Ambiguity on proclamation of assembly should be solved by constitution amendment —Ex-lawmaker
Fresh from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, Mr Chris Agbowanegbe was elected as the youngest member of the defunct Bendel State House of Assembly in 1983 at 29 during the Second Republic on the platform of the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Presently, a top member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Agbowanegbe, is also a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Edo State. In this interview by HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE, he speaks on the ongoing crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly, among other issues. Excerpt:
AS a former member of the defunct Bendel State House of Assembly, what is your opinion on the ongoing crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly?
A House of Assembly is supposed to be a holistic body where all members are equal. The speaker, deputy speaker and all the principal officers are supposed to be first among equals. What happened in the Edo State House of Assembly on June 17, 2019 was novel to parliamentary practice. It is not resting on any history. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that what we are seeing in the assembly is illegal. The action, although looking odd in the eyes of men, was in part created by Section 94 of the Constitution. The ambiguity manifest can only be resolved by a constitutional amendment.
But the proclamation of the assembly by Governor Godwin Obaseki was in secret while invitation was sent to only a selected few.
It is correct that the proclamation was made but was made outside the parliamentary succession. What they did was to secretly proclaim in the evening. What happened in the Bauchi State House of Assembly was slightly different from that of Edo where invitation was sent to the lawmakers- elect for 10 am while they met at 6a.m. for the inauguration.
What is your advice to those lawmakers-elect who are yet to be sworn in?
My position is that those who are yet to subscribe to the oath of office should meet those who have already taken the oath as they were outsmarted. If they fall short of the 181 days sitting requirement, their seats will be declared vacant.
How about legal redress by the aggrieved lawmakers-elect?
They can go to court for a judicial pronouncement which will not become law until it gets to the Supreme Court. Amending Section 9 by the ninth session of the National Assembly will be faster than the judiciary. The constitution should be made holistic. That is inauguration should take place in the presence of all members. Proclamation should not be done in secrecy and all members must be present at the time of Inauguration during which presiding officers will be elected.
Edo State is going through hard times. The spillover of the centre administration in the country to the state is a very big problem. The state with it alleged slim resources is also going through very tough times. Even though I was not an Obaseki supporter, I am happy with the way he has been able to sanitize the state. We are today haunted by herdsmen, multiple taxation, banditry, hunger and numerous problems occasioned by the hard times. We have nowhere to run to.
How do you see the suspension of the House of Representatives Minority Leader Elumelu by the PDP?
I will advise my party, the PDP, to soft pedal. Some smart members of the PDP may have taken advantage of the rules of the parliament to upstage the party. Ordinarily, those who knew that the rules of parliament differ from the party position ought to have alerted the party of the existence of that parliamentary rule. There are nine minority parties and as such there is no way, the PDP could have done it alone. The PDP should let sleeping dog lie so as not to create another crack in the parliament.
How do you see the PDP chances in the 2020 governorship election in Edo?
We are presently undergoing a restructuring and re-organization in preparation for the Edo 2020 governorship election. PDP carries along one character; when there is no election, everything appears to be bad with the party. Look out from next January and beyond. PDP will be bubbling and prepared for the election. We have always won in Edo State. Even the last governorship election, we won but it was fraudulently taken from us. The PDP is Edo and Edo is the PDP. We won the 2015 presidential and National Assembly election. In 2019, we repeated the feat. If not for the interference by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), we will continue to win. I am sure of victory. We will revisit them this time around and win.
There are rumours of the possibility of Obaseki defecting to the PDP?
If Obaseki is planning to defect to the PDP, he will only be fielded if there is vacancy by the time he defects. If he wants to defect, he should better do it now so that we will be able to develop the state in line with the PDP aspirations and not wait until it is too late. I don’t know his (Obaseki’s) mind and so cannot speak on the matter.
What is your take on the presidential election tribunal sitting in Abuja?
Events at the Presidential Election Tribunal have started to manifest. It has been established that the server exists. The tribunal should ensure that the content of the server is taken cognizance of. I am pleading with the judicial officers given the assignment to give justice to Nigerians and not individuals.