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Ebonyi Impeachment: The Litigation, Volte-face And Interventions

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Elechi

Elechi

THE impeachment threat against Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State continued to reverberate last week. While serious indications emerged that the whole essence of the impeachment moves is shrouded in politics, the dissembling of the pro-impeachment legislators in the House of Assembly brought a new dimension to the saga. Even at that, contestation over the legality and constitutionality of the move continues in court. And as the plot thickens, especially in the light of the fact that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the Abakaliki High Court, a subtle campaign of blackmail was targeted at the Chief Judge, Justice Aloy Nwankwo. In a newspaper report, the Chief Judge was alleged to have traveled overseas to avoid the possibility of being asked by the legislators to empanel an investigating committee to interrogate the allegations against Governor Elechi. But seeing the mischievous intent of the report, the Public Relations Officer of the High Court, Mr. Eugene Okafor, refuted the report.

In the statement, copy of which was obtained by The Guardian, the spokesman of the Ebonyi Judiciary, Mr. Okafor, denied that the CJ was on leave and out of the country “to stall the moves by the state lawmakers to impeach Governor Martin Elechi.”Part of the statement read: “For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state that Justice Nwankwo’s annual leave begins in August or September of each year. Therefore, he could not have embarked on leave at this time. We wish to state that the said claims are false, tendentious and disparaging. Justice Aloy Nwankwo has not proceeded on leave; he has not travelled out of Nigeria and is actively at work in Abakaliki.”

Litigation

AT the return date for hearing into the ex-parte motion filed by Governor Elechi against the State House of Assembly and six others, proceedings could not go on because the 1st to 3rd respondents, Speaker Chukwuma Nwazunku, Chief Whip, Kingsley Ikoro and the Assembly allegedly evaded service of processes. Lead counsel to the applicant, Chief Tagbo Ikeh (SAN), informed the court frantic efforts made by them to serve the 1st-3rd Respondents, was rendered futile. He further alleged that the respondents resolved to make things difficult, stressing that “respondents have perpetually switched-off their cell phones and their offices under lock and key.”

The senior advocate further informed the court that based on the obvious inability to access the respondents with the necessary court papers; he was compelled to file a fresh motion seeking for the leave of the court to serve the respondents by way of substituted means notably by publication in two national newspapers. While granting Ike’s application, the presiding judge, Justice John Igboji, adjourned hearing to Tuesday March 17, 2015, adding that the interim injunction earlier issued remains valid till the determination of the substantive suit. It is not clear whether the pro-impeachment lawmakers and their backers decided to evade service and or join issues because of the politics of the so-called impeachment plan.

At the Abakaliki Federal High Court, two cases are pending seeking an interlocutory injunction preventing the House of Assembly from declaring the seats of legislators that defected to the Labour Party (LP), vacant and a declaration of what is the real interpretation of two thirds of the Assembly by virtue of the 1999 constitution. The cases come up Friday 13 and Tuesday 17, 2015. At the last adjourned date, counsel to the plaintiffs, Chief Mudi Erhenede, told the court that the defence was applying the strategy of delay to frustrate the hearing, remarking that despite the matter in court, the House of Assembly, which is a party to the trial, has declared the seats of four members vacant. Justice Maureen Oyetenu, had while adjourning the matter to March 17, warned counsels against delay tactics, saying that her court is not for comedy.

Some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the state hold the view that Elechi’s travails in the House of Assembly bothers on issues between him and the legislators. But try as much as they could, many people wonder why the impeachment brouhaha germinated shortly after the governorship primaries and defection of some members to an alternative platform. PDP has always dismissed inquisition or criticism of its modus operandi in the state as being a family affair. Governor Elechi insists that the idea of invoking the impeachment clause against him emanates from the desire by some individuals to be governor of the state, stressing that the plot was informed by the spurious belief by his traducers that his position as governor would frustrate their blind quest to govern the state by all means and at all cost. Speaking when delegates of National Association of Ebonyi State Students (NAESS) paid him a courtesy visit, the governor revealed that in order to facilitate his removal from office some powerful individuals in the state set aside the sum of N3bn to prosecute the impeachment. While regretting that such a humongous amount of money should have been invested in developing the state, Elechi declared that instead of pursuing a more worthy social course, “the individuals channeled it towards impeachment of the governor to realise the ambition of one man to rule the state at all costs.”

Recalling his days in the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State, the governor noted that N1bn would have gone a long way in helping to develop the state “not to talk of N3bn. These are the same people who want to rule the state; even if they continue to throw money around to hooligans, God is in control and will not allow them to succeed. Their resolve to remove me from office is borne out of their fear that if I remain in office, I will truncate the dreams of one of them becoming the governor,” he surmised, even as he disclosed that he had not been served any impeachment notice. He lamented that in a bid to please some entrenchment political interests, the lawmakers turned themselves to lawbreakers.

But while addressing the press on the state of PDP in the state, in response to the Governor’s position, the State Deputy Governor, Chief Dave Umahi, said Elechi’s conclusions are “speculative.” Umahi, who is also the PDP flag bearer in the state, stated: “The current impeachment moves against the governor by the State House of Assembly is a legislative activity and we have nothing to do with it. The House has its constitutional duties to investigate the executive and where it becomes necessary, those found wanting should (face) appropriate sanctions in line with the constitution…” He stressed that as a deputy governor, he is part of the executive arm of government and therefore lacks the power to interfere in the affairs of the legislature.

Counterforces

LAST Tuesday, PDP faithful trooped to the streets of Abakaliki to hold a counter rally to that organised by youth and women groups in the state against the impeachment plot. However, either out of strategic ploy to deceive or to kill two birds with one stone, the rally, which was advertised as a pro-Jonathan ended up with further tirades against Governor Elechi and the necessity of removing him from office. Several speakers at the event said the people came out to protest the non-payment of minimum wage, corruption in the civil service and to show solidarity for the House of Assembly in their bid to impeach the governor. But while the rally was holding in Abakaliki, seven out of the 15 legislators that signed the motion to serve the governor with an impeachment notice, denounced further involvement in the process. Minority Leader of the State Assembly, Hon. Enyi C. Enyi, who addressed the press conference in Enugu, said the impeachment was belated and would serve no positive purpose. Enyi, who is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) described the impeachment plot as “the culmination of a series of worrisome developments in the Assembly,” stressing that “the attempt therefore to impeach the state governor barely two months to the end of his tenure stood out as evidence of this loss of bearing.” He disclosed that he was mandated by the seven members of the Integrity Group of the House of Assembly to reveal their discontinuation from the impeachment process, adding that, “while the impeachment plans against Elechi lasted, some extraneous political motives were injected to confer certain political mileage on some personalities.” He added: “That this mix doused the import of the impeachment option as part of the instruments of our oversight function is not in doubt. Having discovered that the impeachment was not entirely intended as a means of instilling administrative sanity and probity, we saw the superior reason in allowing the Governor round-off the tenure of his mandate!”

Perhaps, alluding to the impact of the withdrawal of the seven out of the 15 initial signatories to the impeachment attempt, the minority leader declared: “We are of the opinion that the impeachment has become belated and should remain dead forever. Consequently, we solemnly declare that no amount of monetary oxygen would resurrect it as long as the business of impeachment is predicated on the arithmetic provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.” The lawmaker disclosed that those of them in the Integrity Group had been reflecting on what kind of legacy they want to leave behind as their contribution to “the growth of democracy and over all socio-economic development of the state”. His words: “Consequently, after several meetings and discussions, I have been mandated to come out and declare the position of my colleagues in the Integrity Group of the House of Assembly. Our resolution is simply that we have unequivocally withdrawn from any further involvement in the impeachment moves against the Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin N. Elechi…Our decision to withdraw from the impeachment plot was informed by far reaching consultations within and outside our constituencies. We were also touched by the deep political counseling from our leaders and elders, which indicated that the long term demerits of the action would surpass whatever short term merits it may present.” He noted that when a similar impeachment plot was being hatched against the Deputy Governor, he and his group torpedoed it so as to preserve the stability and consolidate the position of the deputy governor.”

But despite the snag, the leadership of the State Assembly said it would not back out of its plan to impeach Elechi. It remains to be seen how the PDP could to proceed with the impeachment by just eight signatories. However, in a statement circulated to journalists, Speaker Nwanzuku, in reaction to the disclosure by the leader of the Integrity Group, Enyi, insisted that, “all the PDP members of the House were still on their ground to remove Elechi.” Playing up the political angle to the impeachment, the statement declared: “We, the PDP members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, do state that we are very much committed in our constitutional responsibility for good governance, rule of law, well-being of our people, respect for the dignity of man and separation of powers amongst the three arms of government in our state. The assignment we have embarked upon is not self-serving, but to protect the commonwealth of our dear Ebonyi State.”

Perspectives to the Impeachment

FOLLOWING the general outcry against the impeachment plot, some political fence-mending and group solidarity has taken off. While some analysts saw the whole issue as a money-making gambit on the part of some of the legislators, others expressed worry that the enemies of the state were out to damage the achievements recorded by the state after its historical creation in 1996. But the path to future peace and unity of the state motivated some notable leaders in the state to intervene.

Pioneer Speaker of the House of Assembly, Senator Julius Ali Ucha, said what was happening in the state could be traced to political differences. Speaking when he visited the burnt section of the Assembly complex, Ucha, who is also the APC governorship candidate decried the many acts of violence in the state, pleading with “all politicians in Ebonyi State to thread with caution so that the state might be saved.” He said, “What is happening today is not good; it portrays us as cannibals, portrays us as wicked people, portrays Ebonyi State as a state riddled with criminals, portrays Ebonyi as people who do not love one another, do not love the future of the state. If there are people who do not believe in Ebonyi State, let them not destroy the state.”

Traditional rulers also weighed into the palaver and sued for caution. It was also gathered that the impeachment plot was seen by leaders of Umekumenyi, in the old Abakaliki bloc, as a ploy by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) to showcase the Abakaliki bloc as being worthless politically. The traditional rulers were said to have recalled a similar plot against former Governor Sam Egwu and prevailed on legislators from the zone to “back off from that dangerous journey.” The angle that the impeachment was meant to facilitate the way for the PDP governorship candidate to contest the election as acting governor was said to have also informed the decision to stall the move. Most importantly the elders reasoned that the impeachment could set off a ceaseless political misunderstanding among the various clans and cultural political groups in the state.

Enyi alluded to this when he said: “We were also touched by the deep political counseling from our leaders and elders, which indicated that the long term demerits of the action would surpass whatever short term merits it may present.”

Whether the latest impeachment play-acting in Ebonyi would end in the fashion of Adamawa or Nassarawa States would be seen in the next few weeks. But with the presidential election just two weeks away, it is doubtful if PDP would start another fire in its backyard.



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