly deployed from Abuja by the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The PDP also blamed the incident on the former National Chairman of the APC, saying it was a direct coup against the democratic order of Edo State and a recipe for anarchy, chaos, and bloodletting.
“We urge the Inspector-General to act with dispatch to curb this nefarious situation, which has heightened tension in the state, and if not halted, may result in a bloody clash as the citizens are already charged to defend their symbol of democracy from a forceful takeover.’’
It added, “The police hierarchy is urged to note that this provocative and lawless act by the APC is part of its plans to overheat the polity and create a security situation with the view to unleash violence on the people, derail the democratic order in the state, and blame it on security agencies.
“We condemn this notorious resort to self-help by the APC and their agents to forcefully takeover power in Edo State through the back door.”
It also called on President Buhari to caution the former APC national chairman to avoid what it described as a serious crisis in the country.
Obaseki imposing minority rule, vandalizing House – APC
Countering, the APC through the Chairman, Edo State APC Media Campaign Council, John Mayaki, accused Governor Obaseki of vandalizing the Edo Assembly complex to impose illegal minority rule.
He said the Governor besieged the complex out of fear that his “illegal house of just five members will be overturned and replaced with a more representative Assembly.”
He said: “The outgoing Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has placed the independence of the legislative arm and the democracy of Edo State on trial. He has ordered the vandalism, ruin and destruction of the Assembly complex under the pretense of a renovation exercise out of fear that his illegally-formed Assembly of just four members will be overturned and replaced with a more representative one.
“It should be recalled that the National Assembly ruled that the Assembly formed by Mr. Godwin Obaseki, last year, after abducting some members-elect dead in the night was illegally done and, therefore, is unknown to law. Regardless of this, and loud outcry from the people of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki persisted in the illegality and denied representation to 14 members.
“Since then, five more members, led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yekini Idiaye, have since renounced the illegal gathering of Mr. Godwin Obaseki and maintained their support for the All Progressives Congress.”
We don’t control police — APC Campaign
Reacting to the allegation that police were brought from by Abuja, Mayaki insisted that Governor Obaseki, “who is responsible for numerous other sieges on the Assembly complex, is in the best position to tell the world who is behind the Police blockade on the Assembly.
“It is a known fact that the outgoing Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has treated the House of Assembly, an independent and co-equal branch of government, as a mere extension of his office through the brutalization of members-elect and the denial of representation to the majority of members.
“Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, or the APC, does not control the Police. When Obaseki went to obtain a questionable court order challenging the position of Comrade as the APC National Chairman months back, he was locked out of the National HQ of the party in Abuja. If indeed he has any control over the Police, wouldn’t he have instructed them to leave and grant him entry? The Edo State Government should explain to the world and Edo people what is going on.”
Police mum on developments
The Police yesterday remained mum on the political development in Edo with the emergence of Victor Edoror as a parallel speaker.
Several calls to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, were not returned and the same situation was experienced when the Police Public Relations Officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, was called.
However, Edoror and the 16 lawmakers paid a visit to Kokumo’s office a few hours after their sitting.
Our swearing-in, triumph of democracy – Osifo
One of the legislators just sworn-in, Barrister Washington Osifo, described what happened at the State House of Assembly in Benin-City today as a triumph of democracy.
While expressing joy that 14 members, who have remained resolute, were sworn-in, he thanked President Buhari for creating the enabling environment to thrive in the state.
He said: “What happened today is a call for service for the courageous lawmakers-elect spearheading the resistance to Godwin Obaseki’s attempt to treat an independent arm of government as a mere extension of his office.’’
On attempt by the state government to prevent the sitting of the 17 members of the Assembly by ordering the renovation of the complex, Osifo said: “What happened is not strange to us because of the undemocratic nature the state is being run by the present government.”
CSOs, activists, others react
Meanwhile, outrage greeted developments at the House of Assembly. The Forum for Progressive Governance and Accountability, condemned what it called the failed invasion of the Assembly Complex.
Secretary of the group, Ohunyon Festus Egbenososa, in a statement, said the failed invasion was an attempt by the APC to take over government through the back door and urged the leadership of the party in Edo to wait till September 19, 2020 to test the popularity of its candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, at the poll.
“The failed invasion of the Assembly Complex at Ring Road, Benin City, by men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad on the orders of leaders of the APC is only an affirmation that the party and its candidate cannot win the governorship election in a fair contest and have resorted to illegal and violent means to topple the legislature and cause crisis in Edo State,” it said
A coalition of Community Based Organisations alleged that strange persons were sighted in the Benin residence of an APC leader before the invasion of the House.
A joint statement by Andrew Ewanta Esq, Comrade David Lawani, Bright Erhauyi and Alfred Ogbonmwan which was read by Ewanta urged security agencies not to allow themselves to be used by politicians to create anarchy in the state.
NBC warns broadcasters against promoting hate speech
Meanwhile, the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, has warned journalists in Edo State against airing content that promote hate speech.
In a statement on Thursday, the NBC said it is monitoring the inciting and indecent comments made by politicians in the state ahead of the September 19 governorship election.
The NBC urged broadcasters to perform the role of peace agents by adhering to the principle of responsibility, accuracy and neutrality.
“The National Broadcasting Commission has monitored and noted with concern, the inflammatory, inciting, and divisive comments, especially, by politicians in Edo State, who, in recent times, have threatened violence and counter violence,” the government agency said.
“It is, therefore, expedient to remind all broadcasters covering the Election Campaign in Edo state to take note of the provisions of the extant Electoral Law(s), the Nigeria Broadcasting Code, and other relevant regulations guiding the broadcast of political content in Nigeria.
“In using political materials for news and current affairs programmes, avoid hate speech; inflammatory, derogatory and divisive remarks or allusions;
“Ensure that a political broadcast is in decent language; not transmit divisive materials that may threaten or compromise the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign state.
“The Broadcaster shall also note that the political objectives of broadcasting mandates the Broadcaster to ‘inculcate in the people, the spirit of tolerance of all shades of opinion’.
“The Commission therefore enjoins all broadcasters to desist from using or allowing its platforms and facilities to be used for the broadcast of contents that may lead to the breakdown of law and order.”
On Tuesday, while unveiling the new amendment to the 6th edition of the broadcasting code in Lagos, NBC stated that it has raised the fine for hate speech from N500,000 to N5 million.
The agency added that the licence of any broadcast organisation could be withdrawn if it pays the fine and continues to condone hate speech.
Stakeholders have, however, criticised the new amendment to the broadcasting code, saying it will control narrative in the media.
Events in Edo, threat to order, says Atiku
Reacting to the development in Edo yesterday, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, said: “Nigeria has been on the edge due to the brinkmanship of those charged with the constitutional leadership. We must, as a nation, not escalate the already tense atmosphere in our polity.
‘’What is happening in Edo State is a threat to constitutional order nationwide, and I strongly urge belligerent forces to rein in their proxies, and abide by the rule of law.
‘’As I have previously said, without the rule of law, there will be no rule at all. The current goings-on portend grave danger, not only to law and order in that state, but to the coming Edo elections.
‘’The people of Edo State should be allowed to choose who they wish to govern them, and that choice is to be made on September 19, 2020. Pending then, everything legally possible must be done to preserve the status quo.’’