The Imo State Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, was impeached on Holy Thursday, March 28th,2013 after the Panel which was set up to investigate the impeachment charges against him submitted its report. The political travails of the former Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, were in the public domain for over a month before he was eventually impeached. Within the gestation period of the impeachment, the print, electronic, and on-line media were awash with screaming and banner headline reportage of the various developments in the impeachment process. It is not necessary to do a rehash of the genesis in this report; rather I want to highlight some pertinent lessons which were ignored while the impeachment episode was gathering momentum. If the various stakeholders in the impeachment brouhaha had taken judicial notice of the lessons, Sir Jude Agbaso would not have ended his short political career in such a dismal manner. He would have lived to fight another day. Rather than advise Sir (can he still hold the title of Sir?)Jude Agbaso on the need to exercise caution, foresight and moderation in the midst of his travails, the pro –Agbaso group were busy stampeding him to take a leap into a bottomless chasm.
A politician that is confronted with the Damocles sword of impeachment has two options: (1) He may decide to resign, or (2) He becomes impeached and thereafter approached the courts for reinstatement. It is pertinent to state that in 1974, the then President of U.S, Richard Nixon, was entangled in a high crime which culminated in the notorious Watergate Scandal. It was an investigation that spanned over one year. The Watergate scandal actually started on June 17, 1972 and ended on August 8, 1974 when President Richard Nixon resigned. The details of the Watergate scandal is, perhaps, the most exciting and fascinating lecture on investigative journalism in the Journalism School.
In this viewpoint,I wish to draw attention to the political challenges of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and how he remained stoic, taciturn and laconic throughout the period and yet he won all his cases in the courts and subjected his traducers to shame and ridicule. In the 2003 governorship election, Governor Peter Obi was the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra State. Although he won the election, the notorious INEC declared DR Chris Ngige, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the winner.Mr Peter Obi did not panic; he simply filed a suit in the State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal in a bid to retrieve his stolen mandate. After nearly three years of a tortuous search for his stolen mandate, the Tribunal declared him the winner of the election on March 15th, 2006.On 17th March, 2006, he took the Oath of Office and Allegiance and became inaugurated as Governor of Anambra State. On 2nd November, 2006, Governor Peter Obi was impeached by the State Assembly after only seven months in office. The next day Dame Virgy Etiaba, the Deputy Governor, was sworn into office as a replacement .Governor Peter Obi remained calm and unruffled. He quietly went back to the court in search of a reinstatement to his office as governor. Again, Governor Obi triumphed in the court as he was reinstated to the governorship on February 9th, 2007 by the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu. Dame Virgy Etiaba handed power back to him after the Court of Appeal Judgment. As preparations were ongoing for the conduct of the 2007 general elections, Governor Peter Obi reminded the INEC that it would be unconstitutional to conduct the governorship election in Anambra State since his 4-year tenure was still running. In spite of this appeal to INEC, the electoral body went ahead to conduct the election and declared Chief Andy Uba of PDP the winner. When Andy Uba was sworn in on May 29th, 2007 as Governor, Mr Peter Obi quietly packed his luggage and checked out of the Government House. Again, he headed to the courts to seek Constitutional interpretation of Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution.
After futile efforts at the High Court and Court of Appeal, Governor Peter Obi (Okwute Ndigbo) went to the Supreme Court for adjudication. In his relief, he had prayed the Apex court to declare that his tenure as Governor of Anambra State was still subsisting having been sworn into office on March 17, 2006. He asked the court to declare the 2007 Governorship election in Anambra State a nullity and of no effect. In what has been widely held as a landmark judgment in Nigeria’s political development, the Apex Court headed by Justice Aloysius Katsina–Alu declared inter-alia: “In the interest of justice and having regard to the fact that the relevant facts in this matter are not in dispute, I ought to proceed to exercise the power vested in this court under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act. Let me reiterate that the only relevant fact is the date when the Plaintiff/Appellant took his Oath of allegiance and Oath of office which is 17th March, 2006. Happily, the provision is very clear and explicit and all I will need to do to it is to apply it. The provision 180(2) reads: “Subject to the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the Governor shall vacate his office at the expiration of a period of four (4) years commencing from the date when (a) in the case of a person first elected as Governor under this Constitution, he took the Oath of allegiance and Oath of office
There being no dispute on the fact that Plaintiff/Appellant (Gov. Obi) took his Oath of allegiance and Oath of office on 17th March 2006, his term of office will expire on 17th March 2010. I now consider the Orders to make. The Plaintiff/Appellant had in his claim before the High Court sought declaratory and injunctive reliefs directed at protecting his four year term of office. However, the 1st Respondent (INEC), in spite of its awareness that the case was still pending in court, went to conduct the purported election.
This Court, indeed any court, ought not to permit its process to be treated with disdain. I therefore have the duty to ensure that Plaintiff/Appellant’s appeal is not rendered nugatory. I therefore make the following declaration and Order:
1. That the office of Governor of Anambra State was not vacant as at 29th May, 2007
2. It is ordered that the 5th Respondent, Dr. Andy Uba, should vacate the office of Governor of Anambra State with immediate effect to enable the Plaintiff/Appellant (Gov. Obi) to exhaust his term of office”.
On the strength or this Supreme Court judgment, Governor Peter Obi got back his job and served out the remaining period of his tenure. On 6th February 2010, Governor Peter Obi was voted to a second term. He was sworn in for a second term on 17th March 2010 – exactly four years after he took the Oath of Office on 17th March, 2006. This aspect of the judgment may be of special interest to the former Local Government Chairmen in Imo State who exhausted their two year tenure since 8th August, 2012 but are still asking for tenure elongation. The former local Government Chairmen should take judicial notice of the fact that Governor Obi completed his first tenure exactly four years after he was sworn into office. The courts did not take judicial notice of the fact that he was not in office some of the time.
I have quoted the Supreme Court judgment elaborately in order to show that one does not need to engage in a street fight in order to get justice from the Temple of Justice. Governor Peter Obi’s humble disposition sets him apart from the maddening crowd who engage in all manner of extra judicial activities in order to make an impact on the electorate. Governor Peter Obi’s principled and dogged fight to resolve his political challenges is a sharp contrast to what we have witnessed in Imo State since the impeachment drama involving the former Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso, started. Daily, all manner of groups seize the radio channels in Imo State and engage in provocative and uncouth attacks on either the State Government or on the political dynasty of the Agbaso’s. They masquerade as Human Rights Activists and yet nobody has any record of their human rights achievements in Imo State. They parade themselves as lawyers who are fighting for or against one of the parties in the impeachment saga. Yet, I am not aware that any of them belongs to the family of Pro Bono/Human Rights lawyers/Activists. Today, they have suddenly become Gani Fawehinmi,Femi Falani, Ozekhome,Festus Keyamo, Wisdom Durueke and the rest.
I appeal to Imo people to allow peace to reign. Let us emulate the example of Governor Peter Obi and other Anambra State politicians and exhibit maturity and moderation in the face of overwhelming odds. It is on account of Governor Peter Obi’s humility and uncommon simplicity that I regard him as the “Most Outstanding Governor in the South East in the period 1999-2012”.At the rate Governor Okorocha is progressing, he is likely to achieve the same award when he serves out his 4-year or 8-year tenure as Governor of Imo State. Let those who have any grievances take them to the courts. We should stop the practice of using our electronic/radio channels as High Courts where we come every morning to engage in incendiary, inflammatory and seditious attacks against real or perceived enemies/governments. Let us emulate the politicians in Anambra State who in spite of their massive wealth, do not exhibit desperation when they lose elections. It is the example and charisma of Governor Peter Obi that steadied the tempest and political desperation of Anambra politicians. Before Governor Peter Obi became Governor, Anambra State was a haven of political gangsters, but all that changed because of the charismatic leadership qualities of Governor Peter Obi. There is a need for the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) in Owerri to rein in the unnecessary radicalism and combative disposition of a section of her members.
The Law profession is a noble profession which does not lend itself to abnormal radicalism and swashbuckling dispositions. If any member of the Bar is dissatisfied on the procedure adopted in the impeachment and the need to recover the N458m, such lawyers should feel free to apply for a fiat from the Attorney General to prosecute the case on behalf of the citizenry. The NBA may even make a case for a an Independent Counsel to handle the Jude Agbaso impeachment saga as was done in the impeachment trials of the former U.S President, President Clinton. If Governor Peter Obi went to the court on about three occasions and won all his cases, Jude Agbaso can accomplish the same feat if his hands are clean. Let the centre of action be the Temple of Justice and not in the Fourth Estate via our radio channels. Since the matter is already in court, the incessant appearances on our radio channels to pass judgment on either the Agbaso Group or the State Government has become superfluous and should be curbed.
A politician that is involved in an impeachment mess has two options :(1) He may decide to resign before the impeachment ,or(2) He may decide to allow the impeachment and thereafter proceed to the courts to be reinstated. While Governor Peter Obi preferred the latter, the former U.S President, Richard Nixon, preferred to resign ahead of the impeachment debate. Richard Nixon was implicated in the Watergate scandal which surfaced in 1972.The scandal took place on June 17, 1972 in the prestigious Watergate Hotel in Washington. It was in this hotel that agents of President Richard Nixon broke into the Democratic Party’s National Committee office on June 17, 1972.However an eagled-eye security guard, Frank Wills, intercepted the nefarious move. The story of the Watergate scandal is, perhaps, the most fascinating and exciting story in Investigative Journalism class in the School of Journalism. Actual investigations of the scam started in February,1973 when the senate established a committee to to investigate the scandal. In 1974, THE House of Representatives authorized the Judiciary Committee to consider impeachment proceedings against Nixon. In July/August,1974,the House Judiciary Committee voted to accept three of four proposed Articles of Impeachment.
There were strident calls on President Nixon to resign. Just before the members of the House of Representatives cast their votes on the impeachment scandal, President Richard Nixon swiftly announced his resignation to the nation. He resigned because it was glaring that the votes would have gone against him thus culminating in a criminal trial in the senate. It is on record that President Nixon is the only U.S President to resign. At 9 PM on the evening of August 8, 1974, Nixon delivered a nationally televised resignation speech thus ending his political career on a mixed note. It is pertinent to state that in 1867, President Andrew Johnson became the first U.S President to be impeached while Bill Clinton was impeached on December 19th, 1998.So, the bottom line of this thesis is to advise our politicians on the imperatives of considering the resignation option should they find themselves in a tight corner in the course of their political career. In the same vein, while the press should be kept abreast of events, the centre of action should be the courts and efforts must be made against converting the Press as a Trial Court. The resignation option gives you a soft landing and enables you to have a second chance to reinvent yourself and move ahead.
In the same vein, if our politicians in IMO State had emulated the example of Governor Peter OBI in exercising humility and restraint in the face of insuperable odds, the ongoing political upheavals and anarchy in State would not have existed. Throughout the period of his travails, the youths in Anambra State in general and Governor Obi’s Senatorial zone in particular did not troop out to cause mayhem in order to claim Peter Obi as their beloved brother. In the same way, the kith and kin of DR Chris Ngige or Chief Andy Uba did not carry placards to show their love for their own. The society allowed the law to take its toll. Today, the politicians in Anambra State work in synergy to develop their state irrespective of their political party leanings. Governor Peter OBI is recognized by all Anambrarians as First among Equals (Primus Inter Pares) and legitimate governor of Anambra State. This is a sharp contrast to what happens in Imo State where PDP and ACN politicians have vowed to make the state ungovernable for Governor Okorocha.
Two years after the elections, these opposition politicians are still contesting the election result in court.Imo State is the only State where a group of Local Government officials who served out their 2-year tenure since 8th August,2012 have refused to vacate office on the pretext that they are serving a 3-year tenure. This is in spite of the fact that the IMO State Local Administration Law No. 15 of 2000(as amended) clearly put their tenure at 2 years. Furthermore, the Court of Appeal Owerri was very definite on tenure of 2 years in its judgment where the court continued referring to the IMO State Local Administration Law No. 15 of 2000(as amended). Instead of vacating office, they have been proliferating litigations in several courts in search of tenure elongation- a dream which must remain a mirage. No court in the land will ever give them a tenure elongation and the reasons will be exhaustively examined elsewhere.
On other occasions, they have continued pleading with President Jonathan to come to Imo State and help them sack Governor Okorocha through impeachment. It is shameful that while other States are trooping to Aso Rock in search of federal presence and creation of states, the PDP politicians in Imo State are trooping to Abuja to ask for the impeachment of Governor Okorocha, the only truly democratically elected governor in Imo State since Dee Sam Mbakwe left office on 31st December, 1983.So, it is in this context that Imo politicians should borrow some lessons from the humility of Anambra State politicians which has enabled Governor Peter Obi to make massive transformation of Anambra State to one of the fastest growing economies in the world today. When the then Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chris Ngige, was sacked by the courts after about three years as governor, he quietly vacated office and congratulated Governor Peter Obi and wished him well. When Andy Uba was sacked by the Court after only 17 days as governor in 2007, he calmly handed over to Governor Obi and pledged to cooperate with him. The former Central Bank Governor, Professor Soludo, lost the 2007 governorship election and swiftly congratulated Governor Peter Obi on his victory in the court. Above all, these are super billionaires who have all the money to pursue their cases in court.
Perhaps, Anambra State has the largest concentration of stinking wealthy people in the South East, yet, they use their money to develop their state while the few rich in Imo State prefer to spend all their money in pursuing all manner of cases in the courts in order to become governors and rule IMO State – a State where most of them have not invested anything. A critical analysis of Imo State today some analysts hold the opinion that Imo State is practising Ochlocracy or Mobocracy and not democracy and this is caused by the desperation of the opposition politicians in Imo State. Why are the defeated PDP politicians of IMO State insisting on pulling IMO State down and making the place ungovernable for the simple reason that they lost election? If Chief Ohakim had returned as Governor, none of the former 27 Local Government Chairmen would have had the effrontery and temerity of talking of 3-year tenure. Any of them that ever made such a claim would be ruthlessly dealt with. In spite of the real and imaginary shortcomings of Governor Okorocha,his Rescue Imo Administration has achieved in one year what the PDP Administations could not achieve in the 12 locust years that they ruled/ruined Imo State. Although I, am not a member of Governor Okorocha’s team and have not personally benefited a dime from his gubernatorial largesse, the difference between the achievements of Okorocha’s Administration and that of PDP is like the difference between two parallel lines that can never meet,the difference between a Keke bike and a super. In conclusion, there is a need to advise President Good Luck Ebere Jonathan (GEJ) to rein in the impunity and political anarchy of the PDP members in IMO State as this has made him (GEJ) very unpopular to the Imo electorate. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
John I Mgbe