The Impeachment of Jude Agbaso: Lessons from Gov. Peter Obi – By John Mgbe

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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 JournalismSchool.


In this viewpoint,I wish to draw attention to the political challenges of Governor Peter Obi of AnambraState 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 AnambraState. 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 AnambraState 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 ImoState since the impeachment drama involving the former Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso, started. Daily, all manner of groups seize the radio channels in ImoState 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 ImoState. 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 exhibit maturity and moderation in the face of overwhelming odds. It is on account  of  Governor Peter Obi’s humility and uncommon simplicity that impelled me to regard him as the “Most Outstanding Governor in the South East in the period 1999-2012”. That topic will be elaborated elsewhere. Furthermore, Peter Obi’s disarming humility and penchant for good governance also impelled me to write the viewpoint entitled: “In 2014, Governor Peter Obi will exclaim Vini, Vidi, Vici”. Please Google the headline and read online or read Daily Sun Newspaper of March 17, 2010. 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 example of Governor  Peter Obi who did not cause any social dislocation in his State while he was mired  in the cesspool of political challenges.There is a need for the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) 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. If Governor Peter Obi went to the court on 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.

On the strength of the clarification made above, I am of the opinion that it would have been more honourable for Jude Agbaso to resign before he was impeached as Richard Nixon did in 1974  when the House of Representatives was set to impeach him. Resignation is not a death sentence but rather a sort of plea bargain. His refusal to appear before the Impeachment panel is fatal to his cause because a litigant who has been given the benefit of fair hearing and he failed to take advantage of it cannot complain of not being given a fair hearing. Above all, the wheel of the political bureaucracy cannot grind to a halt and wait for Jude Agbaso to appear before the impeachment Panel. It was a lost opportunity and Jude Agbaso owes the people an apology for not appearing before the Panel.

 

Even the fiery cleric, His Grace Archbishop Amarachi Obinna, had advised the embattled Jude Agbaso to tell the world the whole truth. Preaching the homily at the Maria Assumpta Cathedral, Owerri during the Palm Sunday Mass, March 24, Archbishop Obinna lamented that all kinds of rumours are flying about since the N458million kick-back began early this month. In a lectern –banging and finger wagging Jeremiad, Archbishop Obinna said:” We have a very serious challenge in Imo State. We are yet to enjoy half-time and there is problem already. All those who are involved in the bribe saga must tell the whole truth without fear of losing their position or wealth consequently”. The Archbishop commended the healthy collaboration between the Church and Government in AnambraState and called for a similar synergy in ImoState.

 

It is pertinent to recall that Jude Agbaso was impeached on the grounds that he took a bribe of N458million from Joseph Dina the Managing Director of J-PROS International Ltd with the promise  of awarding him more contracts. The former Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso, has vehemently protested his innocence on this count. Again, he was accused of receiving a bribe of  a bottle of a Blue Label(Porsche design) wine from Joseph Dina-an accusation which he accepted as true during his encounter with the House Committee on the impeachment.While he may, perhaps, wriggle out of the N458 million bribe scam, can he also deny that he did not take a bribe of a bottle of Blue Label wine? It is trite that an agent should not accept any bribe in discharging his agency duties. Those who know the details of the MT Tumagate scandal of 1986 will readily recall that   Professor Tam David West was convicted to a sentence of a life jail on the grounds that he was accused of receiving a bribe of a Gold Watch as well as having the effrontery and temerity of drinking tea with the expatriate officials of a U,S oil conglomerate, Stinnes Oil LTD. He was accused of enriching the company. However, he was granted a reprieve from the punishment. Again, we may not forget in a hurry that Professor Fabian Osuji, former Minister of Education, in the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was humiliated out of office in what was called a bribe-for budget scandal worth about N55million.Since the case is still in court and sub judice,I may not elaborate.Professor Fabian Osuji is a top official in the administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha. However, it is pertinent to state that several others affected in the scam resigned including the then Senate President, Chief AdolphusWabara. Since the impeached Deputy Governor, Jude Agbaso, has gone to court to seek justice, we can only watch while events unfold. We hope that in the long run, substantive justice will be done on this tragic flaw in governance. In my opinion, the only substantive justice is that justice which recovers our stolen money together with accrued interests and also ensures that all those found culpable and guilty are ruthlessly dealt with in line with the statute.

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.

 

John Mgbe

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