The Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri on Thursday July 5, reinstated the sacked Local Government Officials whose tenure was abridged as a result of Governor Okorocha’s directives in his maiden broadcast to Imo people on Monday, May 6, 2011. In its judgment delivered on Thursday July 5, the Jury in a unanimous decision which was read out by the presiding Judge, Justice Uwani Attaji, the Judges delved into the substance of the issue while turning a blind eye to the technicalities which were hitherto raised at the lower court. The Jury in a unanimous judgment declared the reinstated the sacked PDP chairmen and councillors as duly elected and restrained the governor or his proxies from interfering in their activities. In the same vein, the court also advised Governor Okorocha to concentrate on his executive duties and avoid the temptation of executive recklessness. Dissatisfied with the Court of Appeal judgment, Governor Okorocha has since applied for a stay of execution order and has also appealed to the Supreme Court.
It is pertinent to recall that a High court in Imo State had earlier given a ruling on the matter. In the suit no: HOW/312/2011 which judgment was given on Wednesday, 3rd August 2011, Justice B. A. Njemanze who also doubles as chief Judge of Imo State held: “In the final analysis, I hold that exhibit D is not a Newspaper property so called and as such it cannot be relied upon for the proof of the fact of the contents of the broadcast of the 2nd defendant. I therefore hold that the claimants have not placed before this court any credible evidence to enable the court grant the reliefs they are seeking. Consequently, this case is hereby dismissed. The claimants are to pay cost of N10,000 to each of the defendants”. In that suit, the chairman of the affected local government areas were referred to as the Claimants while the defendants include:
1. Attorney-general of Imo State
2. Governor of Imo State
3. Imo State House of Assembly and
4. Imo State Independence Electoral Commission (ISIEC)
However, in spite of this ruling, the judge further said: “It is axiomatic that the 2nd Defendant (the Governor) does not possess the constitutional powers to dissolve the Local Government Councils before the expiration of their tenure”. As a result of this conflict in the ruling, the ruling became very controversial. To some school of thought, the governor won while yet some others said that the Local Government Chairmen had won. The judgment was a classic case of approbating and reprobating; a case of having the rare skill of blowing hot and cold with equal celebrity.
In my viewpoint entitled: “Imo Local Government Council Suit: Matters Arising” (Nigerian Horn, August 15-16, 2011:15), I said inter-alia: “My reason for insisting that the Governor won the case is based on the final statement of the Judge: “Consequently, the case is hereby dismissed. The claimants are to pay cost of N10,000 each to the Defendant”. Since the “case is hereby dismissed” and the party that was ordered to pay cost was the Local Government Group, I concluded that it was the Governor that won the suit. After all, a litigant that has won a suit is never asked to pay fine.
In the aforementioned viewpoint, I took a swipe at the Chairmen of Councils for swooping on the Council Secretariats in a bid to use self help to take power from the transitional council chairmen. I condemned the act of gangsterism and rascality on the part of the council chairmen. I wrote: “In future, maximum force should be used when people who are supposed to be knowledgeable decide to use thuggery and gangsterism to achieve any agenda. If Chief Ohakim was still governor, those who engaged in this act of gangsterism would have been moved to the Government House where they would have been severely flogged”. Please read that viewpoint in Nigerian Horn of August 15-16 or you google the headline and read it on the internet.
However, in another viewpoint entitled: “Further Thought on Imo Local Government Councils’ Suit” which appeared in Midweek Newspoint of August 31 – September 1, 2011, I said that “the pronouncement by Justice Ben Njemanze that the governor lacks the power to dissolve the councils while their tenure was running would have made the chairmen to celebrate the judgment in their secretariats”. This was a mild way of reminding Governor Okorocha that the victory given to him by the High Court was a Greek Gift, a pyrrhic victory which would be ephemeral. It would not carry him far.
If Governor Okorocha had sound advisers or if Imo State had an effective legislature, Governor Ohakim would not have gone to the Court of Appeal. It was very clear that he would lose at the Court of Appeal. In fact, what Justice Ben Njemanze did was a subtle way of giving the Governor a soft landing. A smart legislature would have taken advantage of the slim victory to advise Governor Okorocha to pull out of the suit and announce to a cheering electorate that “Although I won the case in the High Court, I have decided to withdraw from the case in order to rescue even the PDP councilors”. He would have recalled the council officials and he would have bee applauded and celebrated across the nation for such a gesture. Most of them would have defected to APGA since then. There is no Court of law that will support arbitrary sacking of an elected group who has a statutory tenure. I knew the Governor would lose in the Court of Appeal but the Supreme Court has a wider scope to expand the frontiers of jurisprudence on this issue. It may invoke the Doctrine of Equity to adjudicate on the legality of the August 7,2010 LG exercise.
I sent text messages to some top people in Governor Okorocha’s Administration and made a case for the Administration to pull out of the suit and recall the councilors. When several efforts to see the Commissioner for Information failed, I passed the idea to his public relations officer for onward transmission to the commissioner. I followed it up with a text messages to some important APGA chieftains. The PRO of the Commissioner wondered how I would expect him to pass such information to the Commissioner. I also sent the text to a prominent chieftain of the Rescue Imo Administration who is in charge of a powerful government- sponsored Foundation but she did not react to the message.
It was at this point that I wrote the viewpoint entitled “Further Thoughts on Imo Council Suit (Midweek Nigerian Newspoint of August 31-Sept. 1, 2011 page 5. I wrote thus: “Although what took place on August 7, 2010 was a kangaroo election, only a court of competent jurisdiction can annul the election. In spite of the fraudulent nature of the purported election, there was no injunction on Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) not to conduct the election. On the other hand, Justice Goddy Anunihu issued an injunction to the effect that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) should not present candidates for that (s)election of August 7, 2010. The injunction is still subsisting because the opposition candidates from other parties have not gone to ask the court to actualize the injunction. It is not the duty of Governor Okorocha to seek actualization of the injunction on PDP, after all, he was not a contestant in the election. In fact, at the time the election was held, nobody knew he would run for any elective office in the 2011 election. So, it was wrong for him to use executive fiat to dissolve the councils. In spite of what we may think about the kangaroo election, only the court can make a valid pronouncement on its legality or otherwise, since in my opinion there was no injunction on ISIEC to refrain from conducting the election. The pronouncement of Justice Ben Njemanze that the Governor lacks the power to dissolve the council did not come to me as a surprise because we have seen it before in the Oshieze Vincent vs Achike Udenwa suit. It’s a classic case of De javu”. I have quoted extensively from that viewpoint in order to clarify my stand on this contentions issue.
The problem we have today on this nasty issue has arisen because of a very poor approach to “crisis management” and “management of crisis”. Crisis management involves taking appropriate measures to either prevent crisis before it occurs or control it promptly when it occurs. On the other hand, “management of crisis” literally means managing a crisis that has occurred. It involves taking sporadic, largely uncoordinated actions to quench the crisis. It is fire brigade and reactive in nature” (Nkwocha, 1999:191). For inexplicable reasons, the large crowd of over 200 appointees could not provide useful advice to the Governor. The major blame should go to the Uwajumogu-led House of Assembly. If that House was effective, they would have advised the Governor not to push his luck too far by going to the Court of Appeal. Having escaped total humiliation in the High Court, Governor Okorocha would have tactically withdrawn from the suit and recall the councilors. He would have been given a rapturous applause. I also said in that viewpoint that “Now that their dynamo (source of energy), Chief Ohakim, is no longer in Douglas House, these PDP chairmen will no longer be dangerous. So our prayer now is that God should allow the better side to win”.
Furthermore, I said in that viewpoint that: “If the candidates from other political parties had gone to court to challenge that election, the court would have since declared the purported election of August 7, 2010 illegal, null and void”. If the present Local Government suit is between the LG Chairmen and the opposition candidates from other political parties, the Court of Appeal would have sacked the counselors and reinstated the Reverend Akamdiocha-led opposition candidates in that August 7, election. I am sad that my efforts to cause the Governor to withdraw from the suit and throw his weight behind the Reverend failed. The Akamdiocha Group is a group of the candidates from the other parties in the August 7th kangaroo election. Their case has been in the court without any progress because they don’t have the financial power to move the case. I have a feeling that the PDP is using their influence to stagnate their case, hence it is abandoned by the court.
Since the case has come to a point where the government now wishes to appeal to the Supreme Court, there are two approaches: (i) government should invite the Rev. Akamdiocha Group for a chat. The group should be given a back-up from Government House so that their case can be given an expedited and accelerated hearing. They have a very good case and they are likely to win. If the Goddy Anunihu’s injunction is actualized, the PDP members in that August 7, 2010 (s)election exercise will be sacked by the court. Justice Goddy Anunihu ruled that PDP should not present candidates in that election. That injunction is still alive even now.
On another hand, the government should base its argument in the Supreme Court on jurisdiction. It is my opinion that the Ben Njemanze High Court does not seem to have the jurisdiction to hear the suit as a court of first hearing. It is an election issue and all such cases thereon should be heard by Election petition panel and not a regular court. Original jurisdiction on election cases should go to election tribunals and not to High Courts. The Supreme Court has stated this very clearly while delivering judgment in the Martin Agbaso and Ikedi Ohakim and others. In the Supreme Court judgment delivered on 16th July 2010, the Supreme Court stated that: “Election is not an event, but a process leading to an event. It is necessary that everything connected with the process leading to the election including the actual election and its aftermath come within the jurisdiction of the Election Tribunal”. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that: “Election conducted by the appropriate authority whether inchoate or not, the proper court with jurisdiction to entertain any action arising there-from or relating thereto is the relevant Election Tribunal established by the Constitution of this Country”.
By the judgment of the Supreme Court dated 16th July, 2010, the Apex court conclusively clarified that “what took place on 14th April, 2007 in Imo State in particular was an election and as such any action relating to the process leading thereto including the actual conduct of the event or its cancellation fall within the jurisdiction of the Election Tribunal by operation of law”. The issue of jurisdiction as it affects the sacking of the Local Government officials should be canvassed in the Supreme Court as it appears to be a most important smoking gun for APGA to turn the table against PDP. The issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any stage of a trial. It is the duty of a court to ensure that it has jurisdiction to sit in judgment over a case. A court who sits in judgment over a case that it has no jurisdiction is chasing the wind as it is an effort in futility. If however the two parties: Governor Okorocha and PDP decide to settle out of court, good. I have nothing against that. But the Rev. Akamdiocha Group must pursue their case to its logical conclusion. But what is the tenure of the LG Councilors? Is it two or three years? Can somebody please throw more light on the statutory tenure of Local Government officials? It is pertinent, to state that on the day of judgment, the counsel to the opposition candidates (i.e the Rev. Akamdiocha Group) asked why judgment was being delivered without considering their application to be joined as parties to the suit. The panel of judges did not give any satisfactory explanation. They said that it was not brought to their notice. So, who is sitting on the case file of Rev Akamdiocha Group? Let the government provide the Group with logistics and they can move mountains. Since the various groups: PDP, APGA and Rev. Akamdiocha Group are all Ndimo, may the best side win.
I am sad that unlike the semblance of harmony which existed between the PDP and Governor Okorocha a while ago, present realities have shown that the relationship between both parties has broken down irretrievably. There is abundant evidence to prove that the PDP councilors are not asking to be reinstated in order to serve out their tenure but rather because they are desperate to bring down the Rescue Imo Government of Governor Okorocha. As a result of this development, Governor Okorocha should use any legal and reasonable means to ensure that the Rescue Imo Government is not shipwrecked or hijacked by the Egyptians who held Imo hostage over the years. The ongoing desperation by some groups to hijack the Local Government Secretariat in Imo State must be vehemently resisted. As the only democratically elected Governor of Imo State since Dee Sam Mbakwe (Ph.D) left office on 31st December 1983, Governor Okorocha should use all legitimate means to ensure that the people’s mandate of May 6, 2011 is not truncated by overzealous politicians who ran Imo State like a sole proprietary business over the years. The so called election of August 7, 2010 is comparable to the election of April 28, 2007 through which Chief Ikedi Ohakim became Governor. He was selected or appointed Governor by his kinsman, Prof. Maurice Iwu, to rule Imo State for the simple reason that both come from Okigwe Zone. The Governorship election of 2007 was actually won by Chief Martin Agbaso of APGA. But unfortunately, Prof. Maurice Iwu did not like his face because Martin Agbaso comes from Owerri Zone and, above all, some elders in Owerri zone swore that Chief Agbaso would be Governor only over their dead bodies. Although there was no election but selection on August 7, 2010, only the court can give legal teeth to the immutable fact that August 7, 2010 so-called election was indeed a charade, a farce. Once again, let Governor Okorocha use all the legal means available to stabilize his Government, after all, what we have in Nigeria are courts of technicalities and not courts of Justice. Let the Apex court have the finally say on this contentious and controversial issue. We are aware that it is not the duty of the courts to catalyze crises and mayhem in the civil society.
There is a need to advise Governor Okorocha to avoid getting involved in avoidable litigations. On three occasions his actions have been described by the courts as unconstitutional and a show of executive recklessness. The first was on Wednesday, 3rd August 2011 when Justice Ben Njemanze ruled that “The Governor does not have the powers to dissolve elected councilors before the expiration of their tenure”. The second was on Wednesday June 27th, 2012 when Hon Justice Nonye Okoronkwo nullified the sacking of the members of Imo State Judicial service Commission (JSC) by the Governor and now the Court of Appeal judgment declaring his action of sacking the Local Government Councilors as an act of executive recklessness. Such records are not good for a politician who has his eyes on Aso Rock. In the fullness of time, such judgments could be used against him by his political opponents. So, he should act with circumspection, caution and foresight. A Governor, who has told a global audiences that; “Boys will not rule Imo State again” should exhibit maturity in the conduct of affairs. In the same vein, a Governor who told the populace that “I am not a local champion” must conduct affairs in tandem with International Best Practices. However, in spite of perceived shortcomings, Governor Okorocha’s Administration is the best Imo has had since the 1979-1983 regime of Dee Sam Mbakwe (Ph.D.). In just one year, Governor Okorocha has achieved what could not be achieved by the cumulative efforts of the leaders of PDP in Imo State since 1999. The level of democracy dividends are simply gargantuan and with out equal. As Stakeholders in the Rescue Imo Revolution, we ask God to give Governor Okorocha the gift of humility, rapprochement and abiding faith in due process so that he can continue with the great agenda of transforming the erstwhile decadent and dilapidated Imo State to a modern and model State, a centre of scenic beauty and a classic case of un paradis sur terre (a paradise on Earth). Imo is actually in the hands of God. Yes, Rochas we know.
John I. Mgbe