LET me start by saying that posterity will judge all of us as an individual and as a people in the decisions we take in our various public authorities that God has entrusted us with. It is in this view that I am really constrained to express my views over the National Assembly’s unconstitutional ‘directives’ to the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, to issue a fresh proclamation for the inauguration of the State House of Assembly within one week.
In my honest view, the ‘resolution’ by the National Assembly amounts to gross misdemeanour and an affront on Section 11 subsection 4 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution; principles of the rule of law, the doctrine of separation of powers and the National Assembly Standing Rules which forbid it from making sub-judice pronouncement on a matter pending before a Judicial interpretation.
It should be noted that Justice M.G. Umar of Federal High Court sitting in Benin City, Edo State, on July 2, 2019, ordered the National Working Committee of All Progressives Congress, APC; the inspector general of police, the commissioner of police in Edo State, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, who are defendants in an ex-parte motion of the plaintiffs/applicant suit filed on June 28, 2019, by Alhaji Yayaha Audu Omogbai, Clerk of the Edo State Assembly and the Edo State House of Assembly.
Justice M.G. Umar to stop any deliberation concerning the inauguration of the seventh Assembly of the Edo State House Assembly and the election of the speaker and deputy speaker which took place on June 17, 2019, in the Edo State House of Assembly. The case was adjourned to October 9, 2019.
The intrinsic values of the doctrine of separation of powers in a presidential system of government make the three arms of government co-equal and none is superior to others. The National Assembly’s ‘resolution’ amounts to coercing an elected governor, ahead of an arm of government in the Federal Republic to comply with an unconstitutional ‘resolution’.
On the issuance of a fresh proclamation letter, the National Assembly erred. According to Section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) inter alia “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the person elected as the governor of a state shall have 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 section”.
The role of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State as envisaged in Section 105(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) was to issue a letter of proclamation, which he did on June 17, 2019 and his constitutional duty ended there in view of the subject matter. The constitutional duty of the clerk of the Edo State House of Assembly, Alhaji Yayaha Audu Omogbai commenced thereafter and he did the needful with the letter of a proclamation issued to him by Governor Godwin Obaseki which culminated to the inauguration of the seventh Edo State House of Assembly.
The one already issued by Governor Godwin Obaseki on June 17, 2019, is still subsisting and valid till date. Therefore, the governor cannot be ‘directed’ to issue another letter of proclamation so as not to set a dangerous precedent. Furthermore, section 11 subsection 4 of the Nigeria Constitution, clearly states the prevailing circumstances wherein the National Assembly can perform the functions of the House of Assembly of a state.
Explicitly, it states inter alia: “At any time when the House of Assembly of a State is unable to perform its functions by reason of the situation prevailing in that State, the National Assembly may make such laws for the peace, order and good government of that state with respect to matters on which a House of Assembly may make laws as may appear to the National Assembly to be necessary or expedient until such time as the House of Assembly is able to resume its functions; and any such laws enacted by the National Assembly pursuant to this session shall have effect as if they were laws enacted by the House of Assembly of the State: Provided that nothing in this session shall be construed as conferring on the National Assembly power to remove the governor or the deputy governor of the State from office.”
In addition, Section 11(5) states inter alia: “For the purposes of subsection (4) of this section, a House of Assembly shall not be deemed to be unable to perform its functions so long as the House of Assembly can hold a meeting and transact business.” Consequent upon the foregoing, it is imperative and constructive to categorically affirm that the state of affairs in the Edo State House of Assembly in comparison to what was envisaged by Section 11 subsection 4 & 5 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended is not applicable and completely different. The National Assembly ‘resolution’ cannot stand the test of any legal challenge for the proposed ‘take-over’ of the legislative functions of the Edo State House of Assembly as is being ignorantly speculated.
The Edo State House of Assembly has been holding official meetings and transacting of its statutory Legislative business. Few days after the June 17, 2019, inauguration of the seventh Edo State House of Assembly, the lawmakers on Monday, July 22, 2019, cut short their long adjournment to admit new members-elect. On July 10, 2019, also, the Edo State House of Assembly constituted a five-man ad-hoc committee to screen the six commissioner nominees sent to the House by Governor Godwin Obaseki for confirmation. Consequent upon these obtrusive evidences of the functionality of the Edo State House of Assembly in the performance of its legislative business, official meetings and statutory transactions, the contemplated reasons as envisaged by Section 11 of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended, to empower the National Assembly to take over the functions of the Edo State House of Assembly is not applicable. There is no doubt as to whether the Edo State House of Assembly is able to perform its statutory functions and duties because the House of Assembly is holding regular meetings and transacting legislative business as stipulated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Therefore, the constitutional functions and duties of the Edo State House of Assembly cannot be taken over by the National Assembly; otherwise, there will be an infraction on the 1999 Nigeria Constitution as amended. Finally, a judicial interpretation of Justice M.G. Umar will not be a bad option if the defendants/parties can maintain the status quo pending the determination of the suit on October 9, 2019.