Abuja and Lokoja — Section 188 (8): "Where the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter"
Amid rising criticism over perceived illegal removal of his predecessor, Mr. Simon Achuba, from office, former Chief of Staff to Kogi State governor, Mr. Edward Onoja, yesterday took oath of office as the new deputy governor of the state.
He was sworn in by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Nasiru Ajanah, who had earlier set up a committee that cleared Achuba of allegations of gross misconduct levelled against him.
However, despite being cleared by the panel, headed by Mr. John Baiyeshea (SAN), the state House of Assembly summarily removed Achuba, contrary to Section 188 (8) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Section 188, subsection 8 reads: "Where the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter."
Three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and other lawyers condemned Friday's removal of Achuba from office, describing the action as unfortunate and a setback on Nigeria's democracy.
The senior lawyers who spoke with THISDAY on the issue were unanimous in their condemnation of the action of the Kogi State House of Assembly, which was accused of ignoring the constitution in removing Achuba from office.
According to the lawyers, the removal carried out contrary to the findings of the panel was illegal, null and void and is bound to fail.
The lawyers explained that the law bars the Kogi State House of Assembly from taking any further step against the former deputy governor once the panel set up to investigate him was unable to indict him of the allegations of gross misconduct levelled against him.
One of the senior lawyers, Ahmed Raji, said: "If the investigation committee headed by the respected senior silk in person of Mr. Baiyeshea truly exonerated the (former) deputy governor, then there is no removal known to law."
Raji, while urging Achuba to approach the court for redress, lamented that the incident had brought to memory the ignoble removal from offices that characterised the beginning of the Fourth Republic and called on the judiciary to urgently rise to the rescue of the nation's democracy.
"The purported removal will be another low moment of legislative rascality reminiscent of the ignoble removal of Ladoja and Dariye.
"The judiciary must rise to this occasion before the democracy is slaughtered," he said.
A human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), stated that the action of the legislators amounted to an illegality based on the fact that the chairman of the investigative panel had publicly announced that the allegations against the former deputy governor were not proved.
Ozekhome added that for the deputy governor to be removed from office, the relevant provisions of the law must be followed to the letter.
"It is illegal since the chairman of the impeachment panel, Baiyeshea (SAN), has told the world that his panel exonerated him. No one can be removed except by the clear provisions of the section of the 1999 Constitution are carried out to the letter," he stated.
Another senior lawyer, Akinlolu Kehinde (SAN), described the removal of Achuba by the state legislators was illegal, adding that their actions portrayed a blatant disregard for the Nigerian constitution.
Kehinde said the action of the legislators, which came barely an hour after the panel, which investigated Achuba on alleged act of misconduct exonerated him of the charges, was enough evidence that the legislators were on a voyage to ridicule the nation's democracy.
"It is grossly illegal and smacks of blatant abuse and denigration of the constitution. It's very clear that the whole removal exercise was a premeditated charade and it has further shown that the actors are out to keep ridiculing our constitutional democracy.
"The panel duly set up by the Chief Judge of Kogi State returned a verdict of 'not proven' against the deputy governor on all the allegations against him; the report was submitted to the House of Assembly according to the panel and the House of Assembly now claimed to be acting on the same report and removed the man within one hour of the submission of the report when the constitution is very clear that no further step shall be taken on the subject once a verdict of not proven is entered.
"We are not learning from precedents. Remember the famous case of Oyo State experience. Thankfully, the fearless Nigerian judiciary will do the needful in due course," he stated.
On his part, Steve Ekeh, said lawfully, there was no removal since section 188(8) provides that if the investigative panel in its report returned a no-guilty verdict against the person to be impeached, the proceedings ends there.
"The panel has said that they could not prove the allegations against Achuba and so there was no return of guilt against him. The assembly should have received the report and that should have been the end of the matter.
"So, when you go ahead to now purport to remove somebody that has been exonerated, that is an illegality," Ekeh, a lawyer, said.
He said the fact that Achuba's removal was done while the House was not in session was a further proof of the illegality of the lawmakers' action.
"There is really no foundation for what they have done in law. And by the provisions of the constitution, they were supposed to consider the submitted report within 40 or 42 days but under some hours they have impeached the man, so that is a clear illegality," he stated.
While noting that among the options for the removed deputy governor is to approach the court for redress, Ekeh, however, wondered to what would be the end of the court case.
He said: "His situation now is when he goes to court and before the court matter would abate, his tenure would be over; the election would have taken place and that would be the end of the matter.
"The part that surprises me is that the chief judge of the state who constituted the panel went ahead to swear in the new deputy governor, which to me is a clear illegality.
"If the panel did not find the allegations against Achuba proved, it means that the purported swearing-in of the new deputy governor is an illegality. Why will the chief judge put his seal to an illegality?"
Another Abuja-based legal practitioner, Ifeanyichukwu Obasi-Nweze, stated that the action of the lawmakers was wrong and illegal since it ran against the principles of separation of powers in the state.
He reiterated others' position that once an investigative panel returns a no-proof verdict in its report, the House was barred from taking any further action on the matter.
Achuba has since described his purported removal by the State House of Assembly as unconstitutional.
The embattled former deputy governor at a press conference shortly after moving out of the official residence of the deputy governor in Lokoja, had said swearing in anyone else would amount to continuation of illegality being perpetrated by Governor Yahaya Bello.
Baiyeshea had clarified that his committee did not indict him because it could not prove the allegations levelled against him.
CJ Swears in Onoja as New Deputy Governor
However, despite the outrage and the perceived illegality in the removal of Achuba, Onoja was yesterday sworn in to replace him.
Ajanah administered the oath of office on the new deputy governor at the Banquet Hall of the Lugard House, Lokoja.
In his speech, Bello charged the new deputy governor to sustain his quality of service that brought him to limelight.
He said: "It is good to be good. My joy today has no bound because the swearing-in of my former chief of staff as my second-in-command is historical. The journey between me and my twin brother, Edward David Onoja, that has brought us to where we are now didn't just start today."
The governor expressed optimism that with the combination of him and his new deputy, Kogi State will enjoy more turnaround of its fortunes.
The Speaker of state House of Assembly, Hon. Matthew Kolawole, said the lawmakers, after a critical look into the report submitted to the House by the judicial panel that investigated the allegations of gross misconduct against Achuba, found him guilty of the offence that had led to his removal.
The House also followed due process in the screening and confirmation of the new deputy governor, he added.
Onoja thanked Bello for finding him worthy for the elevation and also appreciated the state House of Assembly and the chief judge for standing up to their constitutional obligation under the situation that brought him on board.
Onoja expressed gratitude to God for the mistakes of Achuba , which paved the way for being picked to occupy the exalted position.
Onoja's Inauguration a Nullity, Atrocious, Says PDP
But reacting to Onoja's swearing-in, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dismissed the inauguration, describing it as a nullity.
The party was also exasperated that Justice Ajanah, who set up the panel that had earlier acquitted Achuba of any misconduct, could lent himself to be part of the plot by Bello to force out Achuba.
PDP said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, that the action of the Kogi chief judge has jeopardised the integrity of the judiciary and capable of bringing the institution to public disrepute.
PDP said: "Our party insists that the action of the Chief Judge of Kogi State, in staging an illegal inauguration of Edward Onoja as a deputy governor, while the office has not become constitutionally vacant, amounts to gross misconduct, which cannot be accommodated under our laws."
According to the party, this is a clear demonstration of the reprehensible and sacrilegious design by Bello to corrupt the institution of the judiciary, cause a constitutional crisis, trigger mayhem and derail the smooth conduct of the November 16 governorship election in the state.
The party urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mohammed Tanko, to take immediate steps to save Kogi State from a plunge into anarchy and chaos.
PDP House Caucus Condemns Removal of Kogi Deputy Governor
Also, the House of Representatives Caucus of the PDP condemned the removal of Achuba from office.
A statement yesterday and jointly signed by the PDP Caucus Leader, Kingsley Chinda, his deputy, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, Caucus Whip, Hon. Umar Barde and deputy, Hon. Ajibola Muraino, said events leading to the purported removal of Achuba were to say the least, offensive and embarrassing, describing the entire removal process as a hoax.
It noted that to remain silent in the face of these invidious governmental actions and executive rascality in Kogi State and in several other places across the country would amount to the greatest disservice to the nation.