In 2014, the Edo House of Assembly was engulfed in a crisis that resulted in the emergence of two parallel leaderships that sat separately. The crisis was latently triggered by the then ruling party at the national level, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while Edo Government, led by Gov. Adams Oshiomhole of the all Progressives Congress (APC), resisted the planned imposition of House leadership on the members.
During the crisis, the PDP faction sat at the Anthony Enahoro Assembly Complex, King’s Square, Benin City, while the government-backed faction sat at the old House of Assembly building, inside Government House, also in Benin. The crisis was triggered by the suspension of the Deputy Speaker, Festus Ebea, (APC), representing Esan Southeast, and three other APC members who defected to the PDP. They were suspended for misconduct and violation of House rules after they lost the legal battle to stop the House from suspending them.
The four APC members who defected to the PDP teamed up to elect Ebea as acting Speaker. They also suspended the Speaker, Uyi Igbe, and six other APC members for alleged behavior that brought the integrity of the House to serious disrepute. The 15 APC legislators of the Uyi Igbe-faction eventually relocated from the Anthony Enahoro Assembly complex at the Kings Square to the Old Assembly Chamber inside the Government House due to Police restrictions at the complex.
The Edo Police Command, in a statement issued by its Public Relations Officer, DSP Noble Uwoh, said that the Police would not allow any faction of the lawmakers to gain entrance into the Assembly complex. Nevertheless, the PDP lawmakers gained entry into the complex and had a plenary session with Festus Ebea presiding.
The lawmakers sat with the mace, the sergeant-at-arms and the clerk, where they re-validated the suspension of the eight APC members and formalized the election of the suspended Deputy Speaker as the acting Speaker. The suspended legislators in their plenary session, presided over by Ebea, passed a resolution calling for the freezing of the Assembly’s accounts. It also directed all banks and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop forthwith any transaction with the Uyi Igbe-led APC lawmakers. This was the situation in 2014.
The 2014 scenario is replaying itself in 2019, with a minor modification. This time around, the crisis started even before the inauguration. Secondly, it is a House divided against itself, as all the members belong to the APC, but pitched camps in factions ahead of the inauguration.
Nineteen out of the 24 Assembly members-elect, on June 17, called on Gov. Godwin Obaseki, to immediately inaugurate the 7th Assembly following the expiration of the 6th legislature on June 7. The lawmakers said they would resist any attempt by the governor to impose any leadership on the House.
Washington Osifo, spokesman for the lawmakers, said the tenure of the last Assembly expired on June 7, adding that the governor had refused to proclaim the House as required by law.
“The governor by virtue of Section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), is constitutionally required to issue a letter of proclamation for the inauguration of the new Assembly to avoid vacuum. All states of the federation have inaugurated their Houses of Assembly; Gov. Obaseki has deliberately refused to allow the Assembly to function, thus usurping the powers of the legislators. The governor no matter how powerful cannot impose individuals either as Speaker or Deputy Speaker on the legislators. At best, he can only lobby for his preferred candidates as was recently witnessed at the National Assembly,” he said.
However, on Tuesday, June 19, Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Strategy, issued a statement informing the public that the Assembly was inaugurated the previous day, at 3:00 pm with nine members, who elected Frank Okiye as Speaker. “The much-anticipated inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly took place in Benin around 3 p.m. on Monday, June 17, 2019. The Clerk of the Edo House of Assembly, Alhaji Audu Omogbai, ushered the members-elect into the chamber and read out the letter of proclamation transmitted to the Office of the Clerk by the Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki.
“After reading the letter, the clerk proclaimed the House and the members-elect began the process of electing the House leadership, with Frank Okiye of Esan North-East Constituency I, emerging as Speaker, while Yekini Idiaye of Akoko Edo Constituency I, was elected as Deputy Speaker. “Upon completion of the process of swearing-in, Okiye took charge of proceedings.” Other members-elect present were: Nosa Okunbor, Henry Okuarobo, Uyi Ekhosuehi, Marcus Onobun, Ephraim Anehbosele, Roland Asoro and Eric Okaka.
Mr Anselm Ojezua, Chairman, Edo chapter of the APC, who reacted on the election of the new House leadership, said that party supremacy prevailed. Ojezua also said by that inauguration, Gov. Obaseki has fulfilled the constitutional requirement through the transmission of the proclamation letter to the clerk of the House. He also said that the emergence of the new leadership and principal officers were in line with the decision of the party.
On why only nine out of the 24 members-elect who were all elected under the party were inaugurated at night, the party chairman said he wouldn’t know when the proclamation letter was transmitted to the house. He also said that from information gathered from the clerk of the House, only 10 of the 24 members had so far satisfied the requirement on the declaration of their assets.
Paul Ohonbamu, the Commissioner for Information, debunked insinuation that the delay was due to power tussle between the immediate-past governor, Adams Oshiomhole and the incumbent. According to him, there is no fight between the APC National Chairman and the governor.
Whichever way the crisis is resolved; analysts were unanimous that the standard procedure is for citizens to watch on live television how the leadership of those they elected to represent them is done. Nigerians watched live on their television screens, the election of principal officers of the 9th National Assembly. The same cannot be said to have occurred in Edo State. Governors are not emperors, though some might think they are. The people of Edo were denied the opportunity to watch live, like in many states, the emergence of the Assembly’s principal officers.