*As Ebonyi lawmakers impeach Speaker
BY Tony Edike & Peter Okutu
ENUGU—There were indications, yesterday, that the deputy governor of Enugu State, Chief Sunday Onyebuchi, may be impeached any time from now as Governor Sullivan Chime has reportedly asked him to resign with immediate effect.
This came on a day members of Ebonyi State House of Assembly impeached the Speaker, Chukwuma Nwazunku.
The deputy governor’s sin, Vanguard exclusively gathered, is his decision to contest Enugu East senatorial election come 2015 against the governor’s preferred candidate and Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo.
Already, a top functionary of the House was said to have been mandated to collect signatures of his colleagues for the impeachment yesterday.
20 lawmakers sign impeachment notice
Already, 20 of the 24 members of the State House of Assembly have signed the impeachment notice against the deputy governor.
Sources said that the Speaker of the Assembly, Mr. Eugene Odoh and his 23 colleagues were summoned to a meeting convened by Governor Chime at the Governor’s Lodge, Enugu, where they were made to sign the impeachment notice.
“The lawmakers just rose from their meeting held at the Governor’s Lodge and I can tell you that the two-third majority needed to remove the Deputy Governor has been obtained and the impeachment notice has been signed,” a staff of the Assembly informed Vanguard last night.
Chairman, Information Committee of the State Assembly, Mr. John-Kelvin Ukuta, could not be reached for comments last night as he did not pick his call.
The Leader of the House, Mr. SKC Udeokoye, could also not be reached on his phone.
It was, however, gathered that the lawmakers would deliberate on the impeachment notice on the floor of the House today.
A dependable source told Vanguard yesterday that the plot to impeach the deputy governor through the State House of Assembly, had been intensified as the lawmakers were reportedly mobilised at the weekend to commence the process this week.
The silent disagreement between the governor and his deputy, which dates back to February last year when the governor returned from his over four months medical leave, was said to have been blown open last Wednesday when Onyebuchi was reportedly summoned by the governor and given a marching order to resign.
The source said: “There was an encounter between the governor and the deputy last Wednesday where they reportedly disagreed over the contest for the Enugu East senatorial election and other contentious issues between two of them.
“This incident was said to have been witnessed by the governor’s Special Adviser on Inter-governmental Affair, Rita Mba.
”As we gathered the deputy governor reportedly told the governor that he was determined to exercise his right to contest election into the senate in the coming elections but the governor was said to have voiced out his opposition to the move and went ahead to list what is regarded as Onyebuchi sins.
“He accused him of refusing to represent him at the last meeting of South East Governors’ Forum held at the Government House, Enugu, when he (Chime) embarked on his annual leave last month, in spite of the invitation sent to him by the Chief of Protocol.”
To this, the deputy governor was said to have told him that he declined to show up at the meeting because the governor did not give him any directive to act in his absence and couldn’t have taken instruction from a junior officer to represent the governor.
“The governor also frowned against the deputy governor’s suggestion to remove from office the Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, during his absence last year, a development that forced him to return to the country, even when the doctors did not give him clearance to return to Nigeria at the time.
“He also frowned against the deputy’s refusal to heed his earlier advice not to venture into the Enugu East senatorial race, accusing him of associating with the opponents of his government,” said a source.
The source said the deputy governor was taken aback by the governor’s vituperations against him, though he was not totally surprised because “since he informed the governor about his senatorial ambition in April this year, their relationship appeared to have been strained.”
Deputy denied allegation
The deputy governor, the source further revealed, was said to have denied the allegations and told the governor pointblank that it was because of his senatorial ambition that he was being vilified for no just cause, in spite of his loyalty to the governor since the past seven years.
Apparently angered by the deputy governor’s response, it was gathered that Governor Chime asked him (Onyebuchi) to leave his office immediately or he would ask his security men to take him out to the Government House gate.
Sensing that the governor was enraged over his senatorial ambition, Onyebuchi reportedly left the office but the source said that a number of things happened between Wednesday and yesterday to make the deputy governor suspect that the governor had actually hatched a plot to remove him.
Vanguard further gathered that the state chairman of PDP, Chief Vita Abba, had last Thursday morning visited the deputy governor at his private residence to reinforce the governor’s directive to him to resign.
“The PDP Chairman told the deputy governor that the governor informed him of his directive to him (Onyebuchi) to resign and that he was very serious about it. He encouraged the deputy governor to resign as that will be better than being impeached but he rejected the advice,” said the source.
Vanguard learnt that the four policemen sent from Zone 9 Police Command, Umuahia, that had been on the deputy governor’s entourage since the past two years, were suddenly withdrawn that Thursday afternoon without the knowledge of the deputy governor and no one has given him any information regarding their withdrawal.
Contacts made to the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Chukwudi Achife, to comment on the alleged face-off between the governor and his deputy also proved abortive as he refused to reply the text and pick several phone calls made by our correspondent.
He later sent a short text message yesterday, saying “I have no such information.”
Sources close to government, however, argued that the Nigerian constitution is unambiguous on impeachment process and the appropriate arm of government charged with it. Our source also alluded to many misconducts by the Deputy governor and his blunt refusal to carry out directives given by the governor, the most recent being what happened during the last South East Governors Forum meeting in Enugu.
Ebonyi Speaker impeached
Also, in the nearby Ebonyi State, members of the State House of Assembly yesterday impeached the Speaker, Chukwuma Nwazunku.
18 of the 24 members of the House allegedly carried out the impeachment which was executed at 6am.
The members lifted the suspension of three members of the House before carrying out the impeachment.
The three members are Frank Onwe, Eni Uduma Chime and deputy speaker, Blaise Orji.
Frank Onwe moved the motion for the Speaker’s impeachment, which was seconded by the Minority Leader, Enyi C. Enyi.
Thereafter, Eni Uduma Chima, representing Afikpo South West, moved the motion for election of Helen Nwaobasi, who represents Abakaliki South state constituency, as the new speaker.The motion was seconded by Jerry Obasi.
However, there was an uproar in Ebonyi State government over the impeachment by 11am yesterday as the members who carried out the exercise made attempts to stop the impeached speaker from seeing the governor and also attending a function at the Exco chambers at Government House.
But for the timely intervention of security operatives, what could have led to a bloody confrontation was averted.
The erstwhile speaker was seen at a corner shielded away from any form of mayhem that would have erupted.
The 18 members who sat in the hallowed chambers of the Assembly by 6:30am and impeached the former speaker, also led a delegation to meet with Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State but this was not actualised.
Addressing the press, Enyi, who represents Ezza North West, stated that the new speaker, Helen Obasi, who represents Abakaliki South, remained the authentic speaker and choice of the people.
The House, led by Obasi, was alleged to have been congratulated by the wife of Ebonyi State governor, Chief Josephine Elechi, over the recent development.
New members suspended
The new House leadership also suspended Mabel Aleke, reprenting Ohaukwu South; Ogbonnaya Nwifuru, representing Izzi West; Chukwuma Nwazuku, representing Ebonyi East; and Obasi Odefa, who represents Onicha East state constituency.
Governor yet to meet warring parties
At press time, the governor was yet to meet with the two warring groups of the state House of Assembly.
However, the embattled speaker, Nwazunku, described the action of the House members as illegal and unnecessary.
He said the purported impeachment did not hold water and could not be accepted, urging the people of the state to remain law abiding as the matter would soon be resolved.
The 18 lawmakers alleged that the embattled speaker was impeached for his high handedness, corrupt practices, and sell out to the executive arm of government, among others.