The 14 elected members of the Edo State House of Assembly who were not sworn in since the inauguration of the Assembly in 2019 have written to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), highlighting the alleged infractions of Governor Godwin Obaseki.
The members, joined by three members from the faction already sworn in, wrote through their counsel, Dr Ehiogie West-Idahosa of West Idahosa & Co., saying the governor’s action in not allowing them to be sworn in was unconstitutional. This, they said, underlined the disequilibrium in the political stability of the state and the resultant insecurity that had characterised the state.
In the letter with the reference number WIC/AB/W2/1024/20, and obtained by Saturday PUNCH, the 17 aggrieved lawmakers, said to be loyal to a former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, said contrary to the standard practice of inaugurating the House with possibly all members present, the governor, on June 17, 2019, chose to inaugurate the House at odd hours with only about nine members in attendance.
They alleged that the agents of the governor prevented them from attending the inauguration, noting that they had done everything possible to remedy the situation but to no avail till date.
The letter titled, ‘Urgent and nationalistic appeal to intervene in the restoration of constitutional democracy in Edo State of Nigeria’, dated August 3, 2020 and signed by West-Idahosa, the principal partner, added, “Since then, the Assembly has been run by nine members for no justifiable reason whatsoever. By failing to inaugurate about 14 members-elect of the House, there is a huge social and political disequilibrium in the state.
“The rule of law has been seriously eroded and replaced by strong-arm tactics in Edo State. This in itself is anti-democratic and ought not to be allowed in a democratic government such as the one operated in Nigeria.
“Over 60 per cent of the population of Edo State are unrepresented in the House of Assembly and are therefore missing out on constituency projects, employment and other forms of government patronage. This has escalated poverty levels in such constituencies and there is a corresponding increase in crime and general insecurity in such areas.”
They said contrary to Section 109 (g) of the constitution (as altered), Obaseki dumped the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party even when there was no “nationally acknowledged” faction in the APC .
They pointed out that democracy is founded on majority rule but that the 17 lawmakers were unable to do their job.
The letter added, “It is undemocratic and unacceptable to any sovereign nation that the House of Assembly of one of the states making up the federation of Nigeria is operated by only seven members out of the 24 elected.”
They said since the 17 members were elected on the platform of the APC, it is legally and politically incorrect to allow a party with minority membership keep 17 members-elect out of the House.
They said since the proclamation of the House had been done and the inauguration of the House “purportedly effected”, it is left for members who have not taken an oath to be allowed to and carry out their duties in the interest of justice.
“There is no feature of the law which precludes the said honourable members from taking their oath with the cooperation of sworn in members and the clerk of the House.”
The 17 members, who have also pledged loyalty to APC candidate in the September 19 governorship election in the state, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, therefore appealed to the AGF to intervene by restoring a functional House of Assembly in the state. The letter contained the names and numbers of the 17 members.
They said, “We therefore respectfully appeal to you as the Chief Law Officer of the federation to invoke your power pursuant to Section 150 of the 1999 constitution (as altered) to arrest the breakdown of constitutional democracy in Edo State by intervening to restore a functional House of Assembly in line with the provisions of Sections 90, 91, 101 and 104 of the 1999 constitution (as altered). Our clients shall be very obliged to have your intervention in order to save constitutional democracy in Edo State.”
How they secured AGF’s backing within 24 hours
Sequel to receiving their letter on Tuesday, August 4, Malami, wrote the police IG within 24 hours directing him to provide security for the inauguration of the 14 members, which took place at an unknown location on Thursday. The Assembly’s Deputy Clerk, Mr Tom Efezokhae, administered the oath of office on the members.
He, however, cautioned that the members already sworn in should not be prevented from discharging their duties.
The AGF’s letter obtained by Saturday PUNCH on Friday revealed that he (the minister) received a letter from West Idahosa & Co., on August 4, 2020, wrote the IG in a letter dated August 5, directing him to provide security for the exercise while the inauguration took place on August 6.
The AGF’s letter, with reference number HAGF/IGP/2020/Vol1/4, dated August 5, 2020, partly read, “The law firm has requested that the affected members-elect, who are willing to discharge their constitutional roles, should be inaugurated or sworn in by the clerk of the House.
“In view of the foregoing and in order to ensure constitutional compliance with the dictates of Sections 91 to 96 of the 1999 constitution (as altered) and also to prevent breakdown of law peace, law and order, I am requesting that you kindly provide adequate security measures for the purpose of the inauguration of the concerned members and the subsequent sittings of the Edo State House of Assembly.”
The inauguration heightened the tension in the state on Thursday, especially as the police and personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps took over the entrance of the Assembly Complex, which was shut and was undergoing renovation by the government.
Apart from electing Victor Edoror as the new speaker and Emmanuel Agbaje as the deputy speaker, the 17 factional members also ‘impeached’ Francis Okiye as the speaker and Roland Asoro as the deputy speaker.
In a related development, in an open letter to the AGF via an advertorial in The PUNCH on Friday, Okiye, the embattled speaker, said he was reluctant to conclude that the “breathtaking speed” of his (the AGF’s) speed of response to West-Idahosa’s letter had anything to do with the fact that the governor had left the APC for the PDP.
In highlighting the pending and concluded litigation on the Edo Assembly crisis, Okiye said it was clear that all matters relating to the functioning or otherwise of the Assembly and/or its members are sub judice.
He added, “It would therefore be clear that the course of action which you have urged upon the Inspector-General of Police would in fact amount to a grievous assault on the rule of law, separation of powers and respect for judicial authority.”
He urged the AGF not to allow his prestigious office to cause mayhem in the state, adding that he should take urgent steps to ensure the situation does not degenerate further.