TODAY, in Owerri, the Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha will meet with the 27 reinstated council chairmen as one of the measures to resolve the crisis that the court ruling has generated in the state. The governor who was abroad as the crisis unfolded, had also blamed the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), who in a statement said that the rule of law was not obeyed by the Imo government after the chairmen were not reinstated after the Court of Appeal ruled in their favour.
Okorocha knows he is facing a huge challenge in the matter between the recently re-instated 27 council chairmen, who are mainly from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Not a few people in the state consider this issue an extension of the fight between the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The former governor of Imo Chief Ikedi Ohakim in August 2010, held the council polls, despite the controversies at that time and ensured the emergence of his men as chairmen of the 27 councils – Owerri Metropolis, Owerri North, Owerri West, Ngor Opkala, Ezinihihitte Mbaise, Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ikeduru, Mbaitoli, Njaba, Isu, Orlu, Nkwerre, Onuimo, Okigwe, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano, Ideato South, Ideato North, Obowo, Ihitte Uboma, Oru West, Oru East, Ohaji/Egbema, and Oguta.
For Okorocha, the face off with the elected chairmen began last year when in his maiden broadcast as governor, announced the dissolution of the council executives. He replaced them with unelected Transition Committee Caretaker committee. They attended the Joint Allocation Sharing Committee meeting chaired by the Commissioner for Local Council and Chieftaincy Affairs to share monthly funds from the Federal Government.
Soon after the dissolution, the sacked chairmen headed for a High Court in Owerri presided by the state Chief Judge, Benjamin Njemanze to challenge Okorocha’s action. On August 3, last year, Njemanze ruled that he could not rely on the evidence by the plaintiffs (Enyinnaya Onuegbu and 29 others). He stated: “It is axiomatic that the 2nd Respondent does not possess the constitutional powers to dissolve the local Government councils before the expiration of the elected local government council chairmen….”
The aggrieved men wanted to know:
“Whether by the combined provisions of section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and section 23 (1) of the Imo State Local Government Administration Law No. 15 of 2000 (as amended), the 2nd Defendant by himself or through any person acting on his behalf has the power to dissolve elected Local Government Councils in Imo respect of which the claimants are chairmen, through the 2nd Defendant’s maiden broadcast to the Imo people made on June 6, 2011.
“Whether the purported dissolution of the Local Government Councils by the 2nd Defendant wherein the claimants are the elected chairmen on alleged ground of corruption and indiscipline without giving the claimants a hearing is not in breach of section 33 of the 1999 Constitution.”
The plaintiffs went to the Court of Appeal in Owerri presided by Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji. On July 5, Aji ruled in favour of the former chairmen and set aside “the judgment of the trial chief judge delivered on August 3, 2011.”
The immediate implication of the ruling is that Okorocha has no powers to dissolve the elected Local Government Councils in Imo.
The governor, after the judgment, disclosed that he had filed an appeal and motion of Stay of Execution in the Supreme Court. And while the state government has appealed the Appeal Court ruling, the PDP leadership in the state headed by Chief Eze Duruiheoma (SAN) at a press conference, alleged that the ruling APGA refused to reinstate the chairmen. And to push for the reinstatement of the former chairmen, the PDP state party executive and other top members of the PDP relocated to Abuja to take their case to the powers that be.
According to sources, about 17 petitions were made available to President Goodluck Jonathan, Inspector General of Police, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, among others on their plight and for them to smoothen the “return of the chairmen.”
In a statement, the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) stated:
“It is apposite to note that section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees the existence of a system of democratically elected Local Government Councils throughout the Federation. The judgment of the Court of Appeal aforementioned has only confirmed this position.
In the light of the foregoing and in consonance with this administration’s avowed commitment to the enthronement of the rule of law in the Federation, I hereby call on Imo State Government and all relevant agencies of government to abide by the judgment of the Court of Appeal and ensure that the judgment of the Court is given its full effect.”
The next day, July 17, detachment of policemen led the reinstated chairmen to the various 27 council headquarters where they took their offices. Shocked at the development, the Imo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Soronnadi Njoku, acting on behalf of the state government, addressed journalists, bemoaning Adoke’s statement, with the stand that the state government had appealed backed with the a motion for Stay of Execution.
“Accordingly, therefore, the Imo State Government is not in any breach of the judgment of the Court of Appeal. It therefore follows that the advise of the Federal Attorney –General does not arise at all, unless the PDP will, of course, disregard the due process. It is the position of the Imo State Government that all the parties must allow the judicial process to run its full course as the Government is prepared, willing and ready to abide by whatever order the court makes at the end.”
To further fault the hasty action of the Adoke, the Imo State Government issued a letter to the Deputy Chief Registrar of Court of Appeal, Owerri on July 18 to clarify the ruling in the Court of Appeal case between Enyinna Onuegbu and 26 others and Governor, Imo State and four others
In a letter by the Imo government signed by the Chief State Counsel, K. C. Nwokorie the government posed the following questions to the Appeal Court:
“Is there an appeal pending in your court on this matter? Who filed the motion for stay of execution? Why is no date fixed for the hearing of the motion for stay? Has the order been rolled out? Who signed the order? Who is the proper person to sign the order of court of Appeal? Any other information your may consider necessary.”
On July 19, a letter signed by Mrs. Lucky N. Orji answered:
“There is a pending appeal. Attorney General of Imo State and three others. Yes, there is motion for stay of execution. The motion was filed by the Attorney General’s chamber. A date has not been fixed yet. There is no date because the honourable Justices are on vacation. Yes, the order has been rolled out. The Deputy Chief Registrar (DCR) and Honourable Justices of Court of Appeal, Owerri Division. None.”
Last weekend, the reinstated chairmen at a press conference in Owerri, alleged threat to their lives through anonymous telephone callers. They urged law enforcement agencies to take note. They also alleged frustrations from the state government to carry out their duties.
On July 23, Okorocha in a broadcasted media briefing faulted Adoke, whose statement had led to the confusion in the state. According to the governor, the statement by the Federal Attorney General was capable of inciting an uninformed people against the government. He then invited the reinstated chairmen to a meeting on today, July 27. He said he was not for chaos or bloodshed in the state, since both ousted Caretaker Transition Committee men and elected chairmen were from Imo.
The problem of the chairmen who have assumed their offices was also linked with the failure of the government to streamline its directives, via statements signed by the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs Jerry Okolie and the Commissioner for Information and Strategy Chinedu Offor. Both had issued statements that directed the senior and junior workers of the councils to continue attending seminars and reporting at Community Government Council offices. This was seen as ploy to frustrate the PDP reinstated council chairmen. It is not also certain how allocation to the councils will be received, either the ousted ones or the PDP men in the councils.
Both the leadership of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and APGA in the state have expressed worry over the unfolding scenarios in the state.
Written by: Charles Ogugbuaja