October 26, 2021

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Two years after, fate of Edo lawmakers-elect still hanging

Fourteen persons elected by the Edo State House of Assembly 2 years ago are yet to take their seats in the legislative house after failing to appear for inauguration along with their collegues in June 2019. Daily Trust on Sunday revisits the interactable crisis.

Two years after the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly, the fate of 14 lawmakers-elect is still hanging in the balance, no thanks to the feud between the state governor, Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.

Our correspondent reports that the development recently reignited the battle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole and their supporters in the state.

Obaseki believes the 14 members-elect have lost the right to the parliament, but Oshiomhole is of the opinion that they have committed no offence.

The crisis propped up shortly before the inauguration of the state House of Assembly, but it climaxed on June 17, 2019 when, upon the governor’s proclamation of the parliament, some members-elect purportedly refused to subscribe to the oath of office, thus leading to the inauguration of 10 out of the 24 members and leaving 14 in the wilderness.

The crisis started shortly after the state Assembly election, following alleged disagreement between Obaseki and his then godfather, Oshiomhole, over who would become the Speaker of the House.

While Obaseki was said to have wanted Frank Okiye as Speaker, Oshiomhole preferred Victor  Edoro. Following the disagreement between the two political titans, 10 of the members-elect were inaugurated by the clerk of the House, Yahaya Omogbai.

The House, thereafter, elected Frank Okiye as Speaker, but the 14 members-elect contended that a quorum was not formed as only 10 members-elect attended the inauguration. They claimed that the inauguration of the 7th Assembly took place at night and that they were not duly notified by the clerk.

On December 14, 2019, the seats of the 14 members-elect were declared vacant by the leadership of the House.  Those affected are Victor Edoror (Esan Central), Washington Osifo (Uhunmwonde), Vincent Uwadiae (Ovia North East 2), Ugiagbe Dumez (Ovia North East 1) and Sunday Aghedo (Ovia South West).

Others are Crosby Eribo (Egor), Chris Okaeben (Oredo West), Kingsley Ugabi (Etsako East), Ganiyu Audu (Etsako West 1), Seidu Oshiomhole (Etsako West 2), Oshomah Ahmed (Etsako Central) and Michael Ohio-Ezomo (Owan West).

Also affected are Uyi Ekhosuehi (Oredo East) and Henry Okaka (Owan East), who were sworn-in but failed to meet the mandatory 181-day sitting requirement for a member in a calendar year.

Meanwhile, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in a judgement delivered on September 12, 2019, declared that Obaseki’s proclamation of the House of Assembly was lawful.

It held that the Assembly was duly inaugurated and that the governor or any other person could not issue another proclamation.

The members-elect, dissatisfied with the judgement, filed another suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, challenging the constitutionality of the declaration of their seats vacant. The suit is still pending.

As the crisis ranged without soft landing for the members-elect, they carried out a purported inauguration at an undisclosed location in the state capital prior to the September 19 governorship election won by Obaseki.

The faction elected Victor Edoror, representing Esan Central as Speaker and Emmanuel Agbaje, representing Akoko-Edo constituency as his deputy.

Pundits believe that the crisis took a dangerous trend when Governor Obaseki decamped to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after he was disqualified by the screening committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

However, the issue of the members-elect resurfaced in a congratulatory message by the governorship candidate of the APC in the September 2020 election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu to Obaseki following his victory at the Supreme Court.

Ize-Iyamu, while congratulating the governor, urged him to consider resolving issues with the 14 lawmakers-elect for the benefit of the people.

“Obaseki is in a vantage position to consider an out-of-court settlement of the issue in the overall interest of our state.

“I want to appeal to you to kindly consider the pertinent issues of  the 14 constituencies, including the two in your local government, Oredo and the two in your deputy’s local government, Etsako West, that are presently without representation at the Edo State Assembly,” he stated.

But Obaseki, in his reply, stated that the court would decide the fate of the 14 members-elect as the matter is before it.

Shortly after the governor’s response, Oshiomhole, during a stakeholders meeting in Edo North senatorial district, said the 14 members-elect, who have not been inaugurated, did not commit any sin, but “are being denied their rights to be sworn-in to represent their constituents.”

Pundits believe that the statements of the trio have opened another fresh battle in the state.

But Douglas Ogbankwa, a lawyer and convener of the Vanguard for the Independence of the Judiciary, faulted the decision of House to declare their seats vacant.

“If the constitution mandates that there must be at least 180 sitting days in a year (which is one calendar year), it is impossible to have declared those seats vacant early in December 2019 because from June 17, 2019 to early December, 2019, you did not even have 180 days,” he said.

He said Nigeria was a society governed by laws and not on the whims and caprices of one man. He called on political officeholders to build institutions that would outlive their stay in office so that those institutions would build others when they leave office

On his part, Tony Abolo, a media consultant, said the matter was in court and should be left for the judiciary to decide. According to him, politicians do not  like to follow the rule of law but take the laws into their hands.

“If they are so concerned about the 14 lawmakers-elect, why did they wait till the Supreme Court decided the case in Obaseki’s favour before raising the issue of settling the matter?

“It is politically dangerous now because you don’t keep your enemy inside the House; and they have been rebelling for about two years. So they should allow the court to decide, and if the court says they should come back, so be it, and if it says no, so be it,” he said.

Also speaking, a chieftain of the APC, Henry Idahagbon, a lawyer, urged the governor to inaugurate the members as politics is over. He said the issues that led to their not being inaugurated were pre-election matters and political.

“There is no more reason to fight or agitate for anything because the election and the court have settled everything. We should move on and bring everyone on board. Running the Assembly with few members will cripple the legislature, and that is not good for our democracy. We need the three arms of government to move the state forward,” he said.

On his part, a resident of the state who gave his name as Odion, said the issue should be settled amicably in the interest of the state.

He said though the members-elect made a mistake by listening to some leaders, that should not be a yardstick to punish their constituencies.