In Abuja on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the first sign of ongoing reconciliation effort yielding results, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, standing with Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi held hands and exchanged banters.
It was on the occasion of Presidential Policy Retreat held at State House, Aso Rock Villa, attended by President Muhammadu Buhari, who BusinessHallmark learnt had taken up the reconciliation effort after other interventions fell through.
“The reconciliation effort has been on since three or four days ago,” a government house source said on Thursday. “Leaders of the National Assembly, both Senate and House of Reps went to brief the president on the matter. It was only yesterday that the Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the State Government returned from Benin, all of them went to Abuja. This is the beginning of the resolution of the issues.”
But on the ground, tension remain as the various party leaders in the state who are upset about what they say is neglect by the governor appear determined to oust him.
“Both Oshiomhole and Obaseki factions are still fighting,” said Maxist Kola Edokpai, rights activist and politician who ran for Assembly seat under African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the last election. “But what I see is that both factions are not fighting for the interest of the people, they are fighting for their selfish interest.
“If they don’t stop, we will mobilize the people to present an empty calabash in parrot egg, which is a sign of rejection for the governor who is fighting for his interest and Oshiomhole who is trying to impose himself as the godfather of Edo politics.”
Obaseki’s had incurred the wrath of the various party stakeholders in the state for refusing to patronise them in terms of contract awards and other sundry schemes after they committed resources to make him governor in the understanding that they would recover their investments.
They were disappointed when the governor took office and, instead of sustaining the practice of awarding contracts to them to take 40 percent of the budgetary allocation and use 60 percent to hire professionals to execute such projects – as was allegedly the case under Oshiomhole – opted to award contracts to actual contracts, insisting that he had no money to settle “greedy politicians.”
While tension had simmered between the governor and the said stakeholders who are mostly Oshiomhole’s loyalists, the APC chairman had maintained a distance. But was ultimately drawn into the fight when few weeks ago, Obaseki arranged with nine out of the 24-nember State House of Assembly to inaugurate the Assembly and elect Hon. Frank Okiye speaker.
Okiye had in turn, sworn in the other members in a ceremony that took place at 9pm. Oshiomhole as APC National Chairman insisted that the assembly election must not stand as according to him, it was against the constitution.
Oshiomhole argued that it was illegal for the assembly to have sat by 9pm, and that the governor should issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the assembly at which time, all members shall be present. The governor, however, resisted. This pitted both against each other.
Amid the controversy, Prof Julius Ohonvhere, a member of the House of Reps and loyalist of the APC chairman, moved a motion on the floor of the House seeking it to exercise its powers under Section 11 Subsections 4–5 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended to take charge of the State Assembly. Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila subsequently decided to set up an adhoc committee to investigate the causes of the crisis and make appropriate recommendations.
After a visit to Edo State and meeting with all the parties in the crisis, the House Committee recommended inter -alia, that Governor Obaseki should issue a fresh proclamation for all members, including the loyalists of Oshiomhole who are now largely based in Abuja. The Federal House also recommended that in the absence of that being done, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, and Director of Department of State Security, DSS should seal off EDHA premises while the House of Representatives takes over law making for Edo people.
The recommendation would prove to be the major talking point in the ensuing crisis. It soon begin to attract reactions, mostly from legal experts who argued that it was in breach of the constitution and that the Federal House had not powers to issue such recommendations or to take over the Edo House of Assembly considering that the House is sitting and is able to transact businesses.
This, in view of Section 11(5) of the constitution which states that “for the purpose of Sub-Section (4) of this section, a House of Assembly shall not be deemed to be unable to perform its functions, so long as the House of Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business”.
In an intervention, lawyer and rights activist, Monday Ubani insisted that the federal house “erred monumentally in its orders over the Edo State House of Assembly crisis.”
He argued that while the majority of the House of Assembly members were not present at inauguration, “the minority of nine members who ordinarily have formed a quorum to transact business were present and upon the proclamation, went ahead to elect their Speaker who in turn swore in the new nine members of the House.”
Ubani pointed out that the issue is not about majority or minority, as according to him, nine members of the 24 formed a quorum and were therefore legally allowed to sit.
Ubani maintained that it was obvious that the House has continued to sit and transact business, and therefore the issue of federal house taking over proceedings does not arise.
He noted that Section 11 (4) of the constitution which the federal house acted upon provides that;
“At any time when a House of Assembly of a state is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in the state, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of the state with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such a time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions… ”
Speaking to a delegation from the state who met him in Abuja last week, Obaseki said Oshiomhole and “certain politicians” in the state were after him because of his refusal to spend public funds on some private individuals who claimed they brought him into power.
“The only thing they have said is that I refused to share money; that I am not taking care of the people who brought me into office. I said 300,000 Edo people voted for me to be governor; if I do for the people, everybody will benefit,” he said.
Maintaining that: “I have said it that at end of the day, I have only one mandate: to serve Edo people. I will not allow Edo State to be a pawn in anybody’s political chess game. For me, I keep asking the question, what have I done wrong? What is my offence that they want to now get people to come and create confusion in the state?”
Last week, National Publicity Secretary of the APC Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu in a statement, conveyed the party’s NWC backing of the Federal House recommendations amid the controversy it was generating. In an immediate response, Special Adviser to the governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said Mallam Issa-Onilu by his statement, confirmed that Oshiomhole was sponsoring the crisis in the state.
“Issa-Onilu’s hasty comment is coming before the Senate Committee’s report of its investigation into the issues at the Edo State House of Assembly and clearly pre-empts the much-awaited joint position of both chambers of the National Assembly as stipulated in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution, as amended,” he noted.
Osagie described the endorsement by the APC NWC as a slap on the face of the nation’s judiciary which has restrained the APC NWC from interfering in the affairs of the Edo House of Assembly.
“The endorsement is sufficient proof that the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led faction of the APC NWC is behind the crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly and has been tele-guiding the House of Representatives Committee to carry out illegality in Edo State.”
Ultimately, the whole crisis boils down to the state’s 2020 governorship election and the ultimate goal appears to stop Obaseki from winning second term on account of his inability to “settle.” To this extent, a number of high profile individuals in the state are stepping in to stop what they see as an attempt by Oshiomhole to destabilise the governor and establish himself as the godfather of Edo politics.
In their respective statements few days ago, Edo State Professionals (ESP) and former National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun asked Oshiomhole to steer clear of Obaseki and allow him space to govern in peace. The ESP call was contained in an open letter addressed to Oshiomhole and signed by Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, Dr. Chris Momoh, Keem Bello-Osagie, Osaro Isokpan Esq. and 31 others.
The letter titled: “Avoiding the Temptation to pull down the solid house you built for Edo People,” urged Oshiomhole not to bring down the house he built.
Similarly, Oyegun in a statement signed by his Public Affairs Adviser, Ray Morphy on Sunday in Abuja, asked Oshiomhole to desist from interfering in the administration of Obaseki, and to stop “disgracing” the ruling party in the state.
“I appeal to him (Oshiomhole) to stop disgracing the governing party APC and Edo State. He should give the governor a breathing space to concentrate in doing the job of serving the people of Edo,” he said. I wonder how he could easily forget that I never interfered or bothered about how he ran the government as the then governor of Edo, all the while I occupied the position of the party’s National chairman.”
The argument in some quarters in the state, especially among the Binis in the Edo South who make up about 60 percent of the state’s population is that Oshiomhole, a minority from Edo North should not be dictating the state’s politics. Edo North with its multiplicity of ethnic groups makes up 15 percent of the population, while Edo Central, the Ishan group, constitute about 25 percent.
Indeed, there is certain anger that after fighting successfully to remove Oyegun, a Benin son, from National Chairmanship of the APC, Oshiomhole has again returned to try to remove Obaseki, another Benin son from office as governor. But regardless, Oshiomhole remains popular with certain interest groups across the state, not least, Benin South on account of the goodwill he built by patronage whilst he was governor.
“There are those who say that Oshiomhole is from Edo North and should not dictate what happens in Edo South,” Edokpai said. “But the Edo North people are saying that their brother has done well in terms of empowering the people of Edo State.”
“The two factions have support in Benin, but the problem Obaseki has is that he has run touts out of business,” Mr. Chuka Eze, a Benin resident narrated.
“The touts who used to collect money from traders are now out of business, everything goes to government account directly. Revenue collection has been computerised. Tickets are now issued like recharge cards, any ticket you are given now must have pin number such that any money you pay goes to the state account.”
On whether Obaseki can survive the onslaught against him, Eze said it could boil down to whether or not he emerges APC candidate.
“If he manages to emerge APC flag bearer, he will easily win. The problem is whether he will be APC candidate. He will not join PDP; APC is stronger than PDP at the state level. But at the federal level, PDP is stronger.
“Oshiomhole opened the eyes of the people here. When PDP was in power, they did little. Oshiomhole came and did a number of projects and made sure money got to many people. He also managed to win the support of the Oba of Benin, that’s why the Oba is interested in having the matter resolved.
“When Oshiomhole became governor, he increased the Oba’s allowance from about N1million to about N10million. But Oshiomhole ended up spending more than the state could afford. When Obaseki came in, he decided to cut down on those wastes. But still, he is working well. If he manages to win APC primary, he will win easily.”
Edokpai holds similar views. “The governor has done relatively well in terms of building infrastructure and rehabilitation of roads, but there are those who say he hasn’t done well enough,” he said. “They say for instance, that while he promised 200,000 jobs, he has not created up to 50,000.
“Again, there is the anger that Obaseki is sending hawkers and market women, even those not up to 17 years to prison where there are kidnappers and armed robbers.”