The battle of Proclamation: arguably the summary of the “family impasse” besetting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. The elected legislators were caught in between obeying Obaseki’s Constitutional Proclamation and waiting for Oshiomhole’s Political Proclamation. Stating the obvious therefore, the National Assembly has no excuse succumbing to factional political interest and indulging in the needless distractions arising from the Inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly.
In the face of mounting security and economic challenges assailing Nigeria, the National Assembly has no sound moral and legislative justification deploying valuable time and hard earned resources to serve the personal interest of an individual or the partisan need of a group in the country. It is a disservice to the nation and the constituents who elected them to legislate for the country.
As a country, Nigeria reels uncontrollably under the heavy weight of “personalized rules” and “influence peddling” – sins that regularly undermined the country, and are largely committed by executive boys and fronts using the institutions of government. They often use them to advance sentiment and serve partisan interest.
The intent of separation of powers under the trias politica model practiced in Nigeria, was meant to provide checks and balances to prevent or cure these sins and the abuse of power. But to see the 9th National Assembly, a legislative arm, yielding its hallowed chambers to a narrow partisan exploitation and influence peddling, and thereby committing an even more egregious act, is not only nerve-wracking but outrightly disingenuous.
Unfortunately, in a bid to arrive at a premeditated conclusion, the National Assembly has found itself trapped in the tragic blunder of personalizing the constitution and also failing to adhere to unambiguous provisions and interpretations of our laws. Its meddlesomeness in the Edo State matter is further cheapened by the irritating fact that it was a pre-inauguration political controversy that bothers largely on the contestation for power.
Attempting to use the provisions of Section 11 of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to cure political disagreement or usurp the function of the judiciary is unquestionably unparliamentary and self-serving. This action threatens the core essence of federalism.
To begin with, the contention over the Edo State House of Assembly matter stemmed from the allegations: that some lawmakers-elect were not aware of, or invited to the inaugural sitting of the 7th Legislative Session; and also, that the proclamation issued to convene the sitting was suspiciously issued and activated at odd hours without their knowledge. In summary, a pre-Inauguration dispute was declared by the aggrieved members-elect – on the face value. But covertly, the political reading is largely about the bruised ego of a “god-father,” who is fighting back. The leadership of National Assembly cannot pretend not to know.
The state governor, Godwin Obaseki had issued a valid Inaugural Proclamation in compliance with Section 105 (3) of 1999 (CFRN-aa): “Subject to the provision of this Constitution, the person elected as the Governor of a State shall have 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 session.” And in the annals of our country, proclamation has never been reviewed, retracted and re-issued. Section 105 (3) is unambiguous.
Lest we forget, had it been that the exigency of re-issuing a proclamation was a possible scenario, it would have been attempted by the APC as a remedial option when Bukola Saraki broke ranks to emerge the President of the Senate. Maybe the aggrieved lawmakers can learn from what happened on June 9, 2015, when some Senators-elect instead of resuming at the National Assembly, decided to converge at the International Conference Centre in Abuja, for a political engagement outside a Constitutional Proclamation issued by the President. It was a political arrangement that backfired.
History, conventions and the constitution are available to guide our practices and actions. There is the inherent danger of creating a bad precedent capable of endangering our already burdened democracy, if the governor concedes to the baited machination of re-issuing a fresh proclamation. And, if we must tell ourselves the “bitter truth,” the real and underlying bone of contention in the “Heartbeat of the Nation” is the sheer resistance to force a Political Proclamation over Constitutional Proclamation. The head of the APC political family in Edo wanted to exert his influence at all cost.
On our part, it calls for a serious concern and review: how the National Assembly was used to peddle influence, and how it was lobbied to elevate to national concern, a disagreement between two feuding parties in a political family over power struggle and control. The National Assembly should be wary of being condemned to a meddlesome interloper in a matter that could undermine its own legitimacy as a parliament-for-all and not for a few. The leadership of the National Assembly could elect to intervene to resolve a political dispute, but after that and without a breakthrough, it should allow the court to adjudicate one way or the other. How many pre-inauguration disputes common to Houses of Assembly in the country can the National Assembly really wades in?
It must be emphasized that there is a marked difference in the situation that led to the National Assembly invoking section 11 (4) of 1999 (CFRN-aa) in the past, and in what happened in Edo State. It is instructive to also state emphatically that even in those situations where Section 11 (4) of 1999 (CFRN-aa) was applied in the past, it had been done without fulfilling some basic doctrines. It is important to note that the framers of our constitution did not arrive at Section 11 (4) of 1999 (CFRN-aa) for the convenience or expediency of the National Assembly to just takeover a State House of Assembly under the guise of addressing a political dispute or meddling in a tussle between two gladiators. It is a serious provision that demands a serious security situation.
It is doubtful the National Assembly, had in the past prioritized and considered the inevitability of a valid security reports from the heads of all security agencies in the affected state and from the heads of the executive and the legislature, before invoking Section 11 (4). These reports must show that the House of Assembly has become unable to perform its function by reason of the “situation prevailing in the state,” with evidence (a security breakdown) and not because of “the situation prevailing” in the house, arising from a political disagreement or leadership tussle. The situation prevailing in a state must be compelling enough to warrant Section 11 (4).
Also, section 11 (4) must not be confused with, or used to undermine what security agencies can independently do to prevent a breakdown of law and order and/or give effect to a valid court order when there is leadership dispute or infighting in a house of assembly and one party in the dispute decided to seek police or court protection. The National Assembly must never be allowed to usurp the functions of the judiciary in a dispute like the one arising from Edo State.
The aggrieved lawmakers should be encouraged to either unite with their political family, take their oath and resume sitting in the house, or approach a court of competent jurisdiction to adjudicate one way or the other. Proclamation is a function of the constitution. And since Oshiomhole had rightly pronounced the death of godfatherism in Edo State, it will therefore amount to sacrilege for Obaseki to resuscitate it by consulting him before issuing a proclamation. Obaseki’s proclamation is valid.
Atoye contributed this piece from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org