It was the world acknowledged military strategist and former Prime Minsiter of Great Britain Winston Churchill, who stated that, ‘All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope’ while to Martin Luther King Jnr. ‘Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress’. To the famous Malcolm X, ‘Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it’.
After critically examining the opinions of these great minds, it behoves on me to examine the political and legal struggles and the impact of the Judiciary as it relates to Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who aptly fits into all the opinions of the above-quoted great minds.
For the avoidance of doubt, particularly in the case of non-Nigerians who may be reading this, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is a Nigerian politician from Rivers State, a South-South State in Nigeria; a recipient of the national award of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). He was the first Nigerian to be the Speaker of a State House of Assembly for a whopping eight years and later became Chairman of the Conference of Speakers Forum, an umbrella body of all Speakers of State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria. He has been the Governor of Rivers State these past six years plus and currently the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum. His unprecedented feats in the transformation of Rivers State have won him many international and local awards, as well as the respect of great leaders both locally and internationally.
THE MAIN THRUST OF THIS TREATISE
In the politics of Nigeria, apart from Alh. Atiku Abubakar (GCON), former Vice President, who utilised his knowledge of the power and impact of the Judiciary to exert his office in the hands of the very powerful President, General Olusegun Obasanjo who had wanted to remove him from office by any means as the then Vice-president of Nigeria, no other Nigerian politician can boast of using the Judiciary to the fullest to achieve his political mission like Rt. Hon. Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. To some schools of thought, Governor Amaechi is the creation of the judiciary and that is the main thrust of this attempt to unravel what role the judiciary may have played in the political struggles of this enigma of Nigerian politics.
In one of his public outings, Governor Amaechi stated that his politics is that of struggle and not an easy path. This is not only a truism but a statement of fact as his politics is riddled with struggles since he started real politicking from 1999.
EARLY POLITICAL CAREER
University of Port Harcourt in Rivers State was where Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi laid the foundation of his political life, participating actively in student union politics, especially in the National Union of Rivers State Students (NURSS) of which he was President, and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). He cut his teeth in politics as Secretary of the now defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State between 1992-1994. He was Special Assistant to Dr. Peter Odili, the then Deputy Governor of Rivers State, and also a member of the Board of West Africa Glass Industry as well as Risonpalm Nigeria Limited. He was the Rivers State’s Secretary of the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) caretaker committee after in 1996 during the transition programme of the General Sani Abacha junta.
SPEAKER (RIVERS STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY) 1999-2007
In 1999, he contested and won a seat to become a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly to represent his constituency. He was subsequently elected as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Amaechi was elected the Chairman of Nigeria’s Conference of Speakers of State Assemblies. He was re-elected back into the State House of Assembly in May 2003 and was also re-elected as the Speaker.
AMAECHI’S POLITICAL STRUGGLES THROUGH THE COURTS
1. 1999 State House of Assembly Election
Signs of the mission of Governor Amaechi in the politics of Nigeria started when INEC announced Barr. Uche Okwukwu, then of the defunct APP, winner of the State House of Assembly election of the Ikwerre Constituency in place of Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of PDP. He contested this at the then Election Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and won and was subsequently sworn-in as the member of State House of Assembly representing Ikwerre Constituency. This began his political struggles through the courts. Reacting to this, Barr. Uche Okwukwu stated: “Yes, I contested against the present Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. Like I said, the Court of Appeal said I didn’t win and I should not be in the Rivers State House of Assembly. So, as a lawyer, by my training, I have since accepted the verdict of the court, particularly, when you do not have the right to appeal beyond that point.”
2. Fight over the control of the Local Government Affairs between the National Assembly and State House of Assembly
In 2003, Governor Amaechi came up with another feat through the courts. When the National Assembly moved to hijack the legislative functions of the State House of Assembly as enshrined in the constitution, he led his colleagues to take the matter to Nigeria’s Supreme Court and the court gave a judgment that the control and supervision of local government is the prerogative of the State House of Assembly.
3. PDP Leadership and its Undemocratic Suspension of Gov. Amaechi from the Party
When PDP National Leadership in its undemocratic exhibition decided to suspend Governor Amaechi from the party without any sound reason on 27th May, 2013 and was to follow it up with expulsion, he resorted to the courts once again to stop them from taking any further step on his case until he decided to join APC. The suspension of Amaechi from the party was agreed during an unscheduled and unusually early morning meeting of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party at the residence of the then National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. The meeting commenced at 8.00 a.m. and came two days ahead of the regular meeting of the NWC which normally holds on Wednesdays. It was also three days after Amaechi beat the odds with his re-election as chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF. He had been allegedly opposed by the PDP Governors’ Forum, PDP-GF, ahead of the election.
The governor’s suspension was hinged on what the party described as his refusal to order the reinstatement of members of the Obio Akpor Local Government executive who were suspended from office on the orders of the Rivers State House of Assembly upon allegations of corruption raised against the LG executive.
Hours after the suspension was announced, the party at a press conference said that it had constituted a committee headed by Mr. Joe Gadzama, SAN, to probe allegations raised against Amaechi. Other members of the committee were PDP National Legal Adviser, Victor Kwon; Inalegwu Onche, Friday Nwosu, Udorji Amedu, Ola Kukuyi, Wakil Mohammed, Yusuf Jangwe, Mrs. Bola Doherty, Mr. Tanimu Adamson and Anicho Okoro as Secretary.
Reacting to his suspension during an interactive session with youths of the state, Amaechi asked: “Who has power to suspend Obio/Akpor council? Now you see political witch-hunting; it is so ridiculous, my party must rise above political witch-hunting. The Governor did not suspend Obio/Akpor council, I hope you know. My power is to dissolve and remit it to the House of Assembly, but I have not done that yet, what the Assembly has said is ‘we are investigating corruption’ then the party says we should not investigate corruption, is that fair?” He went further to state that the NWC issued a press statement to suspend me without any invitation and fair hearing. His words: “I was not invited by the National Working Committee of PDP, I was not given fair hearing. What I heard was ‘why did I refuse to reinstate the suspended Obio/Akpor Council executive? Who suspended them?’ His questions received the enthusiastic response of the youths who chorused: “The Rivers State House of Assembly.” Again the governor asked, ‘who has the power to investigate Obio/Akpor council executive?” The youths again replied: “The State Assembly.”
Why and How Amaechi joined APC
This unfortunate and wicked step by the PDP Leadership led to the departure of Governor Amaechi and six other PDP Governors to form the New PDP, with five of them later joining the mega opposition political party, APC.
Explaining why he joined APC, Governor Amaechi said: “Unfortunately, recent events within the PDP have given me reason to reconsider our collective interest as people of the South South and indeed as Rivers people. At various times, as the one whom you had gave your mandate, I had cause to complain about the marginalisation of our state and our people despite our huge contribution to the national coffers and our unflinching commitment and support for the ruling PDP. While the political and economic importance of Rivers State cannot be contested, we continue to hold the shorter end of the stick.
“A few instances may suffice: •Our demand that the Federal Government return oil wells belonging to Rivers State to us has gone unheeded and been treated with levity under this administration. Rather, our oil wells have been ceded to Bayelsa, Abia and Akwa Ibom states. Even after we got a judgment that the oil wells were wrongly ceded to Akwa Ibom State and should be returned to us, only dry wells that were no longer producing oil were returned.
“In the specific case of the Soku oil wells, despite a decision reached that the monies should remain in an escrow account till all matters concerning it are resolved, the Federal government continues to pay neighbouring Bayelsa State the revenues meant for Rivers State in a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is indeed noteworthy that we have made several representations formally and informally on this matter.
“A second instance is the total absence of federal presence in Rivers State. The ‘National Good Governance Tour’ provided a good opportunity for the Federal Government to showcase its presence in Rivers State. The tour, if nothing else, was evident that there was not much to show for in a state that is the cash cow of the federation. The East-West road remains abandoned, work has been deliberately slow on the Port Harcourt International Airport, the third busiest airport in the country, while all airports started along with it have long been completed and commissioned. The Bonny-Bomu road that leads to the only functional liquefied natural gas project remains uncompleted. In the midst of all these, our administration went ahead to fix federal roads to the tune of N103 billion. Several representations and letters after, not one kobo has been repaid. The Federal Government is actively discouraging investments in Rivers State.
4. Amaechi Heads for the Supreme Court over Governorship Tenure
At a point it was becoming very obvious that PDP under the watch of President Jonathan intended to accord Governor Amaechi the type of treatment they accorded Governor Timpire Sylva of Bayelsa when they refused him the ticket of the party at the eleventh hour in his quest for a second tenure. Governor Amaechi in order to beat them at their own game decided to go to court to ask for the interpretation of when his tenure should end – whether on the 29th May, 2011 or 25th October, 2011 – four years after the Supreme Court declared him the Governor of Rivers State, instead of his cousin, Sir Celestine Omehia, who was mistakenly sworn-in as the Governor of Rivers State in his stead on 29th May, 2007.
The PDP Leadership had thought that the Court would rule that his tenure ended on 25th, October 2011 to enable them to ensure that the gubernatorial election in Rivers State is repeated so that he will be denied the ticket of the party to fly her flag in the illusory repeated gubernatorial election if it was to hold. All these were one of the ploys and plots to oust him from office before the expiration of his tenure. Again, Governor Amaechi floored these undemocratic minded false democrats in PDP when a Federal High Court Judge in Abuja through Justice Ibrahim Auta, ruled that Amaechi must leave the position of governor on May 29, 2011 and not 25th October, 2011 as envisaged by the PDP bigwigs. This judgement is another feat by Governor Amaechi to shame his detractors and political opponents who will prefer him out of the Government House before the end of his tenure
Reacting to this epochal judgement, the New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) said it received with joy the news of the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the suit instituted by Sir Celestine Omehia, seeking the ouster of Rivers State Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. According to the faction, “Omehia has been in court since the Supreme Court removed him shortly after he erroneously assumed office as Rivers State Governor in 2007, declaring Amaechi to be the rightful occupant of the Brick House Government House. Strangely, Omehia has refused to end the litigation process despite Amaechi having finished that tenure and winning a re-election thereafter.” Continuing, the splinter PDP in a release said: “We are, however, not surprised by his attitude, for apart from being desperate for power, Omehia has allowed himself to become a tool in the hands of the acting Minister of Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, who has devoted enormous resources towards the destabilization of the Amaechi administration just to please his paymasters in Abuja.”
5. THE INTRIGUES IN THE APPOINTMENT OF JUSTICE AGUMAGU AS THE CHIEF JUDGE OF RIVERS STATE
The indefatigable and indomitable Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi recently started another legal battle but this time with the National Judicial Council (NJC). Like other cases involving Governor Amaechi, this case is unprecedented in the annals of judicial adjudication and Nigerians are watching with keen interest on how he survives this.
Based on the Federal High Court ruling approving Justice Peter Nwoke Chukwuma Agumagu as the Chief Judge of Rivers State, Amaechi supervised his formal swearing-in ceremony. However, after few days, the NJC came up with a verdict suspending the newly appointed Chief Judge, this again is unprecedented in the history of appointment of Chief Judges in any other State in Nigeria.
Before his appointment as the State’s new Chief Judge, Justice P. N. C. Agumagu was the first ever President of the Rivers State Customary Court of Appeal. He is an administrator, a former state High Court Judge and the seventh the new Chief Judge of Rivers State.
On 27th March, 2014 to the shock of both the Governor and close watchers of events in Rivers State, the NJC suspended Justice P. N. C. Agumagu, from office, and directed that he should, within four days, explain in writing why he should not be sacked as a judicial officer. The Council, which took the decision at the end of an emergency meeting in Abuja, said it suspended the Rivers CJ over his failure to abide by the Oath of Office he took to uphold the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to Acting Director of Information at the NJC, Mr. Soji Oye, in a press statement: “At its 10th Emergency Meeting, which was held on March 26, 2014, the National Judicial Council under the Chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Aloma Mariam Muktar (GCON), considered the purported appointment, confirmation and swearing-in of Hon. Justice P. N. C. Agumagu as the substantive Chief Judge of Rivers State on March 18, 2014.
“In the meantime, Council in exercise of its powers under Paragraph 21 (d) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution has suspended Justice Agumagu from office as a judicial officer with immediate effect.”
Reacting to all the brouhaha, a UK-based Social Commentator, Emeka Reuben Okala, stated, and I quote: “I join other Nigerians to congratulate the articulate Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, on the battle well fought and job well done on this issue. In all of these, Amaechi clearly stands on the pedestal of truth and that's the magic behind his countless victories. Keep the flag flying, Mr. Governor, you are clearly on the right side of history. Kudos! To Justice PNC Agumagu, I say congratulations! Your appointment as the Chief Judge of Rivers State is richly deserved. Knowing you as I do, the Judiciary under your leadership will have a lot to benefit. We look forward to your good services.”
On his part, Nebukadineze Adiele, a well respected online Social Commentator, stated as follows: “The idea that a customary court judge could not be appointed a Chief Judge of a state was thoughtlessness taken too far. The NJC shamed itself by practically dictating to the governor as to who to appoint CJ. Kudos to Amaechi for standing firm on his belief and for trusting the judiciary into resolving this matter. His tenacity over this matter is a public service to other governors and future governors. A timid governor would have buckled when pressured from all angles to not appoint Justice Agumagu as Chief Judge of Rivers state. I am both a fan and a critic of Chibuike Amaechi – I support him when he gets things right and I get on his case when he goofs. On the appointment of Justice Agumagu as Rivers state Chief Judge, Governor Chibuike Amaechi showed tremendous courage under fire and his action will remain as revolutionary (over judicial appointments in Nigeria) as the circumstances he overcame in becoming governor. That the most senior judge in the state should have been denied appointment into the Chief Judgeship, simply because he was a customary court judge, would have been blatantly discriminatory, stupid, and legally not justifiable. There are instances when one cannot help but admire Chibuike Amaechi’s confidence and convictions. This is one such instance.”
6. Challenge on the Transfer of Rivers State Oil Wells to Akwa Ibom State
As the serving Governor of Rivers State, Amaechi caused his Attorney-General to challenge the transfer of some oil wells from Rivers State to Akwa Ibom State. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favour of Rivers State in that case.
7. The most celebrated Supreme Court ruling on Governor Amaechi
A lot of articles and statements were written following the K-legged episode that was the outright hijack of the 2007 PDP gubernatorial ticket from Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi ahead of the 14th April, 2007 election in Rivers State. This occurred despite his landslide victory at the primaries where he clinched 6,527 of the 6,575 possible votes while seven other aspirants that included political heavyweights like Hon. Chief Austin Okpara, a former Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives; late Senator Martin Yellowe; Pawariso Horsfall; and Mr. Chris Orji shared the remaining 48 votes amongst themselves. Amaechi’s name was subsequently forwarded to the Independent National Electoral Commission on December 14, 2006 in compliance with Section 32(1) & (2) of the Electoral Act 2006. INEC then duly published Amaechi’s name as the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State.
The story however took a different turn when, speaking at the presentation of the party flag to its gubernatorial candidate at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, former President and then “Emperor” of PDP, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, declared that Amaechi’s candidacy had “k-leg”. Following this outright abuse of office, the dreaded bulldog that was the Nuhu Ribadu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was let loose on Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, resulting in his decision to seek legal redress for his travails. Suffice it to say, Amaechi went on self exile to Ghana and the powers that be further showed their contempt for him by selecting his cousin, Sir Celestine Omehia, who neither purchased nor filled a form, as PDP flagbearer in his stead.
Amaechi’s vindication came with the 25th October, 2007 landmark ruling by the Nigerian Supreme Court declaring him as not only the authentic flag-bearer of PDP but also ording that he be sworn-in immediately to replace Omehia, who had previously been sworn-in on May 29, 2007 as the Governor of Rivers State. Thus, Amaechi became the first person to occupy the office of governor in the country without standing for election. In explaining the ruling, the Supreme Court has since stated that it is the party that contests elections and that the PDP won the gubernatorial elections, and that, consequently, Amaechi, being the rightful candidate, should assume power as governor.
This epochal feat stands as Amaechi’s greatest input towards the growth of judiciary in the political life of Nigeria as it has become a reference case in determining similar cases in Nigeria today.
Governor Amaechi is, undoubtedly, one of the most visible governors in Nigeria today. His long-running feud with President Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience, has earned him national and international media visibility. However, it is not just the poignant quarrel and concentrated animosity that exist between him and the First Family that have made him such a popular governor.
Governor Amaechi’s media visibility is essentially because of his statements and actions. In his own words: “If you know Baba very well, you will know that I am a smaller version of Baba”, situating himself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo who is also acclaimed for his no-holds-barred statements as well as the natural instincts that drive Obasanjo’s physical reactions which are most times suffused with comical dimensions.
To conclude this thesis, let me title the conclusion, “THE JUDICIARY AND INPUTS OF GOVERNOR AMAECHI”. My good friend, Ken O. Olumati, a legal counsel based in Port Harcourt, in an article he titled ‘Ameachi’s Debt to the Law’ captured what Amaechi has done to improve the judiciary. He stated that, “It is also noteworthy that the various decisions of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in Governor Amaechi’s case were reported in Parts 1040 and 1065 of the Nigeria Weekly Law Reports. In Part 1065 alone contains six decisions on Amaechi’s case; three by the Supreme Court and three by the Court of Appeal. This in itself underscores the significance of Amaechi’s battles through the courts. Few cases have enjoyed similar attention in the annals of Nigeria’s legal history. Some of them include the case between Amodu Tijani V Secretary, Southern Nigeria, the late Oba Oyekan’s legal battle for the Obaship of Lagos in the 1950’s, which went as far as Her Majesty’s Privy Council before a clear winner was installed. In recent memory, the case of the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi against the Nigeria Bar Association as well as his numerous court battles against the Military Government of former President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Eze Chukwuemeka Eze is a Media Consultant based in Port Harcourt in Rivers State.