• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Controversy over Omehia’s status in Rivers governance history: Ex-governor or not?

Controversy over Omehia’s status in Rivers governance history: Ex-governor or not?

The law signed by Gov Nyesom Wike de-recognising Celestine Omehia as ex-governor of Rivers State with the ultimatum to refund almost N700m he earned in that capacity has kicked up dust in the oil-rich state.

The law

With the signing, the recognition that accorded Omehia the status of a former governor of the State, with accruable rights and benefits, were now cancelled.

Governor Wike signed the instrument at the Executive Council Chambers of the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt, last week Friday when it was presented to him by the State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Zacchaeus Adangor.

The governor disclosed that he had always respected resolutions from the State House of Assembly and never had any reason to disagree with them.

Wike stated: “You will recollect that sometime in 2007/2008, my predecessor, His Excellency Chibuike Amaechi, did not recongnise Omehia as a former governor of the State.

“When we came on board, there were issues and the Assembly felt that, having served as governor, he should enjoy the status of a former governor. I’ve always respected the resolutions of the Assembly. I’ve never one day disagreed with anything the Assembly has sent to me.”

Wike pointed to the reasons adduced by the leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly that the strength of the information they have now had compel them to reverse what they did in 2015.

The governor noted that to be the hall mark of leadership, being able to acknowledge that there was error done in the course of administration and having the courage to correct such error.

“The leader of the House said they have better facts and what are the facts? The facts are the Supreme Court judgment categorically stated that Sir Celestine Omehia was never a governor, because he never stood for any election and that it will be inappropriate for their (assembly) legacy that they didn’t respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.”

Wike said in this part of our country, people will praise you when it suits them, but when you do the uncommon thing, people will not praise you.

He stressed the need why people should keep politics away from what had been done. He further urged people to get a copy of the Supreme Court judgment and understand that it is the right thing to derecognise Omehia in the eye of the law.

He said: “I had to call the Attorney General for him to give me his legal opinion as regards the resolution of the Assembly, and rightly the Attorney General said they (assembly) are right.

“That in the first instance, the recognition was extra-judicial, that the Assembly has no power to change the judgment of any court, not to talk about the Supreme Court. So, people should understand and not to begin to play politics.”

Governor Wike explained as untrue that the insinuation in the media that Omehia was derecognised because he had ceased to be his ally, and now a member of the presidential campaign council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

He stated the Assembly had woken to conscience and did not want posterity to blame them for an error they had done which they could correct.

Governor Wike likened it to the position members of the National Assembly also found themselves when they were working on the Electoral Amendment Bill.

“Remember, last time, the National Assembly, when they were making the amendment of the Electoral Act, everybody said they should include the card reader and that was in 2018/2019.

“The National Assembly did not do it, particularly, the All Progressives Congress (APC) members and people told them what they were doing will hunt them. Posterity will not forgive you if you do not allow democracy to thrive.

“In the new Electoral Amendment Act, because they knew they did not do the right thing, they had to include it and you can see that members of the National Assembly are happy that they have done the right thing.”

Governor Wike also pointed to the sum of money paid to Omehia as a proof against those who peddled tales that government does not pay such benefits at all.

“I’m sure, they must have told you that no benefits and all entitlements were never paid, that is what you hear everywhere.’

It’s Wike, not Omehia that owes Rivers – Eze

A strident Wike critic, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, says Omehia must not refund any money to the state. He says it is rather Wike that should refund the lost funds. He described the current Rivers State House of Assembly members as a congregation of unfit people and urged the Supreme Court to order for their arrest on contempt of her ruling.

He also called on Rivers people to ask Wike and his Assembly members to refund in lump sum money wasted on the trending saga.

The erstwhile national publicity secretary of the defunct New People’s Democratic Party (nPDP) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) remarked upon the buzzing twist of event in the trending Rivers politics which has turned towards Omehia, apparently, but not actually a former governor of Rivers State by virtue of the Supreme Court decision in the celebrated case Amaechi v INEC decided in 2007.

Eze said in that famous case which enjoyed the status of a ‘locus classicus’, the court, after an exhaustive consideration of the facts brought before it, granted the prayers of Chibuike Amaechi against INEC, PDP and Celestine Omehia, to unseat the later and ordered that Amaechi be sworn in as the duly elected Governor of the State.

Read also: Stop sending people to beg me, Wike tells PDP

He said the apex court was emphatic on the status of Omehia, to wit, he was never a governor as he merely held brief for Amaechi within the five months period he held sway as Governor. That means every action he took and all decisions he made were credited to Amaechi on whose stead he acted.

In a statement made available to media houses in Port Harcourt, the party chief stated that during the pendency of the case at the apex court, Wike was in the circle of those furnishing Amaechi with the bit of daily updates on the matter until judgment was given, because the gloom of apprehension that engulfed the entire political hemisphere was palpable and in fact bloody and that forced Amaechi into self-exile in Ghana.

Though a layman, Eze said it is common knowledge that decisions of a higher court are law automatically and must be relied upon as binding precedents to the courts below. And by that decision, it is the law that Celestine Omehia was never a Governor.

In his usual custom of flouting laws with impunity, he hurriedly lobbied the members of the Rivers State House of Assembly, who can at best be described as stooges, to cook up a legislative process to recognise Omehia as a former governor to enable him enjoy the rights and privileges that accrue to men of that status. The governor used the instrumentality of the State Assembly as flavour to garnish his unlawful act and until their relationship turned sour, Omehia enjoyed every benefit befitting a former holder of the office of Governor of Rivers State.

He said: “Rivers people must understand the fact that the law purportedly made to recognise Omehia as former governor is inconsequential, illegal and has no basis in the Nigerian jurisprudence as it is in gross conflict with the unambiguous Judgment of the Supreme Court. In order words, what Omehia has been receiving from Wike is best said to be ex-gratia pension payments and cannot be on account of Rivers money.

“Same way the governor’s profligate financial gifts to Sokoto, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue etc, which run into billions cannot be on account of Rivers resources because those expenses could not have been mandated by the suffering masses of Rivers State who can hardly afford two square meals per day under the biting economy.

“Assuming Omehia received the said amount of pension benefits from the coffers of Rivers State, it is important for Rivers people to demand a refund of the said amount from Gov. Wike who incurred such humongous liability to the state while on the frolic of his own.”

As a matter of fact, no case can lie against Omehia because he never misrepresented himself to the state Government as a former Governor because as a Lawyer, he knows he is not one. And the judgment of the Supreme Court is a public document and so the lettered public is averse with the fact contained therein.

“Omehia was on his own when he was invited by the busybody-Gov. Wike who began showering him with gifts of very fat sums running into multiple millions.

“And a gift ‘inter vivos’ given without misrepresentation or any negative factor cannot be rescinded. Omehia does not owe Rivers State a dime but Wike.

The Governor (a Lawyer and member of the Body of Benchers) and everyone around him know that there is a subsisting law (Supreme Court judgment) de-recognizing Omehia as former Governor, yet they threw the law to the dogs and connived to do their illegal bidding and when the pendulum tilted northward, they cried foul, ran back to the Supreme Court Judgment which was of very little or no consequence to them.”

The conundrum

A conundrum is a difficult and intricate situation. That is exactly what the problem of defining the status of Celestine Omehia, the stand-in governor of Rivers State for five months in 2007.

A conundrum also is a problem or question having only a conjectural answer. This too is exactly what the Omehia question in the Rivers State governorship history is; you can only guess.

Governor Wike has been guessing the answer for seven and half years, and is still searching. He began by declaring Omehia a former governor, brought his photograph up on the hall of fame in government places in the status of a former governor. Things were well between the two Ikwerre sons. By Wike’s action, Rivers State has had three Ikwerre sons; Amaechi, Omehia, and now Wike. Then, the upland has had four straight governors since the return of Democracy if Peter Odili is added, none from the riverine.

Suddenly, or not too suddenly because they have parted political camps, Gov Wike began to threaten to de-robe or derecognise Omehia. True to the threats and true to how he does his things, the Rivers State House of Assembly which is believed to be of only his handpicks, woke up and ‘discovered’ that Omehia was actually not qualified to be former governor. They quickly passed a law with its usual speed and de-recognised Omehia. They also ordered him to refund almost N700m spent on him as former governor.

Gov Wike moved swiftly and penned his signature. He has threatened to seize Omehia’s property if he did not pay back the money in seven days.

With the signing of the law, according to a statement by Kelvin Ebiri, the governors SA on media, the recognition that accorded Omehia the status of a former governor of the State, with accruable rights and benefits, are now cancelled.

The matter began many years ago when Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi won the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. His name was substituted outside the provisions of the law by that of Omehia, his kinsman, in those days of impunity by the then ruling PDP especially under Obj.

Amaechi went to court but many did not give him any attention due to the powers wielded by the presidency.

Omehia went ahead to win the election and even governed for five months (May 29 – October 25, 2007). Then, the Supreme Court ruled that Amaechi was the true governor and that it’s the PDP and Amaechi that won, not PDP and Omehia.

By that, in the eye of the law, Omehia never contested, never won, and never governed.

Wike won the election to replace Amaechi (with Odili and Omehia now behind him against Amaechi) and compensated Omehia by setting aside the decision of the Supreme Court to impose the status Omehia did not have on him as a recognized former governor.

Omehia continued to enjoy and milk the situation until Wike fell apart with Abubakar Atiku and asked all his henchmen to also hate Atiku. Omehia and few others refused. Wike sacked the others from various board positions and procured a law from the RSHA to dethrone Omehia.

Now, he says he has realised what the law is saying. But, who refunds the mistaken salaries to Omehia? Many say if it must be refunded, then Wike and the lawmakers should refund it, not Omehia.