Recent move by Governor Nyesom Wike to restore Sir Celestine Omehia’s entitlements as former governor of the state is generating reactions from legal luminaries across the country, reports Peterclaver Egbochue
In a move seen by many as antithetical to Supreme Court ruling and political concession, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has officially restored all the entitlements and benefits of Sir Celestine Omehia, as a former Governor of the state. Reinstating the official portrait of Omehia amongst the line-up of former governors of Rivers State at the Government House, Wike said, “I hereby put back his official portrait among those of former governors.
He is now entitled to the benefits of all former governors.” He further explained that his decision to restore the entitlements and privileges of Omehia as former governor stemmed from the fact that he worked as governor of the state between May 29, 2007 and October 25, 2007, wherein he took decisions on behalf of the state and initiated projects.
It would be recalled that on 25 October 2007, the Supreme Court annulled Omehia’s election, ruling that Chibuike Amaechi, was the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) legitimate candidate, after he was declared the winner of the Rivers State governorship election of 2007, held on 14 April 2007, amidst wide scale rigging and violence.
Responding to the governor’s gesture, Sir Celestine Omehia described Thursday as the most historic day of his political career, stressing that the restoration of his rights as a former governor indicates that his dark political days were over. Expectedly, the development has elicited reactions especially from legal practitioners across the country.
In his reaction, Chief Olise Agbakoba, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, (SAN), described Omehia’s recognition as a former governor as useless, unnecessary and capable of overheating the system. “It is only in Nigeria you see a man who said he is a trained lawyer behave in such reckless manner, in clear disregard for the Supreme Court, the highest court in Nigeria. Supreme Court said in the eyes of the law, Celestine Omehia, was never governor, the same thing with Andy Uba, but Wike has his own law, a lawyer submitted on condition of anonymity.
Chief Paul Chijioke, an Owerri-based legal practitioner in a telephone interview, argued that the Supreme court’s ruling could only be upturned by God and “we have not heard that Omehia has appealed to God. As long as he has not done that, the ruling stands. Wike wants to set a dangerous precedence and the Supreme court must not allow this move to stand.”
Similarly, the Rivers State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has said it was absolutely out of place for Wike who worked under Amaechi, did not suggest at any point that Omehia’s status be restored to overrule the Supreme Court’s ruling that annulled his election. APC’s Publicity Secretary, Chris Fineboy, said, “Rather than feel surprised at the charade that the governor personally carried out, APC feels embarrassed that an individual who is licensed to practice law within Nigerian territory would, in the most flagrant manner, disregard the ruling of the Supreme Court of the land for selfish political expediency.
More embarrassing is that the recipient is himself a lawyer as well who had previously sought to get the Supreme Court reverse itself in related matters without success.” The statement read, “The Governor of Rivers State, Barr. Nyesom Wike claimed that he had restored the rights and privileges due to Sir Celestine Omehia as a former governor of Rivers State. The governor affirmed this by placing the portrait of Celestine Omehia among the portraits of former governors of Rivers State in the Executive Council Chamber of Government House.
“As a party, APC recalls that the Supreme Court of Nigeria in a 2007 verdict that is now popular in Nigeria, ruled that Sir Celestine Omehia was never a “governor in the eyes of the law” and consequently nullified his governorship as having not happened. That landmark judgment also ordered that Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi be sworn in immediately as the rightful Governor of Rivers State.
The Supreme Court explicitly declared that Omehia held the office in error and illegally. “Apart from Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the next immediate beneficiary of that development was Barr. Nyesom Wike who was shortly after appointed Chief of Staff by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi. Can Governor Wike, in all honesty, recall drawing the attention of his former boss to the need to override certain aspects of the Supreme Court ruling and defiantly restore Omehia’s rights, howbeit, as he has just done?
Can governor Wike today own up to several of the anti-Omehia actions he took as Amaechi’s Chief of Staff until he was called to order? “APC would like Rivers people and Nigerians to know that the action and utterances of Gov. Nyesom Wike on Friday are nothing more than standing in front of the mirror for the world to see and confirm the real Nyesom Wike who is ready to abandon civility, reason and decency on the altar of political expediency.
“Indeed, it does not matter to the governor that as a lawyer, he should be at the vanguard of defending the pronouncements of courts rather than defying them; he should defend the laws of the land rather than break them; he should think, act and talk like a governor and not just like any other citizen.
“The APC is persuaded to believe that the governor was only trying hard to create a precedent considering the quicksand in which his governorship is standing. “We expect that if Governor Wike were genuinely interested in rehabilitating Sir Celestine Omehia along the line he has taken, the best would have been for him to approach the Supreme Court to reverse their earlier decision on the matter and not resort to self-help.
Indeed, there are other legitimate ways to reward a political associate without breaking the law and defying state institutions. “APC rejects the attempt by a sitting governor to undermine the integrity and sanctity of the judiciary, which is what Governor Nyesom Wike did yesterday against the verdict of the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It suggests that the governor abandoned the Oath of Office and Oath of Allegiance he swore to on the 29th day of May, 2015 right on top of the podium where he stood.”
But in a swift reaction, the State Commissioner for Housing and former spokesman to Omehia, Mr. Emma Okah, maintained that the state government had the powers to accord a special privilege to anybody without reference to any court judgment. Expressing surprise that the reconciliatory and uniting action of the state governor could annoy the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Okah said in a statement in Port Harcourt on Sunday that litigants could still seek peace outside court ruling as such a step would heal old wounds. According to him, “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. “In all jurisdictions, litigants can still seek peace outside the court room or even after judgment 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”. The commissioner further stated that Agbakoba had more pressing things to worry about in Nigeria like the current developments in the National Assembly where statesmen “like him” were expected to make their voices heard for democracy instead of dabbling into Rivers politics and its complex dynamics.
He also expressed surprise that as a respected senior lawyer, who has fought for the rights of the oppressed in society over the years, Agbakoba was among those who kept mute and played no major role to reprimand ex-Gov. Amaechi when his administration in Rivers State locked the courts and emasculated the judiciary for over one year.
In a related development, Rivers State Government has faulted those criticizing his recognition of Omehia as a former governor of the state. The governor disclosed that the move was in a bid to end “politics of bitterness”, which he said was the hallmark of the immediate past administration of Amaechi. But keen political watchers argue that the move could elicit avoidable legal fireworks.