Omehia’s Recognition: Between Law, Morality | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Omehia’s Recognition: Between Law, Morality

Posted: Jul 13, 2015 at 12:01 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Daniel Abia Port Harcourt

Last week, the media was awash with the decision of the Rivers State government, under the leadership of Governor Nyesom Wike, to do what many people described as ‘most needful’ while many more condemned such actions, because “government stood the law on its head”, by simply recognizing Sir Celestine Omehia as a former governor of the state. In his wisdom, the governor shocked many when he thought it reasonable to restore the dignity and recognition of the former governor of the state without the rigour of any legal process.  The recognition took full circle as accorded to other governors before him.



The recognition drew a lot of flak which also led to legal and political debates. While some argued that it was legally wrong for Governor Wike to reinstate Omehia’s right as former governor, others hailed the decision purely on grounds of sheer morality.

 The Case That Threw Out Omehia

It will be recalled that Sir Celestine Omehia became governor of Rivers State following the April 11, 2007, governorship election. He remained on that saddle for just five months. Though his administration was short-lived, Omehia’s achievements within the brief period were admired by many, especially the market women.

However, the Supreme Court of Nigeria recorded another milestone in its legal pursuit when it nipped the reigns of Omehia to pave the way for Rotimi Amaechi who, by this time, had fled the country to a neighboring Ghana for fear of his life.

Prior to that election, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had fielded Amaechi as its candidate following the choice of the then governor of the state, Sir Dr. Peter Odili. But the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, in his characteristic bully tendency rejected the candidature of Amaechi through the curious introduction of the “K-Leg” syndrome in the country’s body polity. In that interval, the Rivers state PDP could not opt out of that year’s election because of the nullification of Amaechi by Obasanjo. The next option was for the state chapter of the party to field Omehia who was the next available aspirant that squared it out with his cousin, Amaechi, for the party’s slot.

Sadly, on October 26, 2007, the Apex Court ruled that in the eye of the law, Omehia was not the candidate of the party but rather the fugitive, Amaechi. The contention of the Supreme Court was that since no name of an individual was embossed on the party’s voting paper, it presupposes that it was PDP that stood for the election and the man that satisfied the requirements for the election was Amaechi and not Omehia.

That judgment did not go down well in the mind of the late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who faulted its authenticity. According to Gani, “in the eyes, minds, hearts, and brains, the electorate of Rivers state did not cast any vote for Rotimi Amaechi because he was not a candidate in the election.”

Gani went further to explain that under the 1999 constitution, it is not the party that is the candidate in any election for elective office, hence, “the people’s democratic party was not a candidate in that election.”

Section 177 of the 1999 constitution states clearly that a person shall qualify for an election to the office of the governor if, among other provisions, “he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party.”

 Polemics On Wike’s Action

A fortnight ago when Governor Wike chose to reinstate Omehia as a former governor of the state, so much hues and cries came up in many circles, but the human rights society sees that action differently from opposition politicians.

Livingstone Wechie, Director, Society for the Promotion of Better Nigeria, SPBN, said that Wike only exercised his prerogative powers as governor which has recognized and not restored Omehia as former governor.

“I hope we are aware that a Court in Nigeria decided that the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan was illegal yet as an honour, he still attends National Council of State as former head of state and is so addressed”.

Wechie argued that the 1999 Constitution regards military governments as illegal yet all former military rulers are still referred to as former Heads of state, and members of national council of state, along with Shonekan and their portraits are copiously displayed in the state House including former military administrators in the various states.

He expressed hope that “we are aware that the so-called Amaechi Supreme Court judgment that removed Omehia as governor is no longer sustainable to be cited as an authority? The singular reason being that the Electoral Act, as amended, has made it impossible for that Supreme Court judgment which was greeted with wide condemnation, including the erudite Gani Fawehinmi to be cited.

“That judicial coup can no longer be cited as an authority or relied upon, so upon what Supreme Court judgment can your argument stand since you cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand? He went on say that beyond Law, in fact, between May 29, 2007 and Oct 25 of same year who in person presided over the governance of Rivers state? Equity Acts in personam, that is on the individual.

While some people are of the personal view that Wike cannot take the place of the Supreme Court by ordering the reinstatement of Omehia, others applaud the move. To this set of people, it is against the law for the governor to reverse the position of the law, otherwise since the law turns its eyes the other way, governor Wike therefore should have respected the dictates of the law.

“Take note, in fostering political harmony in the state, this act of the Governor is laudable and has nothing to do with the Supreme Court judgment so no one tries to mislead and misinform those who do not have a grasp of these details”.

Some years ago, when the government of Rotimi Amaechi sent an executive bill on the welfare of former governors in particular to the House of Assembly for consideration, Omehia’s name was not included as a beneficiary because that administration never recognized him as former governor.

But with this recognition, it is difficult for one to say with certainty if a memo would be forwarded to the House by the governor to that effect. It is believed that the reason behind the recognition is not just political but such that would confer on the recipient the full benefits as stated by the law.

The view in some quarters is that, legally speaking, since the Apex Court did not recognize Omehia as the candidate that stood for the 2007 governorship election, it also presupposes that he cannot enjoy the same benefits that other former governors enjoy by reason of that law.

However, on grounds of morality, it has equally been argued that Omehia deserves more than the recognition. If the law had failed to recognize him as a former governor, what then happens to the handful of achievements he recorded during his short spell!

More views

Omehia started the construction of the Eleme flyover to ease a gridlock traffic along that route especially giving the weight of vehicles coming from Aba axis into Port Harcourt. He also built the Shopping Plaza located opposite the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC. Equally worthy of note is the construction of the popular Mile 1 market which was thereafter completed by the former governor, Amaechi.

Pro-Omehia critics claim that morally speaking, if Omehia is not found worthy of being so recognized, does it also presupposes that these amenities should be demolished or discarded? Nobody will ever think about that. And it also translates that while Rivers people appreciate these facilities, it goes to mean that Omehia deserves to be honored.

OCJ Okocha, a renowned lawyer and former President of Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, said Wike did the right thing to have honored Omehia. “I don’t see what is wrong in that. Those who argue otherwise are merely ignorant. Omehia was a governor for five months. He performed the responsibilities of a governor, why then should he not be recognized!

But a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and human rights activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba, condemned the restoration of Sir Celestine Omehia’s rights and entitlements as a former governor of Rivers State by the current governor, Nyesom Wike.

Agbakoba described Goverbor Wike’s action as “a useless distraction”. He said: “I am surprised that Wike would engage in this type of useless distraction, because if the Supreme Court had decided on the matter, what power has a governor to do such a thing? What Wike has done, being a lawyer, is a terrible tragedy for the rule of law. It is a very grievous and wrong move. I think there are many things that Wike can preoccupy himself with and part of them is to fashion out ways to develop the state he governs. He should not get himself involved in an unnecessary issue like this.

“His action makes it look as if he has personal scores to settle with Rotimi Amaechi (former Governor of Rivers State). I am really disappointed to see this. Wike must be told that what he is doing, especially as a lawyer, is capable of sending the wrong signals to the system.”

Also, a former Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the NBA, Mr. Monday Ubani, said Wike deliberately took the step to spite Amaechi, with whom he is a sworn enemy. Ubani also supported Agbakogba’s argument that since the apex court in the land had delivered its judgment on the Omehia issue, Wike had no power to upturn it.

Government’s Position

Responding to Agbakoba’s diatribe, the Rivers State Commissioner of Housing, Barrister Emma Okah, said that Agbakoba misdirected himself on facts and therefore was wrong and insensitive by describing the decision of the Rivers State Government to accord a special privilege and recognition to Sir Celestine Omehia as useless, unnecessary and capable of overheating the system.

In a statement issued in Port Harcourt, Okah said a state government has the powers to confer an advantage on anybody without reference to any court judgment. He thus wondered why such a reconciliatory and uniting action should annoy Agbakoba. This is even when governors have the prerogative to give a state pardon to detained criminals.

“This is purely a political concession, far away from the courts. There must be an end to acrimony and bitterness or politics of hate. As a people, we should encourage harmony, peace and consensus building so that we can put the agony of yesterday behind us and together, move the state to greater heights.”

Okah noted that in all jurisdictions, litigants can still seek peace outside the courtroom or even after judgement, and such agreements calm frayed nerves and heal wounds better and faster.

“A time comes when as leaders you need to think outside the box to solve political problems and create happiness for the people. Nigeria did the same for Chief Ernest Shonekan who headed the Interim Government which the Court declared as illegal. In Ekiti State, Governor Ayo Fayose accorded similar recognition to Chief Segun Oni even though the court said he was not a governor in law. People are happy with these situations and that of Rivers State cannot be different.”

Okah further said Agbakoba has more pressing things to worry about in Nigeria like the current developments in the National Assembly where statesmen like him are expected to sound their voice for democracy instead of dabbling into Rivers State politics and its complex dynamics.

He expressed surprise that as a respected SAN, who has stood for the downtrodden over the years, Agbakoba was among those who kept mute and played no major role to reprimand former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, when his administration in Rivers State locked the courts and emasculated the judiciary for over one year.

“Many thought that Chief Agbakoba would have risen to the occasion but the plight and agony of detainees, lawyers, judges, litigants and judicial stakeholders arising from the closure of courts could not move him to strongly condemn the evils that Amaechi inflicted on the judiciary.

“Even the emasculation of the legislative arm of government by the same Amaechi administration who moved their sittings to the banquet hall of Government House, Port Harcourt, was not enough to catch the attention of our respected Agbakoba at a time when many well meaning Nigerians saw it as an aberration and embarrassment to democracy.”

Okah further said Agbakoba can redeem his lost voice in Rivers State by condemning the financial recklessness and outright fraud which the Amaechi government visited on the state, refusal to cooperate with the present government on handover notes, looting and desecration of the Rivers State Government House in Port Harcourt and the carting away of vehicles, television sets, mattresses, air conditioners and others as if the state was facing liquidation.

He added: “Perhaps Agbakoba needs to know that Governor Wike has nothing personal against Amaechi but the issue of accountability, due process and outright stealing of public funds especially in the last weeks of the Amaechi’s government require explanation and the public has the right to know.

“Besides, the people are happy that Governor Wike is squarely facing the task of development in Rivers State despite the landmines the Amaechi administration. Two major contractors – Julius Berger and CCECC have been contracted to rebuild all the roads in Port Harcourt City. So far the Rivers State Government has opened the courts and judges, magistrates, lawyers, judiciary workers and the public are happy.

“Members of the State House of Assembly are now sitting in the Assembly complex. The eight months’ salary arrears of management and players of Dolphin Football Club, Sharks FC and Rivers Angels FC have been paid. The refuse disposal contractors who were owed for four months are now receiving payments in arrears. Efforts are been made to begin the payment of arrears of salaries and pensions which the Amaechi government passed on to the present government. In all, the people of Rivers State are happy.”