By Nkannebe Raymond
Governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha, the Supreme Leader of Imo State, is once again at his infamous best. In his sworn ambition to install his son in-law as his successor, he has found in the rubber stamp House of Assembly of the state, a veritable instrument to carry out his latest ignoble act of democratic rascality.
Ever since the embattled deputy governor of the state, Prince Eze Madumere, indicated his intention to run for the seat of the executive governor of the state in the forthcoming general election, in a bid to benefit from the zoning principle which favours his Owerri zone, the relationship that subsisted between him and his boss, Okorocha who at some point described the man as a “son in whom I am well pleased”, has hit the rocks.
Okorocha, it was reported, had tried to talk Madumere into shelving his gubernatorial ambition as he had reserved that position for his son in-law, and current Chief of Staff, Chief Uche Nwosu whom he described as the only person with the capacity to carry on with his policies for the state. As a way of pacifying Madumere, he had advised the latter to vie for the senatorial seat of his Owerri East senatorial district. An offer which as it turned out, did not sit well with his deputy. And thus in order to punish him for his obduracy, Governor Rochas Okorocha, has since written a script which is currently been dramatized by the majority members of the House of Assembly. A House, described by many followers of events in the state, as the worst the state has witnessed in a long time.
The problem however, is not the decision of the House of Assembly to impeach or rather remove the deputy governor of the state. Those powers are well invested in them going by the unmistakable provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended. But these powers as has been refrained by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in quite a number of landmark decisions, are to be invoked with circumspection, so they do not become a weapon in the hands of an unscrupulous parliament to change the face of government in their respective states, or at the federal level, at their whims and caprices.
In the popular case of Inakoju v Adeleke (2007) 4 NWLR (pt. 1025) P. 423, a full panel of the Supreme Court in a leading Judgment delivered by the late Hon. Justice Niki Tobi (May God bless him), left no one in any doubt as to how a House of Assembly of a state should exercise its power of removal of a governor. Subsequently in the case of Dapialong & Ors v Dariye & Anor (2007) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1026) 332 the same Court, relying in its previous decision in Inakoju v Adeleke reiterated its position on the manner and mannerisms of impeachment/removal of the executive governor of a state. In the two landmark decisions, the governors of Oyo and Plateau states respectively were returned and their purported impeachments by the respective Houses of Assembly were declared as null and void. These judgments on the strength of the near novelty of what they decided, and the erudition that was brought to bear by the apex Court in deciding same, have since become what lawyers refer to as locus classicus in that area of our adjectival jurisprudence.
Whereas the practice in the past until the decisions in Inakoju and Adeleke(supra) was for the Courts not to meddle in the procedure or outcome of the exercise of the State House of Assembly of the powers invested in it under section 188 of the Constitution. The powers of the court was said to be ousted by the provisions of section 188(10) of the Constitution which provides as follows: No proceedings or determination of the panel or of the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be entertained or questioned in ANY court (Emphasis supplied). This provision which appeared to be at large in the earlier controversial case of Chief Enyi Abaribe v Abia State House of Assembly & Ors (2002) 14 NWLR (pt. 738) p.466, and thus leading to the impeachment of the then deputy governor, was however cut to size in the subsequent case of Inakoju v Adeleke (supra), where the apex Court in one fantastic burst of judicial activism set the limits of the ousting of the powers of the court vis-à-vis section 188 of the 1999 Constitution.
The foregoing background is instructive for two reasons namely: to allow the reader an entry into the attitude of Nigerian Courts to the exercise of the power of impeachment by both state and federal legislature, and also to gauge the constitutionality or otherwise of the actions of the Acho Ihim led Imo House of Assembly vis-à-vis the hastily procured petition served on the deputy governor the other day, when construed against the provisions of the 1999 constitution.
And so what are the proximate facts giving rise to the needless controversy? On Tuesday, 10th of July, 2018, 13 members of the House, led by the Deputy Speaker, Ugonna Ozuruigbo of Nwangele constituency, submitted a petition with six charges accusing Madumere of gross misconduct in office which misconducts were given out as follows: “Failure to perform any of the constitutional functions of his office; being absent from his office for three months without official reason or permission; failure to attend constitutionally mandated proceedings of the State Executive Council and proceedings of the State Security Council; refusal to attend and meet with the State Governor and Commissioners of the state made compulsory by section 193(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended”. There was also the allegation of what was described as “concealment of felonious conduct affecting the presentation of self as an eligible candidate of office of deputy governor, Imo State having been convicted and imprisoned for theft in the United States of America”. While the question whether these alleged conducts constitute “gross misconduct” in the peculiar context of section 188(11) of the 1999 Constitution remains arguable, as was given vent in the case of Inakoju v Adeleke, the subterranean acts that followed the submission of the Notice of Allegation to the Speaker of the House however, has raised more suspicions, thus confirming the fears of critics that the whole procedure was a manuscript perfected in the Owerri government house.
Whereas the communal provision of sections 188(2), (3) and (4) of the Constitution mandates the Speaker of the House by way of motion supported by at least 2/3 members of the House to decide whether to investigate the petition or not, before swinging the Chief judge of the state into action pursuant to subsection (5), what followed rather was a procedure unknown to the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution. Upon the submission of the allegations to the Speaker, a kangaroo committee chaired by one Kennedy Ibeh was inaugurated against the run of play. The task of this committee unknown to the constitution was ostensibly to look into the substance of the allegations. They were given some seven (7) days to be done with their troubles.
You would expect that part of the modus operandi of this make-shift committee would be to invite representations from the embattled deputy governor in keeping faith with the audi alterem partem principle that is writ large in the law of the land, before coming to a decision one way or the other. But you would be disappointed if you had expected that. In a never-seen-before fashion of overzealousness, the tokunboh committee turned in its report the following day. That was less than 24 hours after it was illegally saddled with the preliminary responsibility to determine the fate of the second citizen of the state. In other words, this committee assumed the position of the entire Imo State House of Assembly, whose bounden duty it was, to decide whether to investigate the allegation or not.
While turning in its report, in a classic case of acting prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner, the committee, as reported by the Guardian Newspaper of 15th July, 2018, urged the House to ask the Chief Judge of the State to raise a judicial panel to investigate Madumere in view of the allegations against him. The Clerk of the House, Chris Duru, was then directed to procure the signature of 19 members of the House in support of the decision of the illegal committee. This, obviously was a futile attempt to meet the requirement of the constitution as per the number of lawmakers whose votes should cause the Speaker to swing the Chief Judge of the state into action as provided by section 188(4) of the Constitution. It was a deft attempt at conferring legality on a most atrocious illegality. A sharp practice that the late justice Niki Tobi feared in the lead judgment in the Inakoju v Adeleke case when the eminent jurist enthused as follows: “…it is merely stating the obvious that the Chief Judge can only invoke his constitutional powers under section 188(5) if the provisions of section 188(2), (3) and (4) are complied with. Putting the position in a negative language, the Chief Judge will not invoke his constitutional powers under section 188(5) if the provisions of section 188(2), (3) and (4) are not complied with. This, in my humble view, is the intendment of the makers of the Constitution…”.
Before now, certain members of the House whose support for the hatchet job could not be vouched were suspended in controversial circumstances over what their colleagues referred to as ‘un-parliamentary conduct’. The suspended members included Dr. Uche Oguwuike (Ikeduru Constituency); Nkenna Nzeruo (Oru East); Collins Chiji (Isiala Mbano) and Ifeanyi Nnataronye (Mbaitoli Constituency). The motion for their suspension on the 27th of June, 2018 was moved by the Assembly’s Majority Leader, Lugard Osuji and supported by Mr. Lawman Duruji. This suspension no doubt, was to clear the way by the House for what was to come. It was a legislature that could only compare to those in ancient Rome that conspired against Caesar. Only that this time, we are not in Rome, and the subject of the conspiracy, not Caesar.
When one factors the surreptitious manner the House has gone about in exercising its powers against the clear provisions of the Constitution; the timing of this impeachment and the trumped up charges on which it is founded, what is likely to be seen is what is often described as the voice of Jacob, and hand of Esau. Four years ago, a former Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Pastor Sunday Onyebuchi was equally impeached in similar fashion by the Enugu House of Assembly in what would later become known as the “Enugu Chicken impeachment”. Part of the reasons adduced by the Enugu House of Assembly for impeaching the then deputy governor, was his running a poultry farm within the premises of the famous Lion Building government house; as well as not attending official functions on behalf of the then governor, Barr. Sullivan Chime. The embattled deputy governor would challenge his impeachment in Court. And in well considered judgment of the Enugu State High Court, Coram R.O. Odugu, the purported impeachment was declared as null and void.
Even though this judgment came way after the tenure of that administration had lapsed, it nonetheless vindicated the then deputy governor who also had all his entitlements restored to him courtesy of the judgment of the Court. I understand that that judgment is the subject of an appeal now pending at the Enugu division of the Court. It is expected that when that Court finally makes a pronouncement on the appeal, it would not run against the precedent set in the Inakoju v Adeleke line of cases.
That said, the action of the Imo House of Assembly once again puts in focus some of the pitfalls of our democracy. When the head of the executive arm government conspire with the legislature which should play oversight role on the activities of the former, then the whole essence of checks and balances written into our Constitution is abused and bastardized to the detriment of deepening democratic norms. It is on this score that we must commend the decision of the embattled deputy governor to challenge the decision of the House of Assembly in Court, where he is seeking declaratory and injunctive reliefs to stay further actions of the House to the extent that they offend sacrosanct provisions of the constitution. Good enough, he has all the goodwill of the people of the state to contest that. God forbid that a day would come when the people look with trepidation while the cherished values and ideals of a hardly fought democracy is desecrated by rabid state executives working in concern with other anti-democratic forces.
Before rounding off on this Column, it bears pointing out that in Rochas Okorocha, we have another example of how not to be a democrat. He affords us another justification of Lord Acton’s famous admonition that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lord Acton must have had his ilk in mind when he gave the civilized world that very illustrative epithet of the abuse of power. Five years ago, he was at the centre of the impeachment of his former deputy, Chief Jude Agbaso, in very controversial circumstances; here again he is once again superintending the removal of his former friend turned foe.
If he got away with it five years ago, it is unlikely that he would this time. With all the forces against him led by the Coalition of Allied Force in the state APC, which has political heavyweights such as Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, Ben Uwajimogu and Osita Izunaso, just to name a few, in its membership, as well as the disaffection on the part of many indigenes of the state, testament of which is found in the thousands that filtered into the streets of the state last week, protesting the contrived impeachment of the deputy governor, it is clear that the man, like the tragic character in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God─Ezeulu, may all too soon meet his political waterloo. As things stand, he is already in a hole. He must learn not to dig further.
Raymond Nkannebe, legal practitioner and public interest commentator, wrote in from Lagos. Comments and reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org.