Abuja and Benin City — Tension has gripped residents of Benin City, the Edo State capital, following the insistence yesterday by a factional group of 17 members of the state House of Assembly opposed to the Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, to sit in the legislative premises despite the ongoing renovation of the complex.
However, the state police command has pledged to be neutral in the political crisis rocking the state, which arose from the disagreement between Obaseki and his predecessor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, a former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The 17 lawmakers comprise five that were hitherto in the governor's camp, who were joined by 12 others that were surreptitiously sworn in last week, more than a year after those loyal to the governor were inaugurated.
The 17 are presumed to be loyal to Oshiomhole.
The speaker of the faction loyal to the governor, Hon. Frank Okiye, had earlier declared the seats of the 12 lawmakers-elect vacant.
But the governor played down the lawmakers' action, saying the decisions arising from any of their sittings would not be binding on him and the state government.
Also yesterday, Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court ordered the National Rescue Mission (NRM) to paste the court processes of the suit seeking to disqualify the APC governorship candidate, Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu and his running mate, Mr. Audu Ganiyu, on the party's national headquarters in Abuja.
At their sitting last week, the 17 pro-Oshiomhole lawmakers had claimed to have elected Hon. Victor Edoror, representing Esan Central State Constituency, as speaker and Hon. Emmanuel Agbaje, representing Akoko-Edo I, as deputy speaker.
However, the governor, Okiye, with the seven other members, and the Deputy Governor, Hon. Philip Shaibu, had prevented the takeover of the Assembly by the 17 lawmakers, saying the place is under renovation.
The roof of the building was removed while heaps of sand and gravels for the renovation were dumped at the entrance gate of the Assembly.
The governor and his camp also described the actions of the pro-Oshiomhole lawmakers as illegal, adding that the matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction.
But Edoror yesterday said they would sit today and also continue to sit even if the entire building was taken away.
He told THISDAY on the phone that the House of Assembly belongs to the people, adding that being the custodian of that arm of government, he is duty-bound to provide the leadership and choose where to sit.
"Even when that part of the chamber has been bulldozed, we will continue to go there," he said, adding: "Whether they destroy all of it or not, we will take our sittings there. No man born of a woman can prevent us."
Reacting to the allegation that they planned to remove the governor, Edoror accused the governor of destroying the building to prevent them from accessing the premises.
He said: "But let me tell you, we are not there to remove anybody. We only want to access the place so as to give our people quality representation and good governance.
"Removal of the governor is not a tea party and it is not even part of the agenda except they want to make it so. What they are doing is to prevent us from sitting on the pretext that we want to remove the governor. That is far from the truth.
"That Assembly was renovated two years ago under Hon. Kabiru Adjoto's leadership. How can it now go for another renovation exercise? It is all geared towards causing confusion."
But Obaseki dismissed the plans by the pro-Oshiomhole lawmakers to sit today, saying they are not members of the legislature and no decision taken by them will be accepted.
The governor's Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, who spoke on behalf of his principal, said: "They are not members of the House and so I cannot accept anything from them."
Also speaking on the issue, the Edo State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Mr. Chidi Nwabuzor, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), said the constitutional role of the police is to ensure the protection of lives and property, stressing that the police would remain neutral.
"The police are apolitical. We remain neutral so as to play our constitutional role effectively. We are not for any of the political parties. Our job as enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to ensure the protection of lives and property and that is exactly what we are doing," Nwabuzor added.
However, efforts to reach Okiye proved abortive as he did not take his calls or respond to a text message sent to him at press time.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had earlier asked the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, to provide police protection for the 17 APC lawmakers.
Malami's directive had followed a petition from their counsel.
Malami, in a memo dated August 5, 2020, requested the Inspector General of Police to "kindly provide adequate security measures" for the inauguration of the assembly members and "the subsequent sittings of the Edo State House of Assembly."
He said: "My office is in receipt of a letter dated August 3, 2020 from Messers West Idahosa & Co. requesting the intervention of my office on behalf of its clients who are members-elect of the Edo State House of Assembly, but who were excluded or prevented from being inaugurated till date since the House was inaugurated on 17th June 2019. A copy of the letter is attached for ease of reference.
"The law firm has requested that the affected members-elect, who were willing to discharge their constitutional roles, should be inaugurated or sworn in by the Clerk of the House."
Obaseki Pledges to Guarantee Peace
However, Obaseki yesterday expressed his administration's commitment to ensure peace in the state despite the politically charged atmosphere.
He gave the assurance when he visited the Egiegbai II of Ekperi Kingdom, His Royal Highness, Alhaji Deke Kanoba, in Etsako Central Local Government Area of the state, to seek for the monarch's prayers and support ahead of the September 19 gubernatorial election.
He said: "I will continue to do everything within my powers even in the face of provocation from the opposition to ensure that our dear state is peaceful.
"No business can thrive in a state where there is no peace. As a government, we are determined to explore all means possible to grow our economy.
"I understand that there is also no place or business that can boom without constant electricity. We need electricity for our businesses such as fish farms which is a major source of income for the people of Ekperi.
"It's our interest to construct roads and other infrastructure for our people. We have had some challenges with the management of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC).
"But as a government, I want to assure you that we are very concerned about providing constant electricity supply to our people," he added.
In his remarks, the Egiegbai II of Ekperi Kingdom pledged his palace's non-partisanship, adding that his interest is in good governance.
The monarch called for peaceful rallies by political parties and urged security agencies to ensure a peaceful electioneering process.
PDP Suspends Campaign to Oshiomhole's LG
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has suspended its campaign in Uzairue and Auchi, Etsako West Local Government Area of the state, rerouting the train to Owan East Local Government Area.
The state Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, said in a statement yesterday that the decision was taken to avoid an alleged plan by the APC to attack its campaign train.
He said: "We have received information that leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) have decided to confront and attack members and supporters of the PDP in Etsako West Local Government Area, where former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, hails from.
"We have taken this decision, not because we are timid as a party, but because we do not want to expose thousands of our members and supporters in that part of the state to harm. Our candidate and Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, is a peace-loving leader who places a huge premium on the safety of citizens. We had planned to go to Uzairue and Auchi but the APC has just released its campaign schedule that shows that they will be at same places too so that they can launch their planned attacks on us."
Court Grants Substituted Service in Suit Challenging Ize-Iyamu's Qualification
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court yesterday ordered the National Rescue Mission (NRM) to paste the court processes of the suit seeking to disqualify Ize-Iyamu and his running mate on the party's national headquarters in Abuja.
Justice Mohammed gave the order while ruling on an ex-parte application for substituted service filed by the NRM that was argued by Mr. Valentine Offia.
The plaintiff is seeking the exclusion of the APC and its candidate from the forthcoming governorship poll in Edo State on the alleged unlawful nomination.
In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/743/2020 and filed on August 6, the plaintiffs claimed that the letter to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) containing the name of Ize-Iyamu and his deputy was signed by the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the APC instead of the party's national chairman and secretary.
Defendants in the suit are the APC, INEC, Ize-Iyamu and Ganiyu as first, second, third and fourth defendants respectively.
The APC's National Executive Committee had on June 25 dissolved the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) and appointed a caretaker committee headed by Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni.
At last week's sitting, the plaintiff had accused Ize-Iyamu and Ganiyu of evading service and prayed court to order service on them through the national headquarters of the APC in Abuja.
In a short ruling, Justice Mohammed ordered that the originating processes and hearing notice be served on them through the APC headquarters in Abuja.
"Having listened to the applicant counsel and carefully looked at the ten-paragraph affidavit, and an exhibit attached to the application, I am satisfied that the prayer should be granted and hereby grant the prayers," the judge held.
He subsequently adjourned the suit till August 18 for further mention.
The NRM in the suit claimed that the list of candidates of the APC for the Edo State gubernatorial election jointly signed by the national chairman and the national secretary of the APC was not received by INEC and as such INEC lacks powers to receive the list of candidates of APC for the Edo State gubernatorial election from the governor of Yobe State.
The plaintiff urged the court to declare that the APC has no candidate in the gubernatorial election by virtue of the non - submission of its list of candidates before the deadline on June 29.
The party, therefore, prayed for an order voiding the decision of INEC to include APC, Ize-Iyamu and Ganiyu as candidate in the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
It asked for another order disqualifying the APC, Ize-Iyamu and Ganiyu as a candidate in the governorship election in Edo State.