By Tony Edike, Enugu
A section of those in the Enugu State governemnt are determined to see the back of the incumbent deputy governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi.
Their scheme has been dubbed the Chicken Impeachment given the extent the antagonsits of the deputy governor have gone to fetch charges against him.
THE ongoing impeachment proceeding against the Enugu State Deputy Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, took a frightening dimension on Wednesday when the embattled number two citizen of the state slumped while giving his testimony in what is now popularly tagged as Chicken Impeachment in Enugu State.
The impeachment saga which commenced suddenly some weeks ago following alleged disagreements between Governor Sullivan Chime and his deputy, has escalated the political tension that gripped the state since the governor pronounced a ban on second term ambition of the National Assembly members from the state.
The Deputy Governor who had maintained daily presence at the impeachment panel that began sitting on August 6, 2014, slumped after giving evidence for three hours and five minutes.
Response to the subpoena
But one of his lawyers leading him in evidence, Mr. Peter Eze, said the unfortunate incident occurred five minutes after the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Anthony Ani, SAN, came in the court room.
Mrs. Nwobodo was accompanied by the Attorney General to the panel in response to the subpoena served on her on Tuesday at the instance of the Deputy Governor who informed the panel that she needed to clear some issues relating to the allegations leveled against him particularly the evacuation of birds from the poultry farm at his official residence.
According to the defence counsel, the Deputy Governor was rushed out of the court hall for medical attention at about 11.38 am by his wife, Mrs. Nneka Ada Onyebuchi, his children and some of his aides present. The panel stood down its proceeding until 2pm to enable them get feedback from Onyebuchi’s family regarding his state of health.
Onyebuchi’s lead counsel, Mr. Chris Aghanwa was said to have informed the panel upon resumption that the Deputy Governor suffered from postural hypotension.
He said that “the Deputy Governor was first rushed to one Dr. Akunyili of St. Leo Hospital who could not handle it and invited one Dr. G. C. Anisiuba, a Consultant Physician and Cardiologist who attended to him. The doctor then issued a medical report “which reveals that he had postural hypotension for which he is now receiving medication.”
Aghanwa, tendered the medical report and informed the panel that his client could not continue with his evidence that Wednesday.
Feelers from the panel yesterday (Thursday) indicated that the sitting continued despite the request by the defence counsel that further proceedings be suspended till next Monday to enable the Deputy Governor recover and continue with his evidence which was truncated on Wednesday.
Sources said that the panel was considering sending a team of medical doctors from the state-owned Enugu State University Teaching Parklane Hospital, to carry out fresh examination of the Deputy Governor to confirm what the medical expert from the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, UNTH, Enugu, Dr. G. C. Anisiuba, a Consultant Physician and Cardiologist had observed.
This prompted an angry reaction yesterday from the Enugu Rescue Group which in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Comrade Martin Okenwa,, condemned in strong terms “the clear partisan attitudes of the Investigation Panel, especially its insistence, against medical advice, that the Deputy Governor be brought back to the hearing immediately, even in a wheelchair or stretcher.”
The group noted that “this unusual hurry of a panel that has a constitutional period of three months to complete its work further confirms that it is executing a 2015 script written in the Enugu State Government House.” It further condemned the continued secret trial of the Deputy Governor by the Panel, “which has barred the press from an impeachment hearing in a democratic society” just as it called on President Goodluck Jonathan and the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Three major offences had been listed against the Deputy Governor by the Enugu State House of Assembly which commenced the impeachment process by serving the notice in which he was given seven days to respond. These include running of poultry farm inside his official residence, which had been undergoing reconstruction since mid 2012 but had long been abandoned and his alleged refusal to represent the governor at two official functions in Enugu and Onitsha.
However, the Deputy Governor denied all the allegations against him and took time to respond to the allegations point-by-point insisting that he did not commit any impeachable offence to warrant his being removed from office. He told the panel that he was not guilty of the alleged acts of gross misconduct in the performance of his official functions.
Onyebuchi, who presented an eight-page defence with several annexures to the House, said that he was not aware of any resolution of the State Assembly that banned the operation of commercial poultry in residential premises in the state, pointing out that the poultry in his official residence was built by the regime of Dr. Michael Okpara in the defunct Eastern regional government and had been operated by his several predecessors like the one operated by the governor in his own residence.
He described as untrue the allegation that he refused to represent Governor Sullivan Chime at the flag off of the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha by President Goodluck Jonathan, saying he was present at the event from its inception to the end as shown in the live television coverage of the event.
On the third allegation that he turned down the directive to represent Governor Chime at the last meeting of the South East Governor’s meeting held at the Lion Building, Enugu, the deputy governor explained that the governor did not mandate him to act on his behalf while he was away on vacation, adding that no manifest of the event was made available to him.
Onyebuchi, who noted that he had worked closely with Governor Chime, who at one time described him as “reliable and loyal deputy who understands the working of government” said it was a shame that allegation of disobedience should be leveled against him few months to the end of their second tenure.
Apparently not satisfied by the Deputy Governor’s response, the lawmakers mandated the State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike to set up an impeachment panel which he did without delay. The seven-man panel was headed by Mr. Franklyn Uche Oraeke with Pastor Uluakanwa Okoh, Elder Nnamdi Martin Onyenwuru, Barr Marcel Ebele Eze, Mrs Praise Mercy Anyim, Aroh Okechukwu Perfectis and Dr. Anthony Iguh as members.
Inaugurating the panel, the Chief Judge said he was under a constitutional obligation to inaugurate the panel had wished them success in “this important but onerous constitutional function.”
The Chairman of the panel, Mr. Franklyn Uche Oraeke, had assured that the panel would not witch-hunt anybody as their duty was just to conduct an investigation of the charges handed over to them and make a report of their findings known to the state House of Assembly.
The proceeding of the panel commenced with the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses mainly serving Commissioners and the Governor’s aides, who had labored to defend the various allegations leveled against the Deputy Governor. But on the first day of the Deputy Governor’s appearance, he briefed journalists saying that he knew that he would be removed before he leaves the office, the whole world would hear the truth about his travails.
This comment reported by several national dailies did not go down well with the prosecution and the government as it clamoured for the ban on press coverage of the panel’s proceedings and it was granted by the panel. Thereafter journalists were prevented from witnessing the proceedings in spite of the repeated protests by the Deputy Governor.
Prior to the Deputy Governor’s evidence that was truncated by his ailment, some of his aides and personal staff had testified before the panel giving account of what they knew regarding the controversial poultry at the deputy governor’s lodge and his alleged refusal to represent the governor at two events.
One of the lawyers told newsmen after the sitting on Tuesday that three police officers attached to the deputy governor who were among those summoned, were prevented from appearing before the panel by their superior officer at Government House.
The defence counsel, however, opened the defence of the deputy governor on Tuesday with the testimony of his first witness, Adaobi Obiefuna-Ezenwa, who resided in the deputy governor’s lodge between 2008 and 2010. The witness told the panel that the deputy governor started living in his official residence in 2008 and that towards the end of that year, they started poultry at the residence. She said there was a poultry attendant, while she was in charge of cleaning the poultry every morning. According to her, she feeds the birds while a veterinary doctor was in charge of vaccination.
The witness also explained that “the normal routine then was every morning the poultry attendant, Chinwe Ezugwu, will clean the poultry and feed the birds, and then the veterinary doctor comes at interval to give vaccination and drugs as the case may be.” She stated that at the time she entered the deputy governor’s lodge, there was a poultry structure already in existence. The witness also said she had a 1st Degree in Crops Science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a Masters Degree in Business Administration (Management) from UNEC and that she was a marketer for the poultry section.
Two other witnesses, Timothy Ngba-Ekon and Chika Nwoko, also testified and told the Panel that they worked at the Deputy Governor’s Lodge as poultry attendants, explaining that their work was to sanitise the poultry. They said they cleaned the poultry twice daily and that they never suffered any illness as a result of the presence of the poultry farm in the Deputy Governor’s Lodge. According to them, they were on duty on January 27, 2014, when people who identified themselves as staff of the Ministry of Enugu Capital Territory came with buses and trucks into the Deputy Governor’s Lodge and took away about 3,000 birds, the eggs and other accessories in the poultry. They said that when the ECTDA officials were carting away the birds the deputy governor did not hold anybody or prevent any body from doing what they were doing.
The cook to the Deputy Governor, Mrs Chinyere Ogbuke also testified informing the Panel that she and her children live at the Boys Quarters in the Deputy Governor’s Lodge and has never perceived any odour emanating from the poultry house because it was always cleaned by poultry attendants.
On the allegation that the Deputy Governor refused to attend the meeting of the South East Governor’s Forum on July 6, this year, the security man at his private residence told the Panel that he was never given any manifest on the night of July 5th 2014 by Barrister Emeka Asogwa, the Chief of Protocol.
He stated that Emeka Asogwa, visited the house of the Deputy Governor in the night of 5th July 2014 and spoke with the Deputy Governor on the phone before he was allowed to enter the premises. Samuel Odo, the driver to the Deputy Governor also testified informing the Panel that he drove the Deputy Governor to Onitsha for the flag-off of the second Niger Bridge on 13th March 2014 and that they arrived the venue at about 10 am.
However, when the Deputy Governor was expected to conclude his evidence on Wednesday while cross-examination by the prosecution was expected to follow but that was to come after the Chief of Staff, Mrs. Nwobodo and six other officials subpoenaed had testified before the panel.
When the panel observed that Mrs. Nwobodo was not present, the Deputy Governor was asked to commence his evidence which he did from 9.30 am to 11.35 am when he reportedly slumped and could not continue.
The panel continued with its proceedings yesterday but it could not be ascertained by press time if Mrs. Nwobodo and the six persons summoned along with her appeared before the panel.
The ongoing impeachment trial of the Deputy Governor has inevitably heightened tension in the state as the issue has dominated public discussions even as his kindred from Nkanu land in Enugu East Senatorial Zone which he had declared intention to represent at the Senate in 2015, had expressed their solidarity with him but lacked the courage to come out to defend him.
To Governor Chime and his political camp, the impeachment of the Deputy Governor would only take some time but it is a fait accompli, hence they have reportedly penciled down Onyebuchi’s successor from his Nkanu area to ensure that his people are not denied the seat that was zoned to them since 2007.
Onyebuchi had maintained that his greatest offence against the governor was his decision to seek election into the 2015 Senate to represent Nkanu East, the seat which the governor is believed to have reserved for one of his female loyal aides.