The scenario could be likened to a conclave of Catholic Church clerics who usually convene at night to select a new Pope, or better still, a clinically executed military coup carried out by renegade officers, rather than an ostentatious ceremony of a parliament. That was the manner of emergence of the new speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly.
In the gripping melodrama of Monday, 17 June, at the Edo State House of Assembly complex in Benin, when the echo of the gavel sound dulled at about 10.30 p.m. Mr. Frank Okiye (Esan North East 1) was selected as speaker by eight of the 24 lawmakers who secretly met under the cover of darkness. Mr. Yekini Idiaye (Akoko Edo 1) emerged as deputy speaker.
It was the climax of a cold war between the godson governor and the godfather former governor for the control of the House in the run-up to next year’s governorship election in the state. Of recent, there has been no love lost between former Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his successor, Godwin Obaseki.
As the amity between both men turned to enmity, the beleaguered governor is said to be scared stiff that he may either be impeached or given the Akinwumi Ambode (of Lagos) treatment by being denied a second term. So, it was the right time to take a stand.
A former speaker, Mr. Victor Tiger Edoror, who likened the action of the eight members to a coup, insisted that it would not stand the test of time, as the 16 members who were left out would resist it till the end.
Security was tightened at the premises of the Assembly complex on Tuesday, 18 June, following the inauguration by the Clerk of the Assembly, Alhaji Audu Omogbai, to avert a breakdown of law and order. Suspected political thugs loitered around the prescient, in spite of the presence of armed policemen and personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSDC).
Nineteen of the 24 members-elect of the House had, at about 3:00 p.m. on Monday, demanded that Governor Obaseki openly issue a proclamation letter and pointedly accused him of attempting to truncate democracy, during a press conference at the state secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Benin City.
Obaseki, who had apparently delayed the inauguration of the Eight Session of the Assembly as a result of the bitter tussle for the speakership position between a returnee, Okiye, a loyalist of his, and Edoror, a loyalist of the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor, Comrade Oshiomhole, apparently had a surprise package for his opponents. It was like the parade of the victors through the main streets of Benin, when the APC won all the 24 House of Assembly seats in the March 9 election, which the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described as massively rigged.
While they raved at the press conference, the act was being perfected in Government House. It was a simple plot. The mandatory letter of invitation for the proclamation was to be sent only to “loyal” lawmakers-elect who would do the governor’s bidding and elect his chosen ones as presiding and principal officers in the all-APC chambers. The proclamation was to be in the dead of the night well after office hours.
A former Commissioner for Education, Mr. Julius Osifo, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, the group of 19, pointed out that the tenure of the last Assembly expired on 7 June, 2019.
He said: “Today, we members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly wish to bring to the knowledge of the people of Edo State and the general public, the attempt by Governor Obaseki to truncate democracy.
“The governor, by virtue of Section 105 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), is constitutionally required to immediately issue a letter of proclamation for the inauguration of the new Assembly, to avoid vacuum.”
They lawmakers-elect noted that “there cannot be democracy without legislature, because it is the legislature that give credence to democracy.”
They accused the governor of usurping the powers of the legislature by deliberately refusing to allow the House of Assembly to function, two weeks after the dissolution of the previous session by the former speaker, Kabiru Adjoto.
A visibly angry Osifo insisted that no matter how powerful, Obaseki could not impose a speaker on the legislators, conceding, however, that at best, he could only lobby for his preferred candidates as was witnessed recently at the National Assembly.
Echoing Edoror, Osifo who spoke again after the proclamation, said that they were not invited to the inauguration ceremony, as they would have been present, if they were duly invited. He said the Clerk called them at about 5:30 p.m. to inform them that he had been called from the Government House and promised to call back 30 minutes later, but they never heard from him again.
He charged: “Some of our brothers who were supposed to be at a meeting with us were absent. We called them and they were not picking their calls. At 9:30 p.m., photographs began to filter into our phones suggesting that a kangaroo Assembly was being inaugurated. We were disappointed. One of us was spotted with a pair of knickers and slippers taking oath of office. That was an offence in the hallowed chamber. They humiliated him.
“Two of them were also kidnapped to make up the nine members; what they needed, because they lack understanding of what a quorum could mean, was nine members. There can be no quorum until the House is properly inaugurated. “What the law requires is inauguration of the entire members. They got four and said they had a quorum. It was for the Clerk to announce or cause invitation to be sent to us. That was missing.
“They gave information of the inauguration only to those they wanted to be there. We would have been there.”
But the state chairman of APC, Mr. Anslem Ojezua, defended the action, insisting that the leadership of the party had agreed on the composition of the Assembly leadership.
“I don’t see any constitutional crisis, because we met and agreed as a party on how the leadership of the Assembly should be constituted.”
Sounding upbeat, Ojezua emphasized that: “As you can see, everything is moving smoothly. There is no problem at the moment. No one has violated any section of the constitution. I don’t know what they are getting unduly anxious about.”
The crisis degenerated into a violent confrontation Tuesday evening, as the 15 ‘renegade’ lawmakers-elect, including Mr. Seidu Oshiomhole (Etsako West II), younger brother of the APC national chairman, were attacked by some suspected hoodlums.
Some of the lawmakers who were said to have sustained serious inquiries were rushed to the hospital for treatment where they are still recuperating. During the violent assault, the elected legislators who vowed to resist the emergence of Okiye, an Obaseki loyalist, were severely beaten up by the goons who inflicted injuries on them.
According to an aide of one of the lawmakers who would not want his name in print, the attack, which happened at a hotel in downtown Benin during a strategic meeting by the lawmakers-elect, saw both hotel staff and guests running for safety.
Edoror led his colleagues to the police headquarters in Benin to make a report of the assault.
Watchers of the Edo political landscape said from deliberate shunning two high profile events, the recent 49th Founder’s Day celebration of the University of Benin, Auchi Teaching Hospital (UBTH) and the just concluded Okpekpe Road Race, where Oshiomhole put in an appearance, there seems no doubt that things are no longer at ease between the duo of Oshiomhole and Obaseki.
A top member of the APC who would not want his name in print told Sunday Tribune that the governor deliberately stayed away from the two events, so as to avoid Oshiomhole who is said not to be comfortable with the way Obaseki is piloting the affairs of the party and the state since he took over the reins of government in the in November of 2016.
At the UBTH’s Founder’s Day, the embarrassing absence of Obaseki was noticeable, considering the fact that apart from Oshiomhole, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon; his wife, Victoria; the representative of the revered Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Ewuare 11; Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion; and a host of other top dignitaries were present.
He lamented that: “Obaseki was not only absent, but also did not send a representative to the event of such magnitude. His seat, beside Oshiomhole’s, was conspicuously vacant. It is no longer a secret that the amity between the godfather and godson is fast turning to enmity. That is why he (Obaseki) now refuses to attend any event where Oshiomhole is present. Things are no longer at ease.”
Against the backdrop of the mounting opposition to the governor, the source explained that, Obaseki’s godfather would have no choice than to shop for another candidate from Edo South Senatorial district to complete the governor’s tenure, just like in the case of former Governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State who was shoved aside by his godfather, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, following an outcry against the former by the party members.
One question seems to be agitating minds of political analysts. Why the fall out between the incumbent governor and his predecessor? In all of these, Oshiomhole has maintained silence, but a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Samson Osagie, who is at the vanguard of opposition to Obaseki’s second term dream attempted to unravel the puzzle.
Osagie, a co- convener of the APC Rescue Team, said: “When you elect a government in a democracy, it is not because those elected are better than those who elected them.”
He noted that the purpose of a political party was to bring about a government, in order to achieve service delivery for the society, “not to turn against the party members and then capitalise on the vulnerability of the public.”
A former speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Thomas Okosun; former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Patrick Ikhariale; Chief Francis Inegbeneki; and co- convener, Mr Henry Idahagbon, among other party leaders from Edo North, Edo Central and Edo South Senatorial zones are also having issues with the governor.
A former political adviser to Oshiomhole, Mr. Charles Idahosa, demanded that the the former governor should come out clean on the crisis rocking the APC in the state.
Idahosa said the prolonged silence of the national chairman, in the face of the crisis orchestrated by those who claimed to be acting on his behalf, could be taken for consent.
Another group, Edo People›s Movement (EPM), has also joined the opposition to Obaseki, with a solemn vow to stop him from securing the party›s ticket for reelection.
Idahosa said: “Governor Obaseki came out to say he does not have problem with Oshiomhole and that such news is fake. Oshiomhole›s refusal to talk means he is supporting him.”
The die, no doubt, is cast between the godfather and his acolyte. Only time will tell how this ‘peculiar mess’ is cleaned up and in whose favour it will be.