By Obi Nwankanma
The Igbo have a rather pithy saying about fortuitous revelations. It is good, they say, that the wind blows now and then, or so that men too would know that the chicken has an anus. The chicken indeed does have an anus, and there is evidence of this in the Enugu Government House where an impeachment saga has opened up some funny chicken business.
The Deputy Governor, Mr. Onyebuchi Chukwu is under scrutiny by a legislative panel investigating him in an impeachment process. Let’s be clear, in this season of impeachments and counter impeachments, that the constitution provides that recourse as serious, deliberative process to determine that an individual with public responsibility is not in breach of a public trust. This happens if the continued stay in office of said individual jeopardizes the legitimacy or brings to disrepute the office they occupy, or brings to question, the fair and accountable representation demanded of a public trust – because no public office occupied under a constitutional government is a private liege.
Such legitimacy is determined by a simple press of facts: has the person in question abused any of the constitutional requirements regnant to the office he or she occupies? Is the individual accountable before the law of a breach of the rules of transparent conduct? Has the individual failed to fully account for his public and personal financial transactions as it relates to running a public office? Has the individual consciously abused the powers or privileges of office in pursuit of personal profit or personal vengeance? Impeachments are never easy processes. They should never be used as witch-hunts or the process itself would be called to question, as indeed would the very constitution which an impeachment hearing seeks to protect and uphold.
Certainly, the 1999 constitution does not help matters, because it fails to strictly define the conditions for which an impeachment may happen and the removal of the Governor or the Deputy Governor of a state be carried out. It simply says that if any of these officials are in breach of the constitution; and if a case of “gross misconduct” is established against them by a two-third of the members of the House of Assembly in a state such removal should be in effect. Now the term “gross misconduct” is far too general. It does leave the question open.
The Federal Constitution of Nigeria of 1999 has too many flaws: aside from the fact that it is badly edited; that it has far too many typographical and grammatical errors unbecoming of a document of such record and weight; its provisions are frequently framed in unclear, ambiguous and contradictory language. I suspect that the draughtsmen who did that work had very weak backgrounds in the English language, and often left matters where they were incapable of finding the clear expressive term to liquefy the rhetorical charge of the Nigerian constitution. Thus, Onyebuchi Chukwu might fall under the razor of constitutional ambiguity, because he may indeed be guilty of the “gross misconduct” of raising his private chickens in the official residence allotted to him in the Deputy Governor’s lodge in Enugu – which is public property. Let us simply say, that his chicken business has come to roost.
Onyebuchi Chukwu’s great offence under the rule of the thumb, because that is all we have to go with at this stage, is that in building chicken coops and cages on the grounds of a public property, he may have abused his privileges. Look at this way: the Deputy Governor’s lodge, being the property of the government and peoples of Enugu state should never have been turned into a private chicken farm, for that not only reduces the dignity of the place, but it is conduct unbecoming a public servant to engage in a private business while in office. Allowing of course that the chickens evacuated from the Deputy Governors home, the alleged cause now of his impeachment were not for sale, but raised for private or domestic use, then that brings us to the question: the fact that in using a property properly zoned for a residential area for the dirty business of chickens, the Deputy governor has failed to comply with the basic town planning or zoning laws, under which the laws governing public health also fall.
In other words, by creating a chicken farm at an industrial level in a strictly residential neighborhood, the Deputy Governor of Enugu state may have exposed the public to potential health risks and deadly hazards that come with the chicken disease, including of course the possibility of spreading the Chicken Anaemia Virus (CAV), the equivalent of the human AIDS in chickens, salmonella, the deadly Avian Flu virus, campylobacter enteritis, and a slew of other deadly diseases that can affect humans by being in close proximity to chicken farms. It is actually quite unbecoming for a public officer of the Deputy Governor’s standing to engage in that kind of ignorant close-quartered farming of chickens at the risk of public health.
But does that constitute that kind of “gross misconduct” for which he should be impeached? Certainly, no. Indeed, all he may really be liable for is a fine imposed on him by the Public Health Department like any other citizen breaking the residential zoning laws and public health codes of the city of Enugu. It is only when the Deputy Governor brazenly fails to pay the fines in obedience to the law, or uses his office to circumvent such a payment, or threatens other public officials on collection duties with the weight of his office that he may be liable of “gross misconduct.” Not before.
In any case, Mr Onyebuchi Chukwu added, in his defence, a new dimension to the claims: apparently, there is also Chicken and Cow business going on even in the Governors lodge in Enugu! It brings us to the question, which our friend Chuks Ugwuoke may wish to answer: what is going on in Enugu state? When did Government quarters, including the official lodge of the Governor of the state, turn to chicken farms and cow ranges? However, according to a government house spokesman, the Deputy Governor may have misrepresented the facts, because the Chicken and cows kept on the grounds of the Governor’s lodge is an extension of a program by the state’s Ministry of Agriculture.
It is from that collection that cows and chickens are slaughtered for the use of the Governor and his Deputy. This is not a laughing matter, but we must set our priorities right. The provisions made for the upkeep of Government House across Nigeria is in eloquent disregard of the conditions of the Nigerian people. That is the real meaning of “gross misconduct” – to feed fat on free government chicken and cows while hunger ravages the rest of Nigerians. This Chicken and cow business ought really to stop.