By EHICHIOYA EZOMON
The contentious September 19, 2020 governorship election in Edo State ended relatively peaceful, such that polity watchers and the people thought the stakeholders had turned a new page.
But members of the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) had an ace up their sleeve, re-enacting the episodical changing of the Assembly principal officers at the drop of a hat.
The sixth session of the Assembly (2015-2019) had the unenviable record of four Speakers in four years, and the seventh session (2019-2023) appears striving to equal or beat that record.
On October 12, 2020, members of the “midnight” Assembly impeached Speaker Frank Okiye (Esan North East), elected on June 17, 2019, and replaced him with Marcus Onobun (Esan West).
It’s the second “impeachment” in two months, as the Assembly’s un-inaugurated 14-member faction had “sacked” Okiye on August 6, and “replaced” him with Victor Edoror (Esan Central).
Surely, the latter removal was of no effect, as the seats of the unsworn 14 members had been “declared vacant,” for being absent from the Assembly for over 181 days – the mandatory number of days lawmakers are to attend plenary in a year.
But Okiye’s replacement by his camp stood, and was lucky to be recalled, barely 72 hours, from suspension on Wednesday, October 14, and his impeachment commuted to resignation on the strength of “appeals” by the lawmakers’ constituents.
How did the current session of the Assembly get to this sorry pass? It began in June 2019 when the 24-Members-elect were to be sworn in after the expiration of the Sixth Assembly on June 7.
An otherwise seamless process became complicated due to the proxy war between Governor Obaseki and former Governor Adams Oshiomhole, over whose camp should lead the Assembly.
While Obaseki’s five, six-member faction canvassed for Okiye as Speaker, the Oshiomhole camp of initial 19 members picked Edoror for the post, and accused Obaseki of plotting to scuttle democracy by refusing to proclaim the Assembly, as others in the country.
Yet, as Obaseki sent in the proclamation letter on June 14, for the Assembly inauguration, the disagreement lingered tillJune 17 when nine of the 24-Members-elect were sworn-in at past 9 p.m.
The inaugural “absurdity” rested on three Members-elect, one in shorts, allegedly “kidnapped” from a meeting, ferried to the Assembly complex, and forced to take the constitutional oath.
Obaseki, backed by court rulings, thwarted efforts by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the National Assembly (NASS) to reverse the inauguration.
Save that “midnight” launch, the business of lawmaking of the Edo Assembly has been conducted at the Government House in Benin City, on the pretext that the complex needed urgent rehabilitation.
It’s a calculated strategy by the Obaseki camp to stem a feared impeachment of the governor by the Oshiomhole-backed 14-Members-elect, who, out of abundance of caution, had fled Edo State and hibernated in Abuja at Oshiomhole’s behest.
But in the middle of the 2020 campaigns, the long-expected happened, as activities returned to the complex on August 6, when the 14 unsworn Members-elect, joined by three lawmakers, were speculated to storm the Assembly for their inauguration.
As suspected thugs took over the complex, Obaseki and Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu, who cut short their campaign, watched as the thugs dismantled the Assembly roof, yanked off the iconic Maze in the foreground, and heaped sand at the entrance of the building, without a whimper from the standby security operatives.
However, news broke later that the 14 Members-elect had been “sworn-in” at an undisclosed location, “impeached” Okiye as Speaker, and replaced him with Edoror.
Okiye, who took the other faction as a joke, was surprised by his camp’s action, saying, “Nobody has told me what I did,” adding, “there is nothing new; I just remain myself and I am very calm.”
Perhaps, it’s better he remained calm, as the new helmsmen, hardly 72 hours later, commuted his impeachment to resignation, lifted his suspension and allowed him to join in the plenary.
Is the Assembly’s ruckus a continuation of the fight between Obaseki and Oshiomhole, or a new frontier between Obaseki and his “loyal” deputy, Shaibu, as the grapevine indicated?
Was there a plot to undermine the governor, deploying the instrumentality of the Assembly leadership, hence a preemptive strike by Obaseki in the form of a palace coup?
Recall that on September 28, nine days after the September 19 poll, Okiye led his 10-member Assembly on a congratulatory and solidarity visit to Governor-elect Obaseki.
At the event, Okiye said: “Members of the State Assembly rejoice and congratulate the governor on his reelection, as the Assembly remains united. We are here as one indivisible, united family.”
So, what’s strained that “unity” in a space of two weeks, to warrant the nine lawmakers to rise against Okiye? Wasn’t he in lockstep with Obaseki or his colleagues, who said the issue of his impeachment predates the governorship poll?
Majority Leader, Henry Okhuarobo (Ikpoba-Okha), who moved the impeachment motion, and accused Okiye of highhandedness and financial impropriety, told reporters: “Members have compelling reasons to do what they did and the House needed to wait till now because of political reasons, and now the process is over…”
Going by Okhuarobo’s disclosure, Okiye’s ouster was delayed to keep a united front to reelect Obaseki. So, if Obaseki has a hand in the crisis, as claimed, it doesn’t bode well for his return to power.
Except the underlying reason(s) is to checkmate impediments to discharging his duties to Edo people, it would be a needless show of power at variance with his commitment to reconciliation.
It’s on that premise that he extended a hand of fellowship to his estranged “soulmate,” Comrade Oshiomhole, and his challenger at the election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The governor’s alleged backing of the Assembly shakeup becomes curiouser, as Okiye is reportedly picked on, as a first step, to cutting to size Deputy-Governor-elect Shaibu.
That would be an unkind cut, as the duo stood by Obaseki during his trying times in the APC, which culminated in his defection to the PDP, and throughout the 2020 election cycle.
Unless there’s official cogent explanation on the change of power at the Assembly, observers will impeach the reasons advanced by the new helmsmen for their action at the House.
But wait a minute! Doesn’t the turn of events serve Okiye right for conniving to rubbish the democratic tenet of the minority having their say, and the majority having their way?
Nine of the Assembly’s 24-Members-elect were surreptitiously sworn-in in June 2019, and without the other Members-elect, Okiye continued to advance government policies and programmes.
If you ride on the tiger’s back, you could end up in its belly. It’s trite that the cane used on the slave is reserved for the freeborn. That’s Okiye’s sad story, as the chickens have come home to roost.
And absent better judgement, Shaibu could also be on his way out, courtesy of an “impeachment machination” by the “newly-minted” presiding officers of the Edo State House of Assembly.
* Ezomon, journalist and media consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.