Okorocha, Madumere end term political gymnastics
It is not only keen observers of Imo State politics that believe the rule of law is on trial in the state. Fact is that the quest for political power and control in the state has seriously challenged the attractiveness of rule of law, thereby bringing dark clouds around the state’s political climate.
Some observers have concluded that until the current impeachment saga is sorted out, it is not easy to predict what the future holds for Imo State. Although Governor Rochas Okorocha swore on oath to uphold the rule of law, he does not seem to understand that the implication of that oath includes protecting the constitution while dealing with his people, no matter who is involved.
There are indicators that what happened recently in the effort to remove the deputy governor, Eze Madumere, from office cast serious doubts as to the readiness of the Okorocha administration to continue to preserve the constitution and by extension, democracy.
Sections 188 and 143 of the constitution, details the procedure for the impeachment of a governor, deputy, president and vice president. But, in the attempt to remove Madumere, the state House of Assembly said it observed several gross misconducts against the deputy governor whereupon it raised a committee, which findings tallied with the allegations.
The lawmakers asked the state Chief Judge, Justice Pascal Nnadi, to constitute a seven-man panel as required by the constitution to look into the allegations. The Nze Saba Nze-led panel was therefore empowered to carry out the task and recommend to the assembly whether to impeach Madumere or not.
Imo people followed the development with cautious optimism. But, what is currently unsettling the polity is the procedure, which culminated in the “impeachment” of Madumere as well as the botched inauguration of a deputy governor-designate.
Recall that Madumere had on many occasions faulted the procedure adopted for his removal from office and actually went to court to challenge it. He asked the court to resolve whether the procedure conforms to the constitutional provisions for impeachment.
On July 30, at exactly 11.00am, an Owerri High Court presided over by Justice Ben Iheka, after hearing the motion, restrained the legislators and the Chief Judge from proceeding with the impeachment, pending the hearing and determination of the matter. The matter was adjourned to August 13, for further hearing.
It was gathered that the state’s Attorney General, Milletus Nlemadim, counsel to the House of Assembly and the state’s Chief Judge among others were in attendance when the matter was adjourned.
However, a day after the court issued that order, the lawmakers sat and adopted a purported report of the seven man, which indicated that Madumere was guilty as charged and pronounced him “impeached”. They promptly announced Callistus Ekenze, who until then was the state’s Head of Service, as Madumere’s replacement.
But the attempt to swear the deputy governor-designate into office the next day hit the rocks as the state chief judge refused to administer the oath on him, citing the court injunction. Okorocha, the deputy governor designate, Attorney General among several commissioners and other appointees of the state had gathered at the Sam Mbakwe executive chambers, inside the Government House to witness the ceremony when the announcement of the cancellation came.
The Attorney General was said to have announced after four hours of waiting that the Chief Judge would not attend the ceremony, because of an injunction granted by a state High Court, which stopped the swearing in of the deputy governor-designate.
Although further actions have been put on hold until August 13, what has set tongues wagging is when and where the committee sat to produce the report the lawmakers relied upon and why the embattled deputy governor was not invited in line with section 188 (6) of the constitution to defend himself.
Stakeholders are also wondering why the lawmakers should proceed with the “impeachment” when there was a subsisting court order restraining further action on it. Moreover, section 188 (6) of the constitution stipulates that the “holder of an office whose conduct is being investigated under this section shall have the right to defend himself in person or be represented before the panel by a legal practitioner of his own choice”
Madumere said he went to the court because he was not given fair hearing and other constitutional breaches. The deputy governor’s media assistant, Uche Onwuchekwa, said Madumere was not “personally” served as required by the constitution.
Speaking over the phone to The Guardian Onwuchekwa said: “Again the Nze Saba Nze panel never sat anywhere. The deputy governor was never served with the impeachment allegations as required by law, either personally, by courier or even by pasting on his walls. The report, which the lawmakers relied upon was concocted. By procedure, they were supposed to announce where they were sitting and when they will commence hearing. These were not done.
“We went to court to complain and all the parties in the matter were on July 30 restrained from further hearing including, the House of Assembly, the Chief Judge, the Attorney General of the state and panel members. Yet a day after the order of court, the House of Assembly proceeded to announce the impeachment and naming of the deputy governor designate.
“What is shameful is that the Attorney general of the state who was in court where the order was made was among the government officials who gathered two days after to swear in the deputy governor designate. It shows how prepared Nigerians are in protecting the rule of law and order of courts.”
Reacting to the development, former President of Aka Ikenga and lawyer, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said Nigerians should learn to protect the rule of law and the constitution, attributing the situation in Imo state as “executive rascality”
He added: “The impeachment of the deputy governor must follow provisions of 188 and 143, respectively. Any deviation makes the exercise null and void and of no effect. Ready examples are those of Joshua Dariye, Ladoja, Peter Obi, etc.
“This Imo saga has a lot of baggage. The two ready question marks are whether the deputy governor was given fair hearing and whether he was impeached when the injunction from the High Court in Imo State was still subsisting. Fair hearing means you give the deputy governor a chance to defend himself. The first one is the chance to defend himself by notifying him of the motion of the legislators and asking him to appear before the House committee.
“The second one is to be notified of the charges and be invited to appear and defend himself. He is permitted to appear with his lawyers. The question is whether this was done succinctly and lucidly. In one impeachment case in Bauchi, the House stated that the notice was pasted on his gate. The court set aside the process. Merely authorizing an alternative service is not enough.”
Uwazuruike also said an earlier order obtained by the embattled deputy governor on July 5, 2018 against the impeachment from the state High Court, which was vacated as nullity by an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice O.A. Musa on July 16, 2018.
“Can a high court in Abuja set aside an order validly made by a high court in Imo State? The aberration is clear on the surface of the proceedings. The legislature was wrong to have gone to Abuja to get what it wanted. The image of the judiciary was tainted by the procedure. I am sure that the National Judicial Commission will deal with the judicial rascality in the way Abuja court assumed jurisdiction in the matter. The High Court of Imo State is right to make an order of injunction,” he added.
Also, a law teacher, Prof Gab Agu, told The Guardian that there was no justification in pronouncing the deputy governor “impeached” when the right processes were not followed, adding: “One would have believed that even if the allegations exist, the right thing is to give the man a fair hearing and you still proceed to do what you want to do. That is why I support the order of court. It would have amount to judicial rascality had the Chief Judge surfaced at the swearing in ceremony. Our politicians should know how to play according to the rules to so as to avoid overheating the polity unnecessarily.”
On the duration of the probe panel, he said the maximum was three months, adding however, that the volume of their assignment would determine whether they would conclude in three months or less than three days.
A highly placed official of the state, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he doubted “seriously” if Madumere was not served the impeachment allegations, as well as, invited to the probe panel to answer to his charges.
He declared: “This matter is still in court; but let me state for the record that Governor Okorocha believes in rule of law and has always protected it. That was why he waited for the court to decide before proceeding to conduct fresh party congress in the state and the swearing in of the state APC chairman.
“In the instant case, Madumere was served the notice through his office. This was officially received. Now, if he obtained an injunction restraining the panel from moving ahead with hearing his charges, that order was not served on the panel. Again, there is no law that says that impeachment panel must not conclude its hearing anytime they want. What is important is that we raised a panel, they came up with a report and the House implemented the report.
“The lawmakers were not served the order. He may have served the Chief Judge and that was why the swearing in was halted, when we received the order. We are not overheating the polity and we will wait until Aug 13, when the court will reconvene on the matter. It is those who move from one court to another that are overheating the polity.”
On why the embattled deputy was not given fair hearing, he said it was left for the probe panel members to answer “as I believe they are men of integrity who should know what they are called to do”. All eyes are trained on August 13, for the final word on the Okorocha versus Madumere political gymnastics.
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