There is no end in sight to the Edo State House of Assembly crisis. Only 12 lawmakers have been attending sessions. Correspondent OSAGIE OTABOR examines the activities of the divided legislative arm.
In few weeks time, the seventh Edo State House of Assembly would round up its first first business calendar, despite criticism by some politicians and the Edo Peoples Movement (EPM) that there is presently no Assembly. Last month, the legislative arm extended its business calendar by 21 days to enable it pass some critical bills before it.
Governor Godwin Obaseki has signed the first bill passed by the Assembly, led by Speaker Francis Okiye, into law. The bill establishes the Edo State College of Agriculture with campus in the three senatorial districts. The new law created one College of Agriculture, which is made up of the School of Agricultural Technology and Engineering situated at Iguoriakhi; the School of Aquaculture and Marine Technology located at Agenebode and the School of Forestry and Environmental Technology located at Uromi.
Obaseki said the law would enable the agricultural sector get a new lease of life. The new institution train the needed manpower to drive and sustain the ongoing reforms in the state’s agricultural sector.
Obaseki said the three schools would have one governance arrangement and would partner with private investors in the state as work would commence in the different schools with the signing of the bill into law.
“I want to assure citizens of the state that this first law under the seventh House of Assembly is quite significant. With the law, we will swing into action to commence building of the schools,” he added.
The first bill was passed by 10 lawmakers that have been attending plenary since June when the Assembly was proclaimed by Obaseki. Only 12 lawmakers have been inaugurated, but two of them joined 12 other members-elect yet to be inaugurated.
Besides passing the College of Agriculture Bill, the Assembly has passed other resolution and attended to several petitions, which perhaps, showed that the Assembly is at peace and moving on without other lawmakers.
It was the belief of many that the Sallah visit of Obaseki to the National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, would made the 12 members-elect end the war and present themselves for inauguration, but that was not to be. Some politicians said the 12 members-elect were waiting for the National Assembly to return from recess to act on its threat to take over functions of the Edo Assembly should Obaseki fail to issue a fresh proclamation. There are, however, several suits filed at various courts barring the National Assembly from taking over the Edo Assembly functions.
In one of the suits filed in Port Harcourt, River State capital, by the Deputy Speaker, Yekini Idiaye, and another member, Henry Okhuarobo, Justice Kolawole Omotosho declared that the National Assembly lacked power to take over the functions of any House of Assembly in the country, except through a court order.
Justice Omotosho also ruled that the National Assembly lacked the power to direct Obaseki, to issue a fresh proclamation to the House of Assembly, as that would amount to extending the tenure of members of the House of Assembly.
Omotosho said: “There is nothing before the Court showing that the Edo State House of Assembly is unable to sit. Some elected members have been inaugurated. The House has been carrying out its legislative duties.
“The National Assembly lacks the power to take over the Edo State House of Assembly. It amounts to taking over the functions of the Edo State House of Assembly. The House of Assembly is not an appendage of the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly lacks the power to seal-up or direct anybody to seal-up up the Edo State House of Assembly. The Nigerian Constitution is a federal constitution and National Assembly cannot unilaterally decide that Edo State House of Assembly is in crisis and seal-up same.
“It is only a court of law that has the power to make findings, particularly after listening to parties, to decide the National Assembly can take over a House of Assembly.
“I hold that it is the court that has the power to define and hold that Edo State House of Assembly cannot function and the National Assembly can take over.
“As far as the law is concerned, the governor of Edo State has given a proclamation. The National Assembly has no power to direct the Governor to issue a fresh Proclamation. The Governor is the Chief Executive of the state and cannot be controlled by the National Assembly.
“The Court will be extending the tenure of members of the Edo State House of Assembly, if it holds that the governor should issue fresh proclamation. Nigeria is a federal state and state governments are autonomous. Our political actors must see it like that and treat them as such.”
But, the EPM at its recent meeting in Auchi, headquarters of Estako West local government area, expressed dissatisfaction with. The Assembly, alleging that the minority is operating as a parliament. It urged Obaseki to give peace a chance by carrying out proper parliamentary inauguration of 24-members, in line with the resolution of the two chambers of National Assembly.
Oshiomhole said he refused to recognise Okiye as Speaker because he emerged through undemocratic norms.
What next for the 12 members-elect now that the Court has ruled that the Assembly is legal and the National Assembly lacked powers to take over its functions? Will they still rely on Abuja powers?
Some lawyers who spoke said the law is silent on what would happened to a member-elect that refused to appear for inauguration. The lawyers said it is their respective constituents that would protest their absence which may lead to fresh election being conducted since there would be no seat to be declared vacant.
By Osagie Otabor