By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
THE seven man panel instituted by the Chief Judge of Enugu State to investigate allegations of misconduct levelled against the deputy governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi concluded its hearing on the issue with testimonies from the accused last Wednesday.
MR. Onyebuchi who had earlier appeared before the panel penultimate Wednesday, however, truncated proceedings when he took ill midway into his testimony on that day.
The impeachment process against Onyebuchi which has so far been dubbed the chicken impeachment on account of the allegation that he, Onyebuchi kept a poultry farm in his official quarters has also ruffled feathers, especially given the claim that it is politically motivated.
The processes against Onyebuchi and allegations that they are masterminded by the governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime, have come with shock to many stakeholders, given the claim that the embattled deputy governor had been more than loyal to Chime.
Peak of controversies
At the peak of the controversies over the illness of the governor last year, Mr. Onyebuchi had been urged by some of Chime enemies to move against the governor, but he remained steadfast and was duly commended by the governor over his loyalty when he, the governor returned.
Concluding his testimony before the seven man panel headed by Barr. Frankln Uche Oraekeiyi, Onyebuchi averred that his major sin against the governor was his ambition to contest the Enugu East senatorial seat against the alleged intentions of the governor’s chief of staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo. He claimed that it was from that point that their relationship began to sour.
The controversy over the issues against Onyebuchi were compounded by the decision of the investigative panel to sit in secret against the tradition of many previous impeachment panels in the country.
However, Vanguard gathered the testimony of the deputy governor from those who had access to the panel.
On the allegation that he maintained a poultry in his official residence, Onyebuchi alleged that the Government House inhabited by the governor also maintained a poultry and kept other animals for which money was provided for from the annual budget of the state.
“I am familiar with the Agric Unit Government House, Enugu. From the gate of the Government House, you have the office complex by the left, directly facing the gate is a poultry house, to the right from the gate is a cattle ranch, behind the poultry house is a piggery section. I have had something with the Agric Unit in the Government House. As a civil servant working in Government House, I used to buy cow meat, chickens and eggs from the Agric Unit.”
“Between 2012 and 2013 I acted as the Acting Governor of Enugu State. In my capacity as the Acting Governor, I did something in respect of the Agric Unit. A memo was brought to me by the Chief of Staff to the Governor requesting my approval for the sum of N3,000,000 for the purchase of consumables for the Government House poultry and piggery sections and I gave approval as requested.”
“As at today 20/8/2014 there is a poultry house in Government House, Enugu but I am aware that on Tuesday the 5th August 2014 the birds in the poultry house were evacuated between 3pm and 12 midnight in anticipation of a possible visit by the Panel.”
Challenged that he opposed the removal of his birds by agents of the state government through newspaper interviews including comments published by Vanguard on the issue, Onyebuchi said:
Evacuation of the birds
“It is not in doubt that I spoke to the Newspapers. Two journalists came to me at 8:30pm on 27/1/2014 with a copy of the press release. I know Vanguard came and I think Guardian. I don’t know the names of the journalists but they introduced themselves by the Newspapers they represent.”
“I do not know where my birds are now. They were not returned to me. Chairman of the Enugu Capital Territory who supervised the evacuation of the birds said that he did not know where the birds were kept.”
REFUSAL TO REPRESENT THE GOVERNOR ON ASSIGNMENTS
“My functions as the Deputy Governor is that I represent the Governor in functions as directed by the Governor. In addition, statutorily, the Deputy Governor is the chairman of the State Boundary Committee. The Governor conveys directives to me in person or through a phone call or a Governor’s manifest which states the function that I am to represent the Governor. In the absence of these two channels I get an invitation letter with the Governor’s minutes directing me to represent him and such letters are sent to me by the director of protocol.”
He subsequently tendered to the panel letters of invitation to the governor with minutes by the governor directing him to represent him at such functions.
“My 1st tenure came to an end on 28 May 2011. The Governor (had) invited me to his lodge and told me that we had worked so well in the preceding four years and that for that reason he has decided to continue with me for the next four years. Thereafter he gave me nomination forms and I thanked him.”
“It has never been the practice that the Governor will issue a directive to me through a third party orally. It has never been my practice to take oral directives from subordinates as to what the Governor wants me to do.”
“There was a situation when the Governor was on vacation specifically in 2012. He instructed me that his Chief of Staff will be telling me what to approve and what not to approve. The Chief of staff is Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo. My official designation within this period was the Acting Governor of Enugu State.”
“The Governor was away for a little less than five months. From Exhibit H3 the Governor was away from 17 September 2012 to 8 February 2013. During this period there was no approval that Mrs. Ifeoma Nwoboido presented to me that I refused to approve.”
“The Governor wrote the House of Assembly that he is back and I have a copy of the letter as it was copied to me.”
“After the Governor came back I received some reactions from those I worked with in the absence of the Governor. Most members of the State Executive Council came to me personally and commended me for the matured and able way I had handled the affairs of the State during the Governor’s absence. A few of them who could not come sent in their commendations in writing.I have a letter from Honourable Commissioner Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Jude Akubuilo.”
On the allegation of failing to represent the governor at the flag off of the construction of the second Niger Bridge, Onyebuchi produced video evidence to show that he was there.
However, on the failure to represent the governor at the South East Governors meeting on July 6, 2014, he said:
“Around 8pm on the night of the 5th of July 2014, the director of protocol, Emeka Asogwa called me on phone and asked me if I would represent the Governor at the meeting of the South East Governors’ Forum scheduled to take place the next day since the Governor was on vacation. I told him that he knew the rules that if the Governor asked me to, that I will do so since I was in town and I was healthy. He said that he thought that the Governor had called me. I told him no that I will attend the meeting if I get the order from the Governor. Emeka Asogwa said that he will get back to me. Around 9:45 pm of the same day, he called me and said that he was at my gate and I asked him to give the gateman the phone and he did and I asked the gateman to allow him in. He came in and told me that he spoke with the Governor and that the Governor asked him to tell me to represent him.”
“I told him that I have tried the Governor’s phone numbers and that they were not available. But since he knew how to reach the Governor, will he please call the Governor so that I will hear from him and also ask him what I will say at the meeting. He said he would not do that at that particular time and I told him that he knew that it was wrong for me to take any action without hearing from the Governor. He agreed with me and left.”
“It was inside this Panel sitting that I heard from Emeka Asogwa that he sent me a manifest. I will say that he did not send me any manifest, that would be the first time since 2007 that there would be a Governor’s manifest when the Governor was on vacation. When the Governor was on vacation in 2012 and 2013, the manifests he prepared read “Acting Governor’s Manifest”. The summary of my submission is that contrary to the allegation in the impeachment notice, there was no explicit directive from the governor asking me to represent him and that he did not tell me that he will pass instruction to me through a third party.”
“On 18 June 2014, the Governor (had) announced at the State Executive Council Meeting that he will be commencing his annual vacation the next day the 19th of June and that he would be travelling outside the country specifically to USA for a Ship Cruise. On 6 July, he had not come back from the vacation.
Call data record
“Mr. Asogwa said that on the 5th of June 2014 that he did not see me but it is not correct. I was in the Panel when Asogwa told the Panel that he did not remember speaking to me on the 5th of July 2014. I did something especially when he said he did not call to know whether I was around. I applied to MTN to supply me the Call Data Record of that day,” Onyebuchi said as he tendered the Call Data Record from MTN.
“Between July 5 and now I have represented the Governor at some occasions. On the 11th of July 2014 I joined the Governor in receiving the Vice President of Nigeria. On the 18th of July, 2014, I represented the Governor at the commissioning of the Power Trading Institute at Oji River with the Minister for Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu.”
Intention to travel
“On the 16th of July, 2014 I went to the Governor’s office to inform him of my intention to travel out of the country for six days and he asked me to give him one reason why he should approve it. I told him that I did not know of any reason but if there is any that I would like to know. He then said that I did not represent him at the South East Governors’ Forum Meeting that took place in Enugu on the 6th of July 2014.”
“I told him that he never instructed me to represent him. He now directed me to resign immediately from my office or he will make my life miserable. I told him that not representing him at that meeting was not enough reason for me to resign.”
“He said yes that there are other reasons. That while he was on vacation in 2012 and 2013 that I suggested to him that his Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo should be removed from office. Another reason he gave was that I was interacting with his enemies. All these took place in the presence of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Intergovernmental Affairs, Rita Mba.”
“I told him “Sir please May I explain”, and he said that if I did not leave his office immediately he would call the security men to carry me out of the Government House. This was after I told him that I noticed hostile attitude from him from the day I informed him of my desire to contest the Senatorial Seat of Enugu East Senatorial Zone. He repeated the threat and I left his office. I have no reason to resign from my office as Deputy Governor of Enugu State.”
Performance of duties
“I have done nothing to deserve removal. I have for the past seven years and two months carried out all that is assigned to me diligently, efficiently and effectively to the admiration of the Governor and most people in Enugu State. I have not in any way breached my oath of office or the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I have displayed obedience even to the point of slavishness or stupidity. I have not in any way been reprimanded by the Governor in the last seven years and two months. I am happy that no serious allegations especially any bothering on financial impropriety, corruption, fraud were levelled against me. I am happy too that no accusation of lack of capacity or incompetence in carrying out my functions was levelled against me. I do not see from the allegations in the Notice of Impeachment where I have committed what would amount to gross misconduct as to warrant or justify my being removed by impeachment.”
“I decided to appear before this Panel and risk being impeached rather than resign because I am convinced that in Nigeria today we can still find men and women who will stand by the side of truth and justice,” he said to the panel of seven that includes four lawyers, one of whom is also a pastor.