Mixed reactions continue to trail the inaugural sittings and election of some principal officers by minority members of both the Edo and Bauchi states Houses of Assembly during the week, with an Abuja-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Professor Epiphany Azinge, describing the development as a descent into legislative rascality.
While the Bauchi Assembly is currently in disarray after 11 out of the 32 lawmakers and the remaining others elected two Speakers in separate elections, the Edo Assembly is under tension, after nine out of the 24 members elected the Speaker with the backing of Governor Godwin Obaseki.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, described the developments as a charade, saying: “We viewed this illegality with shock and disappointment. As a party that has made a commitment to change, we strongly reject any attempt to take recourse to brigandage of the past, when democratic practices were defined by the inordinate whims of people in power.
“Democracy must be governed by the rule of law. A situation where 11 lawmakers in the 31-member Bauchi Assembly and nine lawmakers in the 24-member Edo Assembly were secretly “inaugurated” and purportedly “elect” principal officers behind closed doors is a joke and an embarrassment.
“It is an unfortunate reminder of PDP’s queer brand of democracy. Practices like this are unacceptable under the APC-led administration. As a party that is committed to higher ideals, we would use all democratic means necessary to ensure the right thing is done.”
Also condemning the development, a former member of the House of Representatives and current Chairman of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Wale Oshun, described the situation as the height of impunity that must be condemned in totality.
While agreeing that the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker must be done at the plenary in the House, he said the lawmakers must form the quorum, as it is imperative that all lawmakers-elect must be present and the attendance ought to be more than half.
According to him: “Anybody that is supporting what happened in Edo and Bauchi Assemblies is backing arrant nonsense. This also indicated that Nigeria does not have democracy yet, but civil rule.”
Oshun said it is time for the governors to move away from the mentality of militarising our democracy through unconstitutional proclamation.
But a former president of Igbo Think Tank group, Goddy Uwazurike, a lawyer, noted that there was nothing anybody could do to reverse what happened in the two assemblies, since the lawmakers formed the constitutional required 1/3 majority and the plenary was proclaimed inaugurated by a letter from the governor in respect of Edo, while the Clerk, on behalf of the governor, proclaimed the House inaugurated in Bauchi.
Uwazurike said the fact that the 18 lawmakers in Bauchi were outside the plenary when the proclamation was made nullified whatever arguments they may have raised, because as they are currently, they remained lawmakers-elect and not yet legislators, since they are yet to take the oath and whatever they did outside the plenary is not recognised under the constitution, since the Maze, which is the symbol of authority of the House, is not with them.
Citing Part 2 and Section 94 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Uwazurike said what the lawmakers who were at the plenary in Edo and Bauchi did had the backing of law, adding that for the incumbent Speakers and their deputies to be removed, they need 2/3 majority to achieve this.
However, a former lawmaker, who represented Epe Federal Constituency, Lanre Odubote, disagreed, saying it is important all Nigerians condemned the development for the sake and preservation of Nigeria’s democracy.
“Why were the majority lawmakers-elect not at the plenary, if they were not locked out or prevented by superior forces? This is a complete state of anarchy and it ridicules our democracy,” he stated.
In his reaction, yesterday, Azinge insisted that the two scenarios were not in line with the constitutional guideline, noting that the Houses must be properly constituted or seated, rather than the emergency sitting with the intention of alienating some members.
He said: “The issues should be condemned. Capitalising on the fact that a quorum was formed is not the practice; that is not in line with the constitution. The House must be properly constituted and properly seated.
“Every other member must be properly informed, so that anyone that is not present must be officially absent. There is a lot of legislative rascality going on and such should not be entertained. They are wrong and should not be encouraged.
“Why should there be night sitting and election conducted in the absence of majority of members? Such action will not lend credibility to whosoever emerges as the emergency Speaker, if the House is seen to be illegally constituted.”
According to Azinge, the situation does not mean well for democracy, adding: “Legislature is the engine-room of democracy and for legislators to constitute a clog in the wheel of democracy is wrong. It is my opinion that both states’ Houses should return and be properly constituted. It is not the law court that will determine the legality or otherwise of the development.”
APC stated further in the statement: “Perhaps the actors in the inauguration sham in Edo and Bauchi need to be reminded of the recent and widely-commended election of presiding officers in the newly-inaugurated 9th National Assembly. Our party has set new standards in party politics by upstaging the rule of force, while upholding the rule of law.
“It needs restating that every elected lawmaker has a legitimate right to participate unhindered in the inauguration of the legislative arm in which he/she belongs. The plot to arm-twist the majority in favour of the minority in the legislative arm died with the defeat of the PDP in 2015.
“We, therefore, call on Governors Godwin Obaseki and Bala Mohammed to urgently do the needful by issuing a proper letter of proclamation to allow for the lawful inauguration of the respective state Houses of Assembly and subsequent election of presiding officers in a transparent manner.”
Meanwhile, some top leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have cautioned against what they called plot to use hired thugs to disrupt activities of the Bauchi Assembly, urging security agencies to ensure orderliness and avoid being used to play to the whims and caprice of interested political stakeholders in the state to perpetrate mayhem.
There has been tension in the state since the inauguration of the Assembly due to disagreement among lawmakers over the election of presiding officers.
The PDP leaders, who would not want to be mentioned in print because of lack of clearance to speak on the matter, however, said the party was studying the situation with a view to coming out with proper official position on the matter.
“We are, however, aware that some unscrupulous elements who had lost out in the last general elections in Bauchi State are playing a game aimed at causing crisis within the state.
“I can tell you that such people are being monitored thoroughly. The PDP administration in Bauchi is interested in only those things that would promote good governance for the people of the state and any plot to distract that government will be resisted by the party,” they warned.
In parliamentary practice, one-third of the members of the House of Assembly are required to form a quorum and once a quorum is formed, the House can carry out any legislative business.
This is clearly provided for in Section 96(1) of the Constitution (as amended), which reads:
“The quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of all the members of the House.”
In the inauguration, the Clerk of the Assembly, who must have been appointed in line with the provisions of the Act of parliament, is in charge.
After reading a Proclamation that must have been issued by the State Governor for the inauguration of the House on a particular date, the Clerk proceeds by announcing the business of the day, which in this case, is the election of presiding officers.
Specifically, on how the Clerk should be appointed, Section 93 of the constitution states: “There shall be a Clerk to a House of Assembly and such other staff as may be prescribed by a law enacted by the House of Assembly and the method of appointment of the Clerk and other staff of the House shall be as prescribed by that Law.”
Before the day of inauguration, the Proclamation would have been properly publicised in such a manner that every member-elect would be aware of the date for the inauguration.
The Clerk, after taking the roll call of members present and ensuring that the quorum has been formed, would read out the procedure for electing the presiding officers of the House.
Usually, the only procedure is as spelt out in the Standing Rule of the Assembly, which the Clerk would read out and ensure that it is properly complied with.
Once the Speaker and his Deputy have been elected, the Clerk’s assignment is concluded and the Speaker takes full charge by presiding over the inauguration of other members-elect.