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Edo State legislature – Constitutionality vs Ethics

Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA)

Last week witnessed another installment of the serialized tragic-comedy in the Edo State Legislature. Motivated by personal interests rather than the public good, Nigerian legislators are notorious for doing little to advance democracy or improve citizen’s lives, and plenty to deplete treasury!

The Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) has a well earned reputation for indolence and political intrigue. Last week in the state capital Benin City, “political thugs” guarded by gun-toting policemen invaded the Golden Tulip Hotel searching for members-elect of the EDHA.  In addition to badly damaging the premises, Seid Oshiomhole, younger brother to All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman and immediate past Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole was mercilessly beaten.

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Hotel customers, innocent members of the public, and residents of the area cowered in fear of being killed by the sporadic gunshots. Such “official lawlessness” isn’t new in Edo State where those who make a living from unleashing violence, public disorder and destruction of property for a fee are regularly employed by political “gladiators”. Indeed what happened was in many ways “better” than previous cases in which thugs have been imported into the Assembly Complex to physically assault lawmakers on duty!

Edo State is controlled by the APC who boast of the Governor and all 24 House of Assembly members. The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are having a field day ridiculing this exclusively APC matter, asserting that it substantiates allegations concerning the ruling party being at war with itself. The brouhaha is about forestalling impeachment plots against Governor Obaseki by installing a loyalist as Speaker. The preferred method of achieving this end was to surreptitiously swear-in nine out of the twenty-four members-elect at about 9.30 pm and “legally” install a Speaker!

Among those nine were Honorable Barrister Eric Okaka elected to represent Owan East Constituency who along with two others bizarrely alleged that they were sworn-in under duress. In their video-taped confession which has gone viral on the internet, Okaka said he was invited to the Deputy Governors House, offered N5 million which he refused, and then taken to the Assembly Complex where he was “forced” to participate which he did in fear of his life!. Edo State APC Party Chairman Barrister Anslem Ojesua maintains that there was nothing illegal or unconstitutional about the process. He further said the party will deal with those erring members “with a firm hand”.

After the assault and bestiality at the Golden Tulip Hotel nobody is under any illusion as to exactly how firm that hand will be! Critics of the inauguration believe there are ethical and moral issues to consider in addition to constitutional requirements. Citing the fact that the EDHA normally sits between 10am and 2pm, they argue that members-elect should have been sworn in during working hours. Furthermore, invitations should have been sent out to all members-elect not just a selected few.

However, these are essentially emotional and ethical issues. The constitution doesn’t specify either the time or the number of members who should be present for inauguration. Supporters of this clandestine action have long since dispensed with ethical considerations. They view the Constitution as the maximum requirement for behavior in public office rather than an irreducible minimum. As such they believe any consideration of a greater morality or higher ethical standard to be totally unnecessary.

In the other camp, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Lanre Issa, criticized the inauguration, quite correctly arguing that the Assembly isn’t an amorphous society or secret cult in which official activities are held at night! He also argues that the Constitution requires a proclamation to be published, which wasn’t done. In rejecting this indictment Governor Obaseki’s Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy said all decisions relating to the leadership of the Edo State House of Assembly were taken by the State Working Committee and leaders of the Party from across the State.

The implication of this statement is that it amounts to anti-party behavior for APC officials at the national level to oppose them. The irony of Oshiomhole and his supporters being victims of the same unethical tactics he employed as Governor isn’t lost on Edo citizens. Back then he humiliated Speaker Z. Garuba out of office using a minority of members. As Tonnie Iredia humorously pointed out in his Vanguard Column armed robbers shouldn’t allow themselves to be kidnapped!

Renowned UNIBEN Professor of Law Edoba Omoregie says the whole rumpus is further proof of the lack of fidelity to ethics, the rule of law and its processes amongst the political class. He quite correctly points out that those celebrating are out of order because the critical issue isn’t whether one side has triumphed over the other, but rather the sustainability of democratic processes.

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen famously said “The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is in itself a decision. It’s a silent acquiescence to evil. The tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction.” It’s a tragedy that the Edo State electorate has empowered a group of individuals to whom ethics have no place in governance.

 

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