By Chidi Nkwopara, OWERRI.
Imo State has, at several times , been in the news, and many say without hesitation, for the very wrong reasons. Each new day literally gives birth to a fresh story line in the state.
In 2011 for instance, Governor Rochas Okorocha never ceased telling his audience that his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, spent over N100 million daily on frivolities, especially drinks. The alleged total expenditure on wine guzzling, far exceeded the state’s monthly allocation. And this was at the time salaries were paid, contractors were paid, the state maintained the cleanliness it was known for among other achievements.
Okorocha’s first broadcast to the people turned a number of things upside down. It was through this broadcast that he summarily dismissed the elected local government council operators, dismissed the beneficiaries of the Ikedi Ohakim administration’s 10,000 job, sacked the tenured State Council of Traditional Rulers. The list is endless.
Apparently angered by the Governor’s action, the Chairman of the Traditional Council, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, sought redress in court. He has won over 14 cases against the Governor, at all levels of the country’s judicial strata. The royal father’s position was not restored till today, despite the judgments of courts!
The case of the elected local government council operators is still pending at the Supreme Court today. By virtue of this, the funds of the 27 local councils were cornered by the state. This has remained so till now.
Another area of the Governor’s interest was what he called “pupil’s allowance”. The fanfare attached to the exercise, simply outweighed the stipend given to the children. The administration has so far, not told Imo people how much was spent on this programme. Truth is that the policy has since crashed, like the free kerosene for the people and periodic free petrol for the commercial tricycle operators in Owerri.
Construction of street gates became a trending policy. A good percentage of these gates have remained abandoned till date.
The issue of the construction of 27 new general hospitals across the state, began. When the Governor realized that none of these projects was completed and commissioned nearly eight years after, he started donating the uncompleted buildings to the police and the armed forces. Even at that, they are still comatose.
Then came the era of roads, roundabouts and pedestrian bridges. Most of the roads started in 2011, have since been abandoned, while two of the pedestrian bridges, that of Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, and the one at Imo State University Junction, were completely destroyed in the name of urban renewal.
The possibility of replacing the demolished pedestrian bridges is very remote because, there is no life in any of the sites.
One other issue, which Nigerians are not prepared to forget in a hurry, is the fact that Okorocha is about the only Governor that has had the highest turnover of deputies in the country, three, in seven years!
The first Deputy Governor was Sir Jude Agbaso. The Okorocha administration accused him of taking N458 million bribe from a road contracting firm, JPROS.
The State House of Assembly, then headed by Benjamin Uwajumogu, did the bidding of the Governor and impeached an innocent man!
While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, is yet to find anything to nail Agbaso for the alleged crime, the entire Agbaso dynasty engaged the services of a reputable international firm, which traced the alleged bribe money in foreign bank accounts belonging to the contractor, believed to have been appointed and paid by state government.
Today, Prince Eze Madumere, an Okorocha friend for over 25 years, who took over from Agbaso, is the second victim of Okorocha’s recycling of his deputies.
Madumere was accused by the State House of Assembly of so many things, including dereliction of his duties and being an ex-convict, among other alleged sins.
As part of the grand design, the lawmakers, headed by the Speaker, Mr. Acho Ihim, summarily suspended five of their colleagues, who were believed to be either friendly, uncompromising or loyal to Madumere. The fear of his eventual impeachment became palpable.
Angry reactions immediately started trailing the planned impeachment of Madumere, from within and outside Nigeria.
The former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, Chief Felix Chidi Idiga, Owerri indigenes in Boston, United States of America, USA, and the League of Equity and Justice, promptly stood up against the impeachment.
For Ihedioha, “this unfortunate development is particularly alarming and indeed worrisome to all advocates and defenders of democracy and rule of law in Imo and the nation at large”.
The former Deputy Speaker said it was incontrovertible that this move being undertaken by Governor Rochas Okorocha and Imo State House of Assembly, is a colossal assault on all known democratic tenets, including freedom of choice, freedom of association and the right of an individual to aspire to any political position in the land.
He expressed regret that “the state is about to have a third deputy governor in the life of Governor Okorocha’s administration, as he has once again, demonstrated his clear intolerance to alternative political stance and viewpoint.
Chief Ihedioha equally regretted that the current episode was coming at the twilight of his administration, when everybody was expecting him to preoccupy himself with “how to salvage the near-ruinous state he is set to leave behind without any legacy to show, than to be engaging in duel against perceived political enemies”.
His words: “Governor Okorocha must therefore, stop this open display of gross abuse of power and treatment of Imolites as conquered people, who must be humiliated, cajoled and subjugated. This is manifest in the planned impeachment of Prince Eze Madumere, which in all intents and purposes, is irresponsible, undemocratic, illegitimate, irrational, unchristian, anachronistic, egocentric and should be reconsidered forthwith, in the interest of the state and sustenance of democracy.”
In his own reaction, Chief Idiga pleaded with Imo lawmakers to drop this war-like situation in the state and embrace dialogue, where issues are resolved amicably, so as to save the state and democracy from degenerating into a theatre of political war and embarrassment.
Continuing, Idiga said that the legislature has not been seen in many quarters, to have lived up to it’s expectations in championing checks and balances amongst different tiers of government, as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
“Let us remember that Imo State is greater than any singular individual. Let us give peace a chance. Enough is enough, please”, Idiga pleaded.
Owerri indigenes in Boston USA, described the alleged conviction of Madumere in an American court as “baseless, untrue, diversionary and most uncharitable”.
“If truly the crimes levelled against the Deputy Governor were true,which we can prove are not, as we have found no evidence here in the USA, having painstakingly visited the Justice Department to verify the accusation, why then are they coming now, after Prince Madumere stood up for the people of Imo State, to challenge an attempt to foist the Governor’s son in-law on the people, against their wishes?”, the group queried.
They called on well meaning Imo sons and daughters, who love democracy and rule of law, to stand up and roast what they termed “this dangerous trend before it is too late”, stressing that “if we turn blind eye today, evil will become bolder and tomorrow, it may be you who will become the next victim”.
The League of Equity and Justice urged Imo State Chief Judge, Justice Paschal Nnadi, to respect the pendency of a subsisting suit and obey the order of the Abuja High Court.
All the foregoing passionate appeals were sadly observed in the breach. The Chief Judge constituted and swore-in a seven-man panel to investigate the sins allegedly committed by Madumere.
Apparently irked by this development and in his determination to keep his job, he quickly approached Imo State High Court.
The first suit, HOW/531/2018, was filed by Madumere against the state Chief Judge, the Speaker and Imo State House of Assembly, in respect of the invalidity of the Assembly’s motion and the Speaker’s request to the Chief Judge, to constitute a panel to probe his alleged sins.
Information available was that the pendency of this suit was largely ignored, as the Chief Judge went ahead to appoint the seven-man panel and swore them in.
Not deterred, the Deputy Governor approached the State High Court again. This time, he filed two suits, HOW/565/2018, against the Chief Judge and nine others, not only praying for specific declarations, but also urged it to slam an injunction on the defendants.
Apart from the State Chief Judge, the other defendants in these suits include Nze Saba Nze, Charles Okoro, Barth N. Opara, Mr. Chika Anosike, Mr. Nwokocha Chidozie, Mrs. Olivia Nwanekezi, Amadi Chidinma, the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly and Imo State House of Assembly.
In one of the two suits, Madumere asked for five reliefs, including a declaration that the appointment of a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct made by the Speaker and the State House of Assembly against the plaintiff is invalid, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.
He also prayed among other things, for an order of court setting aside the appointment of seven persons by the Chief Judge, as members of the panel of seven persons to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct made against the plaintiff, by the Speaker and the House of Assembly.
The Deputy Governor then prayed the Court to determine whether the Chief Judge can constitute a panel of seven persons to investigate the allegations levelled against him, “after the expiration of seven days, from the date of the passing the State House of Assembly’s purported motion and the Speaker’s request to the Chief Judge, having regard to the provisions of Section 188(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.”
He also wants the Court to determine whether the Chief Judge can legally constitute a panel of seven persons of unquestionable integrity, to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct made against him, by the Speaker and the State House of Assembly, during the pendency of suit number HOW/531/2018, instituted by himself against the Chief Judge, the Speaker and the Imo State House of Assembly, in respect of the invalidity of the Assembly’s motion and the Speaker’s request to the Chief Judge to constitute the said panel.
In his 12-paragraph affidavit, Madumere recalled that on July 13, 2018, he commenced a suit, HOW/531/2018, adding that the defendants were duly served with the originating summons and other processes in the suit on July 16, 2018, and they were aware of the pendency of the suit.
In the second suit, the Deputy Governor prayed for “an order of interlocutory injunction, restraining the seven-man panel and the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, from in whatsoever manner, investigating or continuing to investigate the allegations made against the plaintiff, or sitting or continuing to sit, or to inquire or continuing to inquire, or deliberate or continuing to deliberate on the aforesaid allegations of the gross misconduct against the plaintiff, or make any findings or continue to make findings against the plaintiff, pending the determination of the suit.”
Madumere also sought an order of injunction restraining the Speaker and the Imo State House of Assembly from in whatsoever manner, receiving or accepting, or acting on any report presented by the second to eight defendants, pending the determination of the suit.
South East Voice recalls that the Deputy Governor attached a 17-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion for the interlocutory injunction.
The legal fireworks to stop the impeachment started Monday, July 30, 2018, before Justice Benjamin C. Iheka.
Arguing the matter for his client, Prince Ken C. Njemanze, SAN, said: “Due to the nature of the subject matter of the suit, which touches and concerns the Office and person of the Deputy Governor, coupled with the fact that we have filed an affidavit of the urgency, I humbly apply that the interest of justice in this matter will be served, if the Court makes an interim order, directing parties, particularly those served, to maintain the status quo.”
While praying that the three members of the panel, who were yet to be served the motion for interlocutory injunction, should respect the pendency of the suit, Njemanze also reminded the Court of it’s annual vacation that would commence the following day.
“The Court is likely going on vacation tomorrow (July 31) and the second to eight respondents, who were appointed by the first respondent, the Chief Judge, to investigate the plaintiff, have been inaugurated and sworn-in to begin their assignment. If an order for the maintenance of the status quo is not made, the panelists would continue and conclude. The substratum would therefore be lost before the Court resumes”, Njemanze said.
Responding, the Attorney General, AG, and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Milletus Nlemadim, SAN,opposed the application.
“We are opposing the application for an interim order. Our contention is that the grant of an interim order, will not serve the interest of justice. This is an indirect way of getting the order. We expect an accelerated hearing. The panel’s job was provided for by the Constitution. It will be unconstitutional to make an interim order”, Nlemadim said.
At this point, a dialogue ensued between the Court and the AG:
Court: Do you agree that the panel has been constituted and sworn-in and they can start and finish their work, which is the subject matter of this suit?
AG: Yes, I agree but I can’t speak for them.
Court: Since you can’t speak for them, it follows that you cannot guarantee that they will not go ahead with their assignment, when the Court is on vacation.
AG: My Lord, I can’t guarantee this.
In his own submission, counsel to the Speaker and Imo State House of Assembly, Mr. O. C. Chibueze, aligned himself with the AG’s submissions, even as he also told the Court that he was not in a position to give the guarantee required of him by the Court.
Giving his ruling, after listening carefully to counsel on all sides, Justice Iheka restrained the State Chief Judge, the Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly and the State House of Assembly, from taking any further action in the planned impeachment of Madumere, until the hearing and determination of the matter.
Justice Iheka equally ordered the three members of the panel who, from the records available to the Court, were yet to be served the motion for interlocutory injunction, to respect the pendency of the suit and refrain from doing anything that would tamper in whatsoever manner, the subject matter of the suit.
Justice Iheka thereafter adjourned the matter to August 13, 2018, for the hearing of the motion on notice.
Armed with this pronouncements, Madumere and his supporters smiled home, but it was short lived as the Speaker reconvened the House later.
The ominous signs of what was to happen started rearing it’s head. Armed security personnel not only took over all the roads leading to the House of Assembly. All human and vehicular traffic were diverted to alternative routes. Journalists were also barred from either entering the Assembly complex or covering the proceedings of the day.
Later that evening, news filtered into town that the lawmakers had defied the order of Court and impeached Madumere and approved the nomination of Mr. Callistus Ekenze, as a replacement!
Anger instantly started trailing the act. Ekenze’s swearing-in, scheduled for the next day, was however botched, as no High Court judge was prepared to risk likely punishment from the National Judicial Council.
Today, Madumere still lays claim to his office, while Okorocha’s acolytes believe that Callistus Ekenze remains the deputy governor. Some other Imolites were of the view that the state does not have a Deputy Governor.
What happens August 13, 2018, in court will determine which school of thought to believe.