From Tony Osauzo, Benin
The impeachment of the speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Justine Okonoboh, along with his deputy, Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie and the Majority Leader, Foly Ogedengbe by members of the House last Monday, did not come as a surprise to many followers of political developments in the state.
Severally, there had been attempts to remove Okonoboh as speaker but he survived thus far because of the interventions of political leaders who wanted the status quo and political power balancing among the three senatorial districts of the state to be maintained.
His impeachment has however altered the power balancing albeit, temporarily for now, as the last word concerning power play in the Assembly is yet to be heard.
Before now, the top three government offices were spread among the three senatorial districts, with the South producing the governor, the Central-speaker and the North district-deputy governor.
As things stand now, the Central senatorial district has again be short-changed as it was in May last year when the House Speaker from the senatorial district, Victor Edoror, was impeached and replaced with Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie from the South senatorial district, leaving Central out of the three top government offices.
It would be recalled that Ativie’s reign as Speaker, lasted for about two months as she was prevailed upon by the then Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and other political leaders to step down for the interest of the Central to be accommodated in the power equation of the state. This paved the way for the emergence of Okonoboh as Speaker, while Mrs. Ativie became deputy speaker.
Some of the reasons given for effecting a change of the leadership of the Assembly last Monday were that Okonoboh allegedly ran the house as a private entity in conjunction with his wife and that he co-opted his wife as 25th member of the house, who was now privileged to know all the operations before the members, just as he was alleged to have awarded contracts to himself without recourse to the house standing rules and due process.
Former deputy chief whip of the House, Kabiru Adjoto, representing Akoko-Edo Constituency 1, who emerged as Speaker, told journalists that 16 members impeached the three principal officers and that after the impeachment the numbers rose to 19 members.
He said the impeached principal officers have been suspended for three months along with Magnus Izehi-Igbas, (PDP) representing Esan North-East constituency 11, who allegedly attempted to resist the impeachment exercise. The lawmaker was said have been beaten by his colleagues for daring to oppose Okonoboh’s impeachment.
“But we discovered that for selfish reasons, the ex-Speaker would adjourn the House, possibly, because the wife is doing a birthday or the son is having a graduation at Covenant University or the son is going to an NYSC camp (and) he (Okonoboh) wants to do a party for him. Between June and July, we have worked for just three weeks; he adjourned the House for more than six weeks.
“Today is August 15 (but) we are just resuming. Then, the House is expected to adjourn again next week for another four weeks for the normal holiday. Is that a normal parliament? All of us came together and said, ‘Enough is enough.’
“The institution is more deserving to be protected that the interest of an individual. The (ex-Speaker’s) wife, like I said earlier, has turned herself to the 25th member of the House of Assembly to the extent that anything we discussed in the executive session, the wife will hear and start calling our wives to tell them what was discussed.
“The wife uses the (Speaker’s) convoy as if she is Mr. Speaker and at random. The other day, the wife and the son used the convoy to the NYSC camp. When the soldiers and policemen there saw that it was coming, they all stood, hoping that they would see Mr. Speaker, only to see the wife and the son to come out of the vehicle. That is desecration of the parliament”, Adjoto, the new Speaker told journalists shortly after Okonoboh’s impeachment.
Okonoboh however declined comments on the matter as his aides and security details led him into a waiting vehicle that sped off immediately at about 11:56am.
The impeachment exercise has raised the curiosity of many, as former speaker Victor Edoror, representing Esan Central constituency became the new deputy speaker and Roland Asoro, representing Orhionmwon 11, was elected as the majority leader.
Just as allegations have been laid against Okonoboh, it was Adjoto, then spokesman for the House, who accused Edoror of greed comparable to that of the red-mouth squirrel’s voraciousness for palm kernel during his tenure, shortly after he was impeached as speaker.
For many observers, therefore, the current leadership arrangement of the House smacks of a hidden agenda, which the lawmakers seek to use as a tool to exploit and negotiate with the executive arm and the APC party leadership in the state to secure some benefits to themselves.
For instance, prior to the impeachment, it was common knowledge that the lawmakers have been complaining of lack of patronage from the executive arm of government under Governor Godwin Obaseki compared to how they faired under the immediate past administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
Already, Governor Obaseki and the party executive in the state have waded in by calling for a meeting with the lawmakers in an attempt to restore the status quo. This may however be a Herculean task for the parties, as the first meeting was deadlocked on Monday evening.
“We are talking. As soon as we finish talking, we will let you know of the outcome. But now we are still talking”, the state APC chairman, Anselm Ojezua, told journalists.
Nevertheless, there are indications that the lawmakers may concede speakership position back to the Central senatorial district, with the new deputy Speaker, Victor Edoror, bouncing back as Speaker. If that happens, Adjoto, the Speaker, may become the deputy Speaker.
This scenatio seems probable as the earlier failed attempts to unseat Okonoboh were alleged to have been targeted at returning Edoror as speaker.
But for now, Adjoto has taken charge of the Assembly. On Tuesday he presided over plenary session of the house, which was attended by 18 lawmakers, even as the people, particularly, those from the Central senatorial district eagerly await what happens next.