The Impeachment Blues in Abia

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In all these exercises, the dramatic impeachment of Comrade Chris Akomas on August 2, 2010, has been the swiftest. It was concluded in a record 19 days!  The House of Assembly on July 15, 2010, kicked off the process to remove  him from office.

A new deputy governor is expected to emerge in Abia state this week. If that happens, he will be the product of the recent impeachment of the erstwhile number two citizen of the state, Comrade Chris  Akomas.

Abia State, perhaps, holds an unenviable record of deployment of impeachment as an instrument of governmental control.

Between 1999 and 2010, Abia has witnessed at least, successful impeachment of two deputy governors and equal number of House of Assembly speakers as well as unsuccessful attempt to impeach a governor and a deputy governor.

Those affected are late Dr.Chima Nwafor, who was removed as Deputy Governor early 2007 and Comrade Chris Akomas,who was impeached on August 2, 2010.

Speakers who were removed from office include late Chief Nkem Ike, the First Speaker of the second Abia State House of Assembly. He was in office for about two months as he was shoved out of office early August 2009, while his successor, Prince Christopher Enweremadu,  barely lasted in office for a year as he was removed in August 2000. The impeachment of Chief Nkem Ike was the first recorded in the country in the dawn of the current political dispensation in 1999.

Also, attempts were made to impeach former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu but he managed to escape by the whiskers  just as his deputy, Chief  Enyinnaya Abaribe, had to resign  from office when the heat of impeachment process against him apparently became unbearable.  

In all these exercises, the dramatic impeachment of Comrade Chris Akomas on August 2, 2010, has been the swiftest. It was concluded in a record 19 days!

The House of Assembly on July 15, 2010, kicked off the process to remove Akomas from office.

 Speaking under motion of urgent public importance, the member representing Aba Central Constituency and a former Deputy Speaker, Chief Uzo Azubuike, moved the motion that Akomas be served the notice of impeachment, adding that the allegations were being probed in line with section 188 of the 1999 Constitution. Twenty-one of the lawmakers signed the document which contained a six-point allegation of gross misconduct against the former deputy Governor.

They accused Akomas of willfully absenting himself from office and duty without any lawful excuse or permission; that he has consistently and willfully failed, neglected and or refused to attend state functions without lawful excuse.

The notice of impeachment also accused Akomas of failing to attend the signing of Abia state 2010 Appropriation law and refusing to appear at Government House Lodge, Umuahia, to receive Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor Peter Obi and their entourage, whom the House described as “acclaimed Igbo leaders” when they visited Governor Theodore Orji on July 2, 2010.

Furthermore, the lawmakers accused the former deputy governor of unlawfully converting public funds to his personal use by causing and or directing proceeds from official cheques meant for government’s work to be paid into his private bank account as well as willfully discrediting and dissociating himself from the Abia state Government which he is deputy governor, when he told the whole world through both print and electronic media that the only achievement of the Abia state Government for 3 years was in the field of cocoa.  

They added that Akomas willfully disparaged the highly esteemed office of deputy governor when he alleged through both print and electronic media that the office of deputy governor was only a spare tyre  and that being morally bankrupt, he desecrated the office of deputy governor when as a result of [alleged] amorous relationships with staff of his office, his wife Uchechi Chris Akomas, engaged female staff in physical combat, thereby bringing the state government to ridicule and public odium.

Based on these allegations, the members who signed the notice then prayed the speaker “to direct Comrade Chris Alozie Akomas, deputy governor of Abia state to answer and respond forthwith to the above charges.”

When he was served with the notice of impeachment, Akomas raced to an Umuahia High Court to save his job, but replied and denied all the allegations intoto.

In a suit filed before Justice A.U Kalu on July 19, 2010 Akomas  sought an order restraining the Abia lawmakers from removing him from office, saying that his tenure would only expire on May 29, 2011 having been sworn in for a four-year tenure on May 29, 2007.

Based on the suit No. HU/110/2010, Akomas, through his counsel J.A. Badejo, SAN, wrote to the secretary of the investigative panel, Mr. Ben Nwakanma, notifying the panel of the suit and a pending application to restrain the House from taking any action against the deputy governor until the determination of the suit.

When the suit came up on July 26, 2010, the presiding judge, Justice Kalu, granted an order to join 14 lawmakers in the list of defendants which already included Governor Theodore Orji, the state government, the House Speaker, the House of Assembly and the Attorney-General of the state.

Among other things, Akomas also wanted the court to hold that he was “not bound to defect from the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) with the first defendant (Governor Orji) to the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) or any other party.”

In his claims, the former deputy governor averred that the Speaker and the Abia lawmakers who signed the impeachment letter were not even qualified to commence any impeachment proceedings against him since they had “vacated their respective seats as members of the fourth defendant (House of Assembly), having defected from PPA to APGA.”

He equally sought orders of the court setting aside all steps so far taken by the defendants in a bid to remove him from office; a perpetual injunction nullifying the entire impeachment proceedings, as well as an order directing the first and second defendants to pay him all accrued statutory emoluments and allowances as deputy governor from 2007 to the present.

Despite the court action, the lawmakers pressed ahead with the impeachment process. At its plenary session on July 22, the member representing Aba Central, Mr. Uzo Azubuike, the mover of the impeachment motion, moved another motion under same  Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution, this time around, under sub-sections 3 and 4, urging the speaker of the House, Chief Agwu U. Agwu, to direct the state Chief Judge to set up a panel to investigate the allegations.

The Chief Judge, Mr. Sunday Imo, promptly complied after receive the directive from the Speaker by setting up, the next day, a seven man panel to investigate the allegations of gross misconduct leveled against Akomas by the lawmakers.

He explained that the establishment of the investigation panel was in line with a recent documentation, presentation and demand by the members of the Abia State House of Assembly that that the deputy governor be impeached. Initially, the membership of the panel was not made public.

Justice Imo urged members of the panel to do a thorough job in order not to disappoint the public and further challenged the panel to avoid favouritism, ethnic bigotry and see themselves as people saddled with a responsibility as huge as that of the impeachment of a deputy governor.

Imo said that he was guided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which in Section 186 (5, 7) of the 1999 empowered him to undertake the task of constituting such the panel.

He further challenged the panel to realize the enormity of the task before them and urged the members not to embark on demands outside the purview of the law, reminding them that they were carefully chosen because of their integrity and track records.

The panel, headed by Barrister Amobi Agbara, summoned Akomas to appear before it on July 29, 2010. the summons was conveyed via a  letter dated July 26, 2010 and signed by the secretary of the panel, Barrister Nwakanma. Akomas was directed to come with his witnesses and documents to defend himself. The panel secretary warned the deputy governor that the panel would continue with its proceedings whether he came or not.

Though he went to court to stop the impeachment moves against him, Akomas, nonetheless replied to the notice of allegations of gross misconduct against him by sending a written defence to the Speaker of the House in a letter dated July 19, 2010.

In his defence, the former deputy governor pointed out that the lawmakers were already biased against him having said in the opening paragraph of the  impeachment notice that he ‘is guilty of gross misconduct  in the performance of the functions of his office.’ “This clearly confirms that you have already taken a stand even before the sitting,” Akomas said in the letter to the Speaker.

The investigative panel began sitting on July 29 and barred journalists from covering the proceedings.

Security at the Aguiyi Ironsi Conference Centre, Umuahia, venue of the sitting was very tight as scores of anti-riot and regular policemen were drafted to the place. The entrances to the venue were blocked by the policemen who denied people thorough fare on the street.

A senior policemen told reporters who converged to cover the proceedings that the Chief Judge directed that reporters should not be allowed to cover the proceeding.

Not satisfied, the journalists marched to the office of the Chief Judge. He vigorously denied ever giving such directive.

“My work stops at the appointment of the panel. Where they are sitting, how they are sitting, I don’t know. Previously they used to sit in the court, but now we say that they should not sit here. i have no hand whatsoever in what they do. Whether they want the press or not, I don’t know.

“I want to make it categorically clear that what they do there I don’t know. I have no business with them. I am sounding it very loud and clear that I have no hand in what they do. I did not say that and I have no business to do that,” Justice Imo explained.

Akomas attendedthe inaugural sitting on July 29 and the next day. On July 31, Akomas and his legal team worked out on the panel citing “pre-determined agenda” to nail him.    

Moments later, Akomas announced his resignation from office as deputy governor.  

At a press conference where he announced his resignation, Akomas read his resignation letter to the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji, dated July 27, 2010 which he said took effect from July 30, 2010.  

Akomas insisted that he had “dutifully and conscientiously performed the duties of my office as Deputy Governor despite the most excruciating and most humiliating, and the most difficult circumstances under which I have had to discharge the duties of my office.”  

He made it clear that his travails predated the present crisis which erupted after Governor Orji resigned from the progressive peoples Alliance (PPA) and joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) without informing him or inviting him to come along either in writing or verbally.  

Akomas said that the governor further proved that he was no longer needed in government house because within a week of the commencement of the impeachment proceedings, the governor “directed he be shut out of the Governor’s Lodge at Abuja where the Deputy Governor’s Lodge is also located.  

“All drivers, vehicles and government personnel (in Abuja ) and some in Umuahia attached to my office have been withdrawn and the office of the deputy governor has been thrown into ridicule, opprobrium and disdain,” he said  

“It is now clear to me, beyond any shadow of doubt that you are doing everything to show that you no longer want to continue to work with me as your Deputy Governor; since our personal relationship is now being clearly determined by those who fought and have been fighting me because of you,” he said in the letter of resignation.  

The deputy governor, who spoke in emotion laden voice and heavy heart, said that the governor has used “executive powers to withhold allowances and other authorised expenses, which over the past three years has accumulated to the sum of over N425, 037, 746.00”.  

“In the above circumstances and for the reasons stated herein and others to be more succinctly stated in the appropriate forum at a definite date, I, Comrade Chris Alozie Akomas, Deputy Governor of Abia State, wish to invoke my full right, guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and do hereby tender my resignation a the Deputy governor of Abia State effective 30th of July 2010,” he said.  

But in a swift reaction, the state government said that the deputy governor has not resigned and was only trying to jump the gun, seeing that the game was up for him as he could not defend the allegations against him before the investigative panel.  

The special adviser to the governor on media and publicity, Chief Anthony Agbazuere, who addressed newsmen, insisted that the deputy governor, Chris Akomas has not resigned and so remains the deputy governor, saying that no letter of resignation has been received by the governor to the best of his knowledge.  

Agbazuere said that if Akomas wanted to resign he should have followed the due process as stipulated in Section 306 (1, 2&5) of the 1999 Constitution. Quoting the relevant section of the Constitution he said: “The resignation of any person from any office established by this constitution shall take effect when the writing signifying the resignation is received by the authority or person to whom it is addressed.”  

For Akomas to have attended the panel sitting earlier in the day and coming home few hours later to announce his resignation, according to Agbazuere, was a clear indication that the deputy governor was trying “to be smart” having realised that there was no where he was going to extricate himself from the impeachment given, weighty evidence against him which he could not defend. 

However, Counsel to Akomas, Obinna O. Nkume, told newsmen that it was “evidently clear that the kangaroo panel” was out to do a hatchet job, adding that they had showed their bias by constraining the deputy governor to put in his 25 witnesses in one day whereas the claimants were given two days to put in two witnesses.  

He said that the Constitution stipulates that the accused should be given fair hearing but that the way the panel was going about their business was a pointer that they were “working towards a predetermined time frame within which to nail the deputy governor.” 

The whole exercise came to a climax on August  2, 2010 when the House of Assembly went ahead to impeach Akomas, 48 hours after the former deputy governor said he has resigned.

The House said Akomas was found guilty in all the charges against him. Quoting Section 188 (9) of the Constitution, the Speaker said that having received the report of the panel which proved the allegations against the deputy governor the House would then consider it and if supported by 2/3 members of the legislature “the holder of the office shall be removed”.

Thereafter, the Speaker went straight to page 24 of the panel’s report and read out to the lawmakers that the panel has “established” that the deputy governor was guilty of engaging in amorous relationships with some female members of his staff based on the evidence of CW1 (deputy chief of staff, Chief Charles Ogbonna).

He, therefore, pronounced the impeachment at exactly 12.32pm during the plenary of the house, saying “the Deputy Governor of Abia State, Comrade Chris Akomas, stands removed from office with effect from today.”

 There was no dissenting voice against the impeachment and the Speaker directed the clerk of the House to transmit the decision to the Akomas and Governor Theodore Orji.

Part of the letter transmitted to the governor read: “That on the 2nd day of August, the Abia State House of Assembly at her plenary session, received and considered the report of the said investigative panel which held that the allegations leveled against Comrade Chris Alozie Akomas were established and proved before them and the Abia State House of Assembly by more than two-third majority votes, without any dissention, duly adopted the report and findings of the panel.” The letter was dated the same day the House removed Akomas from office.

But in a prompt reaction to the new development, Akomas fired back that the action of the lawmakers was “medicine after death,” since he had already resigned from office, adding that Abia lawmakers have only “exhibited legislative recklessness and disregard for the rule of law.

His counsel, Obinna O. Nkume, who told newsmen that he had the authority of Akomas to speak on the issue, said that “this is a clear case of legislative recklessness and lawlessness in a democratic setting which is not allowed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He pointed out that Akoma had Akomas had already resigned from office and submitted his letter of resignation to the appropriate authorities, including the Governor and the Speaker, adding that the Speaker even acknowledged receipt of the letter. He said the resignation took effect from the time the addresses received the letters.

Nkume expressed disappointment at the way the Abia legislators went ahead with the “purported impeachment” when they should be making laws for good governance. He insisted the impeachment would not stand in the face of the law.

According to him, Akomas had already instituted legal actions challenging the entire impeachment proceedings, including a separate action against the chief judge for setting up the panel in the first place when there was a subsisting action on the matter.

However, the deputy Chief of Staff, Charles Ogbonna, who was a star witness in the panel investigation, said immediately after the impeachment, that the lawmakers were justified because the allegations against Akomas were “weighty enough” to warrant his removal.

The clock started to thick for Akomas when his boss jumped ship and joined the All Progressive Peoples Alliance. But it became obvious that the romance was over when Governor Orji received his Ibeku kinsmen at Government House on July 8, 2010.

It was at that forum the Orji openly accused Akomas of disloyalty. He told his people that Akomas, aftyer pledging his loyalty to him before his kinsmen organized a reception in his honour, turned round to be the arrow the head of the plot to disgrace him.

He repeated the allegation later when reporters accosted him.

“Yes, what I said is correct. My deputy is not a loyal deputy for sure. You know He’s been trying to push me away; he wants to take over my seat and that wouldn’t happen. No governor will tolerate that type of thing,” Orji said.

 

He equally pointed out that the Deputy Governor parried a question during a Press interview on whether he would contest the governorship in 2011 and stressed only the party and the structure would determine would be its candidate.

 ”You all read what he said on the pages of newspapers when he was asked whether he wants to be governor. And that is a direct question of either yes or no. Instead of saying yes, I want to be governor or no, I don’t want to be governor, he said it is the structure that would decide who would be governor. That is a clear testimony of his intentions. ‘He said it also that the deputy governor is a spare tyre.’ And I have repeatedly said I don’t need a spare tyre. My tyre is bullet proof. It can’t be deflated,” the governor said.

 He added: “I can operate without a deputy governor but the constitution allows the office of the deputy governor. He is still there as the deputy governor but I am operating as governor and he is operating as a deputy governor.”

With the governor’s statement, those who read in beween the lines knew that the days of the former deputy governor were numbered.

Akomas did have the luck of Dr Chima Nwafor. Impeacment proceedings against Nwafor commenced in June 2006 and was concluded in August the same year. The lawmakers impeached him but did not remove him from office. They asked him to go and sin no more.

However, the lawmakers invoked the impeachment early 2007 and removed Nwafor from office. He was replaced with Chief Acho Nwakanma, who was then the Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.

The motion to impeach Nwafor was moved by the member

representing Isiala Ngwa North State

onstituency, Prince Christopher Enweremadu, on June 14, 2006.  He said the Deputy

Governor constituted a threat to state security following his purported

indictment by the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) National

orking Committee which investigated the dispute between Governor

Orji Uzor Kalu and former Minister of works and Housing, Chief Tony

Anenih. Nwafor was accused of informing Governor Kalu the Anenih had threatened to kill him and denied same.

Enweremadu said that the role of the Deputy Governor in the alleged threat to the life of Governor Kalu by Anenih which was communicated to him (Kalu) by Nwafor amounted to security risk.

According to Enweremadu, the actions of the deputy governor has created loss of confidence between him and the governor.

It could be that Nwafor was not removed immediately because of interventions by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state then and other prominent individuals.

Many who commented on the development were of the view that Akomas should have been allowed to complete his tenure or his resignation accepted by government.

Chief Ikechi Emenike, a governorship aspirant said the whole exercise was meant to humiliate and crush Akomas, otherwise, he said the governor should have continued with him in the spirit of the wind of change the governor said he was championing.

Followers of Nigerian politics believe that deputy governors, commonly referred to as spare tyres, last in office as long as their governor desire. Once they fell out their governors, their end in office is predictable. Many said the constitution should have another look the status of the deputy governors to guaranty tenure in office