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Violations and abuses of due process of law in the unseemly tussle for the governorship of God’s Own State of Abia (3)

By Ben Nwabueze
A similar lawlessness was exhibited by the military government in another case involving a house in Ikoyi, Lagos, which it claimed as belonging to it by reason of the house having been “abandoned” during the Civil War by is owner (who happened to be the father of the secessionist leader, Chief Ojukwu). With some 150 armed men, the government moved into the house, ejected Chief Ojukwu who, in 1984 (i.e. 15 years after the war), had been let into lawful possession of the property as tenant by estate agents of the government after paying the agreed rent of N90,000 per annum and while his appeal was, to the knowledge of the government, pending in the Court of Appeal to determine the claim of the government to be the owner of the house and its right to eject him. An order of the Court of Appeal for the restoration of Chief Ojukwu to possession was also disregarded by the government: see Governor of Lagos State & Ors v. Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu & Anor [19809]1 NWLR (Part 18) 621.

The lawless actions of the military government in these two cases were patently subversive of the Rule of Law, and were so castigated and condemned by the country’s Supreme Court in the strongest terms. As the court observed:

“In the area where the rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned…..Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial power of the state, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. The court expects the utmost respect of the law from the government itself which rules by the law” (emphasis supplied).

There can be no democracy in the true sense of the term unless the lives and affairs of people in society are governed by law and not by the momentary and changing whims and caprices of the rulers, or in John Locke’s time-honoured phrase in his The Second Treatise of Civil Government, “the inconstant, uncertain, arbitrary will” of the rulers. To quote John Locke again, “in all states of created being capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom” – both the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the people to elect their ruler. Aristotle, in his Politics, is no less clear and emphatic upon the point: a government, he maintains, in which “everything is determined by majority vote and not by law” or which “centers all power in the votes of the people cannot properly speaking, be a democracy”. We tend in this country to think and talk of democracy as meaning just a democratic government or a government chosen by the people in a free and fair election, and to lose sight of a more essential, more fundamental constituent element in its definition, which is older in time, namely the Rule of Law.

Ikpeazu
Ikpeazu

But it is the due process of law in relation to the settlement of disputes through the courts that is our main concern here. This is because, whilst the law of the Constitution is the primary instrument of the rule of law, and the statute law the next leading instrument for it, court decisions form its foundation. And when the foundation is faulty, the entire edifice becomes shaky. The point needs amplification.

In our constitutional system, the courts are the only authoritative decider and interpreter of what the law is for purposes of the Rule of Law. And once a court has spoken, then, its decision establishes, with binding force, the law on the point in issue, unless and until it is reversed or overruled by due process of law. Neither the President nor anyone else has the power or the right to substitute and apply their own view of the law in preference to that of the court in a matter affecting the lives, affairs and actions of other people. To admit any such power or right in anyone, the President included, would only lead to anarchy, to the substitution of the rule of the jungle for the Rule of Law.

The binding force of decisions or orders of the court as the authoritative decider or arbiter of what the law is under the concept of the Rule of Law applies notwithstanding that a court decision or order is perverse or blatantly erroneous on the merits; not only that, they also apply despite the fact that the court lacks jurisdiction to give the decision or make the order in question either because its jurisdiction is ousted by statute or for some other reason. In a system of government under law, as ours is supposed to be, no one, the President again included, is entitled to disregard a decision or order of a court of law because, in his opinion, the court lacks jurisdiction to give it.

In the recent case of Att-Gen of Anambra State v. Att-Gen of the Federation & Ors [2005] 9 NWLR (Pt 929 – 931) 574 at page 606, the Supreme Court, speaking through Katsina-Alu JSC, (as he then was), affirmed the binding force of the court’s decision or order as the authoritative statement of what the law is that governs or rules the lives and affairs of people in society, Said the Court : “The law in this regard is clear ….. An order or judgment of court, no matter the fundamental vice that afflicts it, remains legally binding and valid until set aside by due process of law” (emphasis supplied).

But this obliges the courts to ensure that their decisions and orders are in accordance with the law, and not given in disregard of it; the court should not over-step the limits of their jurisdiction or power in a show of reckless activism, as was done by Hon. Justice Okon Abang of the FHC Abuja in his decision sacking Dr Okezie Ikpeazu as governor of Abia State, declaring Dr Ogah as governor in his place and ordering INEC to issue a Certificate of Return to Dr Ogah as well as ordering that he be sworn-in forthwith, and as was done by the Supreme Court itself in the second Jev’s Case (2015) 15 NWLR (Pt 1483) 484 when it ordered a person who took no part all in a general election for the election of members of the House of Representatives, and for whom no votes were cast, to be sworn-in as a member of the House, and also ordered INEC to issue him a Certificate of Return – all in disregard of the law.

 

  1. INORDINATE AMBITION AS THE MOTIVATING FACTOR IN THE VIOLATIONS AND ABUSES OF THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW IN THE TUSSLE FOR THE GOVERNORSHIP OF ABIA STATE

We are told by Dr Ogah that he re-opened the tussle for the governorship of Abia State, after the Supreme Court had affirmed the election of Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, in order to “reclaim his mandate as the bona fide governor of Abia”, a mandate out of which he claimed to have been “cheated”.

There seems to be no legally justifiable basis for the claim that he had been cheated out of his mandate, and that he went to court to reclaim it. He contested his party’s (the People Democratic Party’s PDP’s) primary for the state governorship in December 2014, and was placed second after Ikpeazu, with scores of 487 and 103 votes respectively. The December 8 2014 party primary therefore conferred no “mandate” on him, regardless of whether or not it was manipulated, which has not been substantiated in court or otherwise. Ogah’s name was not submitted by the PDP to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as its candidate in the April 2015 governorship election in the State. He was therefore not a contestant, no votes were cast for him, and no mandate was conferred or bestowed on him by that election.

Nor can Dr Ogah rightfully predicate a claim to the governorship of Abia State on the Instrument of Understanding between the three senatorial districts in the State, North, Central and South, called Abia Charter of Equity, whereby the governorship of the State is to rotate between the three of them, the North, Ogah’s senatorial district, and Central having had their turns, as represented by former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and former Governor (now Senator) Theodore Orji respectively, leaving the South whose turn Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is now occupying. The Charter has the desirable objective of ensuring that power is equitably shared in a manner that “no senatorial district would be shortchanged”, so as thereby to assure peaceful co-existence and a “sense of belonging to the three zones”, as well as to assure the avoidance of disorder and instability.

As Governor Okezie Ikpeazu said while addressing stakeholders of Abia North who paid him a visit on 21 July, 2016 at Government House Umuahia to pledge their support for, and solidarity with, him, and their commitment to the Abia Charter of Equity, “the Abia Charter is the pillar of equity and justice which, if faithfully implemented, would propel Abia for good……. I had pleaded with my Abia North PDP rivals [i.e. Dr Ogah and Chief Nwanozie Nwosu] to, for equity sake, wait for 2019 when the governorship position will return to them going by the Charter provision”. But patience is, apparently, not one of the virtues of which Dr Ogah is known to be endowed, and which has earned him popularity among various sections of the community in the State.

Philanthropy is undeniably one of his virtues. His credentials are quite impressive. A youngman of 47, he has made a name for himself as a wealthy, progressive-minded and public-spirited entrepreneur, with a sense of civic concern for the poverty and suffering of the masses of the people, as manifested in his various acts of public spiritedness, like building hospitals, providing free medical services, providing employment for thousands of people, giving scholarships to youths in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions, endowing a professional chair at the Abia State University, building a 5,000 capacity auditorium in the same university (on-going), etc. He certainly deserves recognition for his philanthropic acts. By his tract records, he has a bright prospect of becoming the governor of the State in future. He should be patient and wait for the right time, and not jeopardize his prospect by resorting to the disagreeable method of trying to terminate prematurely the term of office of a duly elected incumbent governor. Yet, a mandate to the governorship of the State can be founded, not on philanthropic acts alone, but on votes cast at an election.

It seems that Dr Uche Ogah’s quest for the governorship of Abia State is prompted by ambition. Ambition must of course be accommodated in politics, and in social life generally; for, it is the animating spice of life, more particularly political life. Yet, the accommodation must always be on condition that it (i.e. ambition) is moderated and checked by reason, principle and the dictates of the public interest. Dr Ogah’s ambition is condemnable because it is inordinate. Inordinate ambition is unwholesome. Accommodation for ambition must also be subject to the proviso that it is justifiable in the particular circumstances of the case, in the context of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law.

 


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