Nearly three months after the inauguration of Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu as Governor and Deputy Governor of Edo State respectively for a second term in office, constituents of. 14 state constituencies have raised concerns over their non-representation in the House of Assembly in nearly two years.
Mr Obaseki and his deputy were inaugurated for a second term in office on November 12, 2020 after the winning the September 19 governorship election in the state.
Before then, 14 lawmakers-elect had their seats declared vacant in December 2019 by the former factional Speaker of the House, Frank Okiye, for being absent from the House proceedings for the mandatory 181 days.
The crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly began when only 12 out of 24 lawmakers-elect were inaugurated under controversial circumstances in the late hours of June 17, 2019 following a proclamation by the governor.
Those affected were Vincent Uwadiae, Ovia North-East II; Ugiagbe Dumez, Ovia North-East I; Washington Osifo, Uhunmwode; Victor Edoror, Esan Central; Kingsley Ugabi, Etsako East and Michael Ohio-Ezomo, Owan West.
Others were Sunday Aghedo, Ovia South-West; Chris Okaeben, Oredo West; Crosby Eribo, Egor; Aliyu Oshiomhole, Etsako West II; Oshomah Ahmed, Etsako Central, and Ganiyu Audu, Etsako West I.
All of them are political allies of a former national chairperson of the All Progressives Congress, Adam Oshiomhole, who was engaged in a protracted political battle with Governor Obaseki.
Two other lawmakers from Oredo East and Owan East, who were sworn-in, also had their seats declared vacant because they were said to have failed to meet the mandatory 181-day sitting requirement for a member in a calendar year.
The former Speaker consequently had called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct by-elections within 90 days in the affected constituencies.
But on August 6, 2020, the crisis took a different turn following the ‘inauguration’ of the 12 lawmakers in a private residence in Benin. Three other lawmakers joined their aggrieved colleagues to elect Victor Edoror as a factional speaker.
Over 1.6 million constituents affected
From the 2006 population census data for Edo State, over 1.6million constituents may not be getting the needed representation in the state assembly. The number could even be more, apparently.
A breakdown showed that Ovia North-East 1 and 2 constituencies has a population of over 155,344 persons; Uhunmwode, 121,749; Esan Central, 105,242; Etsako East, 147,335; Owan West, 99,056; Ovia South-West, 138,072; Oredo, 374,515; Egor, 340,287; Etsako West, 127,718; and Etsako Central, 94,228.The implication is that the voices of over 1.6million people are not being heard in the House.
Concerns by lawmakers, constituents
The factional speaker, Victor Edoror, told that the constituencies of the 14 lawmakers, including himself, whose seats have been declared vacant, are currently not having the expected representation in the assembly.
Although, the Mr Edoror-led faction of the Assembly claimed to have been sitting since they were inaugurated on August 6, but their resolutions do not get to Governor Obaseki.
Mr Edoror said, “It is not as if we are not doing what we should do but the government of the day has chosen to select constituencies to listen to. So, my constituency and that of others are not being represented.”
The factional speaker urged the government to obey the rules of democracy, adding that Nigerians are watching with disappointment the development in Edo State.
“As we speak, in the eye of the law, what is happening in Edo is illegal government because before you can have a government you must have the judiciary, legislature, and executive. One organ cannot be having ‘k-leg’ (defective) and you think you are running a government because all decisions that are taken in the state are no decisions until the Assembly is well constituted,” Mr Edoror said.
But Marcus Onobun, the second factional Speaker, says he is worried that several constituencies are currently not represented in the Assembly.
Mr Onobun, whose 10-man led assembly is recognised and loyal to the administration of Mr Obaseki, said the available lawmakers were stretched to do the job of the 24-member Assembly.
He, however, admitted that representatives from each constituency would have been in the best position to speak for their constituents.
The speaker said, “Yes I am worried, but as representative of the people, we have to do the business of Edo. We do the job of the 24 of us at the moment, so, I do not see a lack of representation. The only difference is that you cannot get an Esan man to speak for an Etsako man the way an Etsako man will speak for his people.”
Shine Omokhuale, a constituent of Esan Central State Constituency, said there had been no constituency project in his area because their representative was shut out of the assembly.
He said what is happening in the Edo assembly was the case of the governor usurping the powers of the legislature.
Mr Omokhuale said, “The fault may be in the constitution because under a real democratic system should the House of Assembly be under the governor? It should be an arm of its own. The governor is elected by the people and the same with the members of the House of Assembly.
Friday Osaro, a constituent of Ovia South-West State Constituency, said the present impasse in the House has silenced the voices of the electorate.
Mr Osaro said, “It is like we do not exist. We have been cut off from the development plans in the state. No representative and every effort to resolve this has not been successful because the governor does not want it at all.
Governor Obaseki’s inability to resolve the assembly crisis “shows his poor leadership qualities”, he said.
Similarly, Yakubu Musa, a resident of Auchi whose representative in the House, Aliyu Oshiomhole, is among those shut out, said he was not happy that his constituency is not represented in the assembly.
Mr Musa, a former chairman of Etsako West Local Government Area, said the current composition of the assembly negates the number stipulated by the Nigerian constitution.
It appeared the governor has made up his mind on the matter and painfully the people would have to wait for the long process of a legal tussle to be over, he said.
The way forward?
The factional speakers, Messrs Edoror and Onobun have offered their suggestions for the way forward.
“We are all members of the Edo State House of Assembly and not until our inauguration, Edo does not seem to have an Assembly. Before you can have an Assembly you must obey section 91 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It stipulates that for a state to have an Assembly in Nigeria you must have membership not less than 24,” Mr Edoror said.
“So, having less in an assembly is not an assembly.
“It is the majority members that decide while the minority have their say. I am the only Speaker that has been elected in Edo under 17 members. Every other speaker claiming to be speaker, to the law, is null and void and it is fake,” he added.
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Mr Onobun, on the other hand, said the matter was beyond him.
“The matter has gone beyond me as Speaker. I was part of those 10 members that took a resolution after they waited for 181 days where they refused to show up for inauguration to represent their people their seats should be declared vacant.
“This is politics, if they can find the solution, good. I foresaw a House of 24 before I came in, but that we are only 10 doing the job of 24 members, it is not easy on us at all. I hope that someday, the House will be fully represented,” he said.
Mr Obaseki said he did not have the power to bring back the 14 lawmakers.
“They were listening to their godfather who kept hoping and promising that he would unconstitutionally get the state House of Assembly to re-issue a proclamation even after the court had settled the matter.
“For more than 180 days they did not come. They refused to represent the people. Those seats became vacant; that’s what the constitution says. They went to court after the seats were declared vacant by the Speaker. There is nothing I can do about that at this time,” the governor said, according to a report in the Punch newspaper.
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