Obaseki’s sleight of hand upends lawmakers


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By his own admission, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is some form of a political gladiator, and he is not remorseful. He rests his claims to that height of valour on his recent electoral fortune, stressing that he has battled the lions and tigers of Edo State and caged them. He has gloated over his victory and set about consolidating it. In one of his victory tours, he stopped over at the National Working Committee (NWC) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Abuja. There, he noted that the 14 members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA), who have not been inaugurated, were not prevented from doing so; they refused to do so.

He explained, “They were listening to their godfather who kept hoping and promising that he would unconstitutionally get the state House of Assembly to reissue 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 those were declared vacant by the Speaker. There is nothing I can do to that at this time. I wish it did not happen but people were playing God and promising what is not constitutionally possible.”

The governor’s statements strongly indicate that the reports that all the kerfuffle currently dogging EDHA is a result of the rift going on between himself and former governor Adams Oshiomhole are true. He has continued to participate in some of the confusions that have emanated from what should be the State Assembly. There is no room for the early birds getting the worms in constitutional matters, for the law is not silent on the exact number of people required to properly constitute a state house of assembly. Section 91 of the 1999 Constitution unambiguously states that for a State House of Assembly to be properly constituted, such a legislative body must consist of at least 24 members. EDHA currently comprises only 10 members.

On June 14, 2019, the governor had issued a proclamation for the elected members to be inaugurated on June 17, 2019. The letter was sent to the clerk. The inauguration did not, however, hold during working hours according to sources and media reports, and it was not until 9:30pm that the inauguration held. Many of the members were not ready, and there were reports that some of them were abducted to the inauguration. One dazed member was sworn in dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and a jacket. A statement released at exactly 1:39am by Crusoe Osagie, Governor Obaseki’s spokesman, on June 18, 2019 alleged that the inauguration took place by 3pm the previous day. Whichever the truth is, the devil is in the detail.

The small matter of re-issuing a fresh proclamation was tabled before the Federal High Court in Rivers State. It is not clear what exactly transpired in court, but the court seemed to decide that the proclamation by the governor was all that was needed and that the governor was not in a position to issue another proclamation. For once, the governor seemed happy with the limitations of his official powers, whether these limitations were real or imagined. More, he has been happy to re-echo these limitations.

His antics are not avant garde, says the opposition in Edo State; they bear all the marks of tyranny. It is hard not to agree with them. The governor has been verbally indiscreet concerning the EDHA brouhaha, and has been more evidently interested in taking sides where he should be neutral. This gives spine to the theory that he fears impeachment or that the fat lady would sing his swan song if the house were properly constituted. Mr Obaseki had no right to play such a divisive role in the composition or legal existence of EDHA, and the courts that have interfered in the issue have been accused of representing a warped democracy.

The Edo electorate has, however, indicated that they are in full support of his politics. If the courts finally let him have his way in undermining the legislature, Mr Obaseki will now probably prepare his party to force the hands of the electorate. One thing both the state APC and PDP had agreed upon until the governor’s defection to the latter is that his tyranny was execrable. Do they still think so? Although the people cannot see it, the clouds have been gathering in Edo and a pall seems to have settled on the state’s democracy. Who will dissipate the clouds and lift the pall?


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