By Chuks Okocha, Udora Orizu in Abuja and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
The crisis rocking the Edo State House of Assembly over its inauguration festered yesterday as 17 members removed the Speaker, Hon. Francis Okiye.
The removal, though in controversial circumstances, reflected the political divide between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his erstwhile godfather and predecessor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, whose loyalists spearheaded yesterday’s push aside of Okiye.
Okiye was replaced by Hon. Victor Edoror, representing Esan Central, as the new speaker.
Also elected was Hon. Emma Agbaje (APC, Akoko-Edo II), who became the deputy speaker.
In the spirit of the political divide, Obaseki, who is now the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the upcoming September 19 contest, assured Okiye of his backing even as the All Progressives Congress (APC) flag bearer, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, congratulated Edoror.
The first sign of trouble emerged in the early hours of yesterday when a detachment of policemen swooped on the Assembly complex ostensibly to forestall a run on the chamber by unauthorised persons.
But this would appear a decoy as 14 members, who had been refused entry since the convocation of the Assembly in June last year, gathered in a secret place in Benin where they were reportedly sworn to oaths of allegiance and office by the Deputy Clerk, Mr. Tom Efezokhae.
They, thereafter, removed Okiye and installed Edoror.
The crisis arose from the proclamation of the Assembly by the governor in the night of June last year, with only 9 of the 24 members, holding its inaugural meeting where Okiye was elected speaker. The Assembly was subsequently shut for 14 days.
On July 11, 2019, the House of Representatives intervened and set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the crisis in the Assembly and requested the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to shut down the complex pending the outcome of its investigation.
The House would later give Obaseki an ultimatum to issue a fresh proclamation to enable all members of the Assembly to congregate to elect their leaders. The Senate on July 30 concurred with the request.
But the governor ignored the ultimatum and refused to issue a fresh proclamation.
The matter moved to court on August 3, 2019 with the Federal High Court, sitting in Port Harcourt restraining Obaseki from issuing a fresh proclamation to the Edo State House of Assembly and on September 12, 2019, upheld the proclamation made by the governor and also stopped the National Assembly from taking over the functions of the Assembly.
In the meantime, two of the 14 members loyal to Oshiomhole crossed over to the Obaseki group, while the remaining 12 abstained from the Assembly and refused to present themselves for inauguration, forcing the speaker to declare their seats vacant on December 4, 2019.
But on January 7, 2020 a Federal High Court stopped INEC from conducting by-elections into the 12 seats declared vacant.
THISDAY gathered that yesterday’s push by the 17 lawmakers was given teeth by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, who gave the legal opinion that, enabled them to secure the police protection required to proceed on their course of action.
Analysts, however, faulted the action of the 17 lawmakers, citing the Supreme Court judgment in the case of former Oyo State Governor, Chief Rasheed Ladoja, which declared as unconstitutional legislative sessions held outside the parliamentary building.
Justice Niki Tobi, who read the lead judgment, said: “It appears to me from the intention of the Constitution that the House of Assembly will sit in the building provided for it and for that purpose. By the provision of section 104 of the Constitution, the House shall sit for a period of not less than one hundred and eighty-one days in a year.
“By section 108(1), the Governor of a State may attend a meeting of the House of Assembly either to deliver an address on State affairs or to make such a statement on the policy of the government as he may consider to be of importance to the State.
“In my humble view, a community reading of the two sections show that the intention of the Constitution is to make the House of Assembly sit physically in the building provided for that purpose. If I am wrong and the appellants are right, it will then mean that the governor has to move to a hotel to address the members anytime the House sits there and he wants to take advantage of section 108.”
However, earlier yesterday, a contingent of policemen was said to have taken over the legislative complex, denying access to the building.
The police siege, considered as an attempt to take over the state legislature to pave the way for the removal of the speaker and the sacking of Obaseki drew outrage from a cross-section of the people.
A former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, described the crisis in the state, arising from the irreconcilable differences between Oshiomhole and his successor, Obaseki, as a threat to the forthcoming election in the state.
The PDP Governors’ Forum, chaired by Sokoto State Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, condemned the invasion of the Assembly while the main opposition party urged the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to immediately stop the action and not to provide security cover for the perpetration of illegality by the APC.
How Okiye Was Removed
It was, however, learnt that Hon. Sunday Aghedo of Ovia South-west moved a motion signed by the 14 members-elect calling for Okiye’s removal.
He was seconded by Hon. Ohio Ezomo, (APC- Owan West).
The motion nominating Edoror was said to have been moved by Hon. Washington Osifo (APC Uhunmwode) and seconded by Hon. Eric Okaka (APC, Owan East).
Hon. Chris Okaeben (APC, Oredo West) moved the motion that got Hon. Emma Agbaje (APC, Akoko-Edo II) who acted as speaker extempore to be elected as deputy speaker.
In his address after his election, Edoror said the legislature would focus on its core duties and not pursue the removal of any member of the executive.
He called for unity and togetherness, stating that there was no victor, no vanquished.
Edoror also urged the Edo State Commissioner of Police and the Inspector General of Police and other security agencies to eject the thugs who he claimed invaded the legislative complex in Benin to allow for a rancour-free plenary today.
At the end of the session, Ohio moved the motion for adjournment and announced that plenary will resume today.
In his reaction, Okiye dismissed his removal as a non-issue.
He said: “I don’t want to respond because it is a non-issue.”
Police Barricade Assembly Complex
The premises of the Assembly had been taken over by security men from the Edo State Police Command in the early hours of yesterday.
There was a rumour that the lawmakers loyal to Oshiomhole had perfected plans for sitting at the Assembly complex, which is currently under renovation.
On Wednesday, Okiye had also raised the alarm, alleging that the Governor of Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodimma, and other leaders of APC had perfected plans to invade the Assembly with a view to removing Obaseki.
Therefore, the early morning siege on the Assembly was considered as part of the plot, given the fact that the lawmakers had been meeting within the precincts of the Government House since the legislative building was being renovated.
Okiye later visited the legislative complex where the head of the police officer in charge of the Assembly premises, Mr. Timi Peters, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), denied the alleged takeover, describing it as a rumour.
Okiye, after being briefed by Peters, noted that the official report at his disposal was that the place was being invaded.
“From what you have told me, it is just a rumour. I am sure the rumour will even scare the intending invaders from carrying out the act,” he said.
Obaseki, who came into the Assembly with a retinue of aides and party supporters, assured the people that he will do everything within his constitutional powers to protect the sovereignty of the legislature, noting that President Muhammadu Buhari had always maintained that the rule of law must be adhered to.
He asked Okiye to go about his normal duties, stressing that he is ready to give them protection.
He said: “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 because 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 as nobody in this country is above the constitution and so this morning, Mr. Speaker, go about your normal duties as a parliament the way it should and the way the constitution prescribes.
“For us as an executive, we owe you the entire instrument available to us constitutionally to protect you and to protect the state.”
Shortly after journalists dispersed from the Assembly premises and after the departure of the governor, some persons were seen removing the roof of the building.
In addition, heaps of sand and gravels were also tipped in front of the Assembly gate, probably to prevent people from gaining entry into the place.
Outrage over Police’s Barricade
Reactions, however, poured in shortly with the PDP governors condemning the barricade of the Assembly.
In a statement by the Director-General of PDP Governors Forum, Mr. C.I.D. Maduabum, the governors said: “We condemn unequivocally the police invasion of the Edo State House of Assembly in the early hours of August 6, 2020. The House of Assembly was surrounded and cordoned off by the police without the invitation or request of the legitimate authorities of the state or the House.”
The PDP in its reaction charged the IG to immediately stop the barricade.
The party said the barricade by security agents was a direct coup against the democratic order of Edo State and a recipe for anarchy, chaos and bloodletting.
Addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, urged Adamu to act with dispatch to the barricade, which he said had heightened tension in the state.
He said if the situation was not halted, it would result in a bloody clash as the citizens were already charged to defend their symbol of democracy from a forcible takeover.
The PDP urged the police hierarchy to note that the provocative and lawless act by the APC is part of its plans to overheat the polity and create a security situation with a view of unleashing violence on the people, derail the democratic order in the state and blame it on security agencies.
He said: “We condemn this notorious resort to self- help by the APC and their agents to forcibly take over power in Edo State through the back door.
“Our party has been informed that the plot is to use the illegal security operation to seize the processes of the House of Assembly and illegally inaugurate certain individuals whose seats have been lawfully declared vacant with plans to use them to pull down democratic structure in the state.”
Atiku said the crisis in Edo State could threaten next month’s governorship election in the state.
In a Facebook post yesterday, he, however, asked the warring parties to sheathe their swords and let the people of the state decide who they want to govern them.
“What is happening in Edo State is a threat to constitutional order nationwide, and I strongly urge belligerent forces to reign 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,” he stated.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) also called on Buhari to immediately call Oshiomhole to order and stop the attempt to forcibly take over the Edo State House of Assembly by the police.
CUPP, in a statement issued yesterday by its spokesperson, Mr. Ikenga Ugochinyere, said the attempt to use former members of Edo House of Assembly whose seats had been declared vacant to take over the House was an invitation to anarchy and treasonous.
It urged the president to halt the actions to avoid instigating electoral violence that will consume the nation and its hard-won democracy.
It also called on Obaseki to mobilise the citizens to resist those it described as ”political bandits.”
Okiye also hailed lovers of democracy who rose to the occasion to foil the attempted invasion of the state Assembly complex.
Okiye, who spoke in Benin City, called on “democrats the world over to remain vigilant and keep vigil over the happenings in Edo State as anti-democratic forces are on the prowl and set to undermine core democratic values such as the rule of law and the constitution.”
He also described yesterday’s failed invasion of the Assembly complex as an act of treason.
“The Edo State House of Assembly condemns any attempt to operate the House of Assembly Complex at Ring Road, currently undergoing renovation as the inaugurated members and the Hon. Speaker have relocated the House via a letter widely circulated to a new address at Dennis Osadebay Avenue,” the speaker added.
Ize-Iyamu Congratulates New Speaker
Ize-Iyamu congratulated Edoror, describing his emergence as the end of a deformed and lopsided democracy.
In a congratulatory message signed by the Chairman of the APC State Media Campaign Council, Mr. John Mayaki, he said the emergence of Edoror as speaker was a victory for the state and all constituencies previously denied representation.