Governor Godwin Obaseki often speaks about the harmful nature of Godfatherism and the need for strong democratic institutions. Still, he has prevailed over perhaps the most consequential subversion of democratic principles since the turn to democracy in 1999. For close to three years, 14 constituencies with close to 2 million people have been denied representation in the Edo State House of Assembly.
On June 17, 2019, Governor Obaseki inaugurated only 12 out of the 24 elected lawmakers in Edo state under very controversial circumstances in the dead on the night. Six months later, Rt Hon Frank Okiye, declared vacant the lawmakers’ seats absent during Gov Obaseki’s controversial inauguration. The Speaker then called on INEC to conduct elections to fill the 14 empty seats.
The affected seats are; Ovia North-East 1 and 2, Uhunmwode, Esan central, Etsako East, Owan West, Ovia South-west, Oredo, Egor, Etsako West and Etsako central.
Although Governor Obaseki has attempted to absolve himself of any responsibility in this gross abuse of our democratic institution, he has inadvertently endorsed such illegality by establishing a working relationship with the State House of Assembly. He has sorted budget approvals and other requests (like the screening of several appointees) from a State House of Assembly that breaches the constitution.
Section 91 of the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria states that “subject to the provisions of this constitution, a House of Assembly of a state shall consist of three or four times the number of seats which the state has in the House of Representatives divided in a way to reflect, as far as possible nearly equal population: Provided that a House of Assembly of a state shall consist of not less than 24 and not more than 40 members.”
If the constitution states that a State House of Assembly must have at least 24 members, can the Edo State House of Assembly claim to meet the test of constitutionality with only ten members?
To claim that 10 out of 24 elected members (less than two-thirds) can effectively and legally carry out legislative business in any state of the federation is not only frivolous but a reckless disregard for our constitution. Even worse is that denying close to two million people any representation in parliament is an affront to our democracy.
Dr. Washington Osifo, one of the affected 14 lawmakers in Edo state, expressed great for Nigeria’s democracy and the disregard for constitutional provisions. In an interview with The Avalon Daily, he said, “the people we represent, and we feel rejected, sidelined, oppressed and robbed. This abuse shows how severely backward we have gone as a country and the hollowness of our leadership. We are now compelled to ask the question, do we truly have a nation.”
He further expressed frustration with the pace of the judiciary on the matter. He said, “for two years and 11 months, the court is yet to make any definite pronouncements. It’s been one adjournment after the other, and our matter has stalled.”
Governor Obaseki can speak about democracy all he wants. Still, as long as he continues to enable this blatant illegality in his state, history will remember him differently, and true democrats will lose every ounce of respect for his person.