In todayâ€™s Nigeria, Rotimi Amaechi the current Governor of Rivers State is likely to emerge as one of the great personalities that shaped the Nigerian political history of his time. From 2007 till date, he has been a dogged fighter. First, he fought his former political party â€“ the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) â€“ over the latterâ€™s breach of internal democracy.
What happened was that the PDP imposed a candidate to contest the governorship election in Rivers State notwithstanding that by its own record, Amaechi won the party primaries arranged to pick the candidate. He then did what many saw as the unthinkable by going to court against the party. It was a battle he fought to the Supreme Court in which no one gave him a chance of survival let alone to defeat the almighty PDP. Indeed, Senator Ifeanyi Araruame the partyâ€™s governorship candidate for Imo State who was similarly short-changed never made it but Amaechi was declared Governor by the court.
Thus Rotimi Amaechi overthrew the â€˜garrison commandoâ€™ style and gave hope to others that â€˜caucus politicsâ€™, â€˜godfatherismâ€™ as well as the old order in which certain party chieftains played God was tenuous. He established that anyone who had patience and faith to test the rule of law using due process would smile at the end. It is only logical to deduce that this must have made a mark on those who hitherto believed that political violence was the way. Under this writer, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) named Amaechi, â€˜Man of the 2007, Yearâ€™.
Governor Amaechi exhibited courage and determination while leading the Governorsâ€™ Forum. Unlike some of his colleagues who may be mocked by posterity, the man refused to accept the bizarre mathematical equation of the time in which 16 was regarded as greater than 19. Many say Amaechi is stubborn but his insistence that he won the election to the position of Chairman of the Governorsâ€™ Forum puts him up as a greater democrat bearing in mind that one of the pillars of democracy is majority rule. Indeed, in a true democracy, it is only the candidate with the highest number of votes that can carry the day.
At a time the issue of State Police was the matter of the moment, many public analysts wrote severally against it. But by the time the controversies surrounding Governor Amaechi and the Rivers State Commissioner of Police subsided, many anti-State Police advocates began to have a re-think. The previous viewpoint was no doubt influenced by the use into which state governors put any instrument in their control. With the Rivers State case, the Police did not bother to convince anyone that federal authorities could be more temperate with power.
In the last few weeks, Governor Amaechi has been engaged in another battle- this time with the Judiciary; the bone of contention being the appointment of a Chief Judge for Rivers State. Whereas the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended the most Senior Judge of the State High Court for the position, the Governor rejected that and appointed another Judge. To show that it can bite, the NJC has now suspended Amaechiâ€™s preferred candidate and has also queried him to show cause why he should not be disciplined.
Many learned writers who are in support of the NJC position have been calling to no avail on the Governor to allow peace to reign â€“ â€˜strong-headedâ€™ Amaechi again! Although I would have similarly preferred the choice of the NJC and as such disapproved of the acclaimed stubbornness of the Governor, a peep into the issues involved cautions me.
For instance, I have searched in vain for answers to the following questions that would have placed me on the side of the NJC. First, who does the constitution empower to appoint a State Chief Judge? I have found that it is the State Governor and not the NJC. Second, what is the proper role of the NJC? I have found that it is only to recommend a candidate to the Governor.
On this ground, I am unable to agree with the stand of the NJC which appears to be turning its advisory power to recommend to the substantive power to appoint. Since the constitution did not expressly state that the recommendation of the NJC must be accepted, it stands to reason that the NJC has a duty to persuade rather than to intimidate the Governor to accept its recommendation.
Third, does the NJC have the power to suspend a State Chief Judge? I have found that it has. Thus, I would ordinarily have endorsed the suspension of the new Chief Judge of the Rivers State. Unfortunately, I am unable to, because the suspension appears to have run foul of the elementary principles of natural justice as the man has been queried only after having been summarily suspended without an opportunity to defend himself.
Why is the NJC seeking to try a case in which it has already pronounced guilt? In addition, if the constitution had intended to make the NJC to have the final say in the appointment, it would not have given it the power to merely recommend. I am therefore tempted to believe that in this matter, Amaechi is legally superior to the NJC. He will thus make history again, no matter how the case ends
By the way, what is the NJC â€“ is it a court of law? If not, what then gives it the right to give judgments; more so, in a case in which, it is itself an interested party? We can only hope that the NJC will not handle this case as it did in that of Justices Ayo Salami and Katsina-Alu. In the latter, the NJC found one of the parties to be both guilty and innocent, went ahead to suspend him and later sought in vain to re-instate him.
At the end of the case at hand however, historians may find that the stalemate was resolved because Amaechi did not timidly accept the dictation of the NJC thereby making the controversy to turn out to strengthen our democracy.