Imo governor, APC congress and rule of law

The intrigues surrounding the conduct of the Congresses of the All Progressive Congress, APC in Imo State are getting more interesting with the faction alleged to be backed by the governor of Imo State, Rochas Anayo Okorocha, going to courts to seek judicial remedy.
Divergent claims have dogged the State APC Congress to elect new party executives at Ward, LGA and State levels in Imo. A tinge of drama had characterized the whole exercise with Okorocha and followers dazed by the superior stratagem adopted by the opposing group of the Coalition, otherwise, known as, the “Allied Forces”, who carried the day in the battle for the soul of Imo APC. Having suffered a woeful outing that puts his future political destination in jeopardy, the Governor and his followers now chose the law courts.
Ironically, the court approach has elicited reactions with residents of the State astonished at Okorocha’s judiciary move as a saving grace. The bewildered stance of Imolites stems from the State governor’s trademark identity for disrespect for the rule of law. On several occasions, he has allegedly defaulted court decisions to the chagrin of the masses. Most commentators familiar with Okorocha’s antecedents since 2011 where he got the mandate to govern Imo State can testify that he has zero regard for the third arm of government and exhibits a glaring paucity of knowledge of the role of judiciary in democracy.
The avalanche of cases related to abuse of due process and disregard against rule of law perpetuated by the Imo State government during Okorocha’s era, questions the morality behind the desire of the governor’s allies to choose the law courts as the best option for a redress. The litany of the governor’s abuses of rule of law speaks volume of his non conformity to the sanctity of the judiciary arm of government as the last hope of common man. His subterfuge in handling judicial process remains a sad reminder of the ills of the military junta in a democratic set up. It is for this that the world is actually watching how a no respecter of the law should benefit from the system with the Imo State APC Congress as a case study.
Going memory lane, it is pertinent to note that Okorocha’s entrance into Government House, Owerri was heralded with outright neglect to rules of engagement as a democratically elected chief executive of a State. In a State wide broadcast few hours after he was sworn in, he began to show disturbing signs of a deviant to the extant laws of the State he swore an oath to protect. In one full swoop laced with dictatorial tendencies, Okorocha dissolved all legally established institutions in Imo, to set the stage for the reign of impunity, which has become part of his signature project for the masses.
First to feel the sustained chicanery of the governor which has seen him deviate from normal forms of governance were the elected LGA Chairmen and Councilors sent packing without caring about the number of years the State law entitled them to be in office. Despite the court judgments for their restoration in office, the aggrieved LGA officials received through competent courts of jurisdiction, Okorocha looked the other way and never obliged till date and has continued to operate with Transition Committee members for the councils.
Interesting reports have it that after cutting short the life of the elected LGA Chairmen and Councillors, he never allowed them to step in for seven years he has been in charge, even as the governor is planning to conduct council polls in the next few months before handing over to a successor next year. Among those who got his outlaw fireworks early enough were the 10,000 job beneficiaries. The Imo State government, before his ascendancy to power, had advertised, screened, interviewed and recruited intending graduates seeking civil service employments through best practices of recruitment. As part of his suspected plans to rubbish the sign posts of good governance instituted by his predecessors, Okorocha scrapped the 10,000 jobs without recourse to civil service rules guiding the engagement of workers in the State work force. Later on, Permanent Secretaries who were not due for retirement by age and number of years of service against laid down workers rule, were forcibly removed and sacked accordingly. These oddities committed by Okorocha has since been reversed by the Industrial Court where the victims took the matter to, but the governor turned deaf ears to the judgment.
What of the celebrated Cletus Ilomuanya case. Before 2011 election, the monarch was the Chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers and South East Council of Traditional Rulers with a five year tenure enshrined in the constitution. Surprisingly, during the maiden broadcast that swept off legally backed institutions, Ilomuanya was sacked, irrespective of what the Law of the State on Autonomous Communities and Chieftaincy said on tenure of the chairman. A displeased Ilomuanya went to court to get judgment against Okorocha’s arbitrary removal which was reversed. Sad enough, the governor failed to respect the court decisions leading to several other similar cases, the embattled Obi of Obinigwu sued Okorocha for which the various courts found the governor wanting.
It was for the Ilomuanya case that Okorocha received backlash from his predecessor and other well meaning citizens of the State uncomfortable with his fervent rejection of court orders. Undoubtedly, Okorocha has his name entered in the history books as a state chief executive officer to lose a record 14 cases to one of the citizens, without being compliant to any of the courts final ruling. It was what prompted Ikedi Ohakim, to author an eight page letter dated March 29, 2017 titled “Still on the Trend of Events in Our State”.
The eight-page letter dated March 29 2017, addressed to Governor Rochas Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo State wrote: “Your Excellency, I was appalled on coming across a recent newspaper report in which you were quoted as saying that you will “banish” His Royal Majesty, Eze Cletus I. Ilomuanya CON, the Obi of Obinugwu, Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers. Your Excellency, that statement credited to you touched me so much so that I found myself asking: Have things turned this bad for Nigeria? Pardon my skepticism.
“Your Excellency, but you will agree with me that such an utterance is quite unbecoming of a servant of the people in a free and democratic society, more so in a State like Imo, whose people are known to be civil in actions and utterances and generally, not given to that type of brashness. I dare say you have the tendencies to exhibit. “You do not have the liberty to fragrantly disobey the rule of law, including judgments of court of competent jurisdiction. In this case of your purported dethronement of HRM, Eze Ilomuanya and his removal as chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, you may have succeeded so far in your unprecedented reign of impunity and brigandage, only because other stakeholders in the State, and indeed the entire Igbo land, have all this time been hoping that you will soon come to your senses and retrace your steps. Your recent utterances, however, show that you are not appreciative of the patience of the good people of Imo State and, indeed, other well-meaning Igbo in other States on this particular matter. Your Excellency, this perception is not good enough for you. Worse, your actions and utterances on the matter constitute a huge embarrassment to the entire Igbo race”
In the same vein, the former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, in the 7th National Assembly, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha in a press statement said: “My attention has been drawn to a recent statement credited to the Governor of Imo State against the reinstated Chairman of Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, HRH Eze (Dr.) Cletus Ilomuanya, CON, Obi of Obinugwu. The outburst is, indeed, disturbing, reckless and very unbecoming of a governor of a state in a leading democratic nation like Nigeria.
“Eze (Dr.) C.I. Ilomuanya did not err by approaching the courts to ventilate his displeasure at the unlawful dissolution of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers under his chairmanship by Governor Okorocha.  “Having won his case up to the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Hounourable Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, SAN, directed in a letter to the governor that Eze Ilomuanya be accorded full rights and privileges. Sadly, however, Governor Okorocha dismissed the Federal Government’s directive with a wave of hand. “Only for the Imo State Governor to recourse to self-help by threatening to, among other things, banish a highly revered monarch of Eze Ilomuanya’s standing. The intended action of Governor Okorocha is not only laughable, primitive, but is also unfortunate and constitutes an affront to the rule of law.
“Okorocha must realize that power is transient and he cannot be wiser than the many Lordships that have reviewed his irresponsible actions. It is ironic that a beneficiary of similar judicial pronouncements in the year 2015 governorship election is now finding it convenient to constantly ignore valid court rulings”. “It is an aberration in a democracy, for Governor Okorocha to continue to indulge in such acts, as if he has become a law unto himself; acting like a dictator by refusing to obey the lawful directives of the Federal Government. This is, indeed, a recipe for lawlessness, as the time of grandstanding with loquacious boasts is over.
“The threat to banish Eze Ilomuanya or any other Imolite is antithetical to the Ndigbo culture. Rather than resort to intimidation, the Governor should commend Eze (Dr.) Ilomuanya, (CON) for being civil and responsible in his pursuit of the matter at the courts. Now is the time for the Federal Government, under President Muhammadu Buhari to beam its searchlight on the Imo State Governor flagrant abuse of the rule of law and acts of illegalities that have almost become the second nature of Governor Okorocha. Right now, our traditions, alongside institutions, which have before now remained sacred and revered, have been consistently desecrated to the dismay of every Igbo man and woman, such that our ancestors have become worried and may soon begin to revolt.
“I commend the Attorney-General of the Federation for being forthright, firm and just in his administration of justice in this particular case, for directing that Eze Ilomuanya, who was callously deposed and removed as Chairman of the Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers be reinstated. “The AGF, as the country’s Chief Law Officer, must stop at nothing in ensuring that his directive is fully complied with, as this is one of the ways to save Nigeria from the arrogance and impunity of people like Okorocha, which if not checked, will surely bring the country to ridicule not only in Nigeria, but outside the country.”
Even at that, subsequent judgments against Okorocha, Ilomuanya secured, including the award of damages and cost for the use of force government agents applied to invade the private residence of the Monarch at the Civic Centre Estate on Concorde Road, New Owerri, are yet to be honoured by the governor bringing to the fore, the public outcry why his men chose the law court as suitable arbiter of the APC Congress.
In flagrant abuse of powers of the State, the governor failed to take note of the extant laws behind the establishment of the various Commissions of the State Government. It was not surprising that the entrance of Okorocha saw the dissolution of Commission Chairmen and Members he met in office, unmindful of the fact that their existence is tied to years for a tenure. Majority of the Commission like the judiciary and ISIEC secured judgments against the governor through proper legitimate channels but were ignored till date. The power hubris that may have overshadowed the governor to adopt a no respect to rule of law can be said to be responsible for the ill manner, bulldozers ordered from Government House made nonsense of the front row building of a former minister and indigene of the state, Emmanuel Ihenacho.
Ihenacho, a business mogul and politician who ran the 2015 governorship of Imo under APGA got his property on Orlu Road, in the State capital, demolished by Okorocha, despite a court injunction restraining the governor and State government from going ahead.
The master mariner and owner of Integrated Oil and Gas services had gone to court based on the authorizing papers from government agencies allowing his buildings on the location. The court action of Ihenacho was said to have infuriated the governor who swung into action. Today, the debris of the demolished frontline walls and buildings, despite the court intervention, forms another strong testimony of the governor’s disregard for rule of law.
An enraged Ihenacho who became helpless against Okorocha took a swipe at the former Commissioner of Police in Imo for allowing men of the Nigeria Police  command to be used by the State governor in violating valid court order. In a petition by Ihenacho through his lawyers, Amadi-Obi &Co, date 4th January, 2017, entitled ” Re: Police Disregard For A Valid Court Order in the Matter of Capt Emmanuel Ihenacho ” the former Minister admonished the CP, Taiwo Lakanu to “stop detailing officers under your command to aid the governor of Imo State in his violation of a valid court order; arrest all those, without discrimination as to position or station in the society, who are helping the governor of Imo State in violating the order of the court; intervene to help restore order, sanity and respect for the integrity of our courts” Ihenacho who accused the governor of serially demolished his property on Orlu road despite court order added.
The governor’s abuse of judicial processes didn’t stop at the doorsteps of the bourgeoisie only, as the lower cadre in the society had also a fair share. When reports heightened about the planned demolition of the main market in Owerri called Eke Ukwu, concerned traders and Owerri indigenes approached the court to stop the governor. An injunction was secured but the State government bulldozers looked another way before it went into the area in a commando style to wreck havoc leading to the death of 11yr old Somtochukwu. Watchers of events in the State insist that Somtochukwu wouldn’t have met his untimely death arising from gunshots that accompanied Government bulldozers to rattle shops at the market had the court injunction stopping further government action at the market was obeyed.
The avalanche of complaints arising from Okorocha’s hate for the rule of law attracted the attention of the Human Rights Groups who cautioned the Imo State governor on demolition and disobedience of court decisions.
At the end of a meeting of Human Rights Community across Nigeria convened in Owerri late last year, which focused on concern for protection of human rights in Imo, condemned among other things, Okorocha’s penchant for disrespect of court orders. The communique of the group observed that “most of the demolitions have been carried out despite pending court proceedings and in many cases, in disregard of existing court order. The Ekeukwu Owerri demolition took place despite a restraining judicial order against government.
Adding its stake to the style of the governor, the Human Rights groups stated “the habitual refusal of the Imo State Governor to respect judicial orders risks plunging the State into lawlessness, which may have implications well beyond the borders of Imo State. This should be of  concern to all Nigerians, to the ruling APC on whose platform he was elected, and to the Federal Government”. Other varieties of neglect to rule of law committed by Okorocha are abound but space available cannot contain it in the course of putting together this particular piece. But a lawyer once revealed that there is hardly a week without counsel in the state ministry of justice and hired practitioners making appearances for the State governor and government on cases related to the subject of discussion.
Based on the foregoing, tongues are wagging in the State as to why the governor’s men approached the court to seek redress when the principal showcases empathy to court orders against him even as the manner judiciary staff of the State Ministry and Ohakim’s recent revelation of ill treatment of judges in the State call for concern.
Kelechi Mejuobi, a social and political commentator is a regular columnist and co-publisher of Trumpeta newspapers.

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