An ally of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Osaro Onaiwu, and the head of the legal team of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the September 19 governorship election in the state, Dr. Ehiogie West-Idahosa, are bickering over the deepening crisis in the state’s House of Assembly.
By Bisi Olaniyi, Southsouth Bureau Chief
Onaiwu, founding Director-General of PDP Governors’ Forum, yesterday accused West-Idahosa of bringing the law profession into disrepute by his petition in which he sought police protection for 17 members of the State Assembly.
Onaiwu, in a statement, asked the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee and the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to impose stiff sanctions on West-Idahosa for instigating the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, to direct the police to provide protection for the legislators.
A group of legal practitioners under the auspices of Truth, Fairness and Justice Associates, signed by Victor Agugoesi, also wrote to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, who is also the Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), to complain about West-Idahosa’s petition.
West-Idahosa daubed Onaiwu’s allegations as mischievous, baseless, frivolous, malicious, unfounded and politically motivated.
“How can I mislead the Federal Attorney-General by making a representation to him?” he asked in reaction to Onaiwu’s statement.
Onaiwu said: “West-Idahosa had written to the Office of the AGF, asking for his intervention in the crisis that is rocking Edo Assembly despite the fact that the matter of the vacant seats of 14 of the lawmakers is currently before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
“The AGF had consequently asked the IGP, Mohammed Adamu, to provide security for the ‘dissident lawmakers’ of Edo House of Assembly.
“West-Idahosa, against standard rules in the legal profession, stood as both a prosecuting and defence counsel to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole (a former National Chairman of APC and an ex-governor of Edo State) in the same matter in the same Federal High Court.
“West-Idahosa was the counsel to Bishop Osadolor Ochei when the latter dragged Comrade Oshiomhole to the Federal High Court in 2018 over alleged fraud and contract inflation in the construction of Edo Specialist Hospital.
“The same West-Idahosa duplicitously transmuted into Comrade Oshiomhole’s counsel when the former Edo governor sued the Attorney-General of Edo State over the same subject matter, obtaining an ex parte order to stop Oshiomhole’s probe.
“West-Idahosa’s conduct in the aforementioned matter gravely offended the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers in Nigeria on conflict of interest and duty of counsel to uphold the rule of law.”
Onaiwu also asked the regulatory bodies in the legal profession to de-bar the head of APC’s legal team, which he claimed would serve as a deterrent to other members of the noble legal profession who might want to offer themselves to politicians as instruments of anarchy and injustice.
In his reaction, however, West-Idahosa said: “How can I mislead the Federal Attorney-General by making a representation to him? Is he obliged to accept the views of my clients as represented by me?
“The AGF is a learned SAN and a reputable lawyer. He has his parameters for reaching his official decisions as the chief law officer of the federation.
“The learned SAN (AGF) is very much around and he has in no way accused me of misleading him. His advice to the police was probably based on his independent findings and understanding of the law.”
The former member of the House of Representatives also stated that he instituted an action for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate Oshiomhole in 2018 on behalf of Bishop Ochei, reiterating that the matter was struck out by the Federal High Court in Abuja for being statute barred, pointing out that it was the end of the matter, without any appeal by anyone.
He said: “Subsequently, a senior lawyer (SAN), who was briefed to file a fundamental right enforcement action against the Edo State Government and others for breaching the right of fair hearing of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, asked me to stand in for him during the period of the initial relaxation of the Coronavirus lockdown in Abuja. I did. How is that an offense?
“There was no conflict of interest in the matter. Whose interest was in conflict? I had no personal interest in the matter.
“Bishop Ochei whose case was struck out had nothing to do with the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry which breached Comrade Oshiomhole’s right of fair hearing and thereafter indicted him.
“Edo State Government had nothing to do with the suit that was struck out. The suit that was struck out did not lead to the setting up of the judicial commission of inquiry set up by the Edo State Government.
“I did not swear to any affidavit as a person in the suit that was struck out, and once a suit is struck out, it is off the docket of the court. What then would be the professional reason not to take briefs from anyone that I once conducted a different case against? Am I on a retainership against Comrade Oshiomhole? Does he have a personal problem with me? The answer is in the negative.
“Onaiwu, who is a member of PDP, has never been my client. I owe him no duty. Onaiwu and company are angry that I have so far managed the team of lawyers conducting about eleven pre-election matters filed against APC very well, in respect of the September 19 Edo State governorship election and they think that they can scandalise me in order to dissuade me from continuing to do my job. I will not be distracted.
“They have their own lawyers. There are some lawyers in their legal team who did matters for APC as recently as June 2020 but now working for Onaiwu and his party in respect of the same Edo State election.
“That is their decision. No APC member has scandalised them or orchestrated the writing of unfounded petitions against them. Lawyers ought to be allowed to service their clients in an atmosphere devoid of blackmail.
“Onaiwu’s baseless allegations reflect the type of acrimonious politics that his likes are perpetuating in Edo State. They have extended that to me for playing my professional role diligently as the head of the legal team for APC for Edo governorship election.”
West-Idahosa also declared that Onaiwu’s petition and the contents were merely malicious and politically motivated, while insisting that the allegations were baseless.
I’ve not slept in one month – Edo REC
As preparation for the September 19 governorship election in the state gathers pace, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Dr. Johnson Alalibo, said yesterday that he has not had a sound sleep in the last one month.
He said he has been working day and night to ensure that the election goes well.
But he asked Edo youths to shun violence if the polls must be free, fair, credible and peaceful.
Alalibo spoke as guest of honour during the “Vote Not Fight Campaign,” which was organised by Connected Advocacy for Empowerment and Youth Development Initiative, in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Benin.
He said: “To promote democracy, we must promote peace. In Edo State, we have started seeing untoward activities by political actors and operators.
“The youths are more vulnerable to be used for electoral violence. If we want free, fair, credible and peaceful election in Edo State on September 19, the youths must shun violence during the campaigns and the poll.
“The politicians should avoid offensive language in their jingles and campaigns. To deepen democracy, the election must be devoid of violence.”
The REC also urged the security agencies and other stakeholders to continue to support the electoral commission, while lauding the Connected Advocacy for Empowerment and Youth Development Initiative and NDI for the timely campaign.
Also speaking at the forum, the Edo State Commissioner of Police, Babatunde Kokumo, said INEC and security agencies were determined to get the September 19 election right, thereby promoting democracy and moving Nigeria forward. But he called for credible information about criminals and illegal activities from members of the public.
Kokumo, who was represented by the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the state’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Ayo Faniyan, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), also said his command was ready for the election.
He asked all stakeholders to join hands to promote democracy.
The Executive Director of Connected Advocacy for Empowerment and Youth Development Initiative, Prince Israel Orekha, noted that the organisation decided to partner NDI to ensure violence-free September 19 election in Edo.
Orekha also reiterated that Nigeria’s youths had been victims and perpetrators of electoral violence over the years, while declaring that youth supporters of the leading governorship candidates in Edo state had been complicit in the acts of violence committed so far.