Supreme Court sacks Rivers governor

12 years ago by: owolabi hepa
(m) at 26-10-2007 10:24AM (12 years ago)

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Supreme Court sacks Rivers governor
By Tobi Soniyi, Abuja
Published: Friday, 26 Oct 2007
The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Rivers State Governor, Chief Celestine Omehia, to ‘immediately’ vacate the Government House, Port Harcourt.

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former governor, Mr. Celestine Omehia

A panel comprising seven justices of the court directed that a former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, be ‘immediately’ inaugurated as the governor.

It argued that since Amaechi won the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship primaries in the state, he must not be denied the right to occupy the Government House as governor.

Omehia becomes the third among the 36 state governors that were inaugurated on May 29, 2007, to be sacked by the judiciary.

The others were Alhaji Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State, who was removed on October 10, and Alhaji Saidu Dakingari of Kebbi State, who lost out only six days ago.

Idris and Dakingari, a son in-law of President Umaru Yar’Adua, may, however, be re-presented by the PDP since the election petitions tribunals in the two states ordered fresh elections.

Justice Iyorgher Katsina-Alu, who read the lead judgment, held that the PDP did not comply with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2006 when it removed Amaechi’s name as its candidate for the poll.

Section 34 (2) of the Electoral Act requires political parties wishing to make a change of their candidates after 60 days of conducting primaries to give cogent and verifiable reasons.

Katsina-Alu said that an error which was given by the PDP as its reason for the substitution of Amaechi’s name with that of Omehia was not cogent and verifiable.

He, therefore, declared the substitution as illegal.

Amaechi was dropped by the PDP on alleged grounds that he was indicted for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Irked, he headed for the court to challenge the PDP’s action.

Before the verdict was passed, Omehia, who was in the court, listened with rapt attention while arguments on the matter lasted.

At a stage, the justices asked Omehia’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), “When was the indictment?”

Daudu had no answer for the question.

But Amaechi’s lawyer, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), was ‘fantastic’ in his presentation.

At a stage, he described the Independent National Electoral Commission as being more catholic than the Pope by searching for the cogent and verifiable reason for the PDP. The justices could not hide their laughter.

From the arguments, the most naïve person could see where the case would go.

At exactly noon on Thursday, the panellists retired to chambers to deliberate on the direction in which they wanted to go.

When they returned 45 minutes later, Omehia had disappeared.

Katsina-Alu, who carefully chose his words while delivering the judgment, said, “The Appellant — Amaechi — remained the candidate of the third respondent (PDP) for that election. It is my view that he was the candidate.

“He was unlawfully removed. In the eyes of the law, he remained the candidate.”

The justice noted that even though Amaechi, in his suit at the Federal High Court which culminated in the current appeal did not ask that he be declared the governor of the state, substantial justice demanded that he be declared the winner of the election.

He said, “This court has wide jurisdiction to give reliefs and make consequential orders.

“The justice of this case demands that this court do substantial justice. The only way to redress his right, which was violated by the illegal substitution, is to declare him the winner of the April 14 governorship election in Rivers State.

“The law deemed him to have won the said election.

“The second respondent (Omehia) is ordered to vacate the seat with immediate effect.

“The appellant and not the respondent is deemed to have won the election. I declare the appellant is the one entitled to be in the governorship seat of Rivers State.

“It is ordered that the second respondent vacate the seat of Rivers State immediately and the appellant immediately inaugurated.”

He noted that the case was similar to that between Senator Ifeanyi Araraume and Chief Charles Ugwuh which it decided in favour of the former.

Justice Katsina-Alu said, “The single issue decided in that case is that a political party making substitution after 60 days must give cogent and verifiable reasons.

“We also held that an error was not a cogent and verifiable reason and therefore not in compliance with Section 34 (2) of the Electoral Act.

“In this case, the same reason relied upon by the PDP is error without more.

“The cases are similar and therefore the same principles apply.”

On the argument that INEC excluded Amaechi from contesting the poll because of his alleged indictment as held by the Court of Appeal, Katsina-Alu said, “That argument is not tenable. In my view, there is no indictment whatsoever. He had not been charged before any court of law.

“Similarly, the argument that Omehia enjoys immunity is untenable. This case had been in existence before the election.”

The other justices — Dahiru Musdapher, George Oguntade, Samuel Onnoghen, Francis Tabai, Tanko Muhammad and Pius Aderemi — concurred.

The court will give the reasons for the judgment on January 18.

Early in the day, circumstantial evidence showed that something big was going to happen.

As at 7am, armed policemen had secured the entrance to the Supreme Court Complex at the Three Arms zone.

They frisked everyone entering the court with metal detectors.

The number of concerned people who had trooped to the court was also unprecedented

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