By Ehichioya Ezomon
Are the conditions precedent for the National Assembly (NASS) to take over the functions of a State House of Assembly present in the dispute in the Edo House of Assembly over its inauguration by nine of its 24 Members-elect on June 17, 2019?
Both chambers of Nigeria’s apex legislative body believe so, and have accordingly threatened to assume the functions of the Assembly if, within one week, Governor Godwin Obaseki failed to issue a fresh proclamation for its “proper” inauguration.
For the record, the Assembly, prior to the inauguration, was split between nine members loyal to Governor Obaseki and 15 members answerable to his predecessor and National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
The Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC denounced the launch of the Assembly, and urged that a fresh inaugural of all Members-elect in attendance be carried out.
The refusal of the Assembly to comply with the directive has brought the sitting and former governors into a face off, resulting in a media war, protests and solidarity rallies by party members.
Lately, the battle has shifted to the NASS and the courts. In mid July, the report of a 13-member ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the matter, was adopted, with three of the five recommendations standing out, as follows:
“That the governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in the interest of peaceful coexistence of the state, should issue a fresh proclamation within one week in line with section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), stating the date, time and venue, and publish in any national daily and television station.”
“That the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS) should shut down the Edo State House of Assembly and provide adequate security to allay further fears of intimidation and threats as alleged by Members-elect.”
And if all else failed, the “National Assembly should invoke the provision of section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to take over the state House of Assembly until the situation normalizes.”
On July 30, the Senate adopted the report of its seven-member ad hoc committee, and gave Governor Obaseki one week to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the Assembly.
It urged the Clerk of the Assembly to inform the 24 “Members-elect” about the fresh inauguration, stating the date, time and venue, and published in any national daily and television station.
The Senate vowed to invoke section 11(4) of the Constitution, and take over the functions of the Assembly “if Governor Obaseki fails to issue a fresh proclamation.”
Section 105(3) of the Constitution vests the Governor with the power to issue a proclamation “for the holding of the first session of the House of Assembly of the State concerned immediately after his being sworn in, or for its dissolution as provided in this section.”
Governor Obaseki did issue a proclamation on Friday, June 14, 2019, and thus maintains that he has fulfilled the constitutional requirement, and would not issue another proclamation.
The pronouncements of the NASS may have catapulted the Edo Assembly crisis into the realm of legalism, subsuming the issue of morality and fairness of the nine Members-elect’s action.
There’re several posers. Did Godwin Obaseki, the Assembly and the NASS follow laid-down rules in the Constitution in carrying out their sides of the bargain?
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For instance, section 105(3) of the Constitution asks the Governor to issue a proclamation for the Assembly’s inauguration “immediately after his being sworn in…”
There’s no governorship poll in Edo State during the 2019 general election. However, Governors-elect were sworn in on May 29, 2019, while most of the State Assemblies were inaugurated on June 7.
It’s implied that Governor Obaseki would issue a proclamation on May 29, or before the June 7 inauguration. But he didn’t advance the letter to the Clerk of the Assembly until June 14.
Yet, the Clerk reportedly “hoarded” the proclamation, and invited, on June 17, only nine (or six) of the 24 Members-elect “amenable” to Governor Obaseki’s camp of the Assembly.
Thus, at 10.30 p.m., on the basis of the nine Members-elect forming a “quorum,” the Clerk proclaimed the Assembly that adjourned after the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
The “disenfranchised” and aggrieved 15 Members-elect were to take the matter to the national headquarters of the APC, which, for equity and fairness, called for a fresh inauguration.
But when nothing changed in the Assembly, a member from Edo State raised the matter in the House of Representatives, and an ad hoc committee was set up to investigate it.
The Senate was to follow suit. Interestingly, both committees, and chambers arrived at similar findings, and recommendations, including a fresh proclamation to be issued by Governor Obaseki, for a “proper” inauguration of the Assembly.
Was the NASS right in its decisions, particularly the marching order to Governor Obaseki, and the threat to take over the Assembly if he failed to carry out the directive?
Actually, it can invoke section 11(4) of the Constitution, take over, and “may make 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.”
But still, subsection (5) of section 11 enjoins that, “For the purpose of subsection (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.”
The “lacuna” in the inauguration of the Assembly aside, would the National Assembly claim it could no longer perform its functions of meeting and transacting business?
Certainly not! The Assembly has elected its presiding officers, and commenced business by confirming nominated Commissioners and Special Advisers, and began consideration of bills.
Besides, the NASS should note some court injunctions restraining it, the APC, Police and DSS, and their agents from removing the presiding officers, and/or interfering in the affairs of the Assembly.
Also, by its own rules, the NASS cannot dabble in a matter in court, to avoid prejudicing the case, and undermining the separation of power between the Legislature and the Judiciary.
The National Assembly should have waited – and should wait – for the court cases to run their course. Carrying out its avowal would aggravate the crisis, and the “illegality” it’s trying to cure.
Let the sabre-rattling stop, and reconciliation explored between the warring factions in the Edo Assembly, and their promoters in Messrs Obaseki and Oshiomhole, who are all of the APC family.
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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