Penultimate Thursday, armed police took over the Edo State House of Assembly complex in Benin City. The police personnel were allegedly deployed to provide security cover to 17 lawmakers loyal to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The 17 loyalists, who are backed by the former chairman of APC, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, were to have been inaugurated at the Assembly complex where they would have allegedly impeached the Speaker, Frank Okiye.
This was to gain political advantage in the September 19th governorship election between the two major political heavyweights in the state - incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Pastor Ize Iyamu.
Supporters of Governor Obaseki had besieged the Assembly complex before his arrival to join them. Immediately, Obaseki ordered the renovation of the Assembly complex. The roof was removed to thunderous applause from the crowd. Sand and other construction materials were heaped at the front of the Assembly complex while artisans started work immediately.
Unfazed, the 14-members elect and three other defectors met an undisclosed location late Thursday and inaugurated the House. Impeaching the Speaker, Frank Okiye, they elected Victor Edoror while Emmanuel Agbaje was elected Deputy Speaker. That was in response to the impeachment on Wednesday of Mr. Yekini Idiaye, Deputy Speaker, by seven members of the House who are said to be Obaseki's loyalists.
Meanwhile, surprisingly, the House of Assembly had been sitting inside the Edo State government house for over a month, with the claim that the Assembly complex was being fumigated over the coronavirus (COVID-19) scare.
The crisis started on June 17th, 2019 when Obaseki proclaimed the 7th Edo State House of Assembly, which was attended by seven of his allies and leadership of the House was elected. The 14 members-elect, who are loyal to former governor and former All Progressives Congress chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, were not part of the inauguration.
The 14 members-elect went to the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, but the court on September 12, 2019 affirmed that the governor's proclamation of the Assembly was lawful and that the National Assembly could not take over the functions of the State Assembly as the conditions for doing so did not exist.
The 14 members-elect stayed away and refused to be inaugurated even after the court judgment. Raising constitutional issues of their not sitting for over 180 sitting days, the House declared their seats vacant and requested the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct fresh elections to fill the vacancies.
The 14 members-elect approached the Federal High Court, Abuja to challenge the constitutionality or otherwise of the declaration of their seats vacant. The suit is still pending before the court.
The trigger to the crisis actually was a letter by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, dated August 5 and based on a petition to his office by Idahosa-West Chambers. In the letter, Malami ordered the Inspector General of Police to provide security to the 17 lawmakers loyal to Oshiomhole, as they perform their "legislative duties." The letter said the security measure was necessary to prevent breakdown of law and order.
The initial inauguration of the State Assembly last year with only seven members was in itself a misnomer. Again, the invasion and attempt to forcefully take over the House of Assembly by security operatives was anti-democratic. And the hurried renovation of the Assembly complex and the unplanned removal of the roof of the complex is appalling.
We condemn all anti-democratic antics by politicians, as they are detrimental to the tenets of democratic norms and peace and security of the state.
The police deployment portends grave danger to the nation's democracy. The federal government should call its security operatives to order.
Again, federal and state officials should be circumspect and avoid any decision that threatens peace and security. The gladiators should give peace a chance and allow the will of the people to prevail.