Governor Adams Oshiomhole convened a town hall meeting in Benin last week on the crisis rocking Edo State House of Assembly and the state generally. In attendance at the meeting were traditional rulers, prominent chiefs, top politicians, captains of industry, House of Assembly members and a cross-section of the people. At the event, Governor Oshiomhole went down memory lane on how the crisis all started, the principal actors and how they had all been allegedly aided and supported by police authorities in the state and the powers-that-be at the centre.. As Oshiomhole bared it all, some minds would race back to the defunct Western Region House of Assembly crisis, which events birthed the appellation of the region as Wild, Wild, Wild West and, which eventually culminated in the collapse of the First Republic. The two crises (defunct Western region and Edo State crises) were complete with cross-carpeting, destruction of properties, arson and looting; violence generally. They were both a case of a regional crisis fueled by a centre that wanted to profit from it, with the parties at the region in both cases different and in opposition to the ones at the centre. The principal actors on both sides and in both cases are also well known. In the case of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola were close allies and promoters of the AG. Shortly after the country’s independence, the AG’s control of the Western Region was weakened and there was an imminent collapse of the party structure because of divisions within the party that reflected cleavages within the Yoruba society. According to some accounts, the leadership of the AG , which formed the official opposition in the federal parliament, split in May 1962 as a result of a rift between the party’s leader, Chief Awolowo, and his erstwhile deputy and Premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Akintola. Some accounts claimed that the genesis of the political crisis in Western Nigeria began with the sacking of Chief J.F Odunjo as the Chairman, Western Region Marketing Board by Akintola over inter-family squabbles, while others attributed the offshoot of the crisis to hardline stance of the AG leaders over differences that could have been amicably be resolved within the party. In the extant crisis in Edo State House of Assembly, the lawmakers appear to be engaged in a proxy war on behalf of Governor Oshiomhole and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. AGENE AKHERE in Benin writes on how the Edo House of Assembly crisis all began, which echoes the Western Region House of Assembly crisis…
Edo Assembly Crisis: The Genesis
The genesis of the political crisis currently rocking Edo State can be traced to the last All Progressives Congress (APC) ward and local government registration exercise, which held across the federation. There had been a cold war and arch rivalry between the deputy governor, Dr. Pius Odubu, and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who then was the Vice-Chairman South-south of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, the platform on which Governor Adams Oshiomhole was elected in 2007. Both Ize-Iyamu and Odubu are from Orhionmwon Local Government and the latter had opposed the re-nomination of Odubu as running mate to Comrade Oshiomhole in the 2012 governorship election in the state. For obvious reasons, the genesis of the crisis can be traced to the politics of who ‘takes absolute control’ of the party structure. It began with Ize-Iyamu who then was nursing the ambition of running for the office of governor after Oshiomhole in 2016 and believing that should Odubu be re-nominated as deputy governor, he would be too strong politically for him to control. His permutation was that Odubu would have been too rooted on ground, and that would dash his 2016 hope and political aspiration. Though Odubu had publicly denied any interest in taking over from his boss, sources close to him, however, say he is eminently qualified to take over from Comrade Oshiomhole.
Efforts to Drop Odubu Failed
After all efforts to get Odubu dropped as deputy governor failed, attention was now shifted to controlling the party structure ahead of the 2016 governorship election in Edo. This struggle came to the fore, when the newly-registered APC started the ward and local government registration exercise for members. Information gleaned indicated that there was an attempt by these gladiators to hijack the registration materials as a prelude to taking firm grip of the party. Whereas, the governor had clamoured for harmonisation, it was learnt that Pastor Ize-Iyamu wanted 75% of the party structure, which was not comfortable to Odubu and the Governor’s camp. The governor, it was learnt through his very close aides, formed Edo Solidarity Movement (EDS) with the purpose of keeping an eye on and helping the aspirations of those considered his loyalists. Odubu, it was learnt, needed to show the pastor that he was much more popular at the grassroots and was not disposed to harmonisation, as he opted for an election, which idea was bought by Ize-Iyamu. WESTERN POST reliably gathered that the governor called his deputy in private and asked if it was convenient for him to go to the polls and he affirmed to him that all was well and that he would defeat the Pastor even in his Iguododo Village.
The Make or Mar Ward Congress
With all set for the ward congress, all parties began mobilising and by the end of the exercise, there were cries of cheating and attempts to hijack voting materials by the camp of Pastor Ize-Iyamu. For instance, at Urhonigbe Ward 08 in Orhionmwon Local Government Area, a large number of party faithful said to be loyal to APC chieftain Pastor Ize-Iyamu were disappointed as materials for result sheets were not delivered. In Oredo Local Government Area, the same incident was recorded as loyalists to the deputy governor Odubu and Pastor Ize-Iyamu engaged in a free-for-all. The situation was, however, calmed by the security agents. A member representing Orhionmwon 2 Constituency, Friday Ogierhiakhi, in a reaction described the exercise as ‘a rape on democracy’ adding that what transpired at his Urhonigbe South Ward was perpetrated by ‘a minute microscopic group’ led by the deputy governor to undermine democracy. He had said: “In Urhonigbe South, agents of the deputy governor who they have pre-planned to officiate in the congress came to the place and on finding that the DG is not on ground abandoned the exercise and went to write results. Series of action will follow as a result of this rape of democracy. If they don’t toe the line of integrity they may as well kiss APC goodbye.” Meanwhile, the deputy governor, Odubu, had hailed the conduct of the ward election in his locality and commended the governor, Oshiomhole, for providing an enabling platform for what he described as the ‘test of strength’ and noted that it was the beauty of democracy. But Ize-Iyamu, who also hails from Orhionmwon Local Government Area, described the exercise as a charade and urged the leadership to immediately correct the abnormalities, saying that “the ward congress was designed to fail” and warned of dire consequences for the APC in the state.
Meanwhile, Edo South APC Senatorial Leader, Chief Amos Osunbor, joined with other party leaders at a press conference held at the Nigeria Union of Journalist, (NUJ), Secretariat in Benin called on the national leadership of the party to immediately cancel what it termed “the purported ward congresses in Edo State and dissolve the State Congress Committee so as to appoint a credible one.” They hinged their call for the cancelation on the alleged invisibility of the State Congress Committee members, absence of the ward congress committee vested with the responsibility of conducting the congresses, lack of working materials and results sheets. “As if the whole exercise was designed to fail, sponsored violence was observed across the senatorial district. Armed thugs in government vehicle were seen unleashing mayhem on defenceless party faithful. Furthermore, some local government chairmen were seen sponsoring violence in their respective council areas.”
It was in the middle of all this and apparently irked that his complaints were not addressed by the APC leadership that Ize-Iyamu defected to PDP, where he came from in the first instance. Then, attention was now focused on the Anthony Enahoro complex where events started unfolding. With Ize-Iyamu’s defection, there were rumours that lawmakers loyal to him would dump the APC, but when and how they would join their master were not known. Not wanting to take chances, the assembly under the leadership of Speaker Uyi Igbe had wielded the big stick by immediately suspending the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Festus Ebea, and three others believed to be loyal to Ize-Iyamu on the grounds of misconduct. Other suspended members are the lawmakers representing Orhionmwon South-Hon. Friday Ogieriakhi; Ikpoba-Okha- Hon Jude Ise-Idehen, and Oredo-East, Hon Patrick Osayinmen. In the meantime, these lawmakers except Deputy Speaker Ebea had dumped the APC along with their political leader, Ize-Iyamu,describing the APC as a ‘dictatorial ‘party, which lacks internal democracy.
Moving for their suspension through a motion of urgent public importance, the member representing Egor Constituency, Hon. Paul Ohonbamu, and seconded by the Majority Leader, Philip Shaibu, said the activities of the members listed had become an embarrassment to the House. In the end, after a voice vote, Speaker Uyi Igbe ruled that “the four members mentioned on the list are hereby suspended forthwith as determined by the House. All such vehicles and properties belonging to the House be withdrawn from them forthwith”.
The suspended Deputy Speaker Ebea condemned the assembly, saying it acted in error, saying, “I am unshaken”. He said: “Edo people are watching and they know what the truth is. I am a lawmaker and a bonafide member of the APC, I have not decamped and even for my colleagues who decamped and are being punished, what offence have they committed”.
Lending his voice to the alledged misconduct of the Deputy Speaker, Chairman Edo State House of Assembly Committee on Information, Youth and Sports, Hon Kabiru Adjoto, had said: “As you have heard, the deputy speaker and three others have been suspended from the Edo State House of Assembly. The Deputy Speaker Hon. Festus Ebea has become so arrogant and dictatorial that he no longer sees the office of Mr. Speaker as one. He has created a parallel leadership and that leadership is aimed at destabilizing the state assembly by impeaching Mr. Speaker and the comrade-governor and that to large extent amount to a misconduct and that is partly why we have suspended the deputy speaker and others”.
Refusing to be Suspended
The suspended lawmakers, however, refused to be ‘suspended’. Meanwhile, the case also became a court issue, with the court affirming the power of the assembly to suspend. The crisis, however, took a new dimension as the lawmakers began holding parallel plenary sessions along political party lines. The now suspended nine PDP members of the assembly led by Hon. Ebea acting as Speaker, later went into a sitting without the mace and allied assembly personnel. And within 5 minutes of sitting, the group in retaliation suspended Speaker Igbe (APC, Oredo West) and Hon. Shaibu (Etsako West I). Their decision followed a motion moved by Hon. Kingsley Ehigiamusoe (Igueben) calling for the suspension of the duo and five others over allegations of bringing the legislature into disrepute by bringing thugs to the hallowed chambers to harass lawmakers. The motion was seconded by Hon. Patrick Iluobe (Esan Northeast I). Thereafter, Ebea asked for a voice vote and the other eight PDP members present including Hon. Monday Ehighalua (Esan west), Emma Okoduwa(Esan Northeast II), Razaq Momoh (Etsako West I) Jude Ise-Idehen (Ikpoba-Okha), and Friday Ogieriakhi (Orhionwon) approved the resolution. The plenary was subsequently adjourned. But no sooner had the PDP lawmakers concluded sitting and made their exit from the chambers than they were ambushed and attacked by thugs who had besieged the assembly complex. In the process, Hon. Osayimen was wounded on his lower lip before armed policemen ferried him to safety. Fifteen APC legislators led by Speaker Igbe held their own plenary at the chambers soon as the PDP members left and passed a resolution calling on the President and the Inspector-general of Police to provide them and their families with security. The resolution followed a motion moved by Hon. Kabiru Adjoto (Akoko-Edo II) and seconded by Hon. Victor Edoror (Esan Central). The House subsequently adjourned sitting till Wednesday.
Though lawmakers shied away from commenting on the parallel sessions, Hon. Philip Shaibu later raised an alarm that the lawmakers consequent upon the resolution suspending Ebea and three other PDP members for allegedly dragging the assembly before a law court. Showing reporters bullet holes on the main gate leading to the legislators’ quarters on Ihama road, GRA, Benin City, which he said came from shots fired by unidentified persons, he said his colleagues and himself had been receiving threatening phone calls. At another sitting, however, Speaker Igbe and 14 other lawmakers of the ruling APC narrowly escaped being shot dead by unknown armed policemen said to have been deployed from Abuja. The policemen numbering over a hundred had stormed the Kings Square complex of the assembly in an alleged move to stop the ongoing renovation work at the assembly. The heavily armed mobile policemen led by one ASP Florence Joseph, when confronted by the speaker Igbe, claimed that they were acting on “orders from above”.
As the crisis grew from bad to worse, but for the timely intervention of the Edo State Commissioner of Police Funsho Adebanjo alongside other security agencies in the state, the Anthony Enahoro Complex at the Ring Road would have been a theater of war. Deployed to help quell a major breakdown of law and other by the feuding legislators in the state assembly were all DPO’s from Edo South senatorial district including the men and officers of NSCDC and DSS. For several hours after an altercation between the parallel members now divided into APC and PDP lawmakers, a kind of truce was called by the CP in the hallowed chambers with members agreeing to shield sword. Side by side each other, the 24 lawmakers met inside the chambers without the mace in the company of the CP. The meeting foisted on the 8 PDP and 15 APC lawmakers by their party hierarchies was not until after a skirmish, which saw some of the APC lawmakers trying to prevent their PDP colleagues from gaining entrance to the chambers.
Attack on Hon. Momoh
The worse was to happen when Hon. Abdulrasaq Momoh, one of the PDP members in the assembly was attacked by thugs at the Legislators’ Quarters in Benin City. Momoh was the first APC lawmaker in the state to decamp to the PDP in June. He had a few months ago alleged that a plot was being hatched by some unnamed individuals in the state to assassinate him, a matter the police command in Benin is yet to unravel in their investigations. The lawmaker representing Etsako East 1 in the assembly, who according to sources is on danger list at the hospital, arising from injuries to his skull from the deep machete cuts to his head sustained in the attack. Speaking on the attack, Ebea had said, “those who wanted to kill Momoh have just murdered sleep”, adding “they would pay dearly” because the PDP assembly sitting at the Assembly Complex will employ the services of the Nigerian Police Force, “to get the root of this inhuman and dastardly act of cowardice by persons who think they control the instruments of violence and bloodbath”.
Reign of Terror at Legislative Quarters
But just when it was thought that the warring factions had shielded their swords, a reign of terror was soon unleashed on the Edo State House of Assembly Legislator’s Quarters by thugs suspected to be members of the opposition PDP. They smashed 36 cars belonging to members of APC in the quarters. The thugs also shot at doors and windows of seven chalets inhabited by APC lawmakers and by the time they ended their operation, property worth several millions of naira had been destroyed. According to eyewitnesses, the invaders started converging on the George Idah Primary School from 6:30 am from where they launched the attack. They tied up the security man at the gate and met no further resistance after gaining entrance as the policemen attached to the lawmakers were said to have been withdrawn earlier in the week allegedly on orders from above. Some of the APC lawmakers sustained injuries as they fled the rampaging marauders. Governor Oshiomhole who was conducted round the Legislators’ Quarters by the Speaker Igbe expressed shock at the level of destruction in the quarters. Addressing newsmen after the inspection, Governor Oshiomhole said, “the PDP leaders had a meeting where it was decided that thugs should be recruited using one Idehen to come and perpetrate this attack.
“It is very clear that the police granted permission for this attack. The Commissioner of Police was informed at about 10:00 pm last night of the plan of the PDP to attack the Legislative Quarters and the APC office.
“We made this intelligence available to the Commissioner of Police and you can see that even the minimal police presence here was evacuated so that these thugs can come and have a free reign of terror. This morning, when they assembled at a point they were meant to assemble, the fact was conveyed to the Commissioner of Police.
“They actually assembled at George Idah Primary School this morning before they proceeded and the police provided supervision for this very serious criminal act. It is very clear that the police command granted permission to PDP to carry out this heinous crime.
“I think for all Nigerians, at a time when we are confronted by insurgency and other forms of violent crime, one will expect that any functionary of the other party will share the concern of the President on peace and security. You can see some of the PDP Leaders in Edo State having lost out and rejected by the people believe that they can create a situation that will make Edo State ungovernable and create complete distraction in their futile calculation that they can remove themselves from power”.
Earlier, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, had defended his defection to PDP. In an encounter with newsmen, he had said: “The reason why we joined the PDP is quite obvious; we are politicians representing our people and our communities. We believe that politics is the best way for us to be able to have a political power that we need to develop our environment and our people. And as at today, in Nigeria and even in Edo State we believe that there are two major political parties; the PDP and the APC.
“It is clear to us that the PDP is not a one-man party. It is a party that has clearly defined rules and regulations; a party very well structured, very well organized; a party that has a better platform for us to be able to engage ourselves and get the dividends of democracy to our people”.
“So, considering what made us to depart or to resign from the APC, it was because of lack of internal democracy, the autocracy that was now prevalent, the hypocrisy, the deceit; we needed a better place and we looked at the environment, we looked at the party and all our people, there was no dissention, they were of the view that the logical place to go was the new PDP in Edo State. And that is where we have now started”.
Responding to insinuations that his governorship ambition was the reason he left the APC, he said: “That cannot be correct because we have not even reached that yet; governorship is still very, very far and anybody talking about that is, just cheap blackmail. It is too early in the day for anybody to say that is being tilted on the governorship race. Governorship race in Edo is even in 2016. I know in politics a day can make a lot of difference. So we are too experienced in this game to be leaving our party just simply because of governorship election”.