Tonye Princewill

November 18, 2011

Celebrating Amaechi vs Omehia: Ceremony set in the future?(2)

By Tonye Princewill

THE way this story ended, is well known and also controversial. That’s because the Supreme Court didn’t just declare Amaechi the authentic flag-bearer of PDP. It removed Omehia, who had been sworn in since May 29, 2007, and replaced him with Amaechi.

This made Amaechi the first governor ever to hold office, without standing for election. The Supreme Court ruled that: (a) parties, not individuals, contest; (b) the PDP won the gubernatorial contest; and (c) Amaechi, being the lawful PDP nominee, was technically its candidate for governor.

The Governor organised the colloquium-entitled “Jurisprudence, Democracy and the Rule of Law: The Impact of the October 25 Supreme Court Judgment”,–to explore the broader implications. According to the press reports and speeches I have read, the participants represented a broad cross-section of legal and political opinion, ranging from distinguished jurists to party activist.

State and electoral district

If the reports I’ve read are accurate, participants in the Colloquium apparently were in general agreement on this point. Professor Itse Sagay, in particular, waxed eloquent and incisive. In his estimate, the Court’s action has bequeathed to the nation a more enhanced political culture.

Among other things, Sagay observed Amaechi vs. Omehia contains, in its reasoning, a “guiding principle” that is ushering in a “new operational philosophy of law”, in which higher courts are now less inclined to be restrained by technicalities, where the greater interest of justice is served.

Dayo Benson and Abdulwahab Abdulah of Vanguard, recently reported a number of cases, involving un-vacated injunctions, which illustrate Sagay’s point. In an article entitled “INEC: Can Un-vacated Injunctions Repeat Amaechi Experience?” they note that the Commission is forging ahead, unrestrained by this litigation.

That’s because, with Amaechi vs. Omehia as a precedent, “whoever is sworn-in as the winner is holding a tentative mandate until the highest court decides the matter”. Consequently, they continue, the National Assembly elections could “reproduce the kind of situation that eventually threw up Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State”.

During the Colloquium, Professor Adele Jinadu, Executive Director of the Centre for Advanced Social Science, in Port Harcourt, touched on still another important issue: That of “internal democracy”. This, I presume, refers to the candidate selection process within parties.

I am in passionate accord with his contention that the rule of law should prevail over the rule of men. It was, of course, the rule of man that got “k-legs” when Amaechi carried his case to the Appellate Courts and won.

Through his epic and immensely courageous struggle against the rule of man, Amaechi has taught us that k-leg can only beget k-leg. In other words, if we are lethargic and reluctant to stand up and defend that which belongs to us-if we “sleep on our rights”, as he put it–the rule of man always prevails.

Amaechi versus Omehia is a powerful weapon in the war against the rule of man. But we, as citizens and party activists, must have the will to use it. We have Amaechi’s example to guide us; and his courage, as a source of inspiration.

Henceforth, therefore, we must envision ourselves as mounted warriors, charging across the political plains, with our swords raised and wavering in the wind-charging into a collective future, a new national destiny in which the will of man is forever vanquished.

This, in my opinion, is the true meaning of Amaechi vs. Omehia-and the symbolic significance of Amaechi’s exile and triumphant return.

Thus, the Rt. Hon. Simon Dalond, former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, was speaking for more than just himself when, at a send-off reception, he described Amaechi-who was ending his tenure as Chairman of the Speakers Forum-as “the new face of Nigerian democracy”.

But as Reverend Father Steven Dedua, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Oduduwa School of Management, said at the Colloquium: “Justice should not be about a person but about the issues on the ground”.

One inference we should draw from this, is that the Colloquium, the ceremony was not about Amaechi. It was about the issues that concern Amaechi and the rest of us. The need for those issues to be explored is an ongoing challenge.

Consequently, the Colloquium ought to be institutionalised, as an annual national event-a situation room, where the best minds come periodically, to commemorate Amaechi vs. Omehia and explore the obstacles and options before us in our continuing march to a democratic future.

Some might forget that I was seen as one of the victims of Amaechi vs. Omehia. Others might see me as a beneficiary. That is exactly my point.

Neither would be right because it was never about the individual. It was and should be always about the people. As the Latin phrase saying goes: Fiat justitia ruat caelum(Let justice be done though the heavens fall). We would all do well to remember this.